Michael Bay, the filmmaker behind “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and the “Transformers” franchise, was once the premier architect of big-budget, explosive blockbusters. “Ambulance”, the director’s latest explosive action-thriller, proves that times and tastes have changed since chaos and the Autobots dominated the box office.
During the weekend, Universal“Ambulance”, a thriller heist that takes place largely on an EMS vehicle, stuck with $8.7 million of 3,412 North American theaters. It’s a disappointing debut at the domestic box office given Bay’s track record of commercial success. R-rated ‘Ambulance’ is currently the worst opening weekend of Bay’s career, behind 2013’s towering action comedy ‘Pain & Gain’ (debuting at $20 million) and war flick of Benghazi of 2016 “13 hours” (debut at 16 million dollars). None of these movies set the world on fire.
You might be thinking, “Hey! We are still living through a pandemic and the domestic box office has not returned to normal. ” And that’s true. But in the same three-day span that “Ambulance” collapsed, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” family opened to $71 million. And older male moviegoers, the target demographic for Bay’s movies, showed up for “The Batman,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and James Bond’s latest mission “No Time to Die.” Several other films still managed to sell tickets despite the lingering effects of the pandemic. Through Sunday, “Ambulance” made just $2 million more than A24’s comedy-fantasy-sci-fi mashup “Everything Everywhere All at Once” ($6 million from 1,250 theaters north -Americans), even if the latter played in far fewer cinemas.
Some box office analysts believe the crowded market – Jared Leto’s anti-hero adventure “Morbius” and Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s squishy romantic comedy “The Lost City” has ranked higher on the charts of the box office – worked against “Ambulance”.
“Timing was the most important factor against ‘Ambulance’ this weekend,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro. “Although ‘Sonic 2’ is a family film, it strongly appealed to male audiences of all ages due to the brand’s generational appeal. Bay.
“Ambulance” cost $40 million, which is relatively cheap for Bay, whose previous films have cost well over $100 million. (The studio has spent tens of millions more on marketing and other efforts to bring the film to the public.) For a major studio release, an $8.7 million debut is disappointing in any way. . But the blow could have been all the more painful if the production budget had been closer to nine figures.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was no greater filmmaker than Bay. His films may not make critics’ best lists of the decade (they did, improbably, gain admission into the Criterion Collection), but Bay had a knack for turning adrenalized, physics-defying tentpoles into pop culture-defining hits. That formula doesn’t always work these days, especially in a time when Netflix routinely cranks out a library that plays like an homage to Bay’s filmography. Audiences no longer need to leave their homes to watch Bay’s “The Old Guard,” “Triple Frontier,” and “6 Underground.” And while those movies boasted big stars and (mostly) positive reviews, none of them managed to stay with the times the way a “Bad Boys” or “Armageddon” did. “. Scott Stuber, Netflix film director admitted later for Variety that “6 Underground” did not live up to expectations.
In some respects, the Netflixization of romantic comedies came for heartbreaking action glasses. Along with rom-coms, an influx of satisfying and cute stories has trained people to lower their expectations and stay home for any movie that doesn’t stand out. “Ambulance” was met with half-hearted reviews by critics, earning an average rating of 69% Rotten Tomatoes. Ticket buyers — 58% of whom were male and 50% were 35 or older — were more enthusiastic about the film, which earned an “A-” CinemaScore. Stars “Ambulances” Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as adoptive siblings who hijack an ambulance and hold the occupants of the vehicle hostage.
“Big-budget action movies were once the bastion of the big screen; only cinema [could] make these expensive movies profitable,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “[Those films] are now finding favor with audiences on streaming platforms, such as Netflix, which have the money to produce such movies.
At the same time, COVID-19 continues to weigh on movie-going habits. Sure, superhero adventures and video game adaptations can pack theaters, but some genres just don’t resonate with ticket buyers the way they once did. Action stars like Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, who rode sidecars with Bay in “Armageddon” and recently retired from acting, are no longer the driving force behind box office triumphs. As evidenced by current theatrical winners, such as “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “The Batman,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog,” familiar properties are the real draws. Horror is another box office staple, and Bay has had more success as a producer of late, working on “The Purge” franchise and John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” films.
“Today’s audience wants something special every time,” said David A. Gross, who runs film consultancy Franchise Entertainment Research. “The bar is now higher.”
For Universal, “Ambulance” extends a bumpy start into 2022. After kicking off the new year with back-to-back misfires, female-fronted heist film “The 355” and religious drama “Redeeming Love,” the studio has put Jennifer Lopez’s romantic comedy “Marry Me” day and date on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streamer, which likely dampened box office ticket sales. Residual revenue from Illumination’s animated comedy “Sing 2,” which has grossed $162 million since December, was a bright spot. And a stacked summer slate, including “Jurassic World Dominion,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and Jordan Peele’s horror flick “Nope,” seeks to reverse those fortunes.
Don’t expect Michael Bay-esque action epics to come to the rescue. Those days are probably in the rearview mirror.