Seven Reasons Why ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Was A Box Office Disaster

Forbes Finance 2 weeks ago
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton in James Cameron and Tim Miller's 'Terminator: Dark Fate'
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton in James Cameron and Tim Miller's 'Terminator: Dark Fate'

As of this posting, the Tim Miller-directed and James Cameron-produced Terminator: Dark Fate has earned $29 million domestic and $124 million worldwide following a disastrous global launch. The Linda Hamilton/Arnold Schwarzenegger/Mackenzie Davis/Natalia Reyes/Gabriel Luna flick was released by Paramount in North America and Fox/Disney overseas (outside of China), cost $185 million and will probably lose all parties over $100 million. It is one of those monumentally misguided pursuits that annoys me to no end, both because it was painfully predictable and because it does real damage to the entire industry. For now, I will focus on why it was painfully predictable. So, without further ado…

Terminator: Salvation and Terminator: Genisys were rejected by audiences.

I talk all the time about the “Tomb Raider Trap,” which is when a lousy franchise-starter becomes a hit through preordained interest and hype despite being lousy, and then the superior sequel (in this case, The Cradle of Life) pays the price. Think, offhand, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Addams Family Values and (relatively speaking) Ouija: Origins of Evil. Well, Terminator: Dark Fate may have been better than Terminator: Salvation and Terminator: Genisys, but audiences were still burned by those two. Moreover, those two were not themselves box office hits, earning $371 million in 2009 on a $200 million budget and $441 million (including a frontloaded $113 million gross from China) in 2015 on a $155 million budget. Like Saw VI paying for the mediocre Saw V, even Dark Fate being “the one you’ve been waiting for” wasn’t enough when moviegoers had already said “Eww… no!” twice before.

Terminator movies need to stop costing $150 million-plus.

I will admit not having watched The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but those who did have generally nice things to say about the two-season Fox drama, namely that it offered decent TV-sized action and spectacle while dealing with the various issues and possibilities brought about by the initial sci-fi premise. Like Star Trek, there’s a case to be made that the stuff folks like about the franchise aren’t exclusively the mega-budget spectacle elements. Maybe, like Paramount’s mega-budget Star Trek reboot flicks (which overspent chasing Marvel-sized overseas grosses), the Terminator franchise was never really meant to be a tentpole-sized action spectacle and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (released at the prime of Schwarzenegger’s stardom and unique unto itself in the summer of 1991) was the exception to the rule. Point being, had Dark Fate cost $85 million (which, like Gemini Man, looks like it cost around $85 million), instead of $185 million, we’d be having a very different conversation.   

The reviews were better, but not good enough.

Fox opened Terminator: Dark Fate a week early in 12 overseas territories, critics saw and reviewed the film well in advance of its global rollout. So, the word got out early and that word was… fine? Look, I’m on the “no” side of the fence, but only just barely (I like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines just fine, thank you much). The film has its pleasures, such as strong performances, a solid dialogue-driven second act, some big, if muddled and poorly edited, action sequences. But “the best Terminator movie since T2” consensus doesn’t mean much when most folks hated the last two and liked or were indifferent toward Rise of the Machines. Considering the damage done to the franchise by the last two films, and the new normal (where folks no longer go to the movies just to go to the movies), Dark Fate needed to be Fury Road-level good to win folks back.

The China boost was a mirage.

Contrary to popular belief, Chinese moviegoers do have taste. Warcraft earned $219 million in 2016 in China, but it earned $90 million of that in the first 48 hours, showing that Chinese moviegoers didn’t like it any better than we did (it was their Batman v Superman). X-Men: Apocalypse earned a $121 million in China, which pushed the film over $500 million and made Dark Phoenix look like a safe bet. But China can say “Yeah, once was enough” as well as we can, and the last X-Men movie only earned $65 million in China. Terminator: Genisys made headlines by opening with a near-record (at the time) $27 million opening day, but A) it was the end of a local blackout period and B) it flamed out with $113 million. China didn’t like Genisys any more than we did, and Dark Fate opened with $29 million this weekend for a likely over/under $55 million total.

Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t been a movie star in 20 years.

