The scathing review of the movie Marmaduke on io9.com begins by describing it as “so self-evidently bad that slamming it would be tautological,” and then it just gets nasty. (The justification for reviewing Marmaduke on a science fiction site? “A sentient Great Dane who holds his family hostage falls well within the boundaries of speculative fiction — it’s more or less like Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog, but without the semen farming.”) But never mind that. More intriguing was the link to a page on Box Office Mojo listing the fifty “Worst Wide Openings” since 1982.
I’m not sure what strikes me as most remarkable about this list. Obviously, it consists entirely of films that did awful business; even so, I don’t think I’d ever imagined just how badly some of them had done. For example, if I think of science fiction films starring Eddie Murphy that did abysmally, The Adventures of Pluto Nash first leaps to mind. But that’s not even on this list. Instead, Meet Dave—you remember, the one with Murphy playing an Eddie Murphy-shaped spaceship full of little people?—lands at number three: it opened with $5.2 million in 3,011 theaters and ultimately grossed only $11.8 million. Those are slit-your-wrist awful numbers.
On the other hand… when you consider that these are the worst movie openings in 30 years, what shocks me (as a complete outsider to the movie biz) is just how much money most of these films made. No doubt most of them did lose money—probably great buckets of money. But it also seems as though if producers can manage to get a film into 3,000 theaters for its opening weekend, they are almost guaranteed to open with $10 million and to gross at least $35 million.
Again, those are clearly not earnings sufficient to offset gigantic losses. But what seems more amazing? That even something like The Bad News Bears remake could earn about $33 million? Or that Battlefield Earth couldn’t even bring in $22 million?