Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’ Eyes $45 Million Debut

Ready Player One
Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.

Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” is on pace to open to between $45 million to $55 million over its four-day opening weekend.

The fantasy adventure would score the Oscar-winning director’s biggest debut since 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” kicked off to $100.1 million. However, “Ready Player One” with its elaborate special effects likely cost well in excess of $100 million and boasts a promotional and distribution over $100 million, so it needs to be a major hit if it wants to make its money back at the box office. To do that, “Ready Player One” must broaden its appeal. It is tracking well with male moviegoers, but has yet to garner as much interest with female audiences.

Some tracking services have “Ready Player One” opening to $38 million in its first four days of release, which would be a disappointing start. Still, analysts aren’t counting out the actioner just yet.

“There’s still time to build buzz,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore, told Variety. “Three weeks is an eternity to build an audience. In three weeks, we could be looking at a whole different environment.”

He added, “Any time you have Spielberg’s name attached, there’s going to be a lot of interest, high expectations, but I do think there’s time.”

While Spielberg’s involvement is the film’s strongest strongest selling point, it’s worth noting that he isn’t the box office draw he was in the 1980s and ’90s. His last fantasy film, “The BFG,” bombed at the box office. More recent successes, such as “The Post” and “Lincoln,” have been adult dramas that are aimed at a much different crowd than the audience that’s expected to turn out for “Ready Player One.”

Warner Bros.’ “Ready Player One,” which hits theaters on March 29, is an adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel of the same name. It is set in an elaborate virtual reality world, one that deploys pop culture totems from the likes of “The Iron Giant” and “Back to the Future.” A decade ago, “Ready Player One” would have the pedigree of a major summer release, but the culture as shifted, and that terrain is dominated by Marvel movies and “Jurassic Park” spin-offs.

However, Dergarabedian pointed to the film’s spring release date as an advantage.

“In the summer, you’re lucky to even get one week between films to pass the baton to one film from another. It’s like a foot race. Every week audiences are migrating from one big blockbuster to the next,” he said. “You get a narrow window to make your mark and to make an impression.”

The cast includes Tye Sheridan, Mark Rylance, Olivia Cooke, and Ben Mendelsohn, none of whom are draws in their own right. Warner Bros. hopes that it can generate buzz for the film this weekend when it has several promotional events planned for SXSW (including a rumored secret screening).

“You hope the fan base will get into it,” Dergarabedian said. “These innovating marketing campaigns, the VR experiences, fan art, you never know. I wouldn’t write any movie off right now.”