Another week, another story about how a box office disaster ended up the way it did. But Dolittle, which is on track to be Universal’s first massive box office bomb of the year, is unique in that these stories are coming right now and not right after release.
By now you’ve probably heard some of the tales of infamy surrounding the $175 million family blockbuster starring Robert Downey Jr. — the nonsensical storyline, the badly CGI’d talking animals, the dragon fart scene. But what you may not know is that most of those problems that Dolittle is currently getting slammed for with a whopping 19% on Rotten Tomatoes got added by Universal in a series of costly reshoots and tonal tinkering in an attempt to appeal to a global audience. Cue dragon fart noise.
Dolittle is bad. And Universal may have had an inkling that it would be, considering the studio dumped it in the traditional “January graveyard,” the month when movie releases go to die. But then you remember that the studio spent $175 million on this movie, much of it spent during expensive reshoots “to craft a sillier movie more likely to appeal to younger moviegoers and overseas audiences,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
But why did Universal turn what would have likely been a middling disappointment of a film that was already nearly finished into an unmitigated disaster? According to the Wall Street Journal, it was to try to boost Dolittle‘s global appeal to possibly offset whatever domestic box office disappointments they would suffer. Because overseas audiences just love emotional climaxes where Robert Downey Jr. sticks a leek up a dragon’s asshole to dislodge the pieces of armor and skeletons clogging its rectum, and gets rewarded with a massive fart in his face. WSJ writes:
“After test-screening Mr. Gaghan’s initial version of the movie, Universal worried it wasn’t lighthearted enough to connect with children and families around the globe, according to people familiar with the production. The studio decided the movie needed more computer-generated animals and more laughs, the people said, and called in filmmakers and screenwriters with more experience in the genre. They said these included directors Chris McKay of The Lego Batman Movie and Jonathan Liebesman of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
McKay and Liebesman would add a sillier tone to the movie while script rewrites by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand would insert more jokes like the aforementioned dragon fart scene. It resulted in a confusingly jumbled film that was a chore to watch and earned the worst reviews of the year so far for a major feature film.
But this is a very real strategy that has paid off for Universal before. A strong overseas box office performance for 2017’s The Mummy offset its disappointing domestic haul while other studios have seen the same for some of its biggest critical and domestic misses. And aside from the costly CGI, Universal has to pay a share of its box office revenues to Downey Jr. in addition to his $20 million salary — a sweetheart deal that has fallen out of favor in Hollywood as movies become less sure box office hits. But if there’s anyone to blame for this malfeasance of a film, it’s Disney, WSJ says, as competing studios who hope to compete with the box office-dominating House of Mouse can only turn to overseas audiences.
The other Hollywood movies pulled include 'Little Women' and Millennium's 'Hellboy,' with more cancelations likely to follow.
Hollywood's business interests in China are beginning to take a significant hit from the coronavirus crisis. Numerous Oscar-nominated U.S. films and Hollywood tentpoles were scheduled to open in China throughout February. But with the coronavirus epidemic escalating and most of the country's 70,000 movie theaters closed, the bulk of those release plans have been scrapped, several sources in contact with Beijing's film regulators confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday. All of the local Chinese films that were scheduled for the first half of February also have been postponed.
Searchlight's Jojo Rabbit, which was set to debut on Feb. 12, was the first U.S. title to withdraw late Monday. Sony's Little Women, originally scheduled to release on Feb. 14, and Universal's Dolittle, set for Feb. 21, soon followed, postponing all theatrical plans for China indefinitely. Sam Mendes' best picture contender, 1917, which had been approved for a release on Feb. 21, has given up on those ambitions, sources close to China Film Group tell THR. Millennium's Hellboy has also put off its Feb. 28 outing.
Road House's Marriage Story, which was released in most of the world by Netflix, is still holding onto its Feb. 28 China date. A source at the film's China distributor says the parties involved in the local release are still considering their options. Paramount's Sonic the Hedgehog also was still scheduled for a Feb. 28 release as of midday Tuesday.
The cancelations are doubly bad news for the particular films affected. Universal's Dolittle, produced for a hefty $175 million, bombed disastrously in North America, and has earned just $126 million worldwide to date. The narrow possibility of a big save from the China market, where star Robert Downey Jr. is a powerful draw thanks to Marvel movies, was beginning to look like the film's only Hail Mary hope of escaping huge losses. Those hopes are now dashed. As for the awards-season films like JoJo Rabbit, Little Women and 1917, the logic behind their theatrical outings in China was primarily predicated upon the glow of the Oscars, which are widely watched in the country. Past Oscars favorites like Green Book and La La Land have gotten a big box office bump in China, but they opened close to the awards ceremony to leverage that attention. Now that they've been pushed out of February, it's unclear whether this year's crop of Oscar pictures will ever hit Chinese cinemas at all.
Theme parks, including the Shanghai Disney Resort, remain closed across China, as do all major film and television production facilities. Tuesday afternoon, the special administrative region of Macau, commonly referred to as China's...