After previous models revealed more than a few flaws, there appears to be little enthusiasm among North American moviegoers to check out what Terminator: Dark Fate has under the hood. That’s perhaps the biggest takeaway from the film’s tepid opening weekend at the box office.
Despite opening in first place this weekend, besting Joker in its fifth weekend and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in its third, the Tim Miller-directed Terminator: Dark Fate fell below expectations when it debuted at an estimated $29 million. That number also makes Dark Fate the lowest #1 November opening since Ender’s Game in 2013.
This figure is below the floor Paramount Pictures set as their estimates for the weekend of $30 to $40 million, and it is certainly below what expectations must’ve existed when the film was greenlit with a $185 million price tag (rival studios estimate the budget was even higher). It’s also only slightly above the previous attempt to reboot the franchise with a time traveling reset button in 2015’s Terminator Genisys, which opened at $27 million four years ago. Perhaps the grimmest comparison though is how far below it is from previous installments over a decade ago, including Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), which opened at $43 million, and Terminator Salvation’s $42.6 million in 2009.
The news isn’t necessarily shocking since Terminator: Dark Fate has been tracking soft for weeks, but it is still disquieting to gross only a little more than half of what Rise of the Machines did without 15 years-worth of ticket inflation. Also, unlike the last two installments in its franchise, Dark Fate received generally positive, if not necessarily enthusiastic, reviews. We ourselves found it to be a serviceable actioner that manipulates its nostalgic impulses solidly enough to avoid the crushing disappointment of previous sequels. However, there was little hiding that the movie is essentially a beat-for-beat remake of the original 1984 movie.
Attempting to nostalgically repeat the narrative of a blockbuster classic with a new generation of stars looking fawningly at their predecessors isn’t a bad impulse: Disney has milked the same formula to the tune of billions of dollars in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and more adult fare like Creed became a successful vein to mine Rocky nostalgia in. Just last year, Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the role of Laurie Strode to terrific fanfare in Halloween (2018), another reboot that ignored the sequel(s) that came after the original film and earned $76 million its opening weekend.
But while each of those franchises came with the baggage of less than loved sequels or prequels, the previous installment in each was a decade or more before the reboot, and each promised a drastically different approach to the franchise (even if that often turned out to be an illusion). If Dark Fate was following up 2009’s Salvation, it might’ve fared better than coming less than five years after the generally despised Genisys, which was also a reboot that ignored previous sequels and returned to the formula of the first three movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger as an aging Terminator. Dark Fate did the concept better, and with Linda Hamilton finally back in the role of Sarah Connor, but it felt less like a homecoming than the latest rethink of a diminishing brand.
The marketing also did little to hide the fact that Dark Fate, like all of the Terminator movies sans Salvation, is a chase film where a robot from the future is after young people in the present. With little narratively new to offer, Dark Fate lacked a strong hook beyond Hamilton’s return to sell the movie, and it appears nostalgia for this franchise is fairly spent.
Terminator: Dark Fate of course is only at the beginning of its run. And globally, Paramount and 20th Century Fox (who is handling foreign distribution) could see a silver lining, albeit the pic also opened soft in China where it grossed only $28.2 million. But the movie has a tough fight ahead of it before the Thanksgiving holiday releases. Warner Bros. has its own adult-oriented legacy sequel out next weekend in The Shining follow-up, Doctor Sleep, and the weekend after that is 20th Century Fox/Disney’s charming biopic about racing and beloved movie stars doing manly things in Ford v Ferrari. Both of which are likely to cut into Terminator’s box office. But hey, Sarah Connor has beaten the odds before…