Directed By: Chris Sanders
Written By: Michael Green
Release Date: February 21, 2020
Domestic Distributor: 20th Century Studios
Cast: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan
Box Office Information
Budget: $135 million
Financed by: FOX; TSG Entertainment
Domestic Box Office Gross: Still in release
Overseas Box Office Gross: Still in release
Adapted from the beloved literary classic, THE CALL OF THE WILD vividly brings to the screen the story of Buck, a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life is turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail delivery dog sled team–and later its leader–Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime, ultimately finding his true place in the world and becoming his own master.
Box Office Breakdown
FOX first announced their remake of Jack London’s 1903 oft-filmed novel The Call of the Wild in October 2017 and immediately dated the big-budget project as an event release on Christmas Day 2019. Harrison Ford joined the project in July 2018 and production began one month later.
FOX was able to secure $17,093,000 in tax rebates from California and the production spent $109,004,000 on The Call of the Wild in the state.
Additional costs were spent filming in Canada and major expenses were allotted for VFX, which was handled by the Technicolor owned MPC in Montreal.
The estimated net budget for The Call of the Wild was $135 million, with FOX funding the bulk of the costs and the studio’s slate investor TSG Entertainment contributed a minority investment.
The studio’s justification for earmarking such an irresponsible amount of capital behind a dog movie was the recent success of The Jungle Book (2016) — as if these two projects would somehow have similar crossover appeal. FOX even hired The Jungle Book’s visual effects editor David Heinz to edit this film.
Where Things Went Wrong
Whereas The Jungle Book was overloaded with stylized CGI environments and talking CGI animals, The Call of the Wild was designed to push realism — but also relied on expensive digital environments and inexplicably a dog made of pixels. This creative decision resulted in a movie that cost at least $75 million more than it should have and the bulk of the critical complaints directed toward the picture was the animated dog itself which looked stuck in the uncanny valley.
Why they didn’t use a flesh and blood canine and occasionally a CGI double for dangerous scenes or sequences more logistically complicated to pull off — is ultimately this movie’s creative and financial undoing. There is no spectacle on display showcasing an almost photo-realistic dog, it just comes across as an overpriced gimmick.
After production had long been completed, in March 2019, Disney finalized its acquisition of FOX. In early May, Disney pushed The Call of the Wild out of the Christmas frame, which the mouse house would be readying for their in-house film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The Call of the Wild was moved back to February 21, 2020.
Marketing & Advertising
Disney did invest into a blockbuster sized marketing push for the film, spending $26.19M on TV ads going into the release (as per iSpotTV) and millions more after the opening — and with other advertising and distribution expenses, the domestic P&A costs were certainly north of $50 million. Global marketing costs for your standard big-budget studio picture have exceeded $125M these days.
With at least $250 million in production and marketing expenses, The Call of the Wild would have to pull in unrealistic box office numbers just to break even. Along with the box office ceiling, a huge budget family dog picture would be handicapped by, the last Harrison Ford vehicle that was a financial success was the already established franchise movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
Harrison the Flopping Ford
You would have to go all the way back to What Lies Beneath (2000) for his last major hit as a bankable superstar. His resume for last 20 years has been a list of flops (with the exception obviously of his supporting performance in The Force Awakens): K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Hollywood Homicide (2003), Firewall (2006), Crossing Over (2009), Extraordinary Measures (2010), Morning Glory (2010), Cowboys & Aliens (2011), Paranoia (2013), Ender’s Game (2013) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017).
Box Office Opening
The Call of the Wild was tracking well for a PG-rated dog pic with an opening pegged between $17 million and $20 million. However, those were frightening numbers for a film with more than a quarter of a billion in capital behind it. It bowed against the low budget schlock Brahms: The Boy II and would have direct competition with the hit family film Sonic the Hedgehog, which was released the week prior. The mouse house’s animated Onward was also dated just two weeks later and the massive marketing push for that picture would also cannibalize some interest in Wild.
Reviews were mixed and as stated previously, the majority of the complaints were directed toward the flaws of the animated dog — which left that expensive gimmick as an audience turnoff and the faded star wattage of Ford to pick up the slack. The Call of the Wild was also the first release to sport the new rebranded moniker 20th Century Studios.
The Call of the Wild opened above its modest expectations at $24,791,624 — placing #2 for the weekend led by Sonic. Even with a strong A- Cinemascore hold from audiences, the film did not hold particularly well and declined 46.1% to $13,362,823 in its second frame. With Onward opening, expect Wild to fade fast. More after the stateside release ends…
International (Ice) Waters
The Call of the Wild has been released in the majority of its international markets (currently in 50 countries) and has pulled in mediocre to terrible numbers. The current cume sits at $33.8M. More as the numbers come in…
The Call of the Wild Losses
Despite being early in its theatrical run, The Call of the Wild is on track to lose about $50M. We will have a better idea just how deep in the red the picture is once the run concludes. The movie is yet another big-budget FOX flop Disney inherited after Dark Phoenix, Ad Astra, and Underwater. Just these movies combined have lost about $300M.