Damon-less Bourne Takes The Dark Knight Down
By John Hamann
August 12, 2012
With $370 million earned prior to the start of this mid-August weekend, The Dark Knight Rises was ready to give up the box office crown it has held heavily for the last three weekends. Chris Nolan's superhero epic had been number one for 21 straight days. The Bourne Legacy looked a little weak heading into its debut this weekend, but expectations were that it only needed about $25 million to win. I say weak because this Bourne lacked Matt Damon, who was sadly swapped for Jeremy Renner. This was a bad trade for a well-placed star who has never carried a film on his own (save for The Hurt Locker, which earned $17 million). Also on tap this weekend were two star-driven comedies, The Campaign with Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis and Hope Springs with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.
Our number one film of the weekend is no longer The Dark Knight Rises, as the baton is handed to another franchise, Universal's Bourne series. The Bourne Legacy (an ugly title) did decent business, but was obviously lacking Damon, as the fourth Bourne release earned only an okay $40.3 million from 3,745 venues. Universal stuck to the release pattern it used for the The Bourne Supremacy, keeping the venue count well below 4,000. Tracking was foreshadowing a $45 million debut, so this opening throws under that number somewhat. Unless it goes directly into the tank from here, Universal has likely rebooted their franchise. This opening reminds me of The Amazing Spider-Man, another reboot that while successful, was completely overshadowed by the much bigger success of its predecessor. Waiting a few more years, bottling up viewer anticipation, and taking a different approach may have made Sony hundreds of million more dollars on the Spidey reboot, and I think the same can be said for the Bourne series. These franchises are far too stuck in the present. Look what Marvel accomplished by looking to the future.
The last Bourne movie (Ultimatum) with Matt Damon opened to $69.3 million in 2007. Preceding that title was The Bourne Supremacy, which took in $52.5 million in 2004. It was a great franchise for a decade, with the original release, The Bourne Identity, changing the way action films were made, in much the same manner as The Matrix changed sci-fi in 1999. The Bourne Identity was released in 2002 and opened to $27.1 million. In the process Damon transformed into an action star. The original Bourne was made for $60 million, and went on to earn over $120 million on the domestic side, along with $92 million internationally. Thus, a franchise was Bourne (I had to make make the pun). Revenues spiraled upward, with the third film earning over $440 million worldwide, but costs had also increased. Universal had a financial outlay of $110 million on production costs for the third film alone.
Universal's new problem is that these costs for The Bourne Legacy are the same or higher, and domestic revenue is now going to be way, way down. Even if Legacy matches the opening-to-total multiplier that the third film had (3.28), the domestic box office will only equal the production budget on this one ($125 million). This does not include approximately $100 million in advertising costs. Universal will have to rely on Renner to bring in foreign audiences, which shows the casting mistake. Had Universal chosen Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, or someone more suited for international success, I believe this would have rebooted better. They also needed to dump Tony Gilroy, who may have had writing credits on the last three, but was never going to breathe new life into a franchise that was already getting stale.