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How ‘Mother!’ and More CinemaScore Failures Fared at the Box Office

Darren Aronofsky’s latest joins a dishonorable but diverse bunch of F-grade flops.
By  · Published on September 18th, 2017

Darren Aronofsky’s latest joins a dishonorable but diverse bunch of F-grade flops.

As much as people were talking about mother! over the weekend, it’s surprising that more of them didn’t actually go see the movie. Darren Aronofsky’s latest feature grossed $7.5M for its opening, coming in third place after IT ($60.1M) and fellow newcomer American Assassin ($14.8M). Was Rotten Tomatoes to blame? Nope, considering mother! is fresh with a 69% positive review score there.

What about CinemaScore? The movie has a rare mark of an F grade on that site. Well, CinemaScore isn’t exactly something the general public looks at just yet, but it’s a reflection of what the general audience thinks of the movie. Specifically, CinemaScore grades are given by the people who had a desire to see the movie on opening night, meaning they had a substantial level of anticipation for the title. An F grade means the majority of those people were totally disappointed in what they saw.

Hollywood doesn’t see CinemaScore as the sort of damager they see Rotten Tomatoes as, though they don’t see it as just another kind of user rating gauge of what the audience thought of the movie, either. “The common misperception is that exit polling merely represents a passive ‘rearview mirror’ look at how movies were received by the moviegoing public,” a Rentrak analyst told Deadline in 2014. “In reality, comprehensive exit polling … offers studios actionable future intelligence, which can be predictive of a film’s longevity or be used for advanced demographic planning of upcoming releases.”

That Deadline article features a chart showing how CinemaScore grades don’t impact but predict a movie’s total gross through an average multiplier from opening weekend to final figures, and it does indicate a sliding scale from the success of A-grade titles to the failure of F-grade releases. With that data in mind, mother! should only go on to make 2.2 times its debut, which would be $16.5M. Of course, there are higher and lower examples among the now 14 movies that have received an F in the 30-plus-year history of CinemaScore.

The first to earn the failing mark was Robert Altman’s Dr. T and the Women in 2000. The Richard Gere-led feature was mostly panned by critics for a now-tallied Rotten Tomatoes score of 57% and opened only to $5M ($8.3M in today’s money), which actually wasn’t too bad for an Altman picture. Dr. T‘s second weekend saw a 52.5% drop, which also isn’t too bad generally, and its total domestic gross of $13.1M is a decent 2.6 multiplier of the opening amount. But that was before CinemaScore was widely known.

Next and more infamous is Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris, a remake of the Tarkovsky psychological sci-fi masterpiece that seemed to promise audiences a more star-studded and therefore more accessible piece of entertainment. It wasn’t that, and despite a fairly positive crop of reviews (66% on RT), the movie received an F from viewers and grossed only $6.8M ($10.3M adjusted for inflation) its opening weekend. Word of mouth spread and the George Clooney vehicle plummeted 65.1% in its second weekend, eventually finishing with only $15M. That’s 2.2 times its debut, as expected.

Two years later brought the first F grade to the horror genre, where it’s become most common, with Darkness. The Jaume Balagueró-helmed effort was almost unanimously disliked by critics, too (4% on RT), but it managed a $6.2M debut ($8.8M adjusted), followed by only a 25.1% drop in its second weekend. Of course, it opened on Christmas, so its first two weekends were benefited by holiday moviegoing. Its third weekend saw a less-favorable 57.2% drop, and its final domestic gross of $22.2M is 3.4 times the opening take. That’s close to the usual for A-range movies, not F.

Just a month later, in January 2005, the Uwe Boll horror movie Alone in the Dark, loosely based on the video game, did not go over well with fans of the source material. In addition to the F grade, it was brutalized by critics (1% on RT). Opening to only $2.8M ($3.9M adjusted), it dropped 69.2% and was pretty much gone from theaters immediately after. Final domestic gross for the movie was $5.2M, which is just 1.8 times the opening figure.

Also in 2005, another horror movie released on Christmas received an F: Wolf Creek. Critics liked it much more (53% on RT) than they did Darkness, but that didn’t help at all. Opening on roughly the same amount of screens as the earlier “failure,” Greg McLean’s Australian outback indie opened to just $2.8M ($3.9M adjusted) — but $4.9M if you consider the whole holiday weekend. Then it only dropped 3% the second holiday weekend but from there fell a whopping 77% a week later. Still, its legs were long enough for it to finish with $16.2M, a remarkable 5.8 multiplier.

The first of two F-grade horror movies in 2006 was William Friedkin’s Bug, which does have its fans, as well as a slightly positive critical consensus (61% on RT). This one opened in fourth place over Memorial Day weekend for an opening of $3.2M ($4.2M adjusted), or $4M if you include the holiday. The second-weekend drop was 68% from the previous four-day figure, and the total domestic of just $7M was a 2.2 multiplier.

The second for that year was Neil LaBute’s much-hated remake of the horror classic The Wicker Man. Critics weren’t favorable to this one (15% on RT), though presumably thanks to Nicolas Cage’s star power it wound up with a $9.6M ($13M adjusted) bow — or $11.7M for the Labor Day weekend. The movie’s second weekend saw a drop of 65.4% from that four-day figure and then a total domestic gross of only $23.6M. That’s 2.5 times the official opening three-day take.

Next up was the Lindsay Lohan starrer I Know Who Killed Me, which was slammed by critics (7% on RT) and named Worst Picture of 2007 at the Razzies. Fans of the actress weren’t happy with the effort and marked it with an F and gave it a $3.5M ($4.5M adjusted) opening, reflective of Lohan’s personal and professional decline at the time. In its second weekend, the thriller dipped 66.8%, and it finished up with only $7.5M, the actress’s lowest for a wide release. That was only a 2.1% multiplier, below the average.

In 2008, audiences seemed to be over the Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer brand of spoofs when Disaster Movie received an F from its core audience, down from their usual C-range reception. The comedy also brought their worst reviews from critics yet (1% on RT) and their lowest opening, with a debut of $5.8M ($7.2M adjusted), bumped to $6.9M accounting for the Labor Day four-day weekend. From there it dropped just 56.4% the next weekend and wound up with a 2.4-multiplier final figure of $14.2M.

Richard Kelly’s The Box had the dishonor of being 2009’s only F-grade release, and the last to receive the mark for the next few years. Audiences were not down with Kelly’s take on its Twilight Zone fodder premise, while critics were just barely more favorable here (45% on RT) than with the filmmaker’s last. Still, it made more money than Kelly’s other movies, opening to $7.6M ($8.8M adjusted), dipping 58.3% its second weekend, and closing out with $15.1M, which is just a smidgen below a 2.0 multiplier, the worst so far.

The Devil Inside (which like mother! is a Paramount release) notoriously brought CinemaScore into the limelight with its F grade, the first of three failing titles released in 2012. The horror movie not only disappointed audiences overall but particularly angered them with its ending, leaving them with a suggestion of a website to visit for more info and content rather than a satisfying conclusion of its own. Critic weren’t any happier (6% on RT). But it managed to rake in $33.7M ($37.9 adjusted) its opening weekend before dropping 76.2% in its second. The Devil Inside did gross more than $100M worldwide, but domestically its profiting final figure of $53.3M is only 1.6 times its first weekend number.

Following that newsworthy instance came another horror movie, Silent House. Not benefitting from the same level of controversy, it did similarly lose most of its audience with its ending, even if its faux one-take gimmick impressed some critics (41% on RT). The movie opened with $6.7M ($7.5M adjusted), dropped 68.3% in its second weekend and finished its domestic run with $12.8M, for a measly 1.9 multiplier.

Finally, Brad Pitt couldn’t save the politicized crime thriller Killing Them Softly, which still has the best reviews of any movie that audiences grade with a failing mark (74% on RT). The Andrew Dominik-helmed feature opened similarly to most of those on the list with $6.8M ($7.5M adjusted) and had a significant drop of 58.8% for its second weekend. In the end, it only grossed $15M domestically, which fits the average in being 2.2 times the opening number.

So far for mother!, its drop from Friday to Sunday is pretty standard, but we’ll have to see how it compares to the other dozen F-grade movies as far as its second-weekend drop and its lack of legs. It’s actually possible that the movie’s buzz beats its negative word of mouth in that a lot of reactions and discussions are focusing on the idea that whether you love it or hate it, this is something that has to be seen. Everyone should be running out to find out if they’re on the positive or negative side of the polarization.

It’s not likely mother! will fare the worst of the F-grade films in any way if it remains so heavily talked about. To recap, Alone in the Dark and Disaster Movie tied for the worst RT score, Alone in the Dark and Wolf Creek tied for the lowest opening, and The Devil Inside had the biggest second-weekend drop and the worst multiplier to its final domestic gross. There’s no certainly of the level of failure the failing grade will predict, but generally it doesn’t look good.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.