Paramount Pictures focused more on quality rather than quantity for the summer blockbuster season. But it might have settled more for just lower quantity.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" struggled at the North American box office over the weekend, barely beating out "X-Men: Apocalypse" on its second week, and delivering some serious bad news to the executive offices of Viacom chair Philippe Dauman. The sequel from producer Michael Bay earned just $35.3 million domestically on its opening weekend, and $69.3 million worldwide. It slipped past "Apocalypse," which earned $22.8 million to bring its two-week total to $117 million.
The weekend total for TMNT fell below studio and market estimates, and helped Paramount whimper into the summer movie season that still awaits its remake of "Ben-Hur" as well as the more-anticipated "Star Trek: Beyond" on July 22.
"A lot of people feel that this movie and the next Star Trek are absolutely essential for the studio, and even for the management," analyst Matthew Harrigan told Bloomberg. It's especially important for Dauman who is under a lot of internal pressure in the months since becoming the official chairman of Paramount's parent, Viacom, since he seems to now be in a legal war with its 93-year-old biggest shareholder, Sumner Redstone.
Dauman is pushing to sell a minority stake in Paramount, something Redstone reportedly opposes.
So far this year, Paramount has released just nine films, according to The Numbers, with "10 Cloverfield Lane" earning the best box office $72.1 million. The studio has earned $312.8 million in 2016 to this point, giving it a little more than 7 percent of total market share.
Of the major film studios, it puts it ahead of only Sony, which has earned a little less than $293 million, led by "The Angry Birds Movie." Walt Disney Co. dominates the box office with just nine films earning $1.36 billion, commanding nearly 31 percent of the market, according to The Numbers, led by nearly $400 million from "Captain America: Civil War."
In a distant second is Twentieth Century Fox, earning $864.6 million through 11 films, thanks to $363 million from "Deadpool." Warner Bros. has $518.1 million from 19 films, getting its best response so far from "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice."
Even Universal Studios is having a stronger year so far than Paramount. Through 10 films, that studio has picked up $370.4 million, despite its biggest success so far coming from "Ride Along 2."
Paramount is not the only studio struggling, however. So far, 2016 has not been the greatest years at the box office. Although technically numbers are up over last year, a lot of that is fueled by the surprise success of "Deadpool," an R-rated outing in the Disney's Marvel franchise. Part of the problem Bloomberg reporters Lucas Shaw and Olga Kharif point out is that a lot of the studios are depending on sequels and revivals this year. Paramount, of course, had the TMNT sequel, but also is depending on the third Trek film in the J.J. Abrams franchise, as well as Timur Bekmambetov's remake of the 1959 Charlton Heston classic that won the actor his only acting Oscar.
This approach might be a dangerous game not just for Paramount, but for all the studios.
"The last few months, a number of sequels have done less than their prior chapters, especially in the U.S.," Paramount's vice chair Rob Moore told the business publication. "It reminds us all that the challenge is to take the characters and stories and make sure we keep putting them in unique, fresh and fun situations."
"Beyond," which struggled with some bad publicity from its teaser trailer last year, is going to depend primarily on good reviews and strong word-of-mouth to help carry it to success levels seen by its predecessors, 2009's "Star Trek" and 2013's "Star Trek: Into Darkness." The past two films actually were well-received by critics. "Star Trek" earned a 95 percent approval rating from 330 critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes, while 91 percent of the more than 744,000 people surveyed recommended it.
"Into Darkness" wasn't as strong with critics, but it satisfied 87 percent of more than 250 reviewers. Of the more than 300,000 ticket-buyers who weighed in, 90 percent recommended it to others.
Paramount must hope the script from relative newcomer Doug Jung and co-star Simon Pegg rings well with those critics, all wrapped together by Fast & Furious franchise director Justin Lin. Otherwise, it might be a very long summer for the studio as it tries to regroup from what would turn into a rather disastrous year.