No amount of star power from Taylor Swift, James Corden, Idris Elba, Jason Derulo, etc., nor the direction of Oscar-winner Tom Hooper, could save Cats at the global box office.
Our finance sources informed us over this weekend that the Universal/Amblin/Working Title feature adaptation of the near $4 billion-grossing Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical is bound to lose at least $71M — that is, if the pic reaches a global box office result of $100M, meaning $40M stateside and $60M abroad. This is based off a production cost of $90M net–the pic was shot on soundstages in London–and a $115M estimated global P&A spend.
Broken further out, total WW theatrical rentals, global free/pay TV, and global home entertainment revenues, including streaming, are expected to total at least $155M. Home entertainment costs plus global P&A stands around $226M, we’re informed. Universal wasn’t available for comment on these numbers.
We went into a deep dive last week as to why Cats went sideways. But, in short, let’s just say that there was a reason why this unusual, song-driven (not plot-driven) musical based on T.S. Eliot’s 1939 book of poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, didn’t make it to the screen sooner. The whole concept of humans-dressed-as-felines and crooning away might seem ripe for live-stage theater crowds, but it’s enough to make critics break out in hives (20% Rotten) and, unfortunately, audiences too (C+ CinemaScore, and now 1/2 star from Comscore/Screen Engine PostTrak moviegoers). In the mid ’90s, Amblin pondered an animated version, but then bailed on it when they shuttered their animation arm.
In the wake of musicals, from Broadway/London adaptations like Hooper’s Les Miserables ($441.8M WW) to original ones like The Greatest Showman ($435M), and titles based on pop musicians, a la Bohemian Rhapsody ($903.6M) being sound-proof forms of counter-programming against superhero IP at the box office — just because people sing doesn’t mean a musical is destined to succeed.
Uni put this project in the capable hands of Hooper, who, in my opinion, made the best big screen version of this musical possible (seriously, it doesn’t get any better than this), and they cast it up to hit demos from the teens, with Swift, to sophisticated adults with Judi Dench and Ian McKellan. But it was the whole concept of Cats in and of itself that got its tail stuck in a mousetrap.
The uncanny valley of cat hair on people just freaked too many out. It also speaks to the challenges of bringing Lloyd Webber’s fare to the big screen; his Evita and The Phantom of the Opera didn’t make waves at the B.O., with big budgets and inadequate global movie ticket sales of $141M-plus and $154M-plus, respectively. Lloyd Webber told me he hated Norman Jewison’s 1973 big screen version of Jesus Christ Superstar. However, he loved the NBC televised live event. One has to think there was some reason why Comcast NBC sent that musical straight to the small screen versus theatrical.
Even though Cats had a late marketing campaign because of the film being finished beyond the wire with VFX, and a bad release date going up against Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (some say it should have opened on Christmas instead) — even if you changed those elements, it would not correct the course we’re seeing for Cats. Audiences hated this, too, and that’s what prevented this pic from being the uber word-of-mouth success that The Greatest Showman was coming out of the Christmas holiday. Adding insult to injury: you have people like Corden, who stars in Cats, saying in interviews he “heard it’s terrible” and tastemakers like Frozen 2‘s Evan Rachel Wood bashing it. Oy vey.
Definite recommend for Cats on PostTrak among general audiences was a low 30%. This weekend in U.S./Canada, Cats made $4.8M, -27% during a time when other family pics like Frozen 2 and Jumanji: The Next Level saw boosts post-holiday, with a robust debut by Sony’s Little Women ($29M) for a 10-day of $17.8M. Overseas, Cats dragged in $13.6M from 37 new markets for a running total of $20.6M, with lackluster debuts on the top 10 chart across South Korea, Mexico, Spain and France, among many other markets.
The scariest takeaway here from the bombing of Cats (and this observation is continually the headache of all major studio marketing and PR departments for all their marquee titles) is that, despite all the goodwill creatively in building a premium feature take on a big IP musical over the course of a year, the final death sentence for Cats came down in its last few days before its opening. Years ago, a studio could open a movie with bad reviews and have it play out. But the collective power of Rotten Tomatoes is the Roman thumbs up or down that determines the fate of a movie at the box office.
Even the most popular of Broadway musicals sometimes fail to work on the big screen, i.e. 2005’s Rent (close to $32M WW) and Rob Marshall’s Chicago follow-up Nine (near $54M WW). Hopefully, Universal or industry execs don’t get cold feet in making these movies again. Because when they work, it’s huge. On the horizon for Universal is a big screen take on the $2.5 billion-grossing musical Wicked on Dec. 22, 2021 with the six-time Tony winner Dear Evan Hansen in early development. Next year, Fox/Amblin has Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story on Dec 18, and Warner Bros. has In the Heights on June 26.
Word to the wise: Just don’t make Lloyd Webber’s roller skate-singing train musical Starlight Express into a major motion picture.