Dan Brown and Catholic Church Declare a Tie
By David Mumpower
May 16, 2009
This weekend was ceded to Sony Pictures, Tom Hanks and Ron Howard. Their latest release, Angels & Demons, was given carte blanche, the only one of the six May heavyweights to have no competing releases. The move was logical since the last film that united Hanks and Howard, The Da Vinci Code, opened to $77.1 million and finished with over $750 million worth of worldwide box office. A sequel to such a film seems like a slam dunk on paper. Unfortunately for Sony, sometimes things look better on paper than in execution.
Angels & Demons finished in first place this weekend with an estimated $48 million and a per-location average of $13,609. What is taken from this result is entirely in the eye of the beholder. An opening that is $30 million less than its predecessor is generally considered a disappointment if not a failure. In the case of this Dan Brown adaptation, I am not certain this is the case. The aspect of The Da Vinci Code that made it such a box office phenomenon was its name recognition. People knew of the bestselling novel and even those who hadn't read it wanted to know what all the buzz was about. What they discovered was a befuddling movie that satisfied almost no one, neither obsessive fans of the novel nor curious onlookers. Out of all of the $200+ million domestic earners in box office history, none has a lower RottenTomatoes score. It was critically reviled to the point that it could have been directed by Uwe Boll and no one would have noticed a difference. For Academy Award winners such as Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, this type of scorn was largely unprecedented, The Bonfire of the Vanities notwithstanding.
A sequel to such an unpopular, popular film (I know of no other way to describe it) was always a dicey proposition. A seven figure investment was required as a follow-up to a $125 million production that had made boatloads of money while being universally disliked. In addition to the foul taste left by The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons also suffered from Prince Caspian Syndrome. It too was a sequel to a film that had its own singular name recognition. That film opened only $10 million lower than its predecessor, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but its final domestic take wasn't even half of the better known property. With a strong opening weekend, Sony appears to have avoided the doomsday scenario of a domestic take short of $110 million for Angels & Demons. Given that worldwide receipts were always going to carry the day here (it's already pulled in $103.4 million overseas), I don't expect this film to wind up remembered as the huge disappointment that Prince Caspian was. That could change with a monumental second weekend drop, though. At this point, Angels & Demons' fate is up in the air a lot more than is ordinarily the case after opening weekend.