Lamenting 20th Century Fox Adult Blockbusters

They promised it wouldn’t happen like this, but it happened, and the world lost most 20th Century Fox adult blockbusters.

It’s particularly disheartening when The Creator has just released under 20th Century Studios. It’s not doing very well at the box office… Not a disaster or anything, but it’s going to struggle to hit $150 million. Everyone complains about the lack of original movies made for adults, but then they never turn out for stuff like this. And each time it happens, Disney gets less and less interested in their $71 billion acquisition.

My lamenting of 20th Century Fox adult blockbusters came from this video:

In this video, Gareth Edwards, a really cool director who loves making big sci-fi movies, explains the ways he managed to make The Creator work on an absurd $80 million budget. For a sci-fi blockbuster in 2023, this is incredibly lean, and I’m so impressed the team managed to pull it off. Disney should be heaping mountains of praise on Edwards and crew for making this movie on HALF the budget you’d expect. Instead, they fumbled the marketing and basically let the thing come out to die–hell, I only heard of it in July, and normally I’m really on top of these things.

Adjusted for inflation, The Creator is cheaper than the first Deadpool, John Wick 3, even Blade Runner (!!!). It’s lean, mean, and probably paves the way for blockbusters in the future. Or, it will unless it’s completely forgotten about and cast aside to the Tubi streaming bin in a couple years.

Fox used to be the king of stuff like this. They used to be able to turn domestic flops into worldwide smashes through strange Rupert Murdoch magic. Stuff you barely remember was actually monstrously successful. If you don’t believe me, check the worldwide numbers on the Ice Age and Alvin & the Chipmunks franchises. Absolutely ludicrous.

And 20th Century Fox adult blockbusters helped keep the whole international market afloat when the biggest tentpoles weren’t around. Mid-budget films and mega-budget films alike, Fox loved to push its muscle around in often really interesting ways.

Movies like The Martian and the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy are lauded and beloved, but did you realize they were also monster worldwide smash hits? They’re not even superhero movies or musicals, how did this happen??

The Maze Runner trilogy made $900 million worldwide on a combined $150 million budget. Life of Pi made the same amount in 2012 that Justice League made in 2017. They power-muscled their way into making Kingsman into one of cinema’s new great franchises (extremely briefly). And don’t forget Murder on the Orient Express!

Would-be mega-flops like A Good Day to Die Hard and Assassin’s Creed got mostly saved by stellar worldwide numbers. Hell, remember that awful Cormac McCarthy movie The Counselor? No? Don’t worry, nobody does. But somehow Fox turned it into a very minor success.

Other studios did not have this kind of muscle. 20th Century Fox adult blockbusters held a special place in the moviegoing spirit. And after Disney bought the studio, it all fell apart.

Well, it wasn’t all Disney. Adult-oriented movies faced huge headwinds from the Peak TV era. Why watch Bad Times at the El Royale in theaters? You can just stream Watchmen on HBO, right? Fox magic saved underperformers like Widows and Alita Battle Angel, but this kind of big-budget adult-heavy movie struggled bigtime. And the pandemic massacred them afterwards. Movies have recovered in the post-pandemic world, but adult blockbusters still struggle.

And come, on, Disney, what the hell are you doing? Ford v. Ferrari was exactly the kind of Fox movie that did insanely well worldwide. So how come it made less than 50% of its total outside North America? (I won’t blame them for Underwater, since I think the pandemic killed it off early.)

But Ad Astra? Oh boy I blame them for that. Ad Astra, another lean and mean $80 million sci-fi epic just like The Creator, suffered badly from the post-Disney merger.

20th Century Fox Adult Blockbusters

Both Ad Astra and The Creator were acclaimed for great visuals, interesting characters, and bold, original worlds. Both came and went with zero people watching them in theaters and getting overshadowed by a much easier tentpole (Joker in 2019, Taylor Swift in 2023).

In the old Fox regime, both of these woulda made like $350 million. James Gray deserves better…

In almost four years since 20th Century Fox became 20th Century Studios, Disney has released just 16 films in theaters. And at least three or four of those were pre-acquisition burn-offs! Before Disney, they released 20-25 movies a year. Now they’re releasing 4-5, and letting half of those flop anyway. The Last Duel and A Haunting in Venice would have been surefire 20th Century Fox adult blockbusters. But under Disney, they have so little priority they just get buried.

The Creator was positioned as the big sci-fi tentpole film of the fall. Just like Real Steel, Looper, Gravity, The Martian, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, Ad Astra, and Dune before it. But it’s doing worse than every single one of those, which sucks because it’s so dang good.

Is any studio going to pick up the slack and fill the void? Or is this just going to be me lamenting forever the loss of a once-mighty film studio?

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