‘UglyDolls,’ ‘Long Shot’ and the Struggle of Mid-Budget Films

Last weekend’s box office charts were a stark reminder of the domination of big-budget blockbusters.

With “Avengers: Endgame” once again sucking up all the oxygen in theaters, new releases like “UglyDolls” and “Long Shot” failed to capture a big slice of the box office pie. Only one newcomer, Sony and Screen Gem’s “The Intruder,” was able to scrape together more than $10 million in ticket sales. And Sony had the least to lose this weekend — “The Intruder” only cost $8 million. “Long Shot” and “UglyDolls” aren’t the kind of mistakes cause a studio to go under, but the $40 million romantic comedy and the $45 million animated adventure presented a riskier bet for the studios backing them. “Long Shot,” debuted with a tepid $9.7 million, and “UglyDolls,” launched with a disastrous $8.6 million.

On some level, choosing to open a movie a week after one the most anticipated movie of the decade is a suicide mission. Of course, when Lionsgate and STX set their respective release dates, they didn’t know just how high “Avengers: Endgame” would soar during its debut. But Marvel has the kind of track record that makes any competitors want to steer clear.

“The question Hollywood is going to be asking is, ‘How far away do we have to be from a Marvel movie?,'” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “They are eating everything up in sight.’

While Disney’s tentpole-filled slate continues to fuel the box office, smaller studios producing mid-range films continue to struggle in finding their footing. Legacy Hollywood studios have started to ditch the mid-budget movie, instead choosing to invest either a ton — or essentially nothing at all — when it comes to the theatrical experience. Mega-blockbusters such as “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers: Endgame” and smaller-budgeted films like Jordan Peele’s “Us” are driving U.S. ticket sales. So far, 2019 has been mostly void of any moderately priced hits.

“Spending $40 million on a rom-com is too much these days when you have too many on Netflix right now,” Bock said. “Netflix is upping their game. You are competing against $15 a month versus $15 to see ‘Long Shot’? That math doesn’t add up unless it’s something special.”

Indeed, Netflix offers a smattering of sappy movies that audiences can’t get enough of. “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” “The Kissing Booth,” and “The Perfect Date” are just a few streaming titles that have been fueling online chatter. Binge-watchers can’t get enough of Noah Centineo — and they don’t need to leave their couch to get their fill. With that in mind, most studios have all but abandoned the type of movie that has now comfortably found a life on streamers. The gap in mid-budgeted movies has left smaller companies such as Lionsgate and STX are struggling to punch up against the major studios. The box office pennies from “Long Shot” and “UglyDolls” demonstrate that even with big stars like Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, Kelly Clarkson and Nick Jonas, there’s an undeniably increased difficulty in competing with behemoths like Disney. While both STX and Lionsgate have fielded the occasional hit, neither have fully figured out how to navigate the world of counterprogramming.

STX has long posited itself as a disruptor to the major studios, spending a fraction of what the big guys shell out to market a movie. Then it’s a wonder why the studio would opt to release a movie that was intended to kick off a lucrative film franchise, along with a Hulu series, against the box office juggernaut that is “Endgame.” Outside of its rocky foray into animation with “UglyDolls,” STX has found somewhat of a footing with cost-effective romantic comedies like Jennifer Lopez’s “Second Act.” The $16 million film earned $72 million globally. The studio also had success with “The Upside,” a feel-good drama with Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, which crossed $100 million worldwide. But that particular title was scooped up after the Weinstein Co. filed for bankruptcy. When it comes to original content, STX has had modest wins, but it hasn’t had a bona fide hit outside of its “Bad Moms” franchise. Here’s hoping that “Bad Mom’s Moms,” a recently announced installment, completes the trifecta of popular maternal hijinks.

Similarly, Lionsgate has struggled to figure out the kinds of movies to make for anyone who’s not just watching what Disney is producing. Under the new leadership of Joe Drake, the studio is attempting to capture magic on mid-range titles that other studios have given up on. Recent films like Tyler Perry’s “A Madea Family Funeral” and the YA drama “Five Feet Apart” scraped together enough to get out of the red. But the former was the last installment in a long-running franchise, and the latter was part of a distribution deal with CBS Films. “Robin Hood,” last year’s big-budget adaptation of the swashbuckling bandit in green, was a massive flop, ending its box office run with $84 million worldwide. David Harbour’s “Hellboy” also misfired last month, while “Cold Pursuit,” a vigilante thriller starring Liam Neeson, just barely made back its production budget. Other than “John Wick” installments (with another due out this summer), its been a rough go-around for Lionsgate.

“There’s a hole in the market these kinds of movies,” Bock said. “It’s not a huge hole, but it’s enough where clever studios can get a foothold.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: Jennifer Lopez 'Hustlers' Heading for $25 Million Launch

    STX Entertainment’s “Hustlers,” a comedic thriller about strip-club employees seeking revenge, is expected to earn $25 million when it opens on Sept. 13, according to early tracking. The movie — starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Cardi B and Lizzo — will debut alongside Warner Bros.’ “The Goldfinch.” The drama, based on [...]

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Theatres Lays Off 35 Corporate Staffers

    AMC Entertainment has laid off 35 corporate staffers and will not fill an additional 15 open jobs. The Kansas-based chain made the announcement Thursday as part of a previously announced “profit improvement plan” intended to achieve operating and administrative efficiencies. AMC, which operates more than 10,000 movie screens, had disclosed the plan on Aug. 8 [...]

  • Ann Sarnoff Warner Bros

    Ann Sarnoff Formally Takes Reins of Warner Bros. as CEO

    The Ann Sarnoff era at Warner Bros. has begun. Sarnoff formally took the reins as Warner Bros. chair-CEO on Thursday, two months after she was appointed to the post. Sarnoff told employees in a memo that she has been impressed by the company’s track record during the past year amid a period of upheaval for [...]

  • Take Me Somewhere Nice review

    Ena Sendijarevic on Migration, Identity and the Question of Belonging

    Bosnian filmmaker Ena Sendijarević had an auspicious debut with “Import,” a short film which world premiered in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight in 2016. Drawing on her own family’s personal history, the Amsterdam-based director crafted an idiosyncratic tale about a family of Bosnian refugees trying to make a new home in the Netherlands. With her feature debut, [...]

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire

    Haugesund Prizes ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire,’ ‘Him,’ ‘Ballon’

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  Celine Sciamma’s intellectually dexterous, bittersweet love tale “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” has claimed another heart, taking home The Norwegian Film-Critics’ Prize at the Haugesund Film Festival’s closing night on Thursday. The festival, which runs over August 17-23, capped its 47th edition with a screening of André Løyning and Kristian Landmark’s [...]

  • Motherless Brooklyn Edward Norton

    Edward Norton Investigates Murder in 'Motherless Brooklyn' Trailer

    The trailer for Edward Norton’s forthcoming crime drama “Motherless Brooklyn” is officially out. Warner Bros.’ drama, based on the 1999 novel by Jonathan Lethem, follows Lionel Essrog, a young man who works for a small-time mobster in Brooklyn while struggling with an intense case of Tourette Syndrome. “Okay, listen, I got something wrong with me, [...]

  • Summer Box Office

    Box Office Report Card: Studios Get Their Summer Grades

    Studios got badly burned this summer. From May to August, popcorn season in movie speak, the film flops piled up and the big hits were few and far between for nearly every company except Disney. As a whole, summer did little to instill confidence in the state of moviegoing. To be sure, there were successes [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content