It took 35 years, but the sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner is finally out in the wild. After years of rumors, false starts, and semi-canonical spin-offs (remember Soldier?), the dream is finally a reality. Going into the fall movie season, Denis Villeneuve’s sprawling sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic cyberpunk masterpiece was one of the pop culture community’s most hotly-anticipated events of the year. Now, at long last, the finished film is available for fans and newcomers to view in all its rusty, violent, existential glory.
Going into the weekend, box office analysts had the title pegged for an opening around $50 million, a fine start for an R-rated film with an intimidating runtime of 163 minutes. Its showings on Thursday night were strong, bringing in around $4 million, but then, as the Friday numbers began to form, it was clear that something had gone awry.
By the time the dust cleared on Monday afternoon, it was revealed that Blade Runner 2049 only brought in $32.7 million during its opening weekend, a far cry from initial estimates. What went wrong? Why did it open so much lower than expected? Can the Ryan Gosling/Harrison Ford sci-fi epic turn its fortunes around and still become a box office hit by the end of its run? Or Is Blade Runner 2049 a Box Office Bomb?
As much as certain sections of the population rely on websites like Screen Rant to feed their hype, those people only make up a small portion of the larger movie-going audience. What excites some people doesn’t necessarily excite other people. When certain groups of people become too excited, it can create the impression that everybody’s excited, when really it’s just an outspoken minority.
Take, for example, Snakes on a Plane, which is remembered as one of the first “viral” movies. It was a huge internet phenomenon in the months leading to its 2006 release, and hopes were high leading into release, but the Samuel L. Jackson schlock-fest only managed to bring in $34 million domestically, and $62 million worldwide. Perennial favorite Guillermo Del Toro has had the goodwill of fanboy praise on his side for years, but the painful truth is he’s never really been able to make the jump to mainstream success. Both Hellboy movies and Pacific Rim were relative under-performers, and time will tell if his latest film, The Shape of Water, will be able to generate the Oscar buzz it needs to become a mainstream hit. And don’t even get us started on Serenity, the highly-anticipated follow up to Joss Whedon’s cult classic TV series, Firefly. All indications were that it was going to be huge, but it crashed and burned at the box office, much to the heartbreak of the fandom.
It seems like Blade Runner 2049 has become the latest victim of this phenomenon. The original Blade Runner is considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time, and director Denis Villeneuve is one of the hottest auteurs working today. His previous output includes Sicario, Prisoners, and Arrival, and Blade Runner is his largest movie to date in terms of scope and budget. However, the sad truth is that, even with the surprise success of Arrival, most people don’t really know who Villeneuve is, and many movie-goers only know Blade Runner by reputation. In the lead-up to 2049‘s release, the internet was rife with people complaining about falling asleep during the original – a last-minute backlash against a movie which is supposed to be more relevant than ever. Could anecdotal memes like “Blade Runner is boring” have turned casual fans away? And how can they be brought back?
The Oscar Race
The release date of Blade Runner 2049 is something of a curiosity, and a double-edged sword. Originally, it had been scheduled for January 2018. However, the date was moved up to October 6, 2017, perhaps to debut in a more prestigious frame than the typical wasteland that is January. In addition, the film is generating significant Oscar buzz for director Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, as well as other categories.
The only problem here is that Blade Runner‘s October release date is a bit too early for it to truly benefit from Oscar buzz, at least in the immediate future. Oscar “buzz” is one thing, but the actual nominations don’t come out until January 23, more than three months out from this writing, when Blade Runner 2049 will be out of theaters. Will Warner Bros. (or Sony, in international markets) consider giving the film a re-release or significant expansion to capitalize on its Oscar chances? Or will that just be more trouble than it’s worth?
Why This Release Date?
Initially, Blade Runner was set to come out too late to cash in on any potential Oscar buzz. As it stands, it came out too early for that boost to be part of the equation, but that’s not to say that Warner Bros. made a mistake. Sure, Blade Runner could be seen as an “Oscar movie,” but it’s also a grandiose sci-fi sequel with spectacular special effects and amazing production design. It’s a movie which, common wisdom dictates, needs to open big. Like, “fifty million dollars” big.
To that end, the decision to release the film on October 6 seemed a sound one. It had no major competition; it’s been weeks since It tore up the September box office landscape, and no other film has truly broken out since then – the reasonably strong performance of Kingsman notwithstanding. As for the actual release date, 2049‘s only competition came in the form of counter-programming; The Mountain Between Us, a romantic survival drama, and My Little Pony, a children’s movie (though not without its periphery adult fanbase).
Indeed, Blade Runner‘s opening haul of $32 million was leaps and bounds above Mountain and Pony, which grossed $10.5 mil and $8.8 mil, respectively. In essence, the road was paved for Blade Runner. The audience simply didn’t turn out the way so many were hoping they would. Still, it’s worth mentioning the uncommonly high number of adult-targeted films which collectively may have eaten into Blade Runner’s box office prospects. It, Kingsman, and American Made are all adult-aimed, R-rated films. Combined, those three pictures made over $27 million this weekend, indicating that Blade Runner did, in fact, face more competition than one might notice at first blush.
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