Surprise! Why ‘Cats’ wasn’t the biggest box office bomb of 2019

Deadline’s annual film revenue tournaments have celebrated the triumphs of each year’s most profitable films. For a third year in a row, we decided to look at the ones that amounted to a big swing and a miss.

Here are the movies our experts said posted the worst losses of 2019.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

20th Century Studios/Disney
Total Loss: $133M

As the writer and producer and creative spine of recent “X-Men” movies, Simon Kinberg was finally entrusted to direct his own movie after backstopping others, including Josh Trank in “Fantastic Four.” “X-Men” star Jennifer Lawrence lobbied for Kinberg. What went wrong? Some believe the eye of the studio wasn’t on a first-time director as much as would have been the case if Fox wasn’t being inhaled by Disney. “Dark Phoenix” was originally conceived as two films, but the studio had second thoughts. Ultimately, test audiences thumbed down endings where Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) died. And they wanted a bigger climatic ending where the heroes battle (versus the intimate finale that was released). “Dark Phoenix” was never intended to a be summer film, but an offseason release before “Captain Marvel” became Marvel’s first female superhero in a stand-alone film. There were multiple release date changes — early November became February 14 and finally June 7. The last-minute release date change occurred two days after Fox dropped the second trailer, which listed “Dark Phoenix”‘s release date as Feb. 14, which not only confused fans, but sent a message that the movie was damaged goods. It also didn’t help that staff promoting the movie was being laid off. Kinberg fell on the sword for a film that got a CinemaScore of B- but a dreadful Rotten Tomatoes score of 23%; both were the lowest scores ever for the franchise. The future of “X-Men” is now in the hands of MCU boss Kevin Feige. Production cost here ballooned to $200 million, with the lowest worldwide gross ever for an “X-Men” film at $252.M. The end result here is a $133M loss.

Terminator: Dark Fate

Total Loss: $122.6M

Who’s to blame for the steady decline of “Terminator” films after the groundbreaking “T2”? Well, it was Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna who surprised James Cameron and bought his baby out of bankruptcy, thinking JC would forgive them and continue the saga of cyborgs and Skynet. Instead, Cameron washed his hands after two epic “Terminator” films. The ones done without him were hit and miss but never met his high bar, and by the time Cameron decided to lend his creative genius to “Deadpool” director Tim Miller for “Dark Fate,” maybe it was just too late. Skydance got the rights after Megan Ellison bought them for $20 million and her brother David Ellison repaid her. The first film was a flat misfire, with an $89.7M lackluster stateside result for 2015’s “Terminator: Genisys.” The return of Cameron as producer brought back Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and there were some good ideas here in a “Terminator” with three female leads that seemed a strong fit in a #MeToo moment. Creative battles ensued between Miller and Cameron during editing, and while Paramount got a rise out of the crowds at CinemaCon and San Diego Comic-Con, we’ve seen it all before and there wasn’t anything as groundbreaking as the liquid metal villain in “T2.” Initial lackluster openings in UK and France indicated rough waters ahead for the U.S., which came in well below its $40M projection with a $29M opening. Despite a decent response from audiences with a B+ CinemaScore and solid Rotten Tomatoes rating of 70%, the title proved prescient. “Dark Fate” also repped the second back-to-back bomb for Paramount and Skydance after last October’s “Gemini Man” (read about that one below).


Universal/Working Title/Amblin
Total Loss: $113.6M

Universal was on a musicals hot streak with “Les Miserables” and its “Mamma Mia!” jukebox franchise. Combine a near-$100 million stab in production cost, team Working Title and Amblin, and the beloved $4 billion-grossing Andrew Lloyd Weber musical with “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper, and what could go wrong? How about what can only be called filmdom’s answer to Donald Trump’s recent WTF moment about ingesting cleaning products to battle coronavirus. This one was so bad that it was ridiculed during the Oscarcast. The star cast including Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, Idris Elba, Jason Derulo and Judi Dench coughed up an epic cinematic hairball. The only bright spot was a hilariously off-color joke about Dench in Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes monologue. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 21% rating.

Gemini Man

Total Loss: $111.1M

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Any notion that studios should use the production shutdown to get junior execs to dig up old development projects is undone by the debacle of “Gemini Man,” a 1997 script that never got made despite attachments with Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery and Mel Gibson. Finally, Oscar-winning “Life of Pi” director Ang Lee decided to do it with Will Smith. Despite a $138 million production budget, the concept didn’t mesh well with the cutting-edge cinema technology at 120 frames per second in 4K 3D. The dual-role strategy, with a star playing the same person, might have been new in 1997, but we’ve seen it too many times; the de-aging technology worked better in “The Irishman.” Moviegoer interest nosedived when people started seeing more “Gemini Man” footage on social, and reviews registered at a low 21% on Rotten Tomatoes. Smith was coming off the huge hit “Aladdin” and he was about to soar in “Bad Boys for Life.” Domestic opening was $20.6M, too low for what this movie cost. Also, it didn’t help going up against “Joker” in its second weekend (which was at an awesome $55.9M at the time).

Missing Link

Total Loss: $101.3M

Laika is known for quirky, specialty fare like 2016’s “Kubo and the Two Strings.” “Missing Link” was targeting a much younger set that devours Pixar, Illumination and DreamWorks Animation product. Turns out audiences weren’t looking for “Missing Link,” a $100 million-budget pic about a primate trying to find long-lost relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La. While AGC Studios covered an estimated $50M in foreign sales, this was no “Ice Age.” The movie was the first released outside Laika’s traditional partner Focus Features, continuing Annapurna’s cold streak as it distributed through its MGM distribution/marketing joint venture United Artists Releasing.


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