While the kind of movie star that puts butts in the seats is in painfully short supply these days, to where even Will Smith needs a franchise/IP play, Schwarzenegger has been struggling since End of Days in 1999. That movie, his first since his much-panned performance in Batman & Robin and heart surgery two years prior, was sold as a comeback vehicle, but it underwhelmed with $211 million worldwide on a $100 million budget. Except for Terminator 3 ($433 million on a $170 million budget in 2003) and Expendables 2 ($314 million on a $100 million budget in 2012), every other Schwarzenegger vehicle since Eraser has disappointed or outright bombed. Think, quality notwithstanding, The Sixth Day, Collateral Damage, The Last Stand, Escape Plan, Sabotage, Expendables 3 and Terminator: Genisys. Like a lot of 80’s and 90’s stars, but he’s been trying to “come back” for longer than he ever was “back.”

Applying the Force Awakens formula didn’t work because Terminator is not Star Wars.

Way before anyone had been cast in The Force Awakens, I argued J.J. Abrams and friends should use the preordained blockbuster status of Star Wars VII to rebut conventional wisdom about who could star in global blockbusters. Lucasfilm gave us a Star Wars trilogy starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, and Force Awakens earned $2.068 billion worldwide. Overseas audiences had zero issue with a big-budget sci-fi flick that didn’t star a bunch of white men. However, as we’ve seen in the last decade, onscreen/offscreen inclusivity will not get audiences to see a movie for which they have no interest. Audiences wanted to see Star Wars, so the inclusive cast was either not a detriment or an added value element. Audiences didn’t care about Terminator, so what worked for Force Awakens (a diverse cast of newbies with the franchise stars anchoring a loose remake of the most popular installment) didn’t work for Dark Fate.

Audiences do not care about the Terminator franchise.

The likely massive financial loss incurred by Terminator: Dark Fate can be attributed to many factors, but the biggest is that audiences don’t care about Terminator. The first film was a pulpy B-movie sci-fi horror flick that was a small-scale hit. Judgment Day was an event unto itself, like Rambo: First Blood Part II (at least Stallone eventually stopped spending mega-money on Rambo sequels), whose $520 million success did not guarantee a lifelong fandom. Rise of the Machines did fine but Salvation and Genisys, released in a world where big-budget franchise flicks were par for the course, proved Terminator was no longer special, and audiences didn’t care. That is why I’m furious. Hollywood is getting hammered on all sides by a deluge of (often mediocre) streaming and VOD content, and their answer is offering, as a prime theatrical attraction intended to be an event movie, something that audiences have specifically & explicitly rejected twice before.


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Business Insider › Entertainment › 1 month ago
The "Terminator" franchise finally has a winner with "Terminator: Dark Fate." Years of underwhelming sequels have been scrapped from the canon and "Dark Fate" takes place after the events of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." There's lots of action, strong...
Business Insider › Entertainment › 2 weeks ago
"Terminator: Dark Fate" earned $2.35 million at the domestic box office in Thursday previews. That's on par with the last movie in the franchise, "Terminator Genisys," which ultimately made just $27 million in its opening weekend. It's a bad sign for...
Business Insider › Entertainment › 2 weeks ago
"Terminator: Dark Fate" opened with an estimated $29 million at the domestic box office. That's below the $30 million-plus the industry projected it to make. Its opening is on par with the franchise's last entry, 2015's "Terminator Genisys," which...
Forbes › Finance › 2 weeks ago
Terminator: Dark Fate earned $2.35 million in Thursday previews on Halloween night, as the sci-fi sequel hoped to find a different fate than the last two Terminator flicks.
New York Daily News › 2 weeks ago
Despite generally favorable reviews and the return of star Linda Hamilton and producer James Cameron, "Terminator: Dark Fate" has opened well below expectations at the box office. Studios on Sunday estimate that "Dark Fate" earned only $29 million from...
Breitbart › Entertainment › 2 weeks ago
Stop me when anything about "Terminator: Dark Fate" starts to smells familiar to Terminator 2.
Forbes › Finance › 1 month ago
Even with all the new variables, 'Terminator: Dark Fate' may open almost identically to the previous 'Terminator' sequels.
Forbes › Finance › 2 weeks ago
Terminator: Dark Fate bombed this weekend because, for the third time in a decade, audiences have shown that they do not care about Terminator movies.
The New York Times › Entertainment › 2 weeks ago
"Terminator: Dark Fate" shot past box office competition but still fell short of expectations as Paramount and Skydance Media's sci-fi sequel debuted to $29 million in North America.
Forbes › Finance › 1 month ago
Giving the franchise the 'Force Awakens' treatment, 'Terminator: Dark Fate' only comes alive when it dares to make its own fate.
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