August is typically known as a ‘slow down’ period and a dumping ground for films that studios and/or audiences have low expectations for. This weekend in particular had everyone feeling that August drag, but none felt it as badly as the first animated offering of the month.
Despite near universal praise and a decent fan base, Shaun the Sheep Movie is the second animated film this year to outright bomb at the US box office (the first being Strange Magic).
How hard did it bomb? It didn’t even crack the top 10.
The film opened in eleventh place with only an estimated $4 million on opening weekend. Right now, their US box office total stands at just $5.6 million. The film had better luck in its native Britain and elsewhere, grossing nearly $60 million.
According to a report by Deadline, Lionsgate paid an acquisition cost of $1-$2 million for the film. As such, Shaun the Sheep Movie would have needed to earn somewhere in the mid-teens ($15 million or more) to break even, especially when marketing and distribution costs are considered.
As far as where to put the blame, the easiest target would be Lionsgate’s marketing department (which is fair, since the campaign was soft in comparison to other animated films this year). The film’s intelligent humor and British charm being a deterrent for US audiences isn’t quite accurate either (it currently has an audience score of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes). But a report from Cartoon Brew does propose a different theory, one that might make sense upon further research: Aardman’s popularity in the US is fading.
Ever since its feature film debut (and its first collaboration with a US studio) on Chicken Run, each of Aardman’s feature films have earned less than the previous one. Prior to Shaun the Sheep Movie, Aardman’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits (the last film made with Sony Pictures Animation) only brought in $31 million in the US, tossing any hope of a potential sequel.
Now for the odd part. The report pins the downward trend on Aardman’s box office numbers on its “stale” and “predictable” visual and comedic styling. The report puts forth the argument that, since Aardman’s inception, its style has been copied by other studios, apparently to the point where audiences have the mindset that Aardman’s latest offering is very been there, done that.
It is true that, in the time since Aardman was created, other studios have tried to do what it does (to various degrees of success) and that the studio’s star power (at least in the US) has faded considerably. But, outside Aardman and LAIKA, stop-motion feature films aren’t exactly in abundance in the US, so calling out Aardman as “stale” is puzzling. But then, Aardman does have a recognizable house style that has remained relatively unchanged since the first Wallace and Gromit short film, while companies like LAIKA help to evolve and diversify the visual palette of stop-motion animation. Perhaps it’s the fact that the film is based off a preexisting TV show that’s currently in its fourth season and has yet to air in the US, giving the general audience no real familiarity with the characters? Or maybe the grand canyon-wide gap between the UK and US release dates sucked away all the film’s momentum?
In any case, this isn’t good news for Lionsgate, a company with a very spotty reputation when it comes to animation (Happily N’ver After, Battle for Terra, Alpha and Omega). To make matters worse, its next animated offering will be Norm of the North, a low-budget, cheaply animated affair that will mark Splash Entertainment’s feature debut. That film will open against the sequel to another low-budget, cheaply animated affair: The Nut Job 2. It particularly speaks volumes that Aardman’s first animated import happens to be the most critically acclaimed animated movie in its set, but it made absolutely no noise stateside.
Hopefully Aardman’s next film, Early Man, will be able to break Aardman out of its US box office rut and generate some excitement from a general public that now appears more likely to raise an eyebrow in confusion whenever its name is brought up.
Read Morgan’s review of the film here.
What do you think? Do you have any thoughts on the news? In your own opinion, what exactly was the main factor in Shaun the Sheep Movie‘s horrid US performance?