Universal Gets Holiday Lump Of Coal In Big Money Losers ‘Welcome To Marwen’ And ‘Mortal Engines’

Audiences did not welcome Robert Zemeckis and Steve Carell’s Welcome to Marwen with open arms this holiday season. I think this has been something most have seen coming for a while, with December 21st packed with blockbuster films Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns, Bumblebee, and holdover Into the Spider-Verse. We saw a couple of those films underperform, but Marwen got absolutely massacred, and Universal is going to pay quite a price for it.

The Carell dramedy earned a pathetic $2.3M during the opening weekend, which could cost Universal/Dreamworks around $60M overall when you factor in a $40M budget and advertising costs. But it’s the 1911 theaters it opened in that is really telling. This thing has been a stinking corpse for months, beginning when the first trailer was universally panned, leading to a quickly-released second trailer with a completely different tone. You could tell there was some scrambling going on, and after an early test screening bellyflopped, the decision was made to switch the coveted November release date for the slugfest of December 21st where it was sure to be clobbered.  A $120M advertising budget was slashed to $60M when it became clear what they were working with.

Any chance audiences would catch up with Welcome to Marwen later were dashed when the reviews came out, savaging it as one of the year’s most awful films.  A narrative adaptation of excellent documentary Marwencol, the film stars Carell as Mark Hogancamp, a PTSD sufferer who tries to get over past trauma by building a miniature WWII fantasy world out of dolls. It’s a great story that Zemeckis absolutely butchers, the way he has butchered a lot of movies lately. For the once-great director it’s three box office flops in a row after The Walk and Allied.

Meanwhile, Universal also get shellacked by Peter Jackson’s  adaptation of Mortal Engines. The epic adventure wasn’t even in the top 10 after its second week, and as of today only has $12M domestic and $54M worldwide on a budget estimated at $110M. Deadline’s estimates say if it were to somehow hit $120M globally that would still be about a $105M loss, but could climb as high as $150M.

And it’s losses like this that make studios reconsider expensive movies that rely heavily on visual effects, especially if they are original works or are high concept. Hollywood went through a phase of extreme cost-cutting measures a few years ago after a series of high-profile flops (The Lone Ranger leading the way), and a lot of projects were canned before they ever got going. We could see a return to that if this continues, or just more of a reliance on established franchises than there already is.

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