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Why is 'Furiosa' a flop & should we be worried for 2024’s box office?

Why is Furiosa a flop and should we be worried about 2024’s box office?
Why is Furiosa a flop and should we be worried about 2024’s box office? Copyright Warner Bros. - Canva
Copyright Warner Bros. - Canva
By David Mouriquand
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Why has the follow-up to 'Mad Max: Fury Road' been denied box office Valhalla – and what does this mean for 2024’s box office prospects?

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2024 is increasingly looking like box office carnage, especially compared to last year’s Barbenheimer double whammy.

The latest sign that Hollywood is in for a rough ride this year is the Mad Max: Fury Road prequel Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, which after its premiere in Cannes and its release in theatres has fallen below expectations for its opening weekend.

Despite broadly positive reviews – even if we weren’t too keen on it, for reasons mentioned later – one of the most anticipated films of the year has struggled to resonate with audiences.

Worse, it opened in time for Memorial Day in the US, a historically big three-day weekend for US moviegoers, and Furiosa ’s box office earnings - $25.6 million (€23.6 million) - marked it as the lowest opening since the release of Casper in 1995.

To add insult to injury, the critically panned The Garfield Movie had a far more solid launch, with an estimated $31.9 million (€29.9 million) in ticket sales through Memorial Day. It previously opened internationally and has earned over $66 million (€60.8 million) to date.

Last year, Disney's live-action version of The Little Mermaid opened to $118 million (€109 million) in the US over the holiday. The year before that, Top Gun: Maverick launched with an impressive $160 million (€147.5 million) over Memorial Day weekend.

At this rate, George Miller's post-apocalyptic prequel to 2015’s barnstorming Mad Max: Fury Road will be lucky to match its reported $168 million (€155 million) budget at the global box office.

To put that figure into context, blockbusters need to gross over half of their budget to turn a profit, so $400 million (€370 million) seems a long way away with a $25.6 million intake on the film’s opening weekend. The film did recoup an additional $33.3 million (€30.7 million) from international audiences, with a total of $58.9 million (€54.3 million) worldwide. So that's something - even if Fury Road opened to $45.4 million (€41.8 million) in May 2015 and went on to gross nearly $380 million (€350 million) worldwide.

While it’s too soon to call Furiosa a historic flop, considering the film’s global box office fate is still up in the air, its current financial failure puts a dampener on Miller’s plans to continue the saga, as he had already announced plans to make a sixth Mad Max film, The Wasteland. Its underperforming tally also galvanizes fears that theatres will be a wasteland this summer.

The heat is on for Hollywood to deliver the goods for the rest of summer movie season, and all eyes will be on Inside Out 2 (19 June), A Quiet Place: Day One (28 June), Despicable Me 4 (3 July), Twisters (19 July), and Deadpool & Wolverine (26 July).

So, what went wrong for Furiosa? We’ve boiled it down to four factors.

Was the marketing good enough?

Furiosa
FuriosaWarner Bros.

"Mediocre!" The first trailer made the film look more CGI and Green Screen-heavy compared to Fury Road, in which Miller achieved a nigh-on perfect fusion of digital and practical filmmaking. 

From the lacklustre clips and posters, Furiosa looked like it lacked the gritty tactility of its predecessor and this hurt the film, as there was little social media buzz surrounding the release. And even some rave five-star reviews couldn't sway audiences...

Was the wait too long?

Furiosa
FuriosaWarner Bros.

It’s been nine years since the high-octane dystopian ride that was Fury Road, and there’s a case to be made that this prequel exceeded its release window for audiences to care. Absence doesn't always make the heart grow fonder, and a belated prequel may have hurt anticipation levels. 

This is hardly George Miller fault, as the film was ready to shoot pretty much straight after Fury Road, and landed in limbo for years due to Miller’s lawsuit against Warner Bros. for unpaid earnings. However, a release nearly a decade after whetting appetites for gut-punch action fare is too long for modern audiences.

Did we need a prequel?

Furiosa
FuriosaWarner Bros.

This is the question at the heart of Furiosa ’s woes, and the answer is: Not really. 

Its prequel status is not a pull factor, and this was our main criticism of the film: no one was asking for this. A continuation of Furiosa’s adventures in the Citadel or Max’s ongoing nightmare in the desert, with Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy returning for more? Sure. A prequel filling in the gaps before the events of Fury Road and ditching Max altogether? It’s a tougher sell.

Audiences have shied away from origin stories like Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, or The First Omen – all of which underperformed – and have given a clear signal. Enough with the world building prequels brimming with info dumps.

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Furiosa is ultimately another case of "prequelitis" - unnecessary backstory that demystifies characters and assumes that audiences are hungry for background details and connective tissue. Part of the appeal was Fury Road ’s ambitious in medias res construction, and while Furiosa is a fascinating character, what is left unsaid or unseen often builds character appeal and mystique.

Much like the path the Star Wars franchise chose to tread, the Mad Max saga looks to the past with Furiosa, instead of putting pedal to the metal with a direct continuation that would've been the better option.

Wider issues

Furiosa
FuriosaWarner Bros.

Furiosa 's underwhelming box office reflects wider problems facing Hollywood and the cinema industry as a whole. Furiosa is the latest in a long line of underperforming movies, much like this year’s The Fall Guy starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, that should be earning much more considering their critical reception.

The main snag is watching habits. Since the pandemic, the wait time between a movie ending its theatrical run and being released on digital is increasingly shortening. Streaming windows have now shrunk down to six weeks tops, and to go back to The Fall Guy, its poor box office ended with the announcement it would release on digital only two weeks after releasing in theatres. It’s this shrinking wait time that is causing a lot of audiences to stop spending money in favour of cheaper options. 

It’s a worrying state of affairs; if big tentpole films like Furiosa can’t entice viewers into cinemas, even with positive reviews, then what hope do other releases have?

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Deadpool and Wolverine and Inside Out 2 have a lot resting on their shoulders now. And if they share Furiosa ’s fate, the rest of 2024’s box office is looking Wasteland-bleak.

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