In the “good” timeline, this weekend saw Universal celebrating a rock-solid debut for their live-action adaptation of Wicked. Buoyed by good reviews, a buzzy cast and marquee characters beyond just a reliance on the IP, Wicked defied gravity and Star Wars to give Universal another big Christmas season musical hit. Alas, thanks to Barry Allen and/or Marty McFly, we’re not living in that timeline. Instead, we’re living in one where, despite Wicked being announced as a Christmas 2019 release way back in June of 2016, Universal opened not Wicked but Cats. Alas, as feared, the popularity (or at least awareness) of the long-running Andrew Lloyd Webber show did not translate to audience interest in a live-action movie version.
On paper, I’d wager that spending $100 million on Tom Hooper-directed Cats flick scheduled for a Christmas debut was a pretty safe bet. Les Misérables earned $148 million domestic and $442 million worldwide on a $61 million budget, while the year-end spot has been a successful home to the likes of Into the Woods ($214 million), La La Land ($441 million), Sing ($634 million), Pitch Perfect 3 ($185 million), The Greatest Showman ($434 million) and Mary Poppins Returns ($350 million). It’s also been the home to over/under $150 million grossers like The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd and Annie, but I digress. The live-action musical has been a relatively safe bet for the holidays for the last 15 years.
Throw in an all-star cast (Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, James Cordon, Rebel Wilson, etc.) plus one of the longest running shows in Broadway history, and it wasn’t exactly spending $175 million on a Dolittle remake. Alas, Universal’s Cats pulled the feline equivalent of a wet vomit on newly vacuumed carpet, just inches away from the tiled floor no less, grossing just $6.5 million in its opening weekend. That includes a C+ Cinemascore and a miserable (for a kid-targeted musical) 2.5x multiplier. Sure, The Greatest Showman earned $184 million from an $8.8 million Fri-Sun ($13.5 million Wed-Sun) opening two years ago, but, all due respect, Cats, at least the movie version, is no The Greatest Showman.