Nolte: ‘Dark Phoenix,’ ‘Godzilla,’ and ‘Rocketman’ Take a Dive at the Box Office

Taron Egerton in Rocketman (Marv Films/New Republic Pictures, 2019)
Marv Films/New Republic Pictures

Dark Phoenix, Godzilla, and the Elton John biopic Rocketman are flopping bigtime or, if you prefer … under-performing.

It would be quite the stretch, however, to call Dark Phoenix anything but a flop. In the ten movie history of the X-Men franchise, Dark Phoenix’s projected $36 million domestic opening is not only a catastrophe, it is, by far, the lowest opening of any X-Men movie yet.

Six years ago, The Wolverine opened to $53 million. That is now the second lowest. Dark Phoenix — even with the First Class cast, even with Jennifer Lawrence, came in $17 million below that.

Reports indicate this sucker cost $200 million to produce and it’s safe to add another $100 million in promotion costs, so you are talking about a breakeven point north of $500 million and the international box office has not been kind.

It is almost certain Dark Phoenix will lose money.

With Disney’s purchase of 20th Century-Fox, Dark Phoenix was probably the end of the X-Men franchise anyway, at least the end as we know it, which wipes yet one more franchise off the board.

Speaking of franchises in trouble, Godzilla: King of the Monsters plummeted 69 percent in its second weekend with a pathetic take of just $14.5 million — and this comes after a lousy opening weekend that brought in just $48 million. After two weekends, Godzilla 2 sits at just $78 million, which is less than Godzilla (2014) took in it first three days.

Worldwide, Godzilla 2 sits at just $193 million (not counting this weekend), so the chances of reaching breakeven are almost nil.

Will next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong revive a franchise that has never really popped?

Rocketman also took a steep 57 percent dive in its second weekend, which brings the overall ten-day take to a pathetic $47.5 million.

This Elton John biopic was supposed to be this year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, but Freddie Mercury’s biopic opened higher ($51 million) than Rocketman’s total ten day haul.

In fact, after its second weekend, Bohemian Rhapsody had already cleared the $100 million mark.

So what went so wrong here? After all, Rocketman received much better reviews than Bohemian Rhapsody (90 percent fresh for Rocketman compared to Bohemian’s barely fresh 61 percent), Elton John was always a bigger star than Freddie Mercury, and both men were open about their homosexuality.

The big difference appears to be the approach.

Bohemian Rhapsody explored Mercury’s life as an artist, as a musical genius, and didn’t dwell on his sexuality or other personal foibles. It was a tribute to a man’s otherworld talent — and that is how the movie chose to define him, as opposed to defining him by what he did with his penis.

Rocketman defines Elton John by his sexuality, his drug problems, and sex addiction, as opposed to his undeniable musical talent.

And so, whereas Bohemian Rhapsody earned a PG-13 rating, Rocketman, thanks primarily to a well-publicized gay sex scene, came in with an R rating.

Personally, I’m tired of biopics revolving around alcoholism, drug addiction, sexuality, infidelity, what have you… And I suspect the public is, as well.

Avoiding this approach is what made the James Brown biopic Get on Up (2014) a modern-day classic. Brown certainly had his personal failings, and the movie didn’t shy away from those, but it mostly stuck to Brown’s genius as a musician and trailblazing approach to managing his own business affairs.

On top of that — and I know we’re not supposed to speak this truth — the idea of Rocketman’s gay sex scenes makes a lot of people uncomfortable — including me, and who wants to pay good money to be uncomfortable?

Worldwide, Rocketman has so far earned (not counting this weekend) a pathetic $72 million (that’s not a typo), which is a long, long, long, long way from Bohemian’s jaw-dropping $900 million worldwide haul.

The surviving members of Queen were deeply involved in Bohemian Rhapsody and did not want their late leader defined by anything other than his genius and second-to-none showmanship. They protected Mercury in this way, protected him from a Hollywood that loves to drag its biopic subjects through the melodramatic mud, and it paid off in spades.

Listen, making movies that appeal to homosexuals, including big summer movies with gay sex scenes, is totally fine. Hollywood should make movies for everyone. But that doesn’t mean people like myself are going to go see them.

Another franchise in trouble is The Secret Life of Pets. Back in 2016, the first one opened to an astonishing $104 million, which still holds the record for an original film. This weekend’s sequel opened to less than half of that, just $47.6 million, which is even below the $60 million expected.

Finally, the horror thriller Ma was hit with a breathtaking 72 percent second weekend fall (that’s a lot, even for a horror movie), which puts its ten day total at $32 million.

The one bit of good news is Disney’s live action Aladdin, which will close its third weekend with $233 in the bank.

Will Smith is one of our last remaining movie stars and it’s good to know that still matters.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.


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