The Spool / Box Office Report
Box Office Report: “Terminator: Dark Fate” Doesn’t Break the T3 Curse

There is no fate but what we make, and Dark Fate‘s middling box office returns paint a grim future for the franchise.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while hoping for a different result. If so, then maybe the people at Skydance and Paramount Pictures should get fitted for straight jackets — for the second time in four years, the two studios teamed up to try and revive the Terminator franchise for the modern age, only to garner disappointing box office results. 

The newest example of this was Terminator: Dark Fate, which grossed only $29 million this weekend, only coming in 7% ahead of the $27 million opening weekend of Terminator: Genisys. That July 2015 title at least burned off demand with a Wednesday launch, whereas Dark Fate dropped on a Friday, giving it far less of an excuse for such a poor opening.

In terms of big-budget blockbuster launches, Dark Fate really came up short and it was especially lackluster in terms of early November launches. Exempting the $27 million debut of 2013’s Ender’s Game, Dark Fate had the lowest weekend gross for a title that topped the first weekend of the November domestic box office since 2006, when Borat debuted with $26.4 million.

Why did the new Terminator movie go so awry? Well, that’s what happens when you remake the same movie four times. The last three Terminator movies sullied the brand, and while Dark Fate tried its best to reassure viewers it was getting back to basics (getting Linda Hamilton & James Cameron back, centering the story on new characters, bringing back the R-rating), its marketing was never distinct enough to make general moviegoers think we needed more Terminator

One more thing before we move onto other releases: Dark Fate caps off another rough year for troubled studio Paramount Pictures, who are officially on track to close out 2019 without any titles that cracked $100 million domestically. Even STX Entertainment managed to have two of those! 

Interestingly, their biggest movie of 2019 domestically will be sleeper box office hit Rocketman rather than big-budget attempts to relaunch the Dora the Explorer and Terminator franchises. Perhaps Paramount should look at those box office results and realize doing bolder mid-budget fare would be a better option for the future rather than wringing more pennies out of the Rugrats or Clifford the Big Red Dog brands.

In second place was Joker, which kept on going and going with a tiny 28% dip from last weekend with a fifth-weekend gross of $13.9 million, bringing it up to a $299 million domestic total. Impressively, Joker has now grossed $934 million worldwide and is now assured to become the first-ever R-rated movie in history to crack $1 billion worldwide. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil fell 36% this frame for a third-weekend haul of $12.1 million and a domestic gross to date of $85.1 million.

Moving onto another new release, Harriet opened to a fantastic $12 million this weekend. Considering this title opened in just 2,059 locations, that’s an impressive bow and another recent win for non-tentpole titles in a theatrical release. I’d tell you how that stacks up against prior Focus Features opening weekends, but Box Office Mojo has concealed such treasured knowledge behind a paywall to ensure that Jeff Bezos (the head of Amazon, which owns Box Office Mojo) has even more money he can use to not pay taxes

What I can say is a factoid Focus Features themselves divulged yesterday, which is that the back-to-back success of Harriet and Downton Abbey for Focus Features means this is the first time since 2003 that a specialty movie studio had two consecutive movies open to $10+ million.

Rounding out the top five was The Addams Family. I was wondering if this title would sink like a stone after Halloween came and went but this kooky family dipped only 29% to gross another $8.4 million for an $85 million domestic total. Looks like this title will cross $100 million domestically after all, a thoroughly impressive achievement. Zombieland 2, meanwhile, actually held well this frame by dropping only 38% to add another $7.3 million to its domestic gross that now stands at $59.2 million. 

Countdown had an astonishingly small drop this weekend for a horror movie, as it dipped just 34% to gross another $5.8 million for a $17.7 million ten-day domestic total. This one looks like it’ll be a notable moneymaker for STX Entertainment. Also in its second weekend this frame was Black and Blue, which fell 52% to add $4 million to its domestic haul of $15.4 million.

Next up is another new wide release, the long-gestating Edward Norton directorial effort Motherless Brooklyn, which grossed $3.6 million from 1,342 locations for a per-theater average of $2,682. That’s not the worst opening ever; Brooklyn did manage to outgross the opening weekend of fellow recent Warner Bros. title The Goldfinch, for instance, despite Brooklyn playing in far fewer locations. But it’s still not a great bow, and both the middling box office and mixed reviews indicate it won’t last long in the domestic box office marketplace. 

The first two weekends of November have been home to plenty of big animated movie hits in recent years. Big Hero 6. The Grinch. The Peanuts Movie. One such title that isn’t part of that group is Arctic Dogs, which opened to a disastrous $3.1 million from 2,844 locations, the seventh-worst opening weekend ever for a movie opening in over 2,500 locations.

In addition to Arctic Dogs looking absolutely terrible in what little marketing it had, the other problem the title faced is that past early November animated family movies could capitalize on the lack of big family movies in your typical Autumn movie-going season. By contrast, October 2019 was full of big family movie hits still making money, Arctic Dogs had no void to fill and was left out in the cold as a result.

Parasite expanded into 461 locations this frame and grossed $2.61 million for a per-theater average of $5,705 and a great domestic total of $7.5 million. Similarly holding quite well this weekend was Jojo Rabbit, which grossed $2.4 million from 256 locations for a per-theater average of $9,379 and a domestic total of $4.2 million. Like Parasite, Jojo Rabbit appears to be nicely poised for a solid box office run throughout November. The Lighthouse expanded itself into 978 locations, grossing $2 million and a $2,067 per-theater average in the process, bringing its domestic total up to $7 million.

Gemini Man fell 56% this weekend and scored a fourth-weekend haul of $1.8 million for a domestic gross of just $46.8 million. The Current War fell 53% this weekend to electrify $1.2 million worth of audience members. This period piece drama has now grossed $4.9 million domestically. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot grossed another $225,925 from 15 locations for a per-theater average of $15,062 and a domestic gross to date of $1.9 million. Finally, American Dharma opened to $7,522 from a single location.

The top twelve movies this weekend grossed a total of $95 million, down quite a bit from typical weekends at this time of the year, particularly when it comes to one’s that intersect with the first weekend of November. This serves as another interesting example of how classical concepts of what times of the year are most optimal to release a film. 

Typically, November would be thought of as a far better place to open a film than September or October, but in 2019, those two months have yielded numerous box office hits while all but one of the new releases at the start of November 2019 flopped. Once again, we get a reminder that it’s the movie, not the release date, that really matters.