Garfuriosa Was The Polar Opposite Of Barbenheimer At The Box Office

Another weekend, another bit of very bad news for the movie business. Memorial Day weekend has, historically, been a major frame for the box office, with Disney's "The Little Mermaid" remake pulling in $95.4 million last year. (That number grows to $117.5 million when accounting for the Monday holiday.) That's what we've come to expect, pandemic notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the dual threat of "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" and "The Garfield Movie" didn't prove to be much of a threat at all, as both films fell well short of expectations, leading to a downright terrible holiday weekend. Garfuriosa was, in the end, the direct opposite of last year's Barbenheimer phenomenon in every way imaginable.

Warner Bros.' "Furiosa" took the top spot on the charts, pulling in $26.3 million through Sunday, with that number growing to an estimated $32 million when accounting for Monday. Meanwhile, Sony Pictures' new animated "Garfield" film landed at number two with $24 million over the weekend and $31.1 million across the Friday to Monday stretch. In both cases, the numbers were well below industry estimates. George Millers' "Mad Max" prequel had been eyeing a debut of around $46 million heading into the weekend, while "Garfield" was looking at around $32 million on the low end.

While Garfuriosa certainly didn't catch on in the way Barbenheimer did, it's worth looking at the difference. In both cases, we're dealing with two movies aimed at radically different audiences that could have/should have been a boost for the industry. Instead, in this case, it resulted in what I would classify as a straight-up catastrophe. "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" opened in July last year and both succeeded beyond even the most optimistic expectations. Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" topped the charts with a staggering $162 million domestically while Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" came in second with $82 million on the same weekend. That's the top end of what is possible in the pandemic era. We're a long way from the top right now.

Garfuriosa was a double bill with little mass appeal

The Barbenheimer phenomenon was a once-in-a-lifetime event that couldn't have been predicated or fabricated. Sure, Warner Bros. and Universal rightly leaned into it once things took off, but there's no real accounting for lightning in a bottle. It also didn't hurt that both movies were very well received with brilliantly executed marketing campaigns. In the case of Garfuriosa, we're not exactly dealing with an apples-to-apples comparison, as the marketing campaigns weren't as bulletproof, nor were both movies as roundly-praised as "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" were.

"Furiosa" did garner a great deal of praise from many critics, though the ones who didn't like it really didn't like it. Unfortunately, it wasn't as outwardly eye-melting as "Fury Road" was in 2015. Miller's previous adventure into the Wasteland opened to just over $45 million on a three-day weekend, which demonstrates just how sour the debut was for "Furiosa." The fact that this "Mad Max" prequel couldn't come close to matching "Fury Road" — not even adjusted for inflation — is painful, especially since the film carries a budget in the $160 million range. It's also worth noting that, in its day, "Fury Road" topped out with $379.4 million worldwide. Despite its reputation, it was not a huge hit. "Furiosa" won't get anywhere near that number.

As for "The Garfield Movie," it faced a lot of lousy reviews but it was also a movie aimed at kids and that, in many cases, can overcome poor word of mouth. Unfortunately, John Krasinski's "IF" held pretty well in its second weekend, pulling in $16.1 million and dropping 52%, which ate into the potential audience for "Garfield." Even with Chris Pratt voicing the lasagna-loving cat, this movie couldn't come anywhere close to capturing some of that "Super Mario Bros." magic from last year.

The 2024 box office is in desperate need of a Barbenheimer

Internationally, "Furiosa" pulled in a soft $32.8 million, giving it a $65.8 million global haul. Overseas audiences won't save the day here. "Garfield," however, has already pulled in $66.3 million outside of North America with a running total of $97.4 million. Against a very reasonable $60 million budget, it will probably be fine in the end. Sony's bottom line doesn't help movie theaters all that much though, with chains like AMC and Regal becoming increasingly desperate for a breakout hit. It's been slow going since "Godzilla x Kong" opened to $80 million at the end of March, to be certain.

The disappointment that was Garfuriosa gave us the worst Memorial Day weekend since "Casper" opened to $22.5 million back in 1995, excluding 2020 when theaters around the country were shut down due to the pandemic. That isn't even accounting for inflation, which would only make things sound more grim. Ticket sales in 2024 are now pacing 22% behind this same point last year. Hollywood is looking for answers as well-reviewed movies like "The Fall Guy" and now "Furiosa" fail to draw a crowd. Theaters are likewise looking for answers as they are now being asked to weather another terrible year after several terrible years. Things are bad.

So yes, 2024 is very much in need of a Barbenheimer-level event to make things look better. That's unlikely to happen. All eyes now turn to "Deadpool & Wolverine" in July in the hopes that Marvel's latest can have a record-breaking debut to save the day. The bigger problem is that it can't be about one movie. That doesn't work for Hollywood and that doesn't work for theaters in between the times when that one movie arrives. Sadly, a visionary trip to the Wasteland and a cartoon cat only added to the sense of dread, rather than giving us something to be hopeful about.

"Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" and "The Garfield Movie" are currently playing in theaters.