Inhumans‘ brief theatrical run in IMAX has been dismissed as essentially an abject failure, but it did far better at the box office than it’s credited. The road has been nothing but rough for Inhumans in general, as a project initially intended for the big leagues of the Marvel Cinematic Universe before a release date shake-up to include Spider-Man: Homecoming saw Inhumans disappear from Marvel Studios’ plans altogether before eventually getting wrapped up in a major arc in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and eventually getting announced as its own show on ABC.
Despite the change of plans, the inclusion of the inhuman plot in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and subsequent rumors of a spin-off show was met fairly positively as AoS was finally hitting its stride and the idea of an expansion on the small screen MCU was fairly exciting – especially since the movies weren’t connecting with TV as much as some fans wanted to see. If Inhumans could take the production quality of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and continue the MCU’s X-Men substitute in a similar fashion to the way it had already been introduced, an Inhumans show could have a great reception.
The initial announcement that Inhumans was partnering with IMAX was definitely a positive sign, suggesting that Marvel thought Inhumans had cinematic potential, something that was fairly believable considering some of the episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the time. Unfortunately, as the release approached, very little of Inhumans‘ promotional material resembled the epic Marvel story many fans were looking for. The promotional photos themselves weren’t lit or colored in a way that was very dynamic or visually engaging, the character designs drew quick comparisons to cheap cosplay, and the first trailer didn’t do much to improve that impression as fans began to question where the expected IMAX production quality had gone.
Any hope that the show’s problems were merely due to bad marketing were dashed when reviews started pouring in declaring Inhumans DOA. When it only brought in $1.3 million opening over the course of its opening weekend the narrative was cemented. The problem is, that’s not a complete look at the numbers. In reality, Inhumans was one of the most successful movies to release that weekend.
Sure, a strict dollar for dollar comparison says that Inhumans‘ opening weekend box office was a total bust. After all, The Hitman’s Bodyguard took in over $13 million that weekend, and it opened on August 18th – 2 weekends earlier. However, once you adjust for its per-screen earnings, Inhumans had the third highest per-screen average for a movie showing on more than 100 screens, with an average of $3,456 on 393 screens. It was beaten only by The Hitman’s Bodyguard at $3,938 and the Mexican film Hazlo Como Hombre (Do It Like An Hombre) at $3,777. Sure, those numbers aren’t anything to write home about, but considering the scathing reviews, limited screens, nearly unnoticeable marketing, and a historically poor box office performance all around, it’s not actually that bad.
The hardest part about evaluating Inhumans’ box office take is the fact that TV shows don’t show on the big screen often enough for there to be sufficient data to make an apples to apples comparison. Sherlock and Doctor Who have both seen theatrical releases in the past, but the available box office information for those releases doesn’t include the domestic box office or number of screens. Game of Thrones had an IMAX release for the last two episodes of season 4 appearing on 205 screens and bringing in an average of $7,146 per screen, more than double Inhumans average; However, as the dramatic conclusion of the fourth season of show as perennially popular as Game of Thrones, that kind of turnout is to be expected.
Ultimately, it’s hard to know exactly how successful Inhumans was due to lack of similar releases to compare to, but simply comparing it to the other releases that weekend shows it was one of the better performers during a massive box office slump. Rich Gelfond, IMAX’s chief executive officer, said that Inhumans was simply “a September fill-in,” which he noted “did fine in its first weekend,” but it was ultimately pulled due to the overwhelming buzz leading into the would-be box office smash of Stephen King’s IT, and the narrative that Inhumans was a complete theatrical flop would be all but cemented.
If Inhumans had seen a better critical evaluation, then people might care a little more about the nuance of its box office numbers, but since the show has been pretty widely dismissed before it even hits TV, there’s been little reason to question its seemingly poor financial performance. In the context of Marvel’s normal box office dominance, it appears to be an abysmally low turnout, yet if Marvel was hoping for any sort of box office smash, or anything more than “a September fill-in” as Gelfond put it, then there would have logically been a much wider release than just 393 screens and marketing would have been much more prevalent. As it stands, IMAX saw a satisfactory box office placeholder during an abysmally poor box office weekend before the pleasant surprise of IT’s box office sweep. If Inhumans’ TV future is as dire as has been predicted, then its box office performance could be the only bright spot of its short existence.
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