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“The Fall Guy” Down: A Box Office Tumble Reveals the Limits of IP

Fly, Gosling, fly!: "The Fall Guy" snatches first place at the box office but fails to be a hit. / Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Fly, Gosling, fly!: "The Fall Guy" snatches first place at the box office but fails to be a hit. / Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Hollywood is desperate for the summer season to begin. “The Fall Guy” attempts to trick audiences into flocking to theaters in full holiday mode, but it doesn’t work to the extent the studio wanted. Topping the box office is not enough in its budget bracket.

Box Office Top Five: Friday 3 - Sunday 5, May 2024

1. “The Fall Guy”: $28.5 Million

Alarmed headlines lament the apparent underperformance of “The Fall Guy” at the weekend box office. Expectations rose for the action comedy, with Ryan Gosling nabbing a starring role after his Academy Award-nominated turn as Ken in 2023’s biggest hit of the year, “Barbie.” Behind the camera, director David Leitch comes proposed by a steady stream of hits growing in ticket sales, from “Atomic Blonde” (2017) to “Bullet Train” (2022). Word-of-mouth from an SXSW premiere was enthusiastic, just like some early reviews. The movie took first place at the box office on opening weekend with $28.5 million. It doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Well, apparently, it isn't good. “The Fall Guy” fell short of the most conservative predictions, aiming between $30 and $35 million. With the movie allegedly budgeted at $130 million, it will face an uphill battle in recouping the investment at the domestic box office. Universal hopes international audiences can open a gigantic air mattress under the plunging investment.

It couldn’t happen to a most innocent blockbuster-wanna be. Coasting on the charm of Gosling and co-star Emily Blunt, “The Fall Guy” is an action film with a heavy strain of romantic comedy. It’s hard to wrap your head around what you see on the screen having that price tag. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s fun but underwhelming as a cinematic experience. The plot would work for one episode of the original TV series, but it does not justify a two-hour-plus movie.

Colt Seavers (Gosling) is the go-to stuntman for ultra-vain star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). After suffering an on-set accident, Colt disappears from the life of the woman who loves him, camera operator Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt). Too embarrassed to let her see him in such a vulnerable state, he goes slumming as a valet parking minion while nursing a smashed back. One year later, Hollywood comes knocking. Ryder’s agent Gail (Hanna Waddingham) comes knocking at his rundown apartment with an offer he can’t refuse. Ryder’s current project is Jody’s directorial debut, and she needs him for the death-defying stunts of a sci-fi epic shooting in Australia. Wouldn’t he like to get back to work and rekindle his romance? Of course, he will, but once he hist the set, he discovers Jody does not want him there. It was all a ploy by Gail to get him to look for Ryder, who had disappeared and stalled the multi-million dollar production. A party-hard drug dealer, a dead body in a bathtub, and many chances to do stunts in the “real world” off-camera coincide to keep the lovers apart.

Even at its extended running time, “The Fall Guy” is barely a movie. The root of the problem is not necessarily onscreen but on Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for Intellectual Property. I wish the suits knew how to quit you, IP! Marvel’s era of dominance ran its course once the A-list heroes flew into the sunset. You bet they are just bidding their time until they can re-make “Iron Man” with a younger actor. Once, IP was seen as a sure thing. Not anymore. You can go into bankruptcy trying to guess what will resonate with audiences. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate how we gauge success. "The Fall Guy" is not a classic, but it's far from a disaster. But because media coverage uses money as a reference, it's dead on arrival. I know. We are part of the problem. After all, here I am, trying to make sense of its fortunes with an eye on the numbers. The ticket-buying public, studios, artists, and critics rarely synch. I'd love for "The Beast" to be a blockbuster around the world, but that won't happen.

Behind the studios' love for adaptations of old material is fear. Any idea with a built-in audience is a godsend in such a volatile market. That’s why Warner Bros. aims to readapt the Harry Potter books as a series. The kids who grew up reading them and watching the Daniel Radcliffe-starring movies now have kids of their own and will surely share their enthusiasm with them. 

I don’t think the world was holding its breath for a big-screen adaptation of “The Fall Guy.” Actor Lee Majors returned to serial TV in 1981, three after the end of his breakthrough hit “The Six Million Dollar Man” (1974-1978). He starred as Colt Seavers, a stuntman who moonlights as a bounty hunter while not risking his life as an anonymous movie performer.  It was popular enough to last for five seasons - old-timey seasons, so it adds up to 112 episodes! -. I saw it as a kid, probably the best age to see it, but my most vivid memory is the theme song, which Leitch has a good sense of playing over the final credits. Even if you have seen the series and remember a bit of it, it is not likely that the memories bring any warmth. It was effective but disposable entertainment, terminally formulaic. 

The movie wants to pull a “Mission: Impossible” - screenwriter Drew Pierce co-penned “Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation” (Christopher McQuarrie, 2015) - but the results are not distinctive enough. Worse yet, you can’t believe your eyes, but in the worst way possible. Decades of green-screened computer-generated action feats have made us jaded to everything we see on the screen, so it’s hard to buy anything you see. The biggest surprise comes at the end when the credits include behind-the-scenes footage proving how fearless stuntmen and women execute the most dangerous scenes in concrete reality. It might help to make you reevaluate what you saw, but it’s not enough to turn it into a satisfying experience. 

I doubt anybody under 45 will register the appearance of the original series' stars in a cameo. Lee Majors and Heather Thomas show up. Young audiences will understand that he is important thanks to camera movements and music, but without previous knowledge of his identity, it’s just a head-scraping moment. But man, Majors looks great at 85 years old! I hope he and Thomas got a nice paycheck out of this. It seems like “The Fall Guy” is a one-off. Franchise dreams are over. 

2. “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” $8.1 million

I guess “Star Wars Day” really is a thing! The first entry in George Lucas’ saga - or the fourth, if you are a purist - returned to the big screen 25 years after its premiere. Accumulated fandom nourished by all those expanded universe series and baby Yoda’s drove the reissue to success. That, and kids of the early aughts under the spell of nostalgia. If I remember correctly, as an adult in 1999, the movie was a messy failure. Lucas zapped the force with Jar Jar Binks, “midi-chlorians” and lines like “Hold me like you held me at the lake in Naboo.” In my book, it certainly does not demand revisiting, but here’s 8 million bucks telling me the opposite. Go figure.

3. “Challengers”: $7.6 Million

Last week's champ took a tumble, which is unsurprising considering it’s an adult romantic comedy competing with a pure box-office mass product. Would MGM-Amazon have been more successful going for a platform release or an Art House focus? We’ll never know. I’d bet “Challengers” has high replay value and will be a sleeper hit demanding revisits in the future. 

4. “Tarot”: $6.5 Million

Another week, another low-budget horror movie trying to scare teens away from their allowance. I bet it's not as scary as that girl in college who kept trying to “read” your future with her cards.

5. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire”: $4.5 million

Forget “The Fall Guy.” The sleeper hit of the spring and the most effective harbinger of the summer season is the fifth entry in Universal’s Monsterverse.” $188 million in domestic box office and $359 million coming from abroad, for a total of $547 Million, make this special effects extravaganza the most economically successful movie of the year. It’s just a reminder that “Godzilla Minus One” was tragically underseen. 

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