Debuting a film at a festival is risky. If it’s well received, it can position the film for box office success and award show glory. But if a film gets even mediocre reviews, it can create a downward spiral of bad buzz all the way through theatrical release.
This was especially evident during the 2012 and 2013 festival circuits.
Consider the case of Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY. The film made its debut at the 70th Venice International Film Festival five weeks before its October 2013 theatrical release. Rapturous reviews followed, and the film debuted to $55M, a then-record opening for an October release. The film earned 10 Academy Award nominations and won seven of them.
The success of GRAVITY stands in sharp relief to the festival journey for CLOUD ATLAS the year before. ATLAS, a sprawling, multigenerational space epic directed by the Wachowskis was introduced at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012. ATLAS failed to garner the same positive reviews as GRAVITY leaving the film with an air of bad buzz leading up to its October theatrical release. The film was doomed. ATLAS made a total of $27M at the box office.
It was a similar story for Ben Stiller’s take on THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY. Long considered an Oscar front-runner ahead of its Christmas 2013 release, the film got middling reviews coming out of the New York Film Festival a few months earlier. The poor reception essentially killed its box office and Oscar prospects. MITTY grossed a mediocre $57M at the box office.
Sadly, it appears as though George Miller’s THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING, coming out of its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, is following in the footsteps of CLOUD ATLAS, and not GRAVITY.
Miller’s FURY ROAD has been top of mind over the past few weeks. Not just because the director has resurfaced with his follow-up, but also because with FURY ROAD Miller created the modern template for making an older property relevant for contemporary audiences. It’s a template that was followed by TOP GUN: MAVERICK.
But sadly, LONGING is going to need some help if it hopes to avoid joining CLOUD ATLAS as another expensive, passionate misfire.
But how is this conclusion reached? First, the reviews were good to fair. Currently it sits at 62% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s certainly not bad, but coming out of a festival, its best to be above 90%. GRAVITY has a score of 96%.
Second, and most troubling, the rollout has failed to register with the general public. Despite a splashy debut, the film’s scores on The Quorum haven’t budged. First, take a look at awareness. The vertical grey bars represent trailers. United Artists released a teaser for the trailer (the first gray bar), then the full trailer a few days later (the second gray bar). Neither gave the film much of a lift. Awareness has climbed only three points from 12 to 15. That’s certainly NOT where you want to be after such a splashy start to the campaign.
The situation’s even more dire when we look at interest. There has been no gain in interest from the campaign launch. Interest remains at 4.5, which ranks the film in 54th place among the 63 films currently being tracked by The Quorum.
Tracking aside, there’s another reason why we’re closely watching LONGING. Currently the film is scheduled to open the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend. It shares the weekend with HONK FOR JESUS SAVE YOUR SOUL.
Historically, Labor Day was a box office wasteland – one of the softest weekends of the year. Then, to the surprise of everyone, Disney scheduled SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS on Labor Day weekend in 2021. A Marvel film at the end of August? It made no sense.
Before the pandemic, the highest-grossing Labor Day release was the 2007 reboot of HALLOWEEN. That film grossed a total of $59M. At the time, HALLOWEEN was the only Labor Day film to even break $50M. So when Disney put SHANG-CHI on that weekend, it was puzzling to say the least.
SHANG-CHI debuted to $75M. That’s right, it made more than the highest-grossing Labor Day release in its first weekend. It went on to gross $225M in total. The thinking was that with SHANG-CHI Disney had successfully reinvented one of the worst weekends of the year. Hooray! A new box office weekend was born. Fast forward 12 months and SHANG-CHI’s blessing of the Labor Day weekend is likely to go unfulfilled.
Disney hasn’t seized on the date for another Marvel film. Warner Bros. hasn’t put a DC film on Labor Day. None of the studios have planted a flag on Labor Day for any of their big budget tentpoles. Sadly, neither LONGING nor HONK fulfill the promise of SHANG-CHI. So not only is LONGING off to a soft start, but the hope of establishing Labor Day as a viable launching pad for large-scale films looks to be dashed.