Features and Columns · Movies

The Girl With the Draggin’ Franchise

This could be the end for Lisbeth Salander on the big screen.
Spiders Web Box Office
Sony Pictures
By  · Published on November 12th, 2018

Dr. Seuss had the juice at the box office over the weekend, as the animated feature The Grinch came in at number one with a debut attendance of about 7.7 million (unlike the previous weekend, this time moviegoers said hello, holidays!). Rounding out the top five were Bohemian Rhapsody with a nice hold in second place, newcomer Overlord with a so-so opening of 1.2 million tickets sold, Disney’s still-disappointing The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and the still very leggy A Star is Born. Coming in sixth place: Sony’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, which is pretty much a flop in its debut with less than 900,000 people drawn to the attempted franchise reboot.

According to the long-range prediction made by Box Office Pro back in September, Spider’s Web was on track for about 1.7 million people. But this weekend was forecast for much better all around, with the site predicting another 1.5 million tickets sold for The Grinch and another half a million for Overlord. Box Office Pro’s updated forecast last week, however, saw closer figures to the reality, though both Bohemian Rhapsody and Overlord performed better than anticipated.

What went wrong for The Girl? Spider’s Web, which sold just over half as many tickets in its opening as David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2011, has been struggling to prove its relevance in numerous ways. The recast franchise was coming back with an out of sequence sequel based on a book not by the original Millennium series author and not even the attachment of the hardly evergreen subtitle of “A New Dragon Tattoo Story” was able to help. Maybe it even hurt the movie, as it wouldn’t draw audiences who didn’t see the last movie and don’t know it could stand alone.

But then fans of the franchise also could have either been confused — what happened to the two installments that exist after Dragon Tattoo? Why is there a new Lisbeth Salander? Nobody likes reboots this quick. And Fincher’s movie, which wasn’t as big a success as Sony had hoped even with its global box office gross of $233 million, received great reviews with an 86% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Spider’s Web‘s critic score is only at 44%. This wasn’t a case of the movie being for the fans either. Compared to Dragon Tattoo‘s ‘A’ grade from opening night viewers via CinemaScore polling, Spider’s Web received a ‘B’ grade, indicating the core audience was relatively disappointed with the film.

For all its comparisons to James Bond, with Claire Foy’s Salander called a “lady 007” in reviews and other articles, Sony should have focused more on the character rather than the supposed familiarity of the Dragon’s Tattoo branding. Set Salander up as a franchise capable hero whose series doesn’t need its fans to be readers of the books or conscious of what happened in the last movie or subsequent literary adventures. For the studio to jump to the fourth book might have been confusing, but I also wonder if a James Bond type of franchise could even be started today. Franchises are expected to be serials now. Jack Ryan almost got there 20 years ago, but that character wound up having to go to TV series to work for today’s audiences. The one-shot installment approach is dead for the time being.

Sadly, Salander’s series might be dead for the time being, as well. Fans still have the Swedish adaptations, which are mostly satisfying through the whole trilogy despite inevitable diminishing returns, and the Fincher movie is still something to appreciate. Spider’s Web is a dud and can fall by the wayside. And it’s going to take a while for any further attempt at making Salander a thing on the big screen — if it ever will be. The property could just be a lost cause. The books are no longer in the zeitgeist. Maybe Sony could attempt a TV show, but not for a couple of years.

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch – 7.7 million (7.7 million)
2. Bohemian Rhapsody – 3.5 million (11.4 million)
3. Overlord – 1.2 million (1.2 million)
4. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – 1.1 million (4.1 million)
5. A Star is Born – 0.92 million (20.2 million)
6.The Girl in the Spider’s Web – 0.88 million (0.9 million)
7. Nobody’s Fool – 0.75 million (2.8 million)
8. Venom – 0.6 million (23.4 million)
9. Halloween – 0.5 million (17.8 million)
10. The Hate U Give – 0.2 million (3 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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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.