Let’s make sure we characterize this correctly before getting started. We aren’t reviewing the film on its merits or flaws. From most reports, the film leaves a lot to be desired as Rotten Tomatoes Critics currently lists it with a rating of 13%, while the audience reviews are significantly more generous at 76%.
Instead, let’s focus on the business of movie making and why Dolittle’s $100 million box office sales is not only a net loss for the studio, but an astounding loss at that. Here are the raw numbers:
- Estimated Production Cost – $175 Million USD
- Estimated Promotion and Advertising – $15 Million USD
- Current Estimated Box Office Revenue – $100 Million USD
These numbers are after several weeks at the box office meaning that the decline in box office sales will decline at an increasing rate until they eventually fall to a level that gets the film pulled from theaters. To make up the $90 million deficit the film would have to make a miracle turnaround. Even if it does make up the difference, the lack of a significant return on the investment will kill any possibility of a sequel, let alone a series.
So, why aren’t audiences flocking to see a film loaded with star power, talking animals, and beautiful effects from the same producer of Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland?
At this point, the film has brought in about $48 million domestically and a bit over $50 million worldwide. So, why aren’t audiences flocking to see a film loaded with star power, talking animals, and beautiful effects from the same producer of Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland?
Competition at the box office is one of the reasons. Dolittle is going up against an Oscar favorite 1917 and another round of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys For Life. Dolittle also lacks an already engaged audience like the Lion King and Madagascar series that are going to come out to support a film with characters that are already near and dear to them.
To overcome a budget like that of Dolittle requires something fresh and unique to draw audiences and a revamped tale that has been done several times on the big screen just isn’t cutting it (yes, we’ve reached the point where talking animals isn’t exciting). The adventure teased in the trailer with cannonballs firing away and villains with swords rings hollow after years of Pirates of the Caribbean films that offered much the same although they lacked talking animals.
One last thing to consider is the salaries of the cast in the film, which is pretty stiff. Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Antonio Banderas with voices from the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Emma Thompson, and more big names, the talent cost alone for the film must be extraordinary.
Downey himself is reported to be receiving at least $25 million on the front end of his contract for the film and we’re sure that there are several other incentives built into his contract and that of other cast members.
To be sure, after dividing up all the sales revenue with the theaters, the film is going to be a big bust regardless of whether kids continue to watch the film in years to come. The lesson to be learned here might be that Hollywood needs to get fresh because no amount of star power and marketing is going to overcome a played out story with nothing truly innovative to offer.