What year is it again? Judging by M. Night Shyamalan's three-week reign at the box office with his biggest horror/suspense hit in 13 years, it must be 2004. (Or 1999, when "The Sixth Sense" was the last time that the filmmaker had a movie threepeat at No. 1.)
Shyamalan's "Split" proved unbeatable for the third straight weekend, earning an estimated $14.6 million from Friday to Sunday, for a 17-day total just shy of $100 million. This despite direct competition from "Rings," the third entry in the horror franchise whose first two installments earned more than $400 million worldwide.
Even with "Split" losing 43 percent of last weekend's business, it still did better than "Rings," which debuted in second place with an estimated $13.0 million. That's about what it was expected to earn, so at least it did better than the other wide release, "The Space Between Us." No one had high expectations for that film, with predictions running around $6 million, but it didn't even clear that low bar, debuting instead with an estimated $3.8 million and settling for ninth place. That's the 11th worst opening ever for a movie released on more than 2,500 screens.
As this column noted when "Split" opened with an astonishing $40 million two weeks ago, the thriller did a lot of things right, but it's also been lucky with its timing, in that it's competed against some especially feeble rivals. Here are seven reasons why "Rings" and "Space" fell short.
1. The Super Bowl
The biggest TV event of the year tends to keep people away from the multiplex. In fact, this was one of the slowest weekends in recent memory, the first in which total sales failed to crack $100 million since the doldrums of early December.
2. Female Audiences Stayed Home
You'd think a horror movie and a tearjerking teen romance would be smart counter-programming to the Super Bowl, as both genres target young women. But women watch football, too, so maybe not.
3. A Glut of Horror Movies
With several horror movies in the marketplace already, we really noticed that the market was saturated last week when "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter" had to settle for a fourth-place premiere. This weekend, it's down to sixth place, with an estimated $4.5 million from Friday to Sunday and $21.9 million for its 10 days of release -- woof. That means the movie will finish with the lowest domestic total of any of the series' six installments.
Besides, "Rings" earned a dismal C- at CinemaScore, indicating horrible word-of-mouth. ("Split" earned a B+.) Given a choice between two wide-release horror movies, the one with much better word-of-mouth had the edge.
4.Too Long a Wait for "Rings"
It's been 12 years since "The Ring Two," an eon in the lifespan of a horror franchise aimed at young-adult viewers. (This column noted the same problem last week for "Resident Evil," and that series went only five years between sequels.)
The current generation of horror fans may not remember the first two "Ring" movies, and the fact that none of the principals from those films returned for "Rings" makes it hard for moviegoers to grab onto a thread of continuity.
5. Release Date Musical Chairs
Both "Rings" and "Space" had their initial release date changed or postponed at least three times. That doesn't bode well for a film's quality; it suggests a lack of confidence on the distributor's part. It also makes it hard to market the movie, especially if the trailers end up coming out so far in advance of the eventual release date that potential viewers forget about the film.
6. Really Sh***y Reviews
Critics certainly notice when a movie's release gets delayed three times, and since those delays lead critics to expect a disappointment, they may color the reviews. So does not screening a movie at all for critics and forcing them to wait until after it opens to see it and write about it.
True, that's standard procedure for horror movies, but it still doesn't inspire confidence when a studio withholds screenings, perhaps because it knows the reviews won't help. In the case of "Rings," the result was a fresh rating of just 5 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. "Space" didn't do much better (18 percent).
Actually, paying audiences really liked "Space," giving it a strong A- at CinemaScore. But you can generate good word-of-mouth only if you can get audiences in the door, and the delays, the reviews, and the Super Bowl all would have discouraged viewers from buying tickets in the first place.
7. The Foreign Market
As 2017's box office keeps reminding us, a lot of these movies simply weren't made with the American market in mind. That seems especially true of "Rings," with its Spanish director, Italian leading lady, and overseas gross of $15.2 million, about 53 percent of its earnings so far. "Rings" cost just $25 million to make (about half the cost of the original "The Ring" back in 2002), so it should make a profit whether Americans go see it or not.
"Space" will have a much harder time abroad, as a dialogue-heavy movie without big-name stars or a title familiar from another medium. (At least its budget was also modest, just $30 million, pretty frugal for a movie involving space travel.)
It might have done better on a weekend with fewer distractions and less competition, but that would have meant changing the release date a fourth time. Better, perhaps, to put it on the field with "Rings," "Split," and the Patriots and Falcons, and just take your lumps.