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Dolittle is looking like a box office bomb

Better-than-expected numbers, but consider the expectations ...

Stubbins (Collett) in the middle of a circle of animals. Image: Universal Pictures
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

It may have beaten analysts’ meager box office expectations but, true to its name, Dolittle didn’t do much this weekend.

Dolittle took in $30 million over its four-day domestic debut, according to The Hollywood Reporter, but it faces a tough hike to make back its $175 million budget if that’s its best weekend. The film is only 19% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning only 19% of critics gave it a thumbs up. Internationally, THR notes that Dolittle drew another $30.3 million from Australia and South Korea, its only two overseas markets so far.

Dolittle, the adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s 100-year-old series of childrens books, stars Robert Downey, Jr. in his first post-Avengers role. Our review found Dolittle’s vaporous story bothered by “fart jokes, burp jokes, dick jokes, ‘bro’ jokes [and] a full minute of a duck mistaking various vegetables for forceps.” Downey himself falls “halfway between Jack Sparrow and Tony Stark, and he fails to land either.”

Last October, a person claiming to be a set worker for the picture hauled off on director Stephen Gaghan, and spooled out a profanity-laced story of a movie that Universal was barely able to save. Reports earlier in 2019 said Universal grabbed Jonathan Liebesman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) for a series of emergency reshoots; the Wall Street Journal on Friday said the shoots were intended to give the film a wider appeal in international markets. That may account for the rapid-fire pacing of the film’s lowbrow humor.

Universal went down this road before three years ago with The Mummy. Although it was bad enough stateside to kill the company’s aspirations of a cinematic universe based on its stable of old-timey monster flicks, it still made money thanks to a very strong international release. Domestically, The Mummy only did $31 million worth of business against its $125 million budget. Universal was also the distributor for the comically execrable Cats, which after a month has grossed $60 million worldwide against a $95 million budget.

Despite these high-profile faceplants, Universal is not altogether hitless; it still has the Fast & Furious and Jurassic Park franchises, and it also released Us last year, whose $175 million gross was the distributor’s highest domestic earner for 2019. And, of course, it has 1917, whose 10 Oscar nominations earlier this week are second only to Joker’s 11.

Elsewhere, Bad Boys for Life (Sony Pictures) took in $68 million in the U.S., good for second place among films debuting over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. The record holder is 2014’s American Sniper, which grossed $107 million.

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