Despicable Me 3, the latest adventure of Gru, looked set to take over the hearts and minds of America. Steve Carrell was back as the grouchy mad scientist. There was a hilarious new villain in the form of disco-dancing Balthazar Barrett (South Park’s Trey Stone). Carrell even pulled voice acting double duty, playing Gru’s long-lost brother Dru.
And, of course, there are the Minions. Those irritatingly yellow but always beloved Minions.
After production wrapped, the filmmakers and studio executives could rest easy. The initial buzz was great, and Despicable Me is a tentpole franchise for Illumination. It was sure to hit the top of the charts and bring in big bucks.
Well, it’s batting .500. The film did indeed land at #1 over its June 30 opening weekend. But far from the windfall Universal and Illumination hoped for, it earned just over $72 million in ticket sales. That’s below its $80 million budget.
More tellingly, it’s below Despicable Me 2’s opening weekend of $83 million, and way under the Minions debut at $115 million. Gru and the boys are sliding downhill, and the bottom line shows it.
As Hollywood Reporter points out, this problem isn’t limited to Gru, or even to animation. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales has been in theaters for six weeks as of this writing. In that time, it’s pulled in $165.5 million, as compared to the previous Pirates film’s $241.1 million.
The likely cause? Movie audiences are smarter and more discerning than they used to be. They can recognize an uninspired cash grab when they see it. Sequels can be great, but the grind of churning out installment after installment, each more forgettable than the last, just doesn’t fly anymore.
People want to see something genuinely unique in their entertainment. It’s great to see the further adventures of our favorite characters, but they had better bring something new to the table. If not, it’s obvious to the modern audience that the filmmakers had no real passion for the project. And when that happens, people will have no real reason to go see it.