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"Blade Runner 2049" rains on movie industry stocks

Summer of sequels

NEW YORK - Disappointing ticket sales for "Blade Runner 2049" are a blow for the companies behind the eagerly anticipated film, and also cast a pall on other movie-industry players.

The big-budget, handsomely crafted sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic opened surprisingly weak at the North American box office. According to studio estimates Sunday, "2049" grossed $31.5 million, a poor start for a movie that cost at least $150 million to make. The film did better internationally, taking in $50.2 million in overseas ticket sales over the weekend.

Production company Alcon Entertainment split the film's cost with Sony Pictures, while Warner Bros. is distributing the film in the U.S.

"I'm disappointed we didn't have a larger result this weekend on behalf of the owners of the film, Alcon," said Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution for Warner. "We had bigger expectations for the weekend. The tracking and the advance sales indicated that there would be a stronger number."

The weak opening may have contributed to the general pall settling over the film-industry companies on Monday, along with a negative take on the sector from Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. Shares of AMC Entertainment Holdings, Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark Holdings all fell on the day.

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"Good movies drive people to the theater, and the studios were unfortunately lacking in good content over the summer. However, we acknowledge that Blade Runner's opening weekend was underwhelming despite strong reviews, which may drive some concern as it kicked off what we anticipate will be a solid [fourth-quarter] box office," Pachter said in a note.

The 20-year-old Alcon, backed by FedEx founder Fred Smith, has been behind some notable successes with Warner Bros. ("The Blind Side," ''Prisoners.") But its blockbuster ambitions, which include flops like "Point Break" and "Transcendence," have gone rockier. Co-founder Andrew Kosove previously called the ambitious "Blade Runner 2049" ''a chips-in-the-center-of-the-table exercise."

Alcon, a 45 employee company, seemingly did everything right, turning in a glowingly reviewed film, directed by the sought-after Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival") and produced by Ridley Scott (who directed the original.) Audiences liked the movie, too, giving it an A- CinemaScore. Representatives for Alcon Entertainment didn't respond to messages Sunday.

The problem "Blade runner 2049" ran into is clear from opening-weekend data. The audience was overwhelmingly male (71 percent) and over the age of 25 (86 percent). The movie, starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, simply failed to pull in moviegoers beyond fans of the 1982 original. Another factor that may be working against the film -- lengthy 163-minute runtime. 

"It's an intellectually charged, apocalyptic sci-fi story. It's not a 'Close Encounters,' it's not 'Star Wars.' It's a challenging film. To me, those are the best type of films," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. "But does it make it the most commercial? No."

"It was creatively and thematically perfectly executed," he added. "But it didn't play to the numbers everyone thought."

In a way, that makes "Blade Runner 2049" the perfect heir to the original film. It, too, was a box-office disappointment. Though a cult would gradually emerge over the years, propelled partly by a DVD release of a more acclaimed director's cut, "Blade Runner" in 1982 debuted with $6.2 million - or about $16 million in 2017 dollars.

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