Original movies have become a tough sell at the box office as audiences have grown increasingly distrustful of new-to-screen concepts. Going one step further, original science fiction films are notoriously difficult to launch to success. Of course you have your standouts like Avatar and Inception, but for every box office victory in this lane, there is a graveyard of flops. Which category will Brad Pitt’s Ad Astra fall into?
The $80 million picture is reportedly tracking for a $20 million opening. Ad Astra is more of a cerebral and philosophical space epic than a popcorn sci-fi blockbuster, so it will be interesting to see how leggy it is at the box office. Loosely speaking, studios like to triple the production budgets of their big films at the box office. By comparing Ad Astra to recent sci-fi features in the same lane, we may be able to focus our expectations.
Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, which cost $150 million to make, needed to earn at least $400 million worldwide to be considered a win upon its release. Despite phenomenal reviews, the excellent sequel opened to just under $33 million en route to $92 million domestic and nearly $260 million worldwide. It posted a 2.8x domestic multiplier, the multiple of the film’s final gross to its debut numbers. If Ad Astra performs similarly, it would be looking at a North American total under $60 million. Disney’s 21st Century Fox would very likely consider that a disappointment.
Sticking with Villeneuve, his follow up film Arrival was made for $47 million and opened to $24 million in 2016. The movie would go on to earn more than $100 million domestic (4.1x) and nearly $103 million overseas. Generally, big studio films tend to accrue around 35% of its gross from North America and 65% from foreign markets. Arrival posted a rare 50/50 split. If Ad Astra were to play similarly to Arrival, it could be looking at $82 million here at home and around $140 million worldwide.
Rian Johnson’s well-received Looper might work as a reference point as well. The 2012 hit man time travel drama opened to almost $21 million en route to $66 million in North America and $176 million worldwide. Ad Astra occupies the same late September release space on the schedule as Looper did. If it posts a similar 3.1x multiplier and domestic/foreign splits, the studio is probably looking at $62 million here at home and around $110 million in foreign ticket sales for a global take of $170 million-plus.
If, however, the tracking numbers prove too low, the ideal scenario would be for Ad Astra to put up numbers comparable to 2016’s Passengers ($300 million worldwide) or even 2015’s The Martian ($630 million). Unfortunately for Fox, that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
James Gray directed Ad Astra for Fox from a script he co-wrote with Ethan Gross.