Features and Columns · Movies

Wish Fulfillments Win While Beasts Bomb at the Box Office

‘Little’ and ‘After’ slightly overperformed while ‘Hellboy’ and ‘Missing Link’ were total flops.
Little Fistbump
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on April 15th, 2019

None of this weekend’s new releases did particularly well at the box office, as the DC superhero film Shazam! topped the charts once again. Some opened very poorly, in fact. Others performed better than expected while still not making much of a dent. If there is any kind of narrative, it’s negatively focused, with Hellboy and Missing Link both totally flopping. Before we get to Big Red and Bigfoot, though, there’s also the narrative of two women-focused films that slightly exceeded expectations.

Tina Gordon’s Little came in second place behind Shazam! with 1.7 million tickets sold. The comedy, about a woman cursed to become a child again, is the latest in a run of women’s wish-fulfillment fantasy films. Comparatively, Little debuted in between the figures for What Men Want and Isn’t It Romantic and fell just below last year’s I Feel Pretty. And while the age-swapping movie opened with only half as much an audience as 2004’s 13 Going on 30, it performed better than most body-swap films.

The movie slightly overperformed against Box Office Pro’s long-range and short-range tracking of something closer to 1.6 million tickets. That’s not bad considering reviews were balanced towards the negative (48% on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences only gave it a B+ grade via CinemaScore polling. What Men Want‘s Rotten Tomatoes score was slightly lower but its CinemaScore grade was slightly better. Women-driven fantasy comedies of today are a far cry from the better-reviewed and well-graded 13 Going on 30.

Jenny Gage’s After is a different sort of women’s wish-fulfillment picture. There’s no magical fantasy, just romantic desires of the fanfic variety. The movie is based on writings fantasizing about a love affair with famous boy band singer Harry Styles. The source material aligns After with the Fifty Shades trilogy, which was a much bigger phenomenon. While Fifty Shades of Grey opened to an audience of 10.5 million people, After‘s crowd was under a million — about 0.7 million to be more precise.

Yet it did better in its debut than expected. Box Office Pro didn’t have any tracking figures for After back in February for a long-range forecast, but just last week the prediction was for just 0.4 million tickets. Perhaps there were some closet fans of the book out there. The movie had received terrible reviews (13% on Rotten Tomatoes) and wound up with a mediocre CinemaScore grade (B). But if audience scores and user ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb are an indication, After has a modest little fanbase.

Women also dominated other areas of the box office chart over the weekend. Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell, starring Elizabeth Moss as a punk singer, had the best per-screen average with 4,300 tickets sold from just three locations. Right behind that was the somewhat similar Teen Spirit, which stars Elle Fanning as a singer, and then the Emily Dickinson romance biopic Wild Nights with Emily. Meanwhile, the top-grossing documentary this week is the long overdue, finally finished Aretha Franklin concert film, Amazing Grace.

How’d the boys do? Aside from Shazam! coming in first place, albeit with a significant 54% drop (Wonder Woman‘s was 43%, Aquaman‘s 23%), fellow superhero movie Hellboy was a bust. The reboot sold only 1.3 million tickets — a lot fewer than Guillermo del Toro’s version and its sequel (3.7 million and 4.8 million, respectively) — and a very poor showing for a $50 million comic book movie. That’s a million fewer than the early tracking expectation of 2.4 million and still less than last week’s forecast that it’d draw 1.9 million. There’s no global reporting on Hellboy yet, but hopefully, for Lionsgate/Summit’s sake, the property is popular enough overseas.

The distributors barely screened the movie for press at home, and when reviews did post, they were terrible (now at 15% on Rotten Tomatoes). For those who did venture out Friday night to see it, they weren’t much kinder, either. Compared to the del Toro versions’ grades of B- and B, this one from director Neil Marshall received a C, indicating that this thing is not satisfying its audience and will certainly not have legs. Sorry, David Harbour, but a Hellboy 2 isn’t in the cards for your portrayal of the Right Hand of Doom.

Worse, though, was the beastly creature of Missing Link, whose movie barely made the top 10 with its audience of just 0.7 million. That’s the worst opening for Laika Studios yet, behind even their last effort, Kubo and the Two Strings, which previously had their lowest debut attendance at 1.5 million. Box Office Pro guessed a gross equivalent to 1.1 million back in February, and last week showed tracking for the movie as even higher, anticipating 1.3 million. That means Missing Link barely sold just half as well as it was supposed to.

Was it because there are too many Sasquatch/Yeti family films being released lately? Was it the curse of animated Westerns? Do kids care about stop-motion? Can they even tell it’s not just another computer-animated feature? The movie wasn’t helped much by its positive reviews (89% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is actually on the lower side for Laika films), but Missing Link also had a comparatively low CinemaScore grade for Laika (B+). It’s not even going to do Wonder Park money in the end. This is a big blow to not just the studio but the technique and quality animation overall.

As you might suppose, the weekend’s box office was pretty dismal in general compared to the same time in the past. Movie attendance was the second lowest in 22 years, with only 2016’s total being a bit worse. With 2019 ticket sales also being way down overall compared to the last four years, the industry is surely really looking forward to Avengers: Endgame‘s arrival in a couple of weeks. That movie alone should be able to save Hollywood and theater owners from the current drought.

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. Shazam! — 2.7 million (10.4 million)
2. Little — 1.7 million (1.7 million)
3. Hellboy — 1.3 million (1.3 million)
4. Pet Sematary — 1.1 million (4.5 million)
5. Dumbo – 1.04 million (10 million)
6. Captain Marvel – 0.95 million (42.8 million)
7. Us – 0.8 million (18.1 million)
8. After — 0.665 million (0.7 million)
9. Missing Link — 0.658 million (0.6 million)
10. The Best of Enemies – 0.2 million (0.9 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.