Despite stellar reviews, jaw-dropping production value, and A-list stars, Blade Runner 2049 kind of stalled out at the box office this weekend. The highly anticipated (by some, at least) sci-fi sequel debuted to a very disappointing $31.5 million, way below expectations that pegged the follow-up’s debut at closer to $45 million, more in line with Mad Max: Fury Road—another artistic, filmmaker-driven blockbuster.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the film—which was co-financed by Alcon Entertainment and Sony Pictures, with Warner Bros. handling domestic distribution, and which cost $150 million to make after tax rebates and incentives—was shrouded in secrecy through the entire lead-up to its release. Indeed, the plot itself could be considered a spoiler, and it’s pretty amazing how well the twists and turns were kept under wraps. But now you have to wonder if Alcon is reconsidering its spoiler-averse campaign. Did a lack of plot clarity lead to this low box office number? Were casual fans turned off by not knowing exactly what this movie’s about? No doubt the extended running time (it’s 163 minutes long) didn’t help, as that limits the number of times it can play in theaters per day.
That’s possible, but there’s also a more likely answer. The original Blade Runner was released in theaters 30 years ago, and even though it’s considered a classic, it’s not exactly a populist piece of work. It’s possible that the majority of moviegoers who have never seen Blade Runner didn’t feel like Blade Runner 2049 was for them. Which is a shame because, while 2049 probably does work better if you have a familiarity with the first film, seeing Blade Runner is by no means a requirement for enjoying the sequel. Harrison Ford doesn’t even show up until the third act, so the majority of the movie is following Ryan Gosling’s new character K and other newcomers to the franchise. It’s a new story that builds on the foundation of the original, and—artistically speaking—it’s a smashing success.
This news is doubling disappointing given just how incredible Blade Runner 2049 is to behold on a big screen. This is a film that demands to be seen in the theater, with some of the most intricate and expensive production design and cinematography in recent memory. Every image feels like a painting, and the sound design and score are similarly best enjoyed in a theatrical experience.
The silver lining, at least, is that those that did go see Blade Runner 2049 in theaters seem to have enjoyed it. The film notched a stellar A- CinemaScore, meaning audiences that turned out this weekend thought the film delivered. It pulled in $81.5 million internationally over the weekend, where it premiered in every major market save for China. But that disappointing domestic debut puts the film’s longterm prospects in doubt—is there any way this gets to $400 million worldwide? Perhaps word of mouth will help the film stay afloat in the weeks to come. I’m here to attest I’ve seen it twice in theaters already and this is the kind of film that is absolutely worth your hard-earned money to see in theaters.
Elsewhere in new releases, the romantic survival drama The Mountain Between Us nabbed a so-so $10.1 million against a budget of $35 million, while My Little Pony hit $8.8 million, putting it behind IT, the New Line and Warner Bros. horror sensation that has now cleared the $300 million mark and is the highest grossing horror film of all time.