‘Furiosa’ Is a Memorial Day Weekend Box Office Dud

Memorial Day weekend ticket sales in North America are expected to total $125 million, down 40 percent from last year.

Anya Taylor-Joy in a scene from
Anya Taylor-Joy in “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” which collected $25.6 million from Thursday to Sunday in North America.Credit…Warner Bros. Pictures

Brooks Barnes

Hollywood expected “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” to scorch the box office over the holiday weekend. Instead, the big-budget Warner Bros. prequel iced it over.

“Furiosa,” which cost $168 million to make, not including tens of millions of dollars in marketing costs, collected an estimated $25.6 million in the United States and Canada from Thursday night to Sunday. Box office analysts expected the film to take in about $5.4 million on Monday, for a holiday-weekend total of $31 million.

That would be the worst Memorial Day weekend result in 43 years after adjusting for inflation — ever since “Bustin’ Loose,” a comedic drama starring Richard Pryor, collected $24 million in 1981. (Box office records exclude 2020, when most theaters were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.)

The franchise’s previous chapter, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” took in $45.4 million in 2015, or roughly $61 million in today’s dollars — and that was without the benefit of a holiday weekend.

Hollywood had high expectations for “Furiosa,” which Warner Bros. premiered at the Cannes Film Festival; the movie received exceptional reviews. On Sunday, however, it was unclear whether “Furiosa” would manage even first place at the box office. Analysts said the poorly reviewed “Garfield” (Sony), which cost $60 million to make, could inch ahead. It could also be a tie.

Sony declared victory, saying it expected “Garfield,” produced and financed by Alcon Entertainment, to be No. 1, with $31.8 million in ticket sales. “With summer holidays beginning this week, the film is well-positioned for a long theatrical run,” Sony said, adding that it had successfully “relaunched” the lasagna-loving character as a movie franchise.

Why did fewer moviegoers turn out for “Furiosa” than expected? Warner Bros. declined to comment, but the film capital was rife with theories. One involved Anya Taylor-Joy, who played the title role in “Furiosa.”

The 28-year-old actress has been ascending for nearly a decade, gaining attention in 2015 for “The Witch,” an art house horror movie, and winning awards in 2020 for playing a troubled chess prodigy in “The Queen’s Gambit,” a Netflix mini-series. But she had never anchored a big-budget summer movie before.

Increasing the pressure, Ms. Taylor-Joy took over the role of Furiosa from the Oscar-winning Charlize Theron, now 48, who helped turn “Mad Max: Fury Road” into a hit in 2015.

“Moviegoers do not want prequel origin stories,” where significant franchise characters are “portrayed not by the actor who originated and defined them, but by a younger, less-famous performer,” Scott Mendelson, a box office analyst who publishes a subscription newsletter, wrote on Saturday.

“Furiosa,” directed by George Miller and co-starring Chris Hemsworth, may have been released too soon after the similar-looking “Dune: Part Two,” which delivered giant ticket sales in March, some film executives said. At the same time, they added, “Furiosa” may have been released too long after “Fury Road,” allowing the “Mad Max” fan base to cool.

There has also been a lack of momentum at the box office, noted Paul Dergarabedian, a senior Comscore media analyst. Hollywood’s summer season started with “The Fall Guy,” which arrived to $28 million in ticket sales earlier this month — the lowest summer kickoff since 1995. The April box office suffered from a shortage of movies, which studios blamed on lingering fallout from union strikes in 2023.

“The current malaise shows the importance of the health of the overall marketplace in the months leading up to this all-important moviegoing season,” Mr. Dergarabedian said in an email.

Theaters in the United States and Canada were expected to sell about $125 million in tickets over the weekend, down roughly 40 percent from last year, according to Comscore. For the year to date, ticket sales in the two countries total $2.6 billion, down 22 percent from the same period a year ago, Comscore said.

Mr. Dergarabedian is an optimist, however.

“It’s not game over for theaters this summer as many have asserted,” he said, noting that sequels like “Inside Out 2,” “Despicable Me 4” and “Deadpool & Wolverine” could arrive as major hits in June and July. If those films deliver, he said, Hollywood can salvage “the perception of the movie theater business as a viable and relevant part of the entertainment ecosystem.”

William Murphy

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