“Despicable Me 3” scored the number one slot this weekend, but that’s not the big success story of this July 4 weekend. It’s “Baby Driver.” From Friday through Sunday, it only grossed $21 million (plus another nine since its opening last Wednesday, putting it at $30 million total), but that’s great for a non-franchise movie without massive stars. That means people wanted to see Edgar Wright’s getaway driver action movie (that’s also sort of a comedy) because it looked like a fun night out at the movies. We loved it, and so did audiences, who gave it an A- on Cinemascore.
Compare that with “Despicable Me 3.” Yes, it grossed $72.4 million, but that’s almost half of the opening weekend of “Despicable Me 2” three summers ago. That netted $143 million, while 2015’s “Minions” spinoff movie made $115 million en route to over a billion worldwide. There’s a “time to make the donuts” vibe to the series’ third official entry, which isn’t as delightful or even as loopy as the previous two, as though everyone involved assumed audiences would show up in droves no matter what they did. Well, they didn’t.
This is the latest underperforming franchise member in a summer packed with them. We’re only halfway through the season, and though few big titles have outright bombed — “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” being the exception — many haven’t delivered the goods like they used to. First there was “Alien: Covenant” ($73 million so far), then “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” ($165 million), then “Cars 3” ($120 million), then “Transformers: The Last Knight” ($102 million). None of these are chump change, but each one is dramatically lower than these brands normally nab. (The exception is comic book movies. Those are still going strong.)
Which brings us back to “Baby Driver.” It’s the latest 2017 hit that belongs to no franchise (apart from the cinema of Edgar Wright), a list that also includes “Get Out” and “Split,” as well as “Hidden Figures,” which didn’t go into wide release until early January. Original movies! What a concept! It’s bizarre that original cinema is now a “trend,” but this is what happens when mass audiences only buy tickets for franchise movies. We were bound to burn out on the same-iness of multiplex fare sooner or later, and while franchises are far from dead — see again: comic book movies, plus “The Fate of the Furious” — the upside to Hollywood losing a lot of money is that they may start buying up original scripts again, in the hopes that people will want to watch more movies along the lines of “Baby Driver.”
But! There’s one more twist in this story, one sizable kink in the fabric. Most of these underperforming franchise movies? They’re killing it overseas. At home, “Transformers 5” may be crawling to a total the series used to make on opening weekend, but it’s already almost doubled its Optimus Prime-sized budget internationally. Ditto “Pirates 5.” And “The Mummy”? In America, it’s considered a massive bomb, an embarrassment. But everyone else around the world loves it. Not only are franchises not dead, but there will soon be the awkward moment when Hollywood announces they’re pouring a ton of money into “Pirates 6,” only because people in China can’t wait to see it. Hopefully they’ll also give us another “Baby Driver” — long as it’s not called “Baby Driver 2.”