It’s going to be rough sailing for “In the Heart of the Sea.” The whaling drama is on track to be one of the biggest flops of director Ron Howard’s career and will serve as a painful coda to what has been a devastating year for Warner Bros., the studio behind the picture.
The story of the Essex, a whaleship that had a nasty encounter with a sperm whale, inspiring Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” is projected to bring in between $12 million and $14 million when it unspools across 3,103 theaters. That’s a disastrous launch for a drama that carries a production budget that hovers around $100 million.
The picture debuted overseas last weekend, earning a mediocre $18.5 million from 38 markets. If it has a prayer of clawing into the black, it will need foreign audiences to warm to the survival story — and quickly. “In the Heart of the Sea’s” poor showing comes as Warner Bros., once considered to be the most formidable studio in Hollywood, is reeling from a series of costly flops such as “Jupiter Ascending” and “Pan.” The studio has one more film left to open, a remake of “Point Break” that debuts on Dec. 25, and can take solace in the performance of “Creed,” which has made a solid $65.8 million since debuting over Thanksgiving.
At least, the suffering won’t be Warner’s alone. It co-produced and co-financed “In the Heart of the Sea” with Village Roadshow and originally intended to release it last spring before shifting dates. Chris Hemsworth, who suffered another massive flop earlier this year with Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” and has been unable to prove he can open a movie outside of “Thor,” stars in the film. Reviews for “In the Heart of the Sea” have been respectable, but the picture, despite its historical pedigree and Howard’s past Oscar success, hasn’t registered in the awards conversation.
Howard, an Oscar winner for “A Beautiful Mind,” has had his own box office travails of late. Three of his past four movies — “Frost/Nixon,” “The Dilemma” and “Rush” — have been money losers. He returns to firmer commercial ground next year with the release of “Inferno,” an adaptation of the popular Dan Brown novel.
Even though its opening is shaping up to be abysmal, it may be enough for “In the Heart of the Sea” to capture the box office crown from “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.” The science-fiction adventure has topped charts for three consecutive weeks and is headed for a weekend of roughly $10 million. Another holdover, the darkly comic horror film “Krampus,” should snag third place with an $8 million second weekend.
Overall, it’s looking pretty dead out there. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” debuts on Dec. 18, when it is expected to steamroll everything in its path, and many players are holding back their holiday offerings until the week of Christmas.
Paramount will try to exploit the empty playing field this weekend by launching “The Big Short,” a comic look at the financial crisis, in limited release. The subject matter is dense, terms like collaterized debt obligations are bandied about, so it will fall to an all-star ensemble of Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell to bring in audiences. “The Big Short” debuts in eight theaters before going wide on Dec. 25.