This weekend saw the domestic debut of Universal’s #TheMummy. What the studio hoped to be the beginning of their star studded Dark Universe tripped out of the gate, with a projected 30m opening weekend. The generally negative reaction doesn’t spell legs either, and the film looks to die a short death at the American box office. What this means for the studio’s cinematic universe is unknown, no doubt multiple other movies are already in production, but for this film at least, it’s not looking good.
Facing a much more positive fate, was the film’s direct competition, Wonder Woman. The critically acclaimed #DCEU entry followed its record breaking 103m domestic opening to fall a terrific 50% to a 60m second weekend, showing that the film is playing well with those who saw it, and may end up as one of the leggiest entries in this new DC Cinematic Universe.
But why did this happen?
Five years ago, a female lead superhero movie, from a critically panned franchise, beating out a Tom Cruise action film would have seemed impossible. But if we examine both films closely, we can see exactly why #WonderWoman managed to keep the top spot at the box office this week, and why The Mummy flopped:
1. Lacklustre Trailers/Premise
An explosive plane crash.
An ancient prophecy.
A villain that wants to destroy the world with a giant cloud of CGI.
No, I’m not talking about X-Men Apocalypse, TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Suicide Squad, The Great Wall or Ghostbusters. The Mummy chose to use those very same tricks in its marketing, and in doing so, struggled to stand out. CGI destruction is everywhere now, and adding it in isn’t enough to get audiences interested.
When everyone single movie has a villain that is trying to destroy the world, and ends with a city being blown up, it no longer becomes an engaging premise, in fact, it becomes tired and formulaic, and may even turn people off going to see your film (as we saw last year with X-Men Apocalypse).
The blockbuster movies that translate with audiences are ones that try different things with their action and story, like #Logan, Civil War and in this case, Wonder Woman. They add in emotional weight and character conflict, which makes them stand out from the crowd. When The Mummy just advertises a “city destroying” third act, it retroactively makes itself less interesting.
2. Difference in Reviews
As much as it now seems like movies reviews have no bearing on its box office performance, when a film like Suicide Squad manages 700m worldwide with 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, the truth is, in most situations, that’s not true.
Sure, if, like Suicide Squad, there’s a big blockbuster out with interesting and attention grabbing elements (#Batman, The Joker) and no real competition, that just happens to be poorly reviewed, people will go see it. But if there is competition, and that competition is almost sure to offer something better, then audiences aren’t going to be paying to see your film.
Why is this?
Well, with there now being seemingly endless entertainment options that don’t require someone to leave home, and spend upwards of $30 of a ticket, food etc, people are naturally getting more choosy with what they watch. Why go and see the new Tom Cruise action movie, that’s getting universally panned, when you can stay home and watch something guaranteed to be better, on Netflix?
The cinema is no longer the sole provider of entertainment, far from it, so when they aren’t offering up their best, people no longer have to show up, just because they want something to watch.
The Mummy wasn’t offering something good enough to get up and go see, and therefore audiences weren’t buying it. And even if they felt like going to the movies this weekend, there was a much better option already there. Wonder Woman has been receiving some of the best reviews, and audience reactions, of any modern superhero film, so of course people would pick this option.
As we keep seeing with seemingly, “sure-fire” hits in 2017, that flop after bad reviews, (Baywatch, Snatched, Rings), if you want people to see your film, you’re going to need to offer something better than average, and that was the real difference between Wonder Woman and The Mummy.
3. Lack of Current Star Power
After Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation crossed 700m worldwide in 2015, it would see that Tom Cruise was one the few remaining actors with real star power to his name, in a time when that phenomenon seemed to be dead. But, the truth is, in the traditional sense, star power remains a thing of the past.
Sure Tom Cruise managed to draw in big audiences for that film, but that wasn’t solely on his shoulders, it was on the back of the very popular franchise, that (for the most part) had a good track record. When Tom Cruise steps outside of these kind of safe zones, the results are the same was they were this weekend. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back made only 160m on a 90m budget last year, and Edge of Tomorrow, even with stellar reviews flopped in 2014, (but apparently its still getting a sequel). Audiences are happy to see a new instalment in a highly popular action franchise, and if it also stars Tom Cruise, even better, that will probably draw in an extra 50m or so. But they aren’t going to see a film they have no attachment to, just because he’s in the lead.
This is again because of the amount of other content available to them. An actor they enjoy isn’t enough to get them to go to the movies, especially when they could easily watch anyone of the much better Tom Cruise movies at a click of a button. Without any kind of backing, Tom Cruise, and I’d argue, almost all modern stars, can no longer draw people in just on their names, not when there’s so much other entertainment out there.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 may have just crosses 800m worldwide with Christ Prat at the helm, but his adaption of The Magnificent Six still failed to double its 90m budget last year. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor Ragnarok will no doubt make a lot of money for the MCU in November, but every single solo outing for the Australian actor (In The Heart of the Sea, The Huntsman: Winter's War, Blackhat) has flopped hard. In the modern movie-going climate, actors just aren’t enough to sell a film.
4. A Weak Brand vs A Strong Brand
Say what you will about the current DC films, but audiences are interested in seeing them. Despite intense critical hatred for both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, each film managed to make over 700m worldwide, and cement themselves at the top, or at least near the top, of their respective summers. This is because the DC characters are something audience members still really want to see. When a movie trailer contains Batman, Superman or the Joker, it gets people talking in a way no other movie franchise (save the MCU) can.
That’s how a movie like Suicide Squad can open with 130m, despite containing almost no previously used or recognisable characters. The DC brand is enough.
Now, it could argued that it’s the well received previous DC movies, namely the Dark Knight trilogy, that have caused this to happen, and that this brand power will wain if Warner Bros continues to release critically-panned films with these characters.
But for the moment, the DC brand is big, and this applies to Wonder Woman. The film gets an automatic boost just from being a part of this universe, a boost that translated to its triumph at the box office this weekend.
As for the the Mummy, well, in terms of brand power, you can’t really get any lower. Sure, the first film is well remembered, and made decent money, but it still sits with a middling 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, and each new franchise instalment fell from that already low mark.
The brand was further sullied by the multitude of critical trashed straight to DVD sequels, as well as the equally panned Scorpion King movies. This was a franchise already in the ground, and was going up against a brand with so much more buzz and excitement to it, making the resulting numbers to be expected.
5. Something New Instead of "The Same Old"
Ultimately, The Mummy going up against Wonder Woman was a test of two summer movies either offering something old and rehashed, or something fresh and new. The Mummy, as previously discussed, was selling itself as a generic and lifeless Tom Cruise action vehicle, with nothing to offer beyond what audiences had seen countless times before. It was more of the same, with no variation.
Wonder Woman may have been a comic book action blockbuster (a product that isn’t exactly in short supply right now), but it was also the first female-led superhero movie in over 10 years, and the only one to receive any kind of critical acclaim.
In this aspect, it was something new, something audiences hadn’t seen before. That was really the thing it had over The Mummy, and should be a lesson to any major studio in this current marketplace. When releasing something, you’ve got to give audiences a reason to care. The Mummy was the definition of a generic summer movie, and it suffered because of that, as will countless other films across 2017, as audiences move away from generic blockbusters, into films that offer something new.
Do you agree with my points? Why do you think The Mummy flopped? What are your opinions of both films? If you liked this article, share it on social media, and follow this blog on Twitter.