As Tom Hanks should have learned back in his "Bosom Buddies" days, never underestimate the power of a man in a dress.
That massive thudding sound you heard Sunday morning was jaws hitting floors throughout Hollywood as Hanks's supposed sure thing, "Inferno," failed to open at No. 1 and had to settle for second place behind last week's winner, Tyler Perry's "Boo! A Madea Halloween."
"Inferno," after all, was the third movie in Hanks and director Ron Howard's series of movies based on Dan Brown's best-selling Robert Langdon thrillers, the first two of which, "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels & Demons," had earned a combined $351 million in North America and $1.3 billion worldwide. Hanks himself has been riding a wave of good will, starting with his September hit "Sully" and culminating last weekend in his triumphant return to "Saturday Night Live," giving the show its highest-rated episode of the season so far and generating at least three Hanks sketches that went viral.
"Inferno" was also the only new wide release this weekend, so it was expected to cruise to an easy $20 to $25 million victory. "Boo!" was expected to follow the pattern of Perry's previous movies and fall about 55 percent in its second week to land at $13 million. Instead, Perry's film held onto the number one spot with $16.7 million -- dropping only 42 percent. "Inferno" underperformed drastically, claiming just an estimated $15.0 million debut. That number could drop to $14 million after final tallies come in.
If Robert Langdon were a real person, he might suspect a conspiracy at work. Indeed, the Tom Hanks film's failure has many authors. Here are several factors that contributed to the movie burning out:
1. Tom Cruise
Hanks and Cruise share more than just a first name. They both became top leading men in the '80s, routinely delivered $100-million domestic grosses for the next 20 years, and still remain reliable (if diminished) box office draws today. They're also competing against each other for the same adult-thriller audience, but Cruise got a head start with last weekend's "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back."
The franchise film opened last weekend with $22.9 million and finished third this weekend with an estimated $9.6 million. Hanks did more damage to Cruise this weekend than vice versa, but still, "Inferno" could have done better if there had been greater distance between it and "Jack Reacher."
Cruise wasn't Hanks's only rival for the adult-thriller audience this weekend. Ben Affleck's "The Accountant" and Emily Blunt's "The Girl on the Train" were both still in the top six. Yes, Fall is supposed to be the time that grown-ups go back to the movies while kids are busy at school, but c'mon, Mom and Dad aren't going to pay to see four similar thrillers. So the one that's last out of the gate is at a disadvantage.
This year's historic World Series match-up is one of the highest-rated Fall Classics in recent years. With games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, people are staying home in droves to watch baseball. Indeed, with just an estimated $85.6 million in total sales, this is the lowest grossing box office weekend of 2016 to date. Apparently, everyone had something better to do than go to the movies.
October is just not a good time for the Robert Langdon franchise. The first two movies both opened in mid-May, a more-ideal-time for a globetrotting action thriller. In October, "Inferno" is competing against not just the World Series and other grown-up movies, but also against Halloween.
The spooky holiday is one reason the season-themed "Boo!" is still on top, and why "Ouija: Origin of Evil" is still in the top five. "Ouija" didn't get good recommendations from viewers who saw it when it opened last week, but it's the only horror film in wide release on this Halloween weekend.
5.Bad Buzz and Terrible Reviews
Critics haven't thought highly of any of the Robert Langdon movies, but they gave "Inferno" an especially harsh 20 percent "Fresh" at Rotten Tomatoes. Woof. Ticketbuyers weren't much kinder, giving the film a just-okay B+ at CinemaScore, indicating less-than-enthusiastic word-of-mouth. Critics didn't think much of "Boo!" either, but CinemaScore audiences gave it a solid A.
6. "Doctor Strange"
The new Marvel movie doesn't even come out until next week, but Benedict Cumberbatch's magical hero may have used his powers pre-emptively to thwart "Inferno." It's not uncommon, after all, when a much-anticipated movie is still a week or more away from release, for fans to save their ticket dollars and avoid the multiplex until it premieres.
7. Ron Howard
He's still thought of as an A-list director, but Howard hasn't had much commercial success outside the Robert Langdon movies in nearly 20 years.
Aside from this (now-dead) franchise, he hasn't had a $100-million-grossing domestic release since 2001's "A Beautiful Mind" or an opening weekend worth more than $19 million since 2000's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Even the Langdon movies, however, have trended downward.
The first one, "The Da Vinci Code," opened in 2006 with $77 million on the way toward a $218 million total in the U.S. In 2009, "Angels & Demons" debuted with $46 million toward a $133 million domestic total. "Inferno" will be lucky to earn over its lifetime as much "Angels" grossed in its first few days.
Don't weep too much for Hanks, Howard and the "Inferno" team. In the two weeks before it debuted to the sound of crickets here, "Inferno" opened in markets around the world and made an estimated $132.7 million, including a $13.3 million debut in China this weekend. "Inferno" cost just $75 million to make (about half what "Angels & Demons" cost seven years ago) and probably a similar amount to market, so if Sony has to share about half the gross with theater owners, "Inferno" has to gross only $300 million globally to make a profit. The movie's slow start in America makes that kind of a windfall less likely.
Still, for all the movie had going against it, making a Tom Hanks threequel in a $1.3 billion franchise for just $75 million is pretty much a no-brainer to studio accountants, no matter how the movie fares in the United States. Hanks may be America's Dad, but he didn't make this movie for his kids.