June 9 update: Snow White and the Huntsman sequel in the works and on a fast track? That's the growing rumor.
As early as July 2011, SWATH (and Alice in Wonderland) producer Joe Roth said that Snow White and the Huntsman was to be the first feature in a trilogy. In early April 2012, NBC Universal honcho Ron Meyer mentioned a sequel “based on” the character of the Huntsman, played by The Avengers' Chris Hemsworth. A couple of weeks later, Universal reportedly approached David Koepp to write a follow-up to the fantasy adventure tale. And that was about two weeks before Snow White and the Huntsman beat forecasts when it debuted to the tune of $56.21 million last weekend.
Now, Universal has been “in talks” with Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders to come back for a planned sequel, reports Deadline.com. A director of commercials, Sanders made his feature-film debut with SWATH. Reviews have been mixed: critics generally admired the film's visuals, but decried its screenplay and lack of dramatic cohesiveness.
Snow White and the Huntsman actors to star in SWATH sequel?
Of course, at this stage it's unclear if Rupert Sanders will return. Movie franchises have been created without needing to have their original director back, e.g., the Harry Potter movies, the Twilight movies, and the upcoming The Hunger Games' follow-up Catching Fire.
Also of interest, Deadline.com adds that purportedly “the actors in the film have options for two sequels, so that part of the equation shouldn't be too difficult.” In addition to Chris Hemsworth, the Snow White and the Huntsman actors are The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2's Kristen Stewart as Snow White, Prometheus' Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen Ravenna, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' Sam Claflin as Prince Charming.
Budgeted at a reported $170 million (not including marketing / distribution expenses), Snow White and the Huntsman has scored approx. $129.6 million worldwide after eight days: $82.97 million at the U.S. and Canada box office; $46.62 million in 45 territories up to June 5.
David Koepp's screenplay credits mostly consists of high-concept blockbusters, most of those not known for their quality writing. Among Koepp's movies are Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Angels & Demons, War of the Worlds, Spider-Man, Panic Room, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Carlito's Way, The Paper, Mission: Impossible, Jurassic Park, and Death Becomes Her.
Koepp's next, which he also directed, is the action thriller Premium Rush, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Aaron Tveit, and Michael Shannon. Premium Rush opens in August.
Snow White and the Huntsman picture: Alex Bailey / Universal Pictures.
June 13, '12, update: Snow White and the Huntsman passed the $100 million milestone at the North American box office on Monday, its 11th day out. Early estimates had Rupert Sanders' fantasy adventure starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, and Sam Claflin passing that milestone on Sunday, Day 10. However, Snow White and the Huntsman fell short of forecasts after suffering a steep 59 percent drop-off rate compared to its debut weekend. Why did that happen?
In all honesty, that's impossible to say without a thorough investigation, the likes of which studios don't bother conducting. The strongest possibilities that I can think of are the following:
a) There's only so much money to go around in these tough economic times. Though not exactly targeting the same demographic group as Snow White and the Huntsman, two new entries – Ridley Scott's Prometheus and the 3D animated feature Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted – seized a large chunk of that disposable cash. I mean, someone must take all those screaming kids to go see Madagascar 3's talking animals. And pay for it, too.
b) Kristen Stewart. No, I don't mean Kristen Stewart was directly responsible for the steep second-weekend drop-off rate. What I'm saying is that Stewart was the likely reason Snow White and the Huntsman overperformed on its first weekend. Early estimates / predictions had SWATH grossing anywhere between $35–$40 million; the film opened with $56.21 million.
Here's my rationale: In large part as a result of the Twilight Saga franchise, Kristen Stewart has a large and devoted fan base – mostly female (as attested by the demographic patterns of the Twilight movies) and of various age groups, though leaning young. (New Moon's opening-weekend demographics: 80 percent female, 50 percent over 21; Eclipse's: 65 percent female; 55 percent over 21.) They flock en masse to the Twilight movies on opening weekend. (Or opening day, as was the case with Eclipse, which opened on a Wednesday.)
Kristen Stewart fans: A box office power?
For various reasons, those Kristen Stewart fans have stayed away from the (at times R-rated, e.g., The Runaways, Welcome to the Rileys) low-budget, modestly (or downright poorly) marketed indie fare featuring the actress. Snow White and the Huntsman, on the other hand, is Stewart's first big-budget, non-Twilight, commercial movie. And for that reason, I believe her fans – and their moviegoing companions – have turned SWATH into a much bigger first-weekend hit than it would have been without Stewart's presence. (As per Box Office Mojo, women accounted for 53 percent of SWATH's first-weekend moviegoers, though the dark, Gothic tale skewed older than the Twilight films, as 52 percent of patrons were over 30.)
Snow White and the Huntsman is Rupert Sanders' first film, while Sam Claflin has only one other major movie to his credit: Rob Marshall's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which is actually a Johnny Depp-Penélope Cruz vehicle. Needless to say, neither Sanders nor Claflin could be considered a box office draw at this stage. But why should I consider Kristen Stewart and not Charlize Theron and/or Chris Hemsworth?
Snow White and the Huntsman / Chris Hemsworth / the Huntsman picture: Alex Bailey / Universal Pictures.
Charlize Theron, Snow White and the Huntsman
Well, surely both Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth have their fans. But when was the last time Charlize Theron had a major personal box office hit? The answer is never. This is no put down, but a fact. No movie toplining Theron has ever earned more than $100 million at the North American box office. Not even close. Not even adjusting for inflation.
Charlize Theron at the box office
Charlize Theron's biggest personal box office hit was her Oscar-winning star turn in Patty Jenkins' Monster back in late 2003/early 2004. The story of a sex worker-turned-serial killer, the awards-season-propelled Monster raked in $34.46 million, or about $45 million today.
Theron, of course, has been featured in a handful of box office hits. But none of the three major hits (over $100m, adjusted for inflation) in which she appeared were her star vehicles. Peter Berg's Hancock ($227.94 million in 2008) was a Will Smith movie; Taylor Hackford's The Devil's Advocate ($60.94 million in 1997, about $105 million today) starred Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves; and F. Gary Gray's heist comedy The Italian Job ($106.12 million in 2003) was an ensemble piece with Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton, and Jason Statham. A fourth hit-in-the-making, Ridley Scott's Prometheus, is another ensemble piece featuring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, and others.
In truth, the overwhelming majority of Charlize Theron's movies have been either box office disappointments or downright flops in the U.S. and Canada. Those include Niki Caro's $35 million-budgeted North Country ($18.33 million in 2005), Guillermo Arriaga's Venice Film Festival entry The Burning Plain (an abysmal $200,000 in 2009), and Jason Reitman's $12 million-budgeted Young Adult ($16.31 million in 2011).
Chris Hemsworth at the box office
Chris Hemsworth, for his part, has had a single box office hit of his own: Kenneth Branagh's Thor in 2011 ($181.03 million in North America). But really, would Thor have fared any worse had, say, Liam Hemsworth been given the part or some other good-looking blond hunk? Thor, the Marvel superhero, lured moviegoers to theaters, not Chris Hemsworth.
As for Joss Whedon's superhero superblockbuster The Avengers, that's an ensemble piece if there ever was one. In addition to Chris Hemsworth, The Avengers stars Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hiddleston, and Jeremy Renner: a whole array of Marvel superheroes plus one supervillain. Had it not been so, The Avengers would never have been running neck and neck with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises in terms of ticket sales.
Earlier this year, Hemsworth was the sole “name” in Drew Goddard's ensemble horror flick The Cabin in the Woods (filmed a couple of years ago). Despite generally good reviews – 86 percent approval rating, 7.3/10 average rating among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics – the Lionsgate-distributed movie with a (rumored) $30 million budget cumed at a disappointing $41.29 million in the U.S. and Canada (and an even more disappointing $21.92 million overseas).
It's also worth noting that fellow Marvel superhero Chris Evans, when not in his Captain America costume, has fared quite poorly of late at the North American box office: Captain America: The First Avenger cumed at a solid $176.65 million in 2011, but Evans' indie Puncture was a dismal flop, collecting only $69,000, thus never expanding beyond five venues. An even bigger box office disaster was the Mark Mylod-directed romantic comedy What's Your Number?, co-starring Anna Faris and Zachary Quinto. Budgeted at $20m, What's Your Number? scored a measly $14.01 million.
We'll see how Chris Hemsworth's Red Dawn will fare later this year. Although the Dan Bradley-directed war drama could also be considered an ensemble piece – including The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen's Isabel Lucas, and others – Hemsworth is the most notable name in the cast.
Of course, one could argue that the Twilight franchise doesn't consist of Kristen Stewart movies, but ensemble efforts like The Avengers or Prometheus. In a sense, that would be a correct assessment. But it would be more correct to affirm that at the very core of Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight, Chris Weitz's New Moon, David Slade's Eclipse, and Bill Condon's Breaking Dawn - Part 1 and the upcoming Breaking Dawn - Part 2 is Stewart's Bella Swan. Everything revolves around her.
True, when Twilight came out in fall 2008, Stewart was merely “the actress who plays Bella” – much like Chris Hemsworth to a certain extent remains “the actor who plays Thor.” But things have changed quite radically since then. Kristen Stewart has become a global celebrity and, quite possibly, a strong box office draw in the right role/movie: Stewart's four Twilight movies have a total domestic gross of $1.071 billion.
Note: The Twilight popularity can't be traced solely – or even mostly – to the Stephenie Meyer books. Time and again, bestsellers and literary franchises have bombed at the box office, whether because of poor page-to-screen transfers or miscast actors. Examples range from Michael Chapman / Daryl Hannah's Clan of the Cave Bear ($1.95 million in 1986) and Brian De Palma / Tom Hanks / Melanie Griffith / Bruce Willis' The Bonfire of the Vanities ($15.69 million in 1990) to Peter Jackson / Saoirse Ronan's The Lovely Bones ($44.11 million in 2009) and Chris Weitz / Nicole Kidman's The Golden Compass ($70.10 million in 2007; this $180 million production was saved by the international market: $302.12m).
Also, Andrew Adamson's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was major domestic hit, but both of its follow-ups underperformed in North America. That has hardly been the case with the Twilight movies, whose chief constant is its cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, and supporting players Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Kellan Lutz, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Dakota Fanning, et al. (Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg is a constant as well, but Rosenberg isn't a “star attraction.” The Twilight movie series hasn't become a box office phenomenon because it's perceived as a “Melissa Rosenberg franchise.”)
Kristen Stewart movies: Major box office draw?
So, if my Snow White and the Huntsman's box office assessment – or, more accurately, speculation – is on target, that means Kristen Stewart is capable of opening commercial, non-Twilight, big-budget Hollywood movies. The Kristen Stewart star vehicle would just need to be better received for it to have stronger staying power at the domestic box office.
Had reviews (a so-so 62 percent approval rating among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics; a mediocre 48 percent approval rating overall) and word of mouth (a middling “B” CinemaScore) been more enthusiastic about Snow White and the Huntsman, I doubt it that the steep 59 percent drop-off rate would have taken place. That is the same issue plaguing the poorly received Twilight movies: their box office grosses have invariably plummeted after the first weekend. I should add that Robert Pattinson's generally dismissed Remember Me was also down 59 percent on its second weekend – in all likelihood not a coincidence. (Admittedly, my theory gets seriously challenged by Taylor Lautner's dismally received Abduction, down a relatively modest 48 percent on its second weekend.)
Remembering Julia Roberts
In 1990, 23-year-old Julia Roberts was known as Pretty Woman's “pretty woman.” Pundits began noticing that Roberts was more than a passing comet when the following year she boasted two strong opening weekends: the poorly received romantic melodrama Dying Young scored $9.72 million at 1,552 locations (approx. $18 million today), while the R-rated thriller Sleeping with the Enemy earned $13.77 million at 1,406 venues (approx. $26 million today). Reviled by critics, Dying Young went comatose shortly after its debut; Sleeping with the Enemy, on the other hand, remained alert for weeks as a result of solid word of mouth (and a just-as-solid marketing push).
Since then, Julia Roberts has usually been a reliable box office draw around the world. Even the indifferently received Mirror Mirror, released more than two decades after Pretty Woman, went on to collect a remarkable $161.47 million worldwide.
Now it could well be Kristen Stewart's turn. It all depends on the career choices she makes.
Snow White and the Huntsman / Kristen Stewart movies picture: Universal.
Snow White and the Huntsman / Charlize Theron / Evil Queen Ravenna picture: Alex Bailey / Universal Pictures.