‘The Mummy’ Stays Asleep at the Box Office


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Annabelle Wallis and Tom Cruise in “The Mummy.”

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Chiabella James/Universal Pictures

Blame the inexperienced director, Alex Kurtzman, for delivering a mess of a movie. Scratch that: Fault Universal for settling on a script that emphasized action over characters and campy fun. Actually, perhaps a baggage-laden Tom Cruise was the problem. Or was it the horror-based marketing campaign?

All of the above?

Whatever the reasons — some analysts also pointed to the continued strength of “Wonder Woman,” which remained No. 1 in its second weekend, collecting about $57.2 million — “The Mummy” arrived to just $32.2 million in North American ticket sales. That was a disappointing start for a film that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make and market and was supposed to stir excitement for Universal’s coming cavalcade of monster-movie remakes.

“The Mummy,” to be followed by new versions of “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Invisible Man” and “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” among others, received abysmal reviews. Ticket buyers were similarly underwhelmed, according to CinemaScore exit polls.

Overseas, where audiences (and the news media) mostly don’t care as much about Mr. Cruise’s past foibles and ties to Scientology, “The Mummy” did much better, taking in a sturdy $141.8 million, according to comScore. Universal said on Sunday that China generated $52.2 million in weekend ticket sales, a record for a movie starring Mr. Cruise.

Generally speaking, foreign ticket buyers are less sensitive to reviews. Analysts also say that overseas audiences, especially in countries where Hollywood has only recently made inroads, are less worn out by the continued revisiting of classic characters. (Universal’s previous “Mummy” series concluded less than a decade ago. That series started in 1999, with a film that took in $64.6 million in the United States and Canada over its first three days, after adjusting for inflation.)

Still, North America remains the world’s biggest movie market, and Universal now finds itself in a difficult position. The studio is counting on its planned Dark Universe of monster movies to compete at the box office (unlike Disney, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and Sony, Universal does not make superhero movies) and bolster its theme parks. But a re-evaluation of the monster initiative’s creative direction may now be necessary.

Other studios have overcome similar challenges. Warner’s efforts to build an interconnected superhero “universe,” for instance, got off to a weak start. A shift in approach — and executives — resulted in “Wonder Woman,” a runaway critical and commercial hit that has now taken in $435 million globally.

Misses for Universal are relatively rare. The studio, which will release “Despicable Me 3” on June 30, ranks second for the year in terms of domestic market share (behind Disney), driven by smashes like “The Fate of the Furious” and “Get Out.”

In the most recent quarter, Universal had $368 million in operating profit, up from $167 million a year earlier.

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