Furiosa underwhelms at box office, reignites questions over cinema business

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa.
Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa. Credit: Jasin Boland/JASIN BOLAND

Furiosa has faced down fierce enemies including sadistic warlords and survived an apocalyptic wasteland with her sense of justice intact. She certainly didn’t expect to find herself in a pitch battle against a lasagne-loving fat cat who doesn’t like Mondays.

The George Miller-directed follow-up to Mad Max: Fury Road has found itself as another data point in the argument that the cinema business is in real trouble after its disappointing opening weekend.

Furiosa, which was released worldwide after an enthusiastic premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, missed projections by a significant amount when it hauled an estimated $US31 million across a four-day public holiday long weekend at the North American box office. It was expected to collect $US40 million-plus.

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In Australia, its weekend totals are $3.3 million, a muted result for a gargantuan blockbuster filmed locally, and part of an existing franchise familiar to audiences. Globally, the movie has clocked up $US58.9 million and American analysts have to the make-up of predominantly male cinemagoers as one of the reasons it underperformed.

It’s a disappointing first weekend result for a movie that had a $US168 million production budget, and that’s before the cost of an expensive promotional and advertising campaign which started with Miller and stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth on the red carpet at the Australian premiere in early May.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure "FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Furiosa hauled an estimated $US31 million across a four-day public holiday long weekend at the North American box office. Credit: Jasin Boland

Mad Max: Fury Road, which won six Oscars, opened with $US45 million in North America with a total global haul of $US380 million.

Furiosa was expected to dominate the box office in its first week but is instead at risk of finishing second in the US behind the latest screen adaptation of Garfield. Furiosa was well reviewed with a 90 per cent score on Rotten Tomatoes while Garfield has been excoriated by critics and is currently sitting on 37 per cent on the review aggregator site.

The CGI kids movie had a production cost of $US60 million and features Chris Pratt as the voice of the gluttonous cat. Garfield opened in some international markets the week prior and has so far collected nearly $US100 million globally. It will open in Australia this Thursday.

Furiosa’s underwhelming box office has reignited the ongoing conversation whether the cinema business can turn around its fortunes after covid lockdowns shut theatres around the world for months on end. Audiences, especially older ones, were then reluctant to return to the sometimes crowded indoor public spaces.

Garfield is voice by Chris Pratt.
Garfield opened in some international markets the week prior and has so far collected nearly $US100 million globally. Credit: DNEG Animation/Sony Pictures

Furiosa follows the disappointing box office of the Ryan Reynolds and Emily Blunt action comedy The Fall Guy, which has so far made $US130 million globally against a $US140 million production budget. The Fall Guy, which was also filmed in Australia, has done better here with $12.4 million at the box office and is ranked fifth overall for 2024.

The failure of The Fall Guy to fire also led to questions whether “movie stars” alone were enough to open big films anymore. Gosling and Blunt are two of the best-known actors working and Gosling in particular is coming off the back of a year of Barbie goodwill.

In contrast, the fourth Planet of the Apes movie, the clunkily named Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, also filmed in Australia, is the fourth highest-grossing movie globally of 2024 with a worldwide box office of $US298 million. It has no marquee stars.

Fall guy
Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy in a scene filmed on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Credit: Universal Pictures

Covid lockdowns accelerated the trend shift to streaming, and the expectation that new cinema releases will soon be available to for at-home viewing. There is also the effect of delayed releases because of last year’s months-long dual actors and writers strikes.

Despite the pleas of many filmmakers and stars including Christopher Nolan, Tom Cruise and this year’s Palme d’Or winner Sean Baker that their movies are made to be seen on a big screen, the box office numbers suggest audiences are less fussed about the visual and audio experience than previously.

Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos said in a New York Times interview this weekend that last year’s box office phenomenon, Barbie and Oppenheimer, could have easily played just as well on the streaming platform.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that certain kinds of movies do or don’t work [on Netflix],” Sarandos said. “There’s no reason to believe that the movie itself is better in any size of screen for all people.

“My son is an editor. He’s 28 years old, and he watched Lawrence of Arabia on his phone.”

What would David Lean make of that?

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