Terminator: Dark Fate
- Directed By: Tim Miller
- Written By: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
- Release Date: November 1, 2019
- Domestic Distributor: Paramount
- Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes
Box Office Info:
|Budget: $185 million||Financed by: Skydance Media; Paramount; FOX; Tencent Pictures; TSG Entertainment|
|Domestic Box Office: Still in release||Overseas Box Office: Still in release|
Before we autopsy the box office failure of Terminator: Dark Fate, let’s take a brief look at the recent copyright issues surrounding this tired franchise. After the poor reception to Terminator Salvation (2009), the Terminator rights went out for auction. Megan Ellison’s Annapurna beat out bidders at the 2011 Cannes marketplace and landed the rights for $20M. In 2013, she sold the rights to her brother David Ellison and his financing shingle Skydance moved forward with another poorly received entry Terminator Genisys (2015). The fifth Terminator entry was expected to launch a new trilogy, but it underperformed and future Genisys installments were scrapped.
Ellison felt the property was still ripe to exploit and wanted Terminator 6 to be a partial reboot that ignored the events of part 3, 4 and 5 — but the Terminator rights were set to revert back to James Cameron in 2019. In 1976, Congress passed the (ironically named for this property) ‘termination right’, in which creators can have licensed works reverted back to them after 35 years, so they can re-negotiate new terms with potential buyers. With this looming reality hanging over the Terminator IP, Skydance would lose the rights in November 2020.
Ellison began to work with Cameron about his plans for launching another trilogy attempt, in which he would obviously need the future rights holder to participate. Cameron demanded that his friend Schwarzenegger be included and he began to help guide the story of what would become Terminator: Dark Fate.
The budget for Terminator: Dark Fate was $185 million and the majority of expenses were split equally between Skydance, Paramount and FOX. China based Tencent Pictures invested 10% into the production for rights in PROC and FOX’s slate investor TSG also contributed some coin on their end. Paramount would handle domestic distribution duties and FOX would have overseas responsibilities.
The tentpole was first dated for a prime summer frame on July 26, 2019 but it was moved to the less crowded November 1 frame. Paramount launched a blockbuster sized marketing blitz, spending $28.74M on TV ads (as per iSpotTV) going into release, plus millions more after release — and after other promotional and distribution costs, the domestic P&A costs were far north of $60M.
With the Paramount marketing machine trying to turn this stale property into a three-parter, the rights to the series were contested about one month before it was set to open. The co-writer of the original 1984 picture Gale Anne Hurd also announced she would have the rights revert back to her and if the series would continue, negotiations would have to include her. It is expected that Hurd will have a 50/50 split with Cameron and Skydance will continue to hold onto the IP. With the copyright legalities mostly tied up, the only thing in the way of continuing the Terminator movies was turning Terminator: Dark Fate into a profitable investment — and tracking was pointing to a healthy enough global opening.
Domestic tracking was expecting an opening near $40M, which was an improvement over Genisys‘ final $89.7M gross and the picture was expected to eclipse Genisys‘ moderately successful $350.8M offshore numbers. Despite what polling was telling its financiers, the marketing material was a rehash of plot points and imagery seen before in the series; audiences had been burned or let down by these sequels for 16 years; the return of Schwarzenegger to the series in Genisys did not grow or spark audience interest; and the big selling point of James Cameron as producer would have as much positive impact as his endorsement of Genisys. These sequels have shown no audience growth and the budget for this picture simply should have been lower than the $155M spent on Genisys.
It bowed against smaller counter-programmers Harriet, Motherless Brooklyn and Arctic Dogs. Mixed reviews and the ‘seen it all before’ criticism contributed to Terminator: Dark Fate opening far below expectations at $29,033,832 — though it won the weekend. Auds under the age of 25 did not show and made up just 25% of ticket buyers. Predictably, the picture was frontloaded and sank 62.8% to $10,808,236 in its second frame and looks to close its stateside run in the mid-$60M range. More after the run closes…
Interest overseas has dipped as well and the international numbers look to stall at just over $200M. If the picture crawls its way to $275M globally, about $150M would be returned after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would just about cover worldwide P&A expenses only and the theatrical receipts would not dent the massive budget. After ancillary sales are factored in, Terminator: Dark Fate will likely have lost about $100 million and killed off this series.
This was the second back to back Paramount and Skydance box office disaster after Gemini Man.