“A Haunting in Venice” began its domestic box office jaunt with $1.2 million in Thursday preview earnings. That’s slightly above the $1.1 million procured by “Death on the Nile” in February of 2022.
It’s understandably below the $1.6 million earned by “Murder on the Orient Express” in November of 2017. With strong reviews (77% and 6.6/10 on Rotten Tomatoes), including plenty of critics arguing that it’s the best of Kenneth Branagh’s three films as Hercule Poirot, the hope is an opening weekend closer to $20 million than $15 million.
The franchise started with a bang with “Murder on the Orient Express.” That offering starred a slew of big names like Johnny Depp (still an added value element), Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz and senior citizen-magnet Judi Dench. That it was based on one of Agatha Christie’s most famous books didn’t hurt. A $28 million debut led to a $103 million domestic and $353 million global cume on a $55 million budget.
“Death on the Nile” was supposed to open in late 2019. It was delayed to December 2020 first due to Disney buying Fox (late 2019 already had “The Rise of Skywalker” and Blue Sky’s “Spies in Disguise” on the calendar) and then due to COVID. By the time it opened in early 2022, casual moviegoing had declined, especially among older moviegoers. Moreover, several of the high-profile cast members like Armie Hammer, Gal Gadot, Russell Brand and Letitia Wright, had been (for very different and in some cases silly reasons) deemed damaged goods in terms of pre-release publicity. It opened with $13 million and earned just $46 million domestically and $138 million worldwide on a $90 million budget.
Of all the films that opened theatrically in 2021 and 2022 that underwhelmed or bombed at the box office, “Death in Venice” was among the few that likely would have been at least a moderate hit had it opened in non-COVID or pre-COVID circumstances. The Walt Disney Company seemingly agreed, since we now have a third chapter in this franchise. Was the failure of “Death on the Nile” about the circumstances of the release? Or, was “Murder on the Orient Express” a “folks were just curious the first time” would-be franchise? Was it, like “Chronicles of Narnia,” a literary IP where the most famous book was the only bankable item?
If “Haunting in Venice,” which stars Branagh alongside an against-type Tina Fey Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Dornan and Kelly Reilly from “Yellowstone,” legs this weekend like “Death on the Nile,” it’ll earn another disappointing $14 million over the Fri-Sun frame. However, if it legs like “Murder on the Orient Express,” it’ll end up closer to $21 million. That would qualify as a relative win for a commercially questionable franchise. Further complicating matters is that, four years after the Walt Disney Company bought Fox, Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptations represent one of the last pieces of formally Fox IP — alongside the Marvel characters, “Planet of the Apes” and “Avatar,” that’s still theatrically-worthy.
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