Dwayne Johnson got his 2018 off to a huge start when “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” became Sony’s biggest hit in years with $961 million grossed worldwide. But he’s followed it with two straight box office underperformers: First New Line’s “Rampage” in April and now Universal’s “Skyscraper,” which opened this weekend to $25 million domestic and just $65 million worldwide from 57 countries.
With a $120 million budget before marketing costs, Universal and Legendary face an uphill battle toward profitability for this action film. (“Rampage” had the same reported budget and topped out under $100 million domestically — though it grossed an impressive $327 million overseas.”)
While audiences who did see “Skyscraper” were fairly positive with a B+ on CinemaScore, that’s below the A given to previous Johnson films like “Rampage” and “San Andreas,” meaning word-of-mouth is weaker.
What led to this disappointing result for Hollywood’s biggest box office star? There are several factors…
1. Weak pre-release buzz
“Skyscraper” may be the only major July release that isn’t attached to a pre-existing franchise, but the trailers failed to draw up any pre-release buzz for the film. In addition, critics said that outside of Johnson’s performance as an amputee former FBI agent trying to stop terrorists, there’s not much to separate the film from previous high-rise action thrillers like “Die Hard.”
“‘Die Hard’ endures — and has spawned scores of imitators — because it had top-notch action, great characters (including one of the most charismatic villains in screen history), palpable suspense and a heroic story of one good guy facing insurmountable odds taking on a team of baddies,” said Detroit News’ Adam Graham. “Director John McTiernan brought it all to a steady boil with a kinetic, fluid sense of motion and delivered an action movie classic. All ‘Skyscraper’ has going for it is a tall building.”
That sense of “I’ve seen this before” can be poison to a film’s box office chances, especially when you’re facing…
2. Heavy competition
“Hotel Transylvania 3” probably didn’t cut all that much into “Skyscraper”‘s totals, considering Sony’s animated film caters mostly to out-of-school kids and their families. But “Skyscraper” was going up against a second-weekend “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which made $29 million this weekend, while June hits “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and “Incredibles 2” continue to endure at the box office with $16 million each.
All three franchise films have had better word-of-mouth than “Skyscraper” and ended up serving as major four-quadrant competition for the action film both in the U.S. and internationally. But those films weren’t the only entertainment options available this weekend.
3. The World Cup Final
This is more for the film’s overseas launch than it is for its North American performance, but with Belgium and England competing in the third place match of the FIFA World Cup, and France and Croatia competing for the title this weekend, soccer was likely on the minds of many potential moviegoers.
Disney has held back the release date of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” in Western Europe until next weekend, while “Skyscraper” did not earn more than $5 million in any single overseas market. The film opened to $2.3 million in the U.K., while Korea was the top international market with $4.6 million. The film now turns to China, where Legendary East will handle distribution when it comes out next weekend.
4. Too much Dwayne?
It would be an overreaction to say that audiences are growing tired of Dwayne Johnson. The runaway success of “Jumanji” is proof of his box office draw in an era of franchises. But “Skyscraper” may have shown the limits of his drawing ability, and the fact that this is his fifth film in 14 months might have had something to do with it.
“Dwayne’s work ethic is second-to-none in this industry right now. The guy ensures that there’s no lack of his presence with ‘Ballers’ on TV and several films coming out each year,” said comScore’s Paul Dergarabedian.
“But as with any popular franchises or stars, there can be too much of a good thing. ‘Jumanji’ had a very long run in theaters to start off the year, and then Johnson was right back in theaters with ‘Rampage,'” Dergarabedian continued. “Audiences might have already gotten their fill of him for now, and the weaker reviews for ‘Skyscraper’ served as a sign for audiences that there’s no need to go right back to theaters for another round.”
After “Skyscraper,” Johnson will be absent from cinemas for about a year. But in July 2019, he will be back with Universal to release “Hobbs & Shaw,” a spin-off of his and Jason Statham’s “Fast & Furious” characters that will serve as the studio’s summer tentpole. Expect The Rock to get back to his money-making ways then.