Features and Columns · Movies

Test Run Failure for Summer Movie Doppelgangers

By  · Published on March 27th, 2017

Box Office

What this weekend’s flops say about a couple of May releases.

There was plenty of good news over the weekend as box office reports show Beauty and the Beast crossing the $300m mark after only 10 days, Get Out veering very close to the $150m milestone, and newcomer Power Rangers doing decent business ($41m) for something that didn’t seem suited for a large enough audience.

But there was some bad news, as well, with both Life and CHiPs falling short of their expectations for an estimated $13m and $8m, respectively. Considering they both resemble bigger movies coming out in two months, I can’t help considering how those genuine summer blockbusters – Alien: Covenant and Baywatch – might compare.

Huge releases and huge hits are happening year round these days, with seven movies already this year passing $100m domestically (only four of 2016’s releases hit that mark before the first quarter was over). Beauty and the Beast and Logan are two examples of March tentpoles that might have once been considered prime summer or holiday season fare.

But not everything can do well, especially with such consistent competition. Life, which boasts a great cast and a familiar yet entertaining plot involving an alien threat to a space mission, could have been a sleeper hit in March of years past. Maybe. Original sci-fi thrillers aren’t the draw they once were, and even if it received generally positive reviews, it didn’t look too fresh.

CHiPs also might have been more successful in another time, yet it should be noted that it’s the only significant comedy offering in quite a while and should have been met with an audience with a need to laugh, whether or not those laughs were actually delivered. Its negative reviews shouldn’t have done as much harm as its poor advertising.

I haven’t seen CHiPs, mainly because it looks terrible from the trailer. However, worse-looking comedies have performed better. The movie’s problems include the fact that it’s the sort of comedy only 12 year olds could love, yet it’s rated R. Also that younger audience has no idea what CHiPs is, or that it was previously anything. Fans of the old TV show, if they still exist, are simply too old for the kind of raunchy material the movie deals in.

Its upcoming summer blockbuster doppelgänger, Baywatch, has a more familiar name, at the very least. It also has a bigger star in the lead: Dwayne Johnson. He should draw a much larger crowd to his buddy cop movie – it is technically a buddy lifeguard movie, but the formula stands – than CHiPs managed. How much more is difficult to gauge.

Is Johnson a comedy star? Not really, and we can argue that last year’s surprise success of Central Intelligence is more thanks to Kevin Hart. Johnson is capable of disappointing at the box office, as we’ve seen with Hercules and Pain and Gain. His main co-star, Zac Efron, has proven to be a hilarious comedy talent of late, but moviegoers don’t seem that interested.

Similar to the case with CHiPs, the fanbase for the original source material isn’t necessarily going to be on board for Baywatch, which aside from using the same character names and setting as the ‘90s show isn’t all that recognizable. It’s basically just a silly action comedy about people patrolling beaches and could be rejected just as easily as CHiPs was.

Life’s doppelgänger, on the other hand, is likely to be a hit. Alien: Covenant is, of course, another prequel/sequel in the Alien franchise, which has nearly 40 years of built-in brand recognition. That said, the franchise hasn’t always been a success on its name alone. The last movie with “Alien” in the title, Alien Vs. Predator : Requiem, had about the same opening gross as Life.

However, that wasn’t part of the main series, which has had its own share of disappointments, most notably Alien: Resurrection. Actually, Alien hasn’t been a really huge franchise at all since the release of Aliens in 1986. And the last installment, the prequel reboot Prometheus, wasn’t exactly a bomb, thanks to international box office, but it also wasn’t terribly popular with fans. And it seems to be even less favored five years out.

What Covenant has as far as potential for a comeback is a trailer that sells the prequel-sequel as being very scary. Probably the scariest since the 1979 original – it also looks almost like a remake of that movie, to be fair. I’m willing to guess that thanks to its marketing, the new movie will have the franchise’s best opening ever, even with inflation adjustments.

Tracking so far isn’t as promising as my prediction, though, with BoxOffice.com foreseeing only a $35m debut, which would put it well below Prometheus’s franchise topper of $55m (adjusted). Ridley Scott is planning a bunch more Alien movies, so for his sake that number is hopefully not just lowballed but half what the movie will really take in.

What would be particularly unfortunate for Alien: Covenant and Baywatch, especially if they’re better movies, is if their precursor counterparts do any damage to their appeal. I could see that being the case with Baywatch more than with Covenant, given the latter promises more of what someone interested in an Alien movie craves. But maybe there aren’t enough people interested in another Alien movie anymore.

Answers will be here soon enough. Alien: Covenant opens May 19th, followed by Baywatch on May 26th.

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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.