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The business of moviemaking can be a lucrative one; however, the path to making money is complex and often convoluted. It’s how movies like Alita: Battle Angel can make over $400 million worldwide and not be a sure box office win and how films like Little Women can be seen as a success after making only $146 million worldwide. It’s also how Universal’s Dolittle has made close to $100 million and is currently being touted as a flop. But how does this work and why?
How Much Money Dolittle Has Made So Far
This weekend at the box office, after opening in second place last weekend, Dolittle came in third place and made around $12,500,000 domestically, losing to the surprisingly popular Bad Boys For Life and the Oscar frontrunner 1917. That's after making a little over $30 million domestically during opening weekend. The cool thing about those numbers is that from Week 1 to Week 2, Dolittle only dropped around 40%, which is not a bad percentage these days. In fact, if the movie were making money, that percentage could easily be spun as good news, as Wonder Woman similarly was.
Yet – and there is a yet -- Dolittle has only made a little over $91 million dollars worldwide. Of that $91 million, a little over $44 million has been made domestically and $47 million has been made internationally. If the movie had been a low budget arthouse film, Dolittle would be sitting pretty. Again, Dolittle is a big budget adventure and not an indie film, which means the road to profit is not an easy one, particularly given the film’s budget.
Why Dolittle Is Considered A Flop
The first thing you need to consider when figuring out how much money a movie needs to break even is its budget, if known or estimated. Allegedly, Dolittle cost $175,000,000 to make and that’s before P&A, which is responsible for promoting the movie. A budget in that ballpark is not unheard of for a blockbuster, but it is quite high for the first in a series in particular.
As an aside, it’s worth pointing out some movies have had higher budgets, including both original properties and sequels. Avatar’s budget was reportedly $237 million and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the latest in the series of Captain Jack Sparrow adventures, allegedly had a budget of $230,000,000.
Dolittle’s $175 million might seem paltry in comparison, but when you have a budget that is lofty, the expectation is that the intake for the movie at the box office will exceed the budget by at least 2 to 3 times the budget amount or more. Even if Dolittle ends up making over $175 million over the long haul of its run, it won’t be enough, factoring in advertising and the percentage share the theaters themselves will take. And Dolittle will inspire fewer and fewer people to see it in the theater every week from here on out.
Stack this up against the aforementioned movies, and you may notice the most recent Pirates movie went on to make over $794 million worldwide. Avatar, of course, was the most financially successful movie of all time for an extended period before Robert Downey Jr.’s own Avengers: Endgame came along and beat it after months of solid effort. Pirates already had a built-in audience and Avatar came at a time when 3D movies were on the rise and people were excited and ready for visual splendor.
Even Avatar was a chancy proposition at the time, but there was an appetite for something like Avatar when it hit theaters. This leads me to ask: Where’s the appetite for bagpipes coming out of a dragon’s ass?
Look, with its budget, Dolittle needn’t try to compete with Avatar or Endgame, but to break even it would need more interest than it’s managed to muster so far, and heading into Weekend 3, it’s probably not going to get there.
A lot of big budget movies these days look to earn a large chunk of money overseas. Dolittle is no exception, and while it has made some ground in Week 2 at the box office, reports recently had the movie projected to lose $100 million, which is a far cry from making money and is also pretty far off from breaking even. In short, any way you put it, it’s a flop.
How Robert Downey Jr. Fits In
Variety reported a few months back that Robert Downey Jr., upfront, made $20 million dollars for Dolittle, which should be factored into that huge budget. That’s a lot of initial cost for a movie that is essentially about talking animals, the likes of which we’ve seen before in films such as Madagascar or The Jungle Book, which granted were both huge successes.
Robert Downey Jr. is also notable for having worked out backend deals for his participation in the MCU. It’s unclear if he was able to work out a similar deal for Dolittle, but reports have indicated the best-case scenario for the movie was spawning a franchise, similar to what Iron Man or the original Sherlock Holmes movie did for Robert Downey Jr.
With that no longer likely, it will be interesting to see if Robert Downey Jr. keeps trying to play the franchise game, although it's worth pointing out Sherlock Holmes 3 is still expected to happen. The same holds true for Universal, which has a few big franchises – See The Fast and The Furious and Jurassic World – but which is clearly willing to spend money to get more properties off of the ground. Unfortunately, this one is being buried.