Audiences got their first look at Marvel Television’s upcoming ABC series “Inhumans” over the Labor Day weekend, though not on TV. But soft numbers at the feature-film box office are not an encouraging sign for how the show will perform on TV.
As part of a unique production partnership, Marvel, ABC Studios, and IMAX mounted a theatrical release for the first two episodes of the superhero-action drama. Over the weekend, the 84-minute “Inhumans” feature earned an estimated $2.6 million across 676 IMAX screens worldwide, including $1.5 million via 393 IMAX screens in North America. That tally is relatively modest. But given that the holiday weekend saw no new wide U.S. releases from studios and capped an abysmal summer at the box office, IMAX is getting credit for taking a swing.
“My hat was off to any distributor that released something at least new and innovative and different on this very slow Labor Day weekend,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. “At least IMAX looked at the marketplace, saw an opportunity and did [something] for the fans. To me, that’s a winning strategy.”
Marvel, ABC, and IMAX announced the greenlight for “Inhumans” last November as a joint production that would see IMAX share costs with the Disney division, then premiere the first two episodes exclusively ahead of the show’s fall premiere on ABC. (The episodes air back-to-back Sept. 29 on ABC with several minutes of additional footage not seen in the IMAX feature included.)
Such crossovers between television and theatrical film are rare. When the “Game of Thrones” season four finale screened in IMAX theaters over Super Bowl weekend in 2015, it drew $1.4 million in the U.S. — a shade less than the “Inhumans” premiere.
Thanks to the investment from IMAX, Disney divisions Marvel and ABC consider the show effectively paid for, regardless of its performance on broadcast, where it will air on Friday nights. But the trailers for series and clips screened this summer at Comic-Con have fueled negative early buzz for the series.
Speaking at the Television Critics Association press tour in August, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey warned reporters that the premiere episode that had been made available for them to view was not a complete project. “I think that the episode that you guys have seen is still a bit of a work in progress,” Dungey said. “We are still a month away from final air, but I do feel like there’s great opportunity there as well.”
ABC sources tell Variety that concerns over quality of “Inhumans” episodes — both the special effects of early cuts and the underpinning scripts — were a source of contention between ABC and Marvel. The IMAX box-office numbers will do little to reverse that narrative, and could dissuade future such hybrid strategies.
“The fact that they really didn’t do that well for IMAX doesn’t bode well for other networks copying this strategy and also whether the show will be successful,” said veteran media analyst Brad Adgate.