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Why Gemini Man bombed at the box office

Sometimes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Such is the case for Gemini Man, director Ang Lee's action thriller featuring not one but two Will Smiths — one an aging assassin named Henry Brogan, played by Smith in a live-action performance, and another nicknamed "Junior," a young clone of Henry sent to murder him, which Smith portrayed through motion-capture. With Academy Award-nominated director Lee at the helm, one half of the Game of Thrones creative team David Benioff aboard the screenplay team, action movie icon Jerry Bruckheimer set as producer, and Smith in the leading role carrying a story that seemed to promise intrigue and intensity in kind, Gemini Man had everything going for it. But sadly, it opened in theaters to almost nothing. 

In its opening weekend that officially began on Friday, October 11, Gemini Man earned a measly $20.5 million domestically. Internationally, the film pulled in $39 million, bringing its worldwide debut total to just $59.5 million — several million dollars under its reported production budget of $138 million.

To put things into perspective, $59.5 million is about what Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw yielded during its opening weekend... in North America only. It's also a little more than what John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum earned in its first few days out... in domestic markets. Both films raked in plenty more money from overseas territories and secured strong box office openings. Gemini Man, on the other hand, failed to drum up success similar to fellow actioners that were released this year. 

So, why did Gemini Man bomb at the box office? Let's take a look.

Its competition was no joke

Gemini Man had the unfortunate fate of opening the same weekend as a family-friendly animated movie — which tends to draw in a good chunk of change regardless of its quality — and the weekend after one of the most talked-about films of fall 2019 made its bombastic debut.

Though the majority of critics weren't impressed by it, MGM's The Addams Family managed to take in $30.3 million domestically thanks to its star-studded voice cast (including Charlize Theron as Morticia Addams and Oscar Isaac as Gomez Addams) and its ability to attract audiences of all ages. The Addams Family wound up sliding into second place at the weekend box office, absolutely crushing Gemini Man but not even coming close to toppling the first-place film. 

It should come as no surprise that the number-one movie of the weekend was Joker, Todd Phillips' gritty character study of the infamous DC Comics villain. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian who experiences something of a psychotic break and transforms into the Joker, the film earned another $55 million domestically and $125.7 million internationally in its second weekend at the box office — bringing its total to-date box office take-home to $543.9 million (via The Hollywood Reporter). From chatter about Phoenix's performance to the conversation about the film's violence to discussions of the movie's chances at winning an Oscar to reports on director Phillips' controversial comments about cinema in general, Joker is basically all anyone can talk about lately. It's not shocking that Joker topped Gemini Man — or The Addams Family, or every other movie currently screening in theaters — as it seems everyone's minds are fixed on the Clown Prince of Crime.

Critics and audiences were split on Gemini Man

It's not really Gemini Man's fault that it was up against some fierce competition, but there's another reason why it bombed at the box office that is it's fault.

Critical reception to the film has been, in a word, less-than-optimal. On Rotten Tomatoes, Gemini Man holds a 25 percent approval rating from critics, who have taken issue with the movie's "frustratingly subpar story," "woeful script," and "inconsistent visuals." (One critic hated Gemini Man so much that he described it as "an absolutely inexcusable turkey.") Had Gemini Man been a critical success, it may have had a better chance at earning more money than Joker and The Addams Family

Now, the film does boast an impressive 84 percent audience score, but it's important to remember that Rotten Tomatoes only allows users to submit audience ratings until after the movie's official release and requires evidence that the user actually saw the movie before rating it on the site – both methods of preventing review-bombing. Contrarily, critical scores are logged and updated as soon as the review embargo lifts. It stands to reason that the critical response to Gemini Man put off some moviegoers, as people tend to check Rotten Tomatoes to gauge whether or not a film is actually worth seeing. There have been instances where critics and fans are split on a movie that ended up performing incredibly well at the box office — like Venom or Star Wars: The Last Jedi – but based on its opening weekend revenue, it doesn't appear that Gemini Man will be such a film. 

Can Gemini Man turn things around?

Though Gemini Man tanked hard at the box office during its opening weekend, it still has a tiny chance at success — but we use that word very lightly. The Hollywood Reporter has noted that the film is set to make a splash in China, where it will launch on Friday, October 18. However, unless the film pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars in that international market, Gemini Man could end up to costing its studio a ton of money. Sources close to Deadline have indicated that studio Paramount Pictures is looking at a loss of about $60 million on Gemini Man.

The bright side of this is that Gemini Man's scant box office earnings probably won't get director Ang Lee down. He shared with Forbes that he doesn't believe financial performance is the definitive marker of a film's worth. Lee also shared that he still stands by his past films, despite some of them performing poorly at the box office. 

"You don't judge something by its financial success or not. It's always a learning process. You learn how to make movies, learn how to live your life, learn how to get along with other people, and you learn how to serve yourself and the audience, all of those things. We're moviemakers. We make movies. That's what we do. That's our tool of learning," explained Lee. "I think the box office would tell you a lot, but I can argue this all day. I've been there before. My last movie, Billy Lynn, I felt that I was right, and the whole world was wrong, but it doesn't matter."

Some may agree with Lee, and others may think he's talking crazy. Either way, Gemini Man underperformed in its first weekend out, and it's looking like that might spell big trouble looking ahead.