(from left) Duck Dab-Dab (Octavia Spencer), polar bear Yoshi (John Cena), parrot Polynesia (Emma … [+]
Universal and Perfect Universe
Dolittle earned just $30 million this weekend, which would have been okay if the Robert Downey Jr. film hadn’t cost $175 million.
In new release news that wasn’t Bad Boys For Life ($59 million Fri-Sun/$68 million Fri-Mon), the only other newbie over the MLK weekend was Universal’s much-delayed (and much too-expensive) Dolittle. The Robert Downey Jr. passion project grossed $22.5 million over the Fri-Sun frame for a projected $30 million Fri-Mon weekend. At best, the poorly-reviewed and heavily-reshot fantasy comedy will earn somewhere between $95 million (think Hotel For Dogs, which earned $72 million from a $23 million Fri-Mon debut on this weekend in 2009) and $112 million (think Paul Blart: Mall Cop – $146 million/$39 million in 2009). At worst, think a multiplier like Monster Trucks ($33.3 million/$14 million in 2017) for a $72 million domestic finish.
The film earned poor reviews and a B from Cinemascore, so I’m not inclined to be optimistic. Yes, much of the competition between now and Sonic the Hedgehog on February 14 is R-rated (The Gentlemen, The Rhythm Section, Birds of Prey), but audiences aren’t in a “go to the movies or… horrors… read a book” situation anymore. Truth be told, a best-case-scenario of over $100 million wouldn’t be too awful for a reasonably-priced Doctor Dolittle movie. Alas, this film cost an absurd $175 million, making it a “must break records to break even” situation.
I don’t know the budget at which this film was greenlit, nor do I know how good/bad the original Stephen Gaghan version was before Universal allegedly requested three weeks of reshoots. The culprit was allegedly the lack of comedy and/or kid-friendly elements. I am shocked that the director of Syriana and the writer of Traffic didn’t nail the kid-friendly talking animal bits. The finished version is a cut-to-the-bone (89 minutes-plus credits) sprint which got miserable reviews. This smells like another King Arthur and the Legend of the Sword or The Wolfman, where huge amounts of money were thrown at a doomed project to turn a two-star film into a… two-star movie.
All due respect, but Universal deserves all the finger-wagging for greenlighting a huge-budget Doctor Dolittle movie starring the man behind The Soloist and The Judge, directed by the guy behind Syriana which then required costly reshoots courtesy of Jonathan Liebesman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie). When folks complain about the lack of opportunities afforded to women and/or minorities, it’s stuff like this, whereby the (white) guy who wrote Traffic is given a mega-budget shot at a Doctor Dolittle movie (never mind that the Betty Thomas version, starring Eddie Murphy, was the only Dolittle movie that was ever a smash hit) over any “not a white guy” filmmakers.
Downey Jr., an excellent actor to be sure, was never an opener before Marvel and never became one after Iron Man. Sherlock Holmes is an exception, but Sherlock Holmes cost $90 million. Barring an overseas miracle, and it has earned just $50 million worldwide thus far, Dolittle will be a loser for the Comcast-owned studio. If it legs out overseas, it could be merely “a disappointment in relation to cost” as opposed to an epic Catsastrophe. Universal is in a slump, Sony is kicking butt, Warner Bros. is struggling with non-franchise titles and now DC Films is healthier than Star Wars!? The world I know is no more and nothing makes sense!!
Universal has had it hard of late, with a flurry of disappointments in relation to expectations (Last Christmas, which still earned $120 million global on a $30 million budget), relative misses (Abominable was profitable for Universal, but we’re talking about a terrific DreamWorks toon that barely cracked $60 million domestic), and outright flops (Black Christmas, Cats, Dolittle, etc.). Conversely, they pushed Queen & Slim to past $40 million domestic (and Focus Features, also owned by Comcast, pushed Harriet to $43 million domestic) while Sam Mendes’ 1917 is a commercial hit and a possible Best Picture winner following big wins at the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Critics Association (you’re welcome) and the Producers Guild.
Yes, I’ve got whiplash too, but, to quote my favorite deleted scene from Sarah Polley’s Away from Her, “life is… complicated.” Think Warner Bros. dealing with a flurry of failed dramas and dramedies amid Joker’s $1 billion run and 11 Oscar nominations. The better news is that Universal is itching to unleash what could be a deluge of probable hits (The Invisible Man, Trolls: World Tour) and super-smashes (No Time to Die, Fast & Furious 9, Minions: The Rise of Gru). If Disney can go from John Carter to The Avengers without missing a beat, then Universal will be fine as James Bond, Gru and Dominic Toretto come through accordingly.