A sequel to a billion dollar smash hit is about as sure a thing as you can get when playing the risky game of Hollywood blockbusters. As a bonus, Disney is on something of a box office hot streak when it comes to live-action adaptations of their back-cat, so Alice Through The Looking Glass is surely another home run, right?
While I accept that the odds of Alice 2 matching the success of its predecessor were always low, I’m sure Disney weren’t expecting it to flop as badly as it has. Now, I’m not one to prematurely label a movie before it has finished its run, people were quick to dub last year’s Terminator mind-fuck as a flop when took less than $90 million in the US, but thanks to its international box office it made more than $440 million worldwide. Be that as it may, Through The Looking Glass has had a disastrous launch in America and its mixed reaction from critics isn’t helping the dire situation.
To put the dizzying world of box office numbers into context, six years ago Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland launched to a huge US opening weekend of $116 million and went on to gross more than $334 million domestically. The international market got behind the movie in a big way, and it took a staggering $691 million giving Disney one of their first $1 billion hits. Ironically, the first Disney movie to reach this milestone was the second Pirates of the Caribbean which also starred former golden boy Johnny Depp.
Cut to six years later and Alice Through The Looking Glass arrives in cinemas, Tim Burton is no longer directing, but most of the original cast are back to reprise their roles. However, with a US debut of just $34.2 million, Through The Looking Glass has come in well below Disney’s modest predictions. Disney had an opening weekend estimate in the $70-90 million bracket a couple of weeks ago; that swiftly dropped last week when pre-booking numbers were released which indicated that the opening weekend would be lower at $50-65 million. While pre-booking does give a robust estimate over any given movies all-important first weekend, the casual moviegoer still makes up for more than 40% of all tickets sold.
So what has led to another misfire from Johnny Depp and another creative failure from Disney? For starters, a six-year gap for any franchise is a long time, and the first film isn’t what you’d call a beloved classic. Sure, it made money, but there’s nothing timeless about it beyond the fact it’s an adaptation of a beloved story. Evidently the producers should have rushed into a follow-up to milk that CGI cow for all it’s worth while they can. Instead, they waited more than half a decade to get a sequel up and running
The first Alice came around at a time that audiences were enjoying the 3D revolution. Personally I loathe the current 3D cinemas have to offer, and I wish it would just go away. Regardless of my opinions, back in 2010 business was a booming and Wonderland rode that wave all the way to the bank. 3D is still going strong today and shows no signs of disappearing any time soon, but there has been a noticeable rise in 2D admissions in the last two years, so that’s something, right?
The next contributing factor to consider is none other than Mr. Johnny Depp. Once a vibrant force of nature who wasn’t bothered by being a movie star, then Pirates of the Caribbean happened, and Disney purchased his soul for INSERT PIRATE THEMED PUN HERE.
In recent years Depp has struggled for a box office hit outside of the Pirates franchise, even retiming with director Gore Verbinski for The Lone Ranger couldn’t muster a commercial win. On a side note, The Lone Ranger failed to recoup its massive $225 million budget and ranks as one of Disney’s biggest flops.
The Depp of old reappeared last year in Black Mass, which was something of a return to form and reminded audiences that he was capable of putting in a powerhouse performance. But no sooner is he doing challenging work; he’s back in a big budget Disney picture. I’ll refrain from discussing Depp’s recent bad press, but it’s about as bad as it could be for an actor fronting a big budget Disney summer sequel. Needless to say, it’s not doing his fallen star status any favours.
I remember feeling exhausted by the relentless marketing campaign for Wonderland; I think I only saw the movie at the cinema because I felt I had been bullied into it by an endless barrage of promotional material. I only knew Through The Looking Glass was out because I was at the cinema seeing something else, that fact is doubly bad as I run the very website you are reading these ramblings. I realise that I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, on one hand I’m tearing Disney down that Wonderland was so up in my grill, yet on the other hand, I’m actively complaining that the marketing campaign for the sequel wasn’t bigger. If I could make sense of my own mind, I would write a book and sell it to myself.
I won’t mince my words, I didn’t enjoy Burton’s Alice In Wonderland and I don’t care who knows it. I fully appreciate that thousands of people worked hard to make the movie, but it did nothing for me on any level. I’ve seen enough Burton by numbers, and I was relieved when he announced he wouldn’t be returning for Alice 2.
Many critics have dubbed Through The Looking Glass “better than the first one” or “acceptable”, others have been less diplomatic and have labelled it “a mess of ideas” and just plain “boring”. Being dreadful didn’t stop Alice in Wonderland making tons of cash, so it was logical to assume that the belated sequel would be a solid hit. Alice isn’t the only mega budget misfire this year, The Huntsman Winter’s War, Gods of Egypt and The Divergent Series: Allegiant all fell flat at the box office. While this might sound a bit harsh, I’m struggling to see Warcraft taking off in a big way, but I could be wrong.
The international box office will ultimately determine if Through The Looking Glass can salvage any kind of profit.