Directed By: William Eubank
Written By: Brian Duffield, Adam Cozad
Release Date: January 10, 2020
Domestic Distributor: Disney (FOX)
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Box Office Information
Budget: $50 Million
Financed by: TSG Entertainment
Domestic Box Office Gross: $17,291,078
Overseas Box Office Gross: $$23,591,850
A crew of underwater researchers must scramble to safety after an earthquake devastates their deep-sea laboratory. But the crew has more than the ocean’s depths to fear.
Box Office Breakdown
In October 2015, Brian Duffield’s spec script Underwater sold to Chernin Entertainment, which had a long-standing production arrangement at FOX. The project was secured distribution through the studio, which was not an investor and it was actually FOX’s slate investor TSG Entertainment that fully funded Underwater. William Eubank was hired to direct in May 2016 and Kristen Stewart signed on in February 2017, a few weeks before the start of production.
The Louisiana film commission reported that the gross budget for Underwater was $65,087,631.00 and according to William Eubank “with the tax credit, our budget was about $50 million in Louisiana.”
Disney-Fox Merger Led to a 3-Year Delay
Principal photography concluded in the spring of 2017 and then the picture sat on the shelf for nearly three years. In late 2017 when discussions were well underway on a potential FOX acquisition by Disney, the release of Underwater was put into limbo. With FOX having no investment into the film, Underwater was clearly a low priority picture for the studio and cast aside while the merger was pending. As nearly two years passed without a peep from the studio regarding a theatrical date, Eubank had stated that he didn’t know if the picture would ever find a release.
Assigned A Theatrical Release Post Merger
After the Disney-FOX merger was complete in March 2019, Disney opted to go ahead with a theatrical release and dated Underwater for January 10, 2020. The years-long delay also added millions in interest costs as the film sat in the FOX vault. Even though a big-screen run was penciled in for the early January dumping ground, there were still rumors that Underwater could be pulled and premiere on the mouse house’s streaming platform or VOD. The theatrical future of numerous FOX administration movies, such as Underwater was also on shaky ground after the first wave of FOX titles left a $170 million write-down for Disney in August 2019 — largely from the disastrous performance of Dark Phoenix. Despite the continued box office failings of more FOX pictures, Disney remained committed to bringing Underwater to the multiplex.
Disney/FOX did support the release with a sizable P&A spend, but Underwater was tracking very poorly going into the release. With most B-movie genre fare these days designated to low-budget productions (ie. Blumhouse) or sanitized mega-budget international co-productions (ie. The Meg), these once prevalent mid-budget B-movies (a recent example being the flop Overlord) have become rare in the corporate age. Also not helping its appeal, was the recycling of familiar deep sea terror tropes, where Underwater has been labeled a derivative Alien and The Abyss knockoff.
Kristen Stewart’s Recent Box Office History
Kristen Stewart has also been unreliable at the box office post the Twilight monstrosities and she had opted for more challenging indie fare than safe studio movies. While it was certainly admirable of her to use her clout to get smaller pictures funded off of her name, none of them had broken out beyond the small arthouse circuit and it has been 8 years since she was associated with an actual box office hit (Snow White and the Huntsman). Her few commercial pictures after the Twilight series concluded were all financial losers: American Ultra, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Charlie’s Angels — which was released just two months before Underwater.
Box Office Numbers
Underwater bowed against the flop Like a Boss and the wide expansions of 1917 and Just Mercy. It would be the last movie released under the 20th Century Fox moniker, which was then changed to 20th Century Studios by Disney.
Reviews were mixed (though creature feature genre fare is usually review proof) and tracking was pointing to a poor mid to high single-digit weekend. It tanked with $7,008,297 — placing #7 for the weekend led by 1917.
It was announced on Jan 17, 2020, one week after the opening that the mouse house severed ties with Chernin Entertainment — not because of the awful performance of Underwater specifically, but that the mega-conglomerate did not need an in-house partner like Chernin to shepherd Disney projects.
Audiences gave the movie a dreadful C CinemaScore and Underwater declined 46.8% to $3,731,562 in its second frame. In its third session, Underwater plummeted 67.7% to $1,206,446 and then promptly lost most of its theater count. The domestic run closed with $17,291,078.
Underwater was also a non-performer in almost all markets overseas and a soft $2.7 million gross from Indonesia is the film’s strongest offshore numbers. It has pulled in under $1 million from major markets like the UK, Germany, and Spain. The international cume was $23.5 million.
The worldwide total sits at $40.8 million and Disney would see returned about $22 million after theaters take their percentage of the gross. This would leave over $50 million worth of worldwide P&A costs in the red and the budget untouched by the theatrical receipts. The film will likely end as a write-down near $50 million after all ancillary revenue is factored in.
The following month saw another FOX title post-catastrophic box office figures, which was the Harrison Ford dog movie The Call of the Wild. The combined loss of big-budget FOX flops inherited by Disney — Dark Phoenix, Ad Astra, The Call of the Wild and Underwater — just these movies combined have lost about $300M.
Coronavirus Impact: Practically None.
During the last weekend, before COVID-19 led to the shuttering of theaters, Underwater was still playing in 50 domestic theaters and had a weekend gross of $31,194. In normal times, the film might have pulled in an additional $100K before it completely shed its theater count.
The only scheduled overseas market that was canceled due to the outbreak was Romania, where most big-budget fare only pulls in mid-six figures and Underwater would have probably made pocket change.