One Ironic Reason 'Godzilla: King of the Monsters' Stumbled at the Box Office
The two biggest movies, in terms of size and scale, of the year, are both available in post-theatrical this morning. Avengers: Endgame is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K HD and priced-to-rent VOD for those so inclined. And Warner Bros. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is now available in digital HD (or "priced-to-buy" VOD) as of this morning in advance of its DVD/Blu/4K launch. The film was one of the more high-profile disappointments in a summer where several seemingly big movies played comparatively small. While Godzilla earned strong reviews and $200 million domestic/$529 million worldwide on a $160 million budget, King of the Monsters earned mixed reviews and $110 million/$374 million on a $170 million budget.
There are any number of reasons as to why the film stumbled, among them competition from Avengers: Endgame and Aladdin, the above-noted mixed reviews, the five-year-gap between installments (which did nothing for Pacific Rim: Uprising or The LEGO Movie 2), and the underestimation in audiences' interest in a "Godzilla versus monsters only your super-geek friends have heard of" sequel. But, just as Marvel (and DC Films) have allowed superhero movies to dominate by virtue of approximating rival genres, so too might Godzilla: King of the Monsters have ironically been stymied by five years' worth of buzzy successes within the specific realm of monster movies. King of the Monsters wasn't remotely the only game in town.
In the five years between Gareth Edwards' Godzilla and Michael Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, we've had two huge Jurassic World movies ($1.671 billion in 2015 and $1.31 billion in 2018) and one ill-received Pacific Rim sequel ($275 million in 2018, all from Universal and Legendary. But Warner Bros., both with and without Legendary, has also offered a handful of popular, well-liked and comparatively more crowd-pleasing monster movies within the last five years. Kong: Skull Island ($568 million in 2017), intended as a prequel to Godzilla and King of the Monsters, blended big movie stars (Tom Hiddleston, Sam Jackson and Brie Larson) with broad-daylight action and more conventional monster mash action.
Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema's Rampage ($428 million in 2018) offered Dwayne Johnson and a host of colorful character actors facing off against three giant, city-destroying beasts (a giant gorilla, a giant crocodile and a giant wolf) amid a big-scale part-campy/part-scary (but in a kid-friendly fashion) action romp. And Warner Bros.' The Meg, arguably the first Hollywood/China co-production to score huge on both shores ($144 million domestic, $153 million in China and $530 million worldwide in 2018), offered Jason Statham and Li Bingbing doing battle with a giant shark in a kid-friendly action romp. To the extent King of the Monsters was merely "okay," it was outclassed by recent kajiu-type movies from its own studio.
Prestigious cast (including Kyle Chandler as the ultimate Gary Stu, along with Ken Watanabe, Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga and Zhang Zyi) aside, it lacked the butts-in-the-seats/added-value element stars of The Meg, Rampage and Skull Island, while also lacking the IP value of a Jurassic Park movie. Nor did it have the colorful human characters (John C. Reilly's World War II vet in Skull Island, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's cowboy government agent in Rampage, Bryce Dallas Howard's "doing it backwards and in heels" heroine in Jurassic World, etc.) that provided entertainment value even when the monsters weren't mashing. More so than its peers, King of the Monsters bet everything on "Do you want to see another Godzilla movie?"
We'll see if Adam Wingard’s Kong VS. Godzilla can restore Legendary and WB's "monster verse" to its “$525 million-plus on an over/under $175 million budget” glory next March, presuming it doesn’t get delayed. Godzilla versus King Kong is bigger/better among general audiences as opposed to Godzilla versus King Ghidorah. The film's biggest challenge won't be that folks weren't all that taken with King of the Monsters, but rather that moviegoers have already feasted on a deluge of crowd-pleasing monster movies of late, many of them straight from Warner Bros. and/or Legendary. In a skewed way, a big franchise play was spoiled by the prior successes of comparatively standalone fare from the same studio(s).