Why ‘Snake Eyes’ Missed Its Mark at the Box Office — and What It Means for the ‘G.I. Joe’ Franchise

At the box office, “Snake Eyes” is ringing true to its moniker.

The latest “G.I. Joe” installment, an origin story starring Henry Golding of “Crazy Rich Asians” fame, fell short of expectations, collecting a paltry $13.3 million in its first three days in North American theaters. Those ticket sales put “Snake Eyes” in second place on domestic charts, behind M. Night Shyamalan’s mind-bending thriller “Old” and its $16.5 million debut. It’s an embarrassing start for “Snake Eyes,” which cost $88 million to produce, not including the many millions spent on global marketing. It also illustrates the limits of franchise filmmaking at a time when studios are always on the hunt for the next big thing.

Unfortunately for Paramount Pictures and director Robert Schwentke, unfavorable reviews didn’t help elevate the profile of a reboot to a long-in-the-tooth series that already wasn’t particularly beloved by audiences. “Snake Eyes” has a 42% on Rotten Tomatoes and a “B-” CinemaScore from audiences, suggesting the PG-13 film may not rebound in the coming weeks. Box office receipts weren’t cannibalized by “Space Jam: A New Age,” which opened last weekend and appealed mostly to family crowds, nor “Old,” which skewed slightly female (52% of ticket buyers) and people above the age of 25 (62% of sales). For “Snake Eyes,” 60% of patrons were male and 50% were under the age of 25.

Though the movie theater industry hasn’t fully regained its mojo during the pandemic, box office experts suggest that rising concern over the Delta variant of COVID-19 isn’t entirely to blame for the lack of turnout for “Snake Eyes” either. One of the film’s biggest moviegoing markets was Los Angeles, where infection rates have been spiking and county officials have reinstated mask mandates.

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Box office analysts suggest that now, more than ever, moviegoing masses have been choosier about what they opt to leave the house to see.

“Moviegoing and general household economics are both still in recovery mode,” says Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Box Office Pro. “Potential audiences are being selective with what they spend their money on.”

Industry insiders estimate that “Snake Eyes” will need to generate approximately $175 million to break even and justify its $88 million budget. Arriving after several big-screen delays due to COVID-19, the film may struggle to achieve that particular objective. “Snake Eyes” didn’t fare much better at the international box office, where it generated a meager $4 million from 37 overseas markets. However, that represents just 29% of its international footprint. On the plus side, “Snake Eyes didn’t cost as much as its franchise predecessors. The first two entries had combined price tags near $320 million.

The original property, which previously starred Ray Park, failed to achieve box office juggernaut status, even though they turned a profit. The critically derided “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” in 2009 and equally bad review-plagued “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” in 2013 opened to $54 million and $40 million, respectively. Each cleared $300 million worldwide — a good, but not great result given their hefty budgets. It’s highly unlikely “Snake Eyes” will come close to those ticket sales.

“When a character is spun-off in a thriller series like this, a big drop follows,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research.

That’s a problem because “Snake Eyes” was intended to revive the franchise, based on the popular Hasbro toy line, which hasn’t had a new entry in nearly a decade. Already, Paramount announced last March that a new “G.I. Joe” spinoff is in the works, as is a crossover adventure with the Transformers film series, its other toy-based property.

The performance of “Snake Eyes” highlights that, in the golden age of IP, not all action figures and board games are created equal. Though several toy brands have made the leap to theaters with success, such as Transformers and Lego, others like Battleship have fallen flat. Hollywood has bet big on film adaptations of children’s plastic playthings and games, with high-profile movies based on Barbie (directed by Greta Gerwig), Barney (starring Oscar-nominee Daniel Kaluuya), Hot Wheels, Polly Pocket (with Lena Dunham attached) and Uno (featuring the rapper Lil Yachty) all currently in development. Many of the talent attached is creative and boundary pushing, but they have to overcome skepticism that there’s a burning need for moviegoers to see a film inspired by doll or a simplistic card game.

In the case of “Snake Eyes,” analysts don’t believe it’s necessarily the end of “G.I. Joe’s” big screen prospects. For one, Golding has been praised for his turn as the mysterious lone fighter who eventually becomes the famous action hero. In his review forVariety, chief film critic Owen Glieberman even asserted the movie could double as Golding’s audition tape to play James Bond.

“Demand was simply limited here, especially without a well-known star or ensemble to drive interest outside the fan base,” Robbins says. “The franchise still has paths to success, there just needs to be a stronger road map in place if the studio wants to build it into a cohesive, all-audience universe.”

Despite its checkered record of success, studios are unlikely to stop mining the toy industry for Hollywood glory. Brace yourself the possibility of a Beanie Babies Cinematic Universe.

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