Tom Hanks is an indefatigable pitchman. The Oscar winner has been on the trail for the past few days, reciting the famous rap from “Big” during a press stop, hitting up Zoltar on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” in the hopes of shaving 30 years off his age, and gracing the world with David S. Pumpkins on “SNL.” It’s all been in service of “Inferno,” the third adaptation of Dan Brown’s series of books about Robert Langdon, Harvard symbologist and exposer of Opus Dei shenanigans. Hanks and director Ron Howard previously partnered on “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons,” which tickled fans of shadowy conspiracy yarns to the tune of $1.2 billion globally.
Sony, the film’s distributor, is eyeing a debut of $20 million to $25 million when it opens on 3,563 locations. The film will be available with extra bells and whistles — 377 of those locations will be Imax and 400 will be premium large format theaters. That opening is a fraction of “The Da Vinci Code’s” $77.1 million kick-off way back in 2006 and it trails “Angels & Demons'” $46.2 million launch from 2009, but those films both opened in the midst of summer blockbuster season. Moreover, the movie business has changed dramatically in the seven years sense Langdon was last seen sifting through archaic documents and mixing it up with the papal conclave. It’s less star-driven and the adult dramas that made Hanks a star aren’t the surefire box office winners that they once were. Hanks scored with the fall’s “Sully,” and “Bridge of Spies” and “Saving Mr. Banks” did respectable business, but they weren’t exactly blockbusters. This isn’t “Forrest Gump”-era Hanks.
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“Tom Hanks isn’t what he used to be,” said Eric Handler, a box office analyst with MKM Partners. “He’s still a great actor, but he’s not the box office draw he once was.”
Still, Sony safe-guarded against the films’ downward box office trend. “Inferno” cost $75 million to produce, half of what the studio spent making “Angels & Demons.” That lowers its financial risk, even if the film falls short of previous installments.
“Inferno” finds Langdon suffering from amnesia brought on by a bullet wound to the head. Despite his addled state, he must piece together a series of clues in order to stop a mad man from releasing a deadly virus.
Don’t expect an Oscars push for the film. Reviewers are treating “Inferno” with the critical reverence usually reserved for a “Suicide Squad” sequel, handing it a doleful 27% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That probably won’t depress turnout, as the previous Langdon films and books were also bludgeoned by reviewers and still managed to be commercially successful. A bigger obstacle may be the World Series, which is generating lots of interest because it features the Cubs and the Indians, two teams who haven’t won the championship in generations.
There’s not much in the way of competition at the multiplexes. “Boo! A Madea Halloween” and “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” captured first and second place on the box office charts last weekend, and both should drop more than 50% in their sophomore round in theaters. Look for the latest “Madea” to generate roughly $12 million, while the new “Reacher” adventure is looking at $10 million or so.
Even it the reception stateside is muted, “Inferno” has built up a nice head of steam overseas before hitting these shores. The thriller has made $100 million in two weeks of release and has yet to open in China, Japan, and other significant markets. The Langdon films, which are set in Europe, tend to do well with foreign moviegoers. The previous two films made more than 70% of their box office revenues abroad.
“The domestic business is almost an afterthought,” said Handler. “A movie like this had much more appeal internationally.”
That could keep Langdon around for more adventures.