‘Morbius’ Sweeped! Why Sony Sent A Box Office Bomb Back To Theaters

As expected by anyone who understands the difference between online discourse and real-world interest, Sony’s reissue of Jared Leto’s Morbius earned $300,000 in 1,037 theaters this past weekend. The original release earned $163 million worldwide, including just $74 million domestic, on a $75 million budget. It then returned to theaters with the lowest per-theater average in the top twenty, Morbius is a rare movie that essentially bombed twice at the domestic box office. So, was this a case of Sony inexplicably mistaking “laughing at you” online memes and tomfoolery for “laughing with us” audience demand? Maybe, but I’d argue it’s just as likely that Sony knew what the memes meant and no expectation of a box office comeback. I might argue that, well, they planned to get Morbed the whole time.

Maybe I’m giving Tom Rothman and friends too much credit. However, he’s old enough to have seen New Line Cinema’s Snakes on a Plane backfire by turning what otherwise was a pulpy little bit of counterprogramming turn into an online event that failed to drive theatrical ticket sales. He’s old enough to know that even reissues of popular films, like a PG-13 rated cut of Mel Gibson’s very R-rated The Passion of the Christ, have generally fizzled coming right after the initial theatrical release. Sony watched Warner Bros. spend $70 million to let Zack Snyder make a four-hour cut of Justice League, which made some sense amid a global pandemic that left HBO Max with few buzzy originals, only for the (rather good, actually) mega-movie