Sometimes they’re based on shorts. Other times it’s a book. In some cases, they are entirely original. Regardless of the source, or lack thereof, the past 20 years has had its share of great science fiction films, including EDGE OF TOMORROW, ARRIVAL, INTERSTELLER, and DISTRICT 9.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that sci-fi films based on unfamiliar IP or none at all can be risky propositions. Just look at VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, GEMINI MAN, CLOUD ATLAS, and JUPITER ASCENDING.
The latest entry in the genre is THE CREATOR, which is just over a month away from release. The good news is that with a reported budget of around $85M, THE CREATOR is on the (relatively speaking) inexpensive side. The bad news is that despite an intriguing and unconventional campaign, awareness for the film is low.
It is vitally important that non-sequel original films succeed. We want studios to feel confident in greenlighting them. And while we’re all celebrating the success of BARBIE, let’s not forget that it’s based on very well-known IP. Same for the SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE. In fact, only three films among the top 20 this year are originals: SOUND OF FREEDOM, ELEMENTAL, and M3GAN. In other words, it is hard out there without a built-in fanbase.
That is the challenge faced by 20th Century Studios, which is distributing the film.
Director Gareth Edwards knows how to make a big movie. In 2014, he brought GODZILLA back to the big screen to the tune of half a billion dollars worldwide. Two years later, ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY did even better. It grossed over $1B worldwide and was the 2nd highest grossing film of 2016 domestically.
Edwards returns after a seven-year absence with THE CREATOR, arriving on September 29th. The film is roughly a month away, and we can’t seem to get past this queasy feeling in our stomach that the film isn’t connecting, mainly because we still don’t know exactly what happens in this movie. We’ve watched the trailer repeatedly, and we know it involves AI going rogue, a young kid with some special power, and we know that lots of things blow up. How do we know that? Because the final 30 seconds of the trailer is essentially a montage of guns being fired, interspersed with fiery explosions.
While some campaigns err on the side of revealing too much, this one errs on the side of not revealing enough. Does it look expensive? Yes. Does it look different from other dystopian sci-fi thrillers? Not so much. Or, at least, not yet.
While the trailer has yet to turn us into believers, we have enjoyed the rest of the campaign—specifically the posters. The first two teaser posters certainly caught our attention. They are a far cry from the traditional artwork we see for the genre, which is always a plus. But with no tagline or actor’s names, these teaser posters are, well, a tease. They look more like book covers.
This week we got two more posters. These reveal that John David Washington stars in the film (we know that from the trailer), though his name still doesn’t appear in the image. And we know it will be playing in IMAX theaters. But aside from that, these two don’t peel back much of the onion.
Our greatest cause for concern comes from the tracking data.
Last week, when the film debuted on our 6-Weeks Out Film Tracking Report, The Quorum gave an initial opening weekend projection of $12M-$16M. We can all agree that we’d like to see it do better than that.
How did we arrive at that number? Take a look at the chart below. This shows awareness for THE CREATOR (dark yellow) against MOONFALL (light yellow), THE NORTHMAN (brown), and BULLET TRAIN (beige). With only weeks to go, awareness for CREATOR is only 14%. That’s well below MOONFALL and THE NORTHMAN, which opened to $10M and $12M, respectively.
The CREATOR ranks 43rd in awareness among the 55 films currently being tracked by The Quorum. That’s not great. The news on the interest side isn’t much better. At 44%, THE CREATOR is above THE NORTHMAN but well below MOONFALL and BULLET TRAIN.
So where might this film land? As noted above, The Quorum gave the film an initial projection of $12M-$16M. How did we arrive at that number, and if the campaign starts to connect, how might that forecast change?
As always, we start by looking at a film’s box office universe (BOU). These specifically-selected compasses help us understand how a movie might perform at the high and low end. For THE CREATOR, we chose non-sequel sci-fi thrillers from September or October. GRAVITY and THE MARTIAN are at the high end, while GEOSTORM is at the low end.
Based on this, we expect THE CREATOR to open around $50M in success or the mid-teens if it doesn’t connect.
We then lay on the tracking data on top of the BOE, and from there, we arrive at a forecast. The very low awareness and interest puts the film at the low end of the BOE.
Can the projection rise? Absolutely. The initial forecast is a snapshot of a moment in time. As this campaign rolls out, we hope to see the numbers increase. It’s just THE CREATOR is starting from an especially low point without much runway left before release.