An Effort to Make Sense of Guillermo del Toro’s Failures at the Box Office

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Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Fans are extremely vocal about the films of Guillermo del Toro, but unfortunately that does not translate into ticket sales. Over the weekend, Crimson Peak was released to poor numbers, coming in fourth place on opening weekend. The Gothic romance starring Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska failed to ignite audience interest and appears to be another box office failure for del Toro. Whether or not fans love his movies, del Toro it would appear is becoming an even riskier proposition for studios. So much for Pacific Rim 2 becoming a reality.

So why do his films fail to excite the masses? Perhaps it a question of the genres he works in or is it a dilemma with casting? Whatever it is his last three films have not lived up to expectations and here are some of the potential reasons.

Following the critical and box office success of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro used his new found clout to make a sequel to the comic book feature Hellboy. The marketing campaign for Hellboy 2: The Golden Army promoted the stunning new creatures del Toro had imagined, not to mention superheroes were a hard proposition to lose with. A production budget of $85 million promised that this science-fiction/action film would live up to the pedigree behind it, but audiences failed to embrace Hellboy as an unlikely hero, as he is atypical to say the least. He’s not exactly a crowd pleaser in the same sense that Batman and Iron Man are. It certainly doesn’t help that in the second week of Hellboy 2’s run, The Dark Knight was released to theaters and became one of the biggest superhero pictures of all-time. The character of Hellboy works for del Toro since it plays into his fascination with mythical creatures, but that never connected with the masses. Not to mention casting Ron Perlman in the lead was never the big draw it needed to be. The box office was entirely front-loaded, with Hellboy 2 raking in most of its earning within its first week, however by week 2 as noted above, it was quickly forgotten and failed to make back its budget domestically.

For some unexplainable reason, regardless of Hellboy 2’s gross, Warner Bros decided to take a gamble on giant robots and went all in on more del Toro. With a production budget of $190 million, Pacific Rim is easily the most expensive film Guillermo del Toro has ever worked on. With the biggest names in the cast given supporting roles, the film promoted the high-octane special effects and large format screenings rather than the stars Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi. Perhaps that was the best the studio could do with the film because domestically it was a nightmare. Despite positive critic reviews, the film debut in third place on its opening weekend, making four million less than the riveting Grown Ups 2. Just days after Pacific Rim’s release Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment (whose firm worked on the ad campaign) spoke to Business Insider about Pacific Rim’s failure. Gomez stated that he believed the problems mostly lay with the film being an original IP and that “Warner Bros. should have marketed ‘Pacific Rim’ as if the narrative in the movie had been going on for years and years.” He further elaborated that they should have marketed the film, “…as if it was an established property, as if it has been going on, and as if it has been popular and has already connected with the audience.” Apparently, in a last ditch effort, Warner Bros did try to remedy the lack of history by releasing a graphic novel entitled “Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero” that no one knew existed. Similar to Hellboy 2, Pacific Rim failed to have box office longevity. It would leave theaters with only $101 million earned domestically and were it not for a successful foreign gross all talk of a sequel would be pipe dreams. Perhaps all along Warner Bros was making a film to appeal to foreign markets by jumping on the Godzilla/Transformers bandwagon. Considering Godzilla would release the following year to a monstrous opening weekend of $93 million, clearly something went wrong with Pacific Rim.

Del Toro’s latest directorial endeavor, Crimson Peak, is the most recent to fail at the box office. Despite Universal’s attempt to play up the haunted house aspect for its October release, hopefully gaining the attention of horror fans; based on the current numbers, it would seem Crimson Peak will share the same misfortunes as del Toro’s last two features. The seasonal release combined with, arguably, his highest profile cast ever, it seemed like a sure bet. There is speculation that perhaps some circumstances exist that could have changed the outcome. Benedict Cumberbatch and Emma Stone were attached to the film, but dropped out. Universal also had asked del Toro to deliver a PG-13 version of the film, but he refused, giving the already niche genre film an even more difficult path to profitability. It was laughably noted by Scott Mendleson of Forbes that “The Woman In Black 2 opened with $15m back in January of this year, despite having no stars and no real media presence beyond the ‘Gee, the first film of the year is a horror movie again!’ gimmick.” In this day and age, it shouldn’t be difficult for a horror film to make a sizeable return on opening weekend. It should also be mentioned that Guillermo del Toro might regret saying that Crimson Peak wasn’t a horror film for the last few weeks. The audience for an expensive large-scale horror feature just didn’t pan out and opening in fourth place is probably not what Universal had foreseen for the film when they signed the check. For their part, Universal said it was a tough time for adult-oriented movies with Bridge of Spies and Sicario aimed at older crowds – sure Universal.

I think it would be fair to say, Guillermo del Toro makes a certain kind of film that fails to play well on a large scale. While his fans don’t mind his art, his continued failure at the box office will make it increasingly harder for him to have his artistic freedom. Whether this means del Toro will be persuaded to make films that are deemed “safe” remains to be seen, but it does not bode well.

News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.