(Source: www.forbes.com)

Photo by Stephen Vaughan – © 2017 Alcon Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

And this is what I’ve feared the whole time. Despite rave reviews and white-hot buzz in the film twitter bubble, Blade Runner 2049 is turning into (at least) a domestic whiff because general audiences didn’t care. The very expensive ($155 million, after rebates) sci-fi sequel to a film that was itself a (somewhat) acclaimed bomb is essentially playing like Ridley Scott’s “for the fans” Alien: Covenant. The Ryan Gosling/Harrison Ford futuristic tone poem earned just $12.7m yesterday, including $4m (31%) in Thursday previews alone. Barring surprising legs akin to the far more crowd-pleasing Kong: Skull Island, we’re looking at a $32m debut weekend, which is less than this May’s botched Prometheus sequel/Alien prequel. At best, it’ll tie Alien: Convenant’s $36m debut. So much for the Rotten Tomatoes effect.

Yes, the original Blade Runner is a cult classic and one of the more influential genre films of the last 35 years, but it was a domestic flop back in 1982, earning just $27 million on a $28m budget. And yes, it accumulated an improved reputation over the years, but as we saw with Zoolander, No. 2 (another flop sequel to an underperforming cult original), just because folks rediscovered the original on home video doesn’t mean that they are going to see the sequel in theaters. Don’t “But, Austin Powers!” me, because that one earned $67m worldwide on a $17m budget. There’s a reason we don’t get theatrical sequels to cult flops like John Carter and Dredd.

Alcon Entertainment, which funded the movie with Sony (who is handling overseas distribution), was hoping that rave reviews and visually stylish trailers would entice folks with little-to-no investment in Blade Runner.  But, at least based on opening day, it didn’t work. The film plays a lot like the original Blade Runner, and requires you to have seen at least one version of the film to understand/appreciate it. Even if folks did find/enjoy Blade Runner after theaters over the last 35 years, this was a somber, 2.5-hour, R-rated sci-fi drama. It’s not quite babysitter material. Ryan Gosling is not an opener, and Harrison Ford hasn’t been an opener outside of Indiana Jones and Star Wars since What Lies Beneath back in 2000.

Moreover, Alcon Entertainment was so draconian about plot details, both in the marketing and the reviews, that consumers were merely presented with “Hey, it’s a Blade Runner sequel, Harrison Ford is back, Ryan Gosling is here, and it looks gorgeous!” If this was a 120-minute, PG or PG-13 movie that could justify a family night or Saturday matinee with the kids, that would be a different story. But as we saw with Scream 4 back in 2011, there is a difference between “I’m interested!” and “I will pay for a babysitter and related expenses to see that R-rated sequel in theaters,” which is why I don’t feel optimistic about legs.

We’ll see if it does better overseas for Sony then it presumably will for Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. in North America. It’s a blow for the Dream Factory, as they have a history of opening less-than-conventional movies like American Sniper, Magic Mike and It to relatively huge business. The lesson boils down to budget. It’s not handwringing about audiences rejecting intelligent adult fare, and it’s not quite a rant about Netflix and VOD gobbling up adult moviegoers. If you want to make a sequel to Blade Runner, don’t make it so bloody expensive that it has to play like a sequel to Star Wars. That Blade Runner 2049 will outgross Blade Runner in the first weekend and still be a borderline flop says it all.

On the plus side, It will cross $300 million domestic today.

More Info: www.forbes.com

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