It’s shaping up to be a pretty bleak holiday season for Steve Carell and Robert Zemeckis after “Welcome to Marwen” flopped last weekend in spectacular fashion. The $40 million drama about a man’s attempts to overcome his PTSD is one of the biggest bombs of the year, debuting to a disastrous $2.4 million from 1,191 theaters. It stands to lose between $45 million to $50 million when marketing and distribution costs are taken into account, according to rival studio executives, an embarrassing result for both Carell and Zemeckis.
“Welcome to Marwen” is also the worst wide-release major studio debut of 2018 — tying with Johnny Knoxville’s dud “Action Point” for that ignominious distinction — and a career-worst wide-release start for the A-list actor and the director. Compounding the pervasive air of disaster, “Welcome to Marwen” is the second big turkey for Universal Studios in as many weeks. The studio also stands to lose $125 million-plus on “Mortal Engines,” a Peter Jackson fantasy that has grossed an anemic $54.3 million globally.
Universal did limit its exposure on “Welcome to Marwen.” The film is co-financed by DreamWorks and its slate financing partner Perfect World is an investor. Despite ending the year on a sour note, Universal has fielded a number of hits, including “Halloween,” “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch,” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”
Exhibitors have been privately warning that “Welcome to Marwen” was shaping up to be a bust after previewing the picture. The studio will have trouble holding screens for the film in the coming days and weeks because it’s a competitive time of year and theaters will want to give space to holiday hits such as “Aquaman” and “Mary Poppins Returns.”
“Welcome to Marwen” is based on the 2010 documentary “Marwencol” and centers on the true story of Mark Hogancamp, a man who recovered from a brutal assault by creating a miniature World War II-era village and populating it with figurines. Reviews were not kind. The film holds a meager 25% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics such as Variety’s Owen Gleiberman faulting the film for being dramatically inert.
“The film is far from incompetent, and it brims with ambition, but too much of the time what’s happening just sits there,”Gleiberman wrote. “It’s a lavishly odd concoction, like a feel-good movie for OCD miniature-world Barbie-doll fetishists.”
It also continues a downward trajectory at the box office for both Zemeckis and Carell. After creating commercials smashes such as “Forest Gump” and “What Lies Beneath” in the 1990s and early aughts, Zemeckis has faltered of late. His recent films such as “Allied” and “The Walk” have bombed, with only the Denzel Washington drama “Flight” managing to find an audience. Carell has been successful as the voice of Gru in the “Despicable Me” movies, but recent starring vehicles such as “Beautiful Boy” and “Battle of the Sexes” have fared poorly. The actor has a key supporting role playing Donald Rumsfeld in “Vice,” a satire about Dick Cheney that opens on Christmas.