After earning $18.5 million in 38 markets last weekend, Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s epic In The Heart Of The Sea points its compass stateside Friday, and the waters ahead are pretty rough. Current industry projections have the Ron Howard-directed film opening at $10M, putting it in a fight for No. 1 with Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 which looks to make $10.5M.
For a film that many say cost $100M-$105M, you need a solid start of $40M stateside to sail through the holiday and yield high multiples, especially when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits the marquee on December 18. One Warner Bros. insider swears the film’s budget is just under $100M, and even if the marketplace catches a wave — like it did for Universal/Legendary’s Krampus last weekend, when it overperformed to $16.3M — and In the Heart Of The Sea makes $12M-$15M, that opening still won’t cut it. Keep in mind In The Heart Of tThe Sea was shot on the water and boasts VFX galore since it’s about a whale. That’s not a cheap feat. Filming began at Leavesden Studios in England in September 2013, then relocated to the Canary Islands for the shipwreck scenes. In an October USA Today interview, Howard exclaimed that shooting on the water “is everything it’s cracked up to be in terms of being an enemy of organized filmmaking everywhere.”
When Warner Bros. moved In The Heart Of The Sea from March 13 to December 11, Howard told the media at the Critics’ Choice Awards that people were responding positively to the film and marketing materials; that Warner Bros. was looking to capture the biggest audience possible during the holiday season, particularly on a weekend when the film wasn’t up against another major studio release. Not to mention, it’s a date that’s in the middle of awards season. However, for a film by a two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker, In The Heart Of The Sea hasn’t generated a high degree of awards-season buzz on par with other WB titles like Black Mass, Mad Max: Fury Road and Creed.
Another force working against the clipper ship drama is the fact that the current domestic marketplace is in a lull as moviegoers hold back their dollars for Force Awakens on December 18. We saw this slowdown occur prior to the enormous debuts of Furious 7 and The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. In addition, if In The Heart Of The Sea has a hard time swimming, it could leave exhibitors with a choice of sacrificing the film in favor of Warner Bros.’ Point Break which opens on December 25 or holding MGM/New Line’s Creed which is doing solid business with $14.989M in its second frame and a running cume of $64.6M off an A CinemaScore.
Reviews for In The Heart Of The Sea have been middling to worse, with the overall Rotten Tomatoes score at 66% and a top critics rating of 40% rotten. Last night at an all-media screening at the Grove in L.A., reviewers griped about the film’s lack of tension (despite the fact that a whale decimates several ships) and the cartoonish-look of the VFX.
In The Heart Of The Sea has the benefit of Imax, but it’s only for one week here in the U.S. before Force Awakens steals that supply. Overseas, half of the playdates were in 3D and Imax, bt rival international executives predict that when all is said and done, In the Heart of the Sea finals at $80M-$100M abroad — still not enough to cover the production plus P&A spend. Of course, the studio believes there’s potential for a film like this abroad with some key territories left: France (December 9), the UK (December 26 — right when Force Awakens is playing), Japan (January 16) and China.
While South Korea and Russia posted solid openings of $2.6M and $2M, respectively, next weekend’s competition will impact results there greatly. For an adult period drama such In The Heart Of The Sea, rival foreign B.O. executives think the opening is OK for its genre, but with a budget of this magnitude, and a 38-territory release, it would have been better if the film opened to at least $30M. The film’s star Chris Hemsworth, outside of Avengers and Thor, hasn’t been able to crack it as a leading man: Both Howard’s Rush and Michael Mann’s Blackhat hit rock bottom with $90.2M and $19.5M, respectively, in global ticket sales. In Hemsworth’s native Australia, Blackhat didn’t open and In The Heart Of The Sea made a paltry $A824K ($632K), which is akin (not in currency conversion) to a single-digit opening at the domestic box office.
Should In The Heart Of The Sea capsize, it will join a string of notable bombs from the Burbank studio in 2015 including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Jupiter Ascending, Pan and Our Brand Is Crisis. Every major studio has their dog years, but for Warner Bros, the potential success of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice couldn’t come any sooner.
In The Heart Of The Sea is based off the Nathaniel Philbrick 2000 National Book Award-winning novel. A blend of fact and fiction, it describes how the Whaleship Essex was stalked and attacked by a sperm whale in 1820, leaving the crew adrift for 90 days and forcing them to turn to cannibalism. The attack on the boat largely influenced Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Such adult period clipper ship fare has been a conundrum for studios. Such material gears heavily toward males, lacks relatable female characters, and it doesn’t offer up the fantasy and humor that attracts the masses like Pirates Of The Caribbean does. When Fox made Master And Commander in 2003, it covered 50% of the production cost, while the rest was split evenly between Miramax and Universal. Despite winning two Oscars (cinematography, sound editing) out of its 10 nominations, the $150M film failed to break even in its global theatrical run making $212M worldwide, $93.9M of that in U.S./Canada.
Early on during the film’s production, Fox considered for a moment a Master And Commander franchise based on Patrick O’Brian’s novels. But when the genre didn’t work to huge proportions at the B.O., it backed away.