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Why the Mad Max Prequel Failed on Opening Weekend

This weekend, the checkout counters looked more like a wasteland than a fertile green land of many mothers.

“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” didn't underperform in its box office debut with $25.6 million between Friday and Sunday and an estimated $31 million through Memorial Day Monday. Instead of ruling the box office as expected, it's in a shockingly close race for the top spot with Sony's animated “The Garfield Movie,” which grossed $24.8 million over the weekend and an estimated $31 million over four days. Nor could it save the holiday weekend, which is the worst it has been in nearly three decades.

It wasn't just the domestic audience that didn't show up for “Furiosa.” The fifth entry in director George Miller's post-apocalyptic series, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth, is lagging behind at the international box office with $33.3 million from 75 territories, bringing its worldwide tally to $58.9 million. It's a rocky start, considering the film cost $168 million to make, not including a splashy global press tour with a stop at the Cannes Film Festival.

“This is a weak opening, despite outstanding reviews and a good audience result,” says David A. Gross of the film consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research.

Part of the problem is that prequels rarely do as well as direct sequels, especially when they don't star the original — just ask Solo: A Star Wars Story. Even last November's “The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which became a $337 million hit on a $100 million budget, didn't come close to the original “Hunger Games” saga without Jennifer Lawrence as the girl. fire However, Lionsgate spent less on “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” compared to its predecessors, so the prequel managed to become a financial success. In the case of “Furiosa,” Warner Bros. didn't seem to take that into account and cut costs, so the dystopian adventure has a high bar to clear in terms of profitability.

“Furiosa is even more fan-heavy than predictions indicated,” says Shawn Robbin, founder of Box Office Theory. “It reaffirms that prequels with recast characters are a tough sell to casual audiences.”

And although 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, has been hailed as one of the biggest action movies ever, it wasn't exactly a box office sensation. That film opened with $45 million and became a modest hit with $380 million against an equally large budget. It wasn't even among the 20 highest-grossing films of 2015. “Mad Max,” a 45-year-old franchise, is beloved among moviegoers but hasn't quite resonated with mainstream audiences. So despite a female protagonist in “Furiosa,” the prequel didn't meaningfully expand beyond the movie's core demographic of older male viewers.

“With action elements appealing to younger moviegoers, it will be interesting to see after the dust settles a bit if 'Furiosa' can appeal to a wider audience,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst at Comscore.

None of this bodes well for the popcorn season, which will almost certainly fall short of the $4 billion benchmark. It was the first year in many without a Marvel movie kicking off the summer and none of May's potential films — including Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt's action-comedy “The Fall Guy,” director John Krasinski's family film ” IF” and “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” – can make up for the lack of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Audiences have been indifferent to most of those new films, even though most have been well-received.

There are plenty of movies on the calendar through August that could drive movie crowds, including franchise sequels like “Deadpool & Wolverine,” “Despicable Me 4” and “Inside Out 2,” as well as spinoffs and new stories like “Twisters” . , “A Quiet Place: Day One” and Kevin Costner's “Horizon: An America Saga.”

“Summer is off to a slower start than expected, [but] the next couple of months could pick up the pace,” says Robbins.

It's time for the successful season to put the pedal to the metal.

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