The Curious Case of 'Furiosa'

It's both a good movie and a spectacle yet didn't resonate in theaters
‘Furiosa’ Is a Box Office Dud, Adding to Hollywood Woes
Memorial Day weekend ticket sales in North America are expected to total $125 million, down 40 percent from last year.

Talk about whiplash-inducing, Hollywood is back to being over after being back after being over:

“Furiosa,” which cost $168 million to make, not including tens of millions of dollars in marketing costs, collected an estimated $25.6 million in the United States and Canada from Thursday night to Sunday. Box office analysts expected the film to take in about $5.4 million on Monday, for a holiday-weekend total of $31 million.

That would be the worst Memorial Day weekend result in 43 years after adjusting for inflation — ever since “Bustin’ Loose,” a comedic drama starring Richard Pryor, collected $24 million in 1981. (Box office records exclude 2020, when most theaters were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.)

Ouch. And that total would be less than half of what the last Mad Max movie, Fury Road, made almost 10 years ago when you consider inflation – which you always should when touting box office numbers otherwise they're absolutely not apples-to-apples since the industry refuses to move to actual ticket sales in an attempt to mask how well things are going, which is of course, not well, overall.

How not well? Revenue comparisons to a 43-year-old Richard Pryor movie you've never heard of, not well. Also how not well? It could lose the actual weekend to Garfield with Sony touting the franchise potential for the "lasagna-loving cat".

As Barnes notes, one other odd – though perhaps not so odd – element here is that Furiosa got good reviews while Garfield got awful reviews. Might something as silly as the battle between Furiosa and Garfield – Furifield? Gariosa? FurGar? – be the final nail in the coffin of movie reviews having any clout when it comes to box office results? Or does it once again point to how much more accurate Metacritic is than Rotten Tomatoes when it comes to aggregating said reviews and trying to get an accurate sentiment analysis? Rotten Tomatoes, takes into account a wide range of reviews from all over the internet on top of "traditional" reviews. Metacritic focuses on the latter. For Furiosa, Metacritic was at 79 (out of 100) which is good, but not universally loved – as Rotten Tomatoes' 90 (out of 100) might have you believe. I've long trusted Metacritic far more than Rotten Tomatoes. But it's obviously all subjective.

Likely more problematic for the critic industry is the fact that Garfield got a 38 on Rotten Tomatoes' "Tomatometer" while the Audience Score was the inverse, 83.1 That again may speak to my earlier point about not only the critical reviews mattering less, but also being at odds with what moviegoers actually think.

Barnes also points to the notion that perhaps this doesn't speak well to Anya Taylor-Joy carrying a film. But that seems sort of silly since the last Mad Max was carried by a still then relatively less known Tom Hardy and both movies had more established actors as co-stars in the form of Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, respectively. Plus, The Fall Guy also recently bombed despite featuring both Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt – hard to imagine two more primed actors fresh off of Barbie and Oppenheimer, respectively, and clearly working overtime on publicity here.

Back to Theron specifically:

Increasing the pressure, Ms. Taylor-Joy took over the role of Furiosa from the Oscar-winning Charlize Theron, now 48, who helped turn “Mad Max: Fury Road” into a hit in 2015.

“Moviegoers do not want prequel origin stories,” where significant franchise characters are “portrayed not by the actor who originated and defined them, but by a younger, less-famous performer,” Scott Mendelson, a box office analyst who publishes a subscription newsletter, wrote on Saturday.

There may be something to that idea. It's perhaps similar to what fell Solo, the Han Solo Star Wars origin story. If audiences wanted a Furiosa movie, perhaps they wanted a Charlize Theron Furiosa movie. Or there's this:

“Furiosa,” directed by George Miller and co-starring Chris Hemsworth, may have been released too soon after the similar-looking “Dune: Part Two,” which delivered giant ticket sales in March, some film executives said. At the same time, they added, “Furiosa” may have been released too long after “Fury Road,” allowing the “Mad Max” fan base to cool.

Also the fact that – spoiler, though one which has already been spoiled by everyone on the internet – Taylor-Joy is in both, though just for a few seconds in Dune 2. Maybe people were just sick of desert locales?

The honest answer is that no one knows. My guess is that a lot of it simply has to do with timing and building the right kind of buzz for the right kind of movie. I saw Mad Max: Fury Road in theaters in part because I heard it was a great spectacle of a movie to see in theaters. Otherwise, I may have waited to see the sequel to the (well-regarded but really quite weird) Australian action adventure movies from the 1980s – this time without original star Mel Gibson, no less.

Furiosa is also supposed to be a spectacle, but we're in an age now where everyone knows that if you don't see a movie in theaters, you'll probably be able to see it on streaming in just a few weeks (The Fall Guy is already on digital release!). So you really need to make it a watercooler thing, where you need to see it now to be able to talk about it. And Furiosa didn't seem to have that level of buzz like the aforementioned Barbie or Oppenheimer had thanks to their strange pairing phenomenon. Or yes, Dune 2. Which was just fantastic, but also benefitted from a stacked young cast hitting the publicity scene at just the right time – which would seem to speak well to Warner Bros' decision to delay the movie from last November due to the Hollywood strikes.

The more boring answer is that fewer people are interested in seeing fewer movies in theaters these days. This is sad, but it's clearly increasingly the situation. It's only the select few which can truly break through now. The system really needs to be re-imagined for this reality.

Update May 29, 2024: A few more thoughts on this general topic...

The Incredible Shrinking Movie Theater
Hollywood keeps fighting the change needed in movie theaters, but it’s inevitable

1 For what it's worth, Garfield got similar scores on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes -- at 30 and 38, respectively.