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Why Renfield Bombed At The Box Office

After the failed launch of their Dark Universe, Universal Pictures went back to the drawing board, trying to figure out the best way to utilize their lineup of Classic Monsters. In came Leigh Whannell in 2020, releasing a stripped-back, updated take on "The Invisible Man" to both critical and commercial acclaim. With a budget of $7 million, the film went on to gross over $139 million, per The Numbers. It ultimately had its run cut short due to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced theatres to close.

Following the success of "The Invisible Man," it became clear that Universal was interested in taking risky, genre-focused approaches to their classic monster flicks. Universal Chairwoman Donna Langley said as much in 2020 while speaking in a Hollywood Reporter roundtable, saying, "...we have gone back and created an approach that's filmmaker-first, any budget range." With no rules or obligations to maintain a shared universe, things began to look exciting for Universal's revamped take on their Classic Monsters.

The most logical conclusion was to bring Dracula, arguably their most popular character, back to the big screen. And who would be a better blood-sucking vampire than Nicolas Cage? The Oscar-winning actor headlines "Renfield," a horror-comedy that sees the iconic vampire's sidekick Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) take the spotlight. Directed by "The Tomorrow War" director Chris McKay, the film focuses on Renfield's quest to break away from his toxic relationship with Dracula.

Per Deadline, Universal's latest opened with a $7.7 million debut, coming in third place at the box office. With a $65 million budget, the film is effectively dead on arrival, making it a bomb for Universal. Despite featuring an all-star cast and a compelling premise, "Renfield" didn't make an impression on audiences. Here's why...

Renfield is more comedy than horror

2023 has been the year of horror. "Scream VI" and "M3GAN" have both boasted juggernaut box office runs, raking in over $160 million worldwide. Even smaller players like "Cocaine Bear" and "Knock at the Cabin" have made noticeable dents, bringing in over $50 million globally on sensible budgets.

Audiences have shown up in droves for this year's horror flicks, yet "Renfield" didn't make the cut. Why? Instead of leaning into the horror aspects of the film, Universal played up "Renfield's" comedy, pitching it as both a buddy-cop film and a dramedy involving toxic relationships. This direction certainly didn't help the picture as studio comedies have been nothing but financial disappointments in recent years. As daring as "Renfield" was, it didn't stick the landing critically. Looper critic Audrey Fox was mixed on the film, praising its lead performances but pointing out its flawed execution. "There are kernels of a really interesting take on the 'Dracula' mythos here, and the Nicolas-on-Nicholas violence ensures a film that's at least enjoyable to watch," Fox wrote, before driving home how the film mishandled its subplot.

The better film would have focused solely on Renfield and Dracula as they duke out their relationship. Or, maybe, just a pure Dracula film set in the modern-day. Audiences were frustrated with the film as well, giving it a middling B- CinemaScore. While B-range scores are common for even the most financially successful horror films, it can't be ignored how "Renfield" was cooked up as a comedy. When audiences think of Dracula, they likely expect some thrills and chills along the way. Camp certainly isn't out of fashion, but it's clear that "Renfield" should have focused more on the talents of its lead stars and the rich, horrific world of Dracula.

Renfield couldn't hold off the competition

The Nicholas Hoult and Nic Cage-starrer made its debut during an awkward weekend. The R-rated flick opened during "The Super Mario Bros. Movie's" second week, effectively reducing its potential. While the "Mario" flick primarily appeals to kids, the film holds cross-generational appeal and has found a considerable following with adults. During its sophomore weekend, "Mario" walked away with $87 million domestically, giving it the second-best weekend for an animated film. "Mario" notably took up over 4,300 screens, shrinking "Renfield's" maximum output.

While "Mario" may have cut into "Renfield's" profits, it's "The Pope's Exorcist" that was the final nail in the coffin for Universal's latest. The Russell Crowe-starring "Pope's Exorcist" came in at second place, walking away with $8.5 million. Made on a slick budget of $18 million, the film is on track to make a nice chunk of profit for Sony Pictures and Screen Gems. Both "Renfield" and "The Pope's Exorcist" are gunning for the same audience, yet the Crowe film had two advantages: its low budget and emphasis on horror.

Coming in behind "Renfield" was "John Wick: Chapter 4," which boasted $7.67 million in its fourth weekend. Ultimately, there were far more engaging and interesting films at the multiplex than "Renfield." The horror-comedy would have been far more successful in October, where it would have been a unique offering for audiences who craved both laughs and scares. That being said, "Renfield's" release feels deliberate, as Universal obviously knew what they were in for when they were releasing their horror-comedy just a week after their box office juggernaut "Mario." 

Renfield costs too much

With a budget of $65 million and a crowded April, it isn't surprising to see "Renfield" falter at the box office. Mid-budget films don't have the same weight (nor the longevity) as they used to at the box office. With a more modest budget, "Renfield" could have had the same opening weekend and walked away as a success. Jeff Katz, the producer behind "The Pope's Exorcist" echoed similar sentiments on Twitter. "... the moral of the story is that genre pictures should generally only be made for a smart price," Katz wrote, discussing how "Pope's Exorcist" triumphed over "Renfield." "Whole point is to be able to hit singles and doubles and still potentially come back for more. POPE's will be profitable for Sony entirely because of this approach."

"Renfield," after a disappointing first weekend, will stumble, likely because of less-than-stellar word of mouth and mixed reviews from critics. A reigned-in budget would have helped the film boast more legs. How did a studio horror-comedy hybrid get greenlit with a $65 million budget? It's fair to suggest that a decent chunk went to its three lead stars: Nicolas Cage, Nicholas Hoult, and Awkwafina. For all its alleged star power, it still wavered. A decent amount of the film's marketing focused on the quirky casting of Cage as Dracula, which may have turned some viewers off. As great as Cage's cult is on the internet, audiences simply aren't showing up to support the former A-lister. The actor's meta, made-for-Twitter "Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" opened to a similar number last year, per The Numbers, failing to make a splash. As it stands, Cage isn't the draw he used to be, not even if he's dressed up as Dracula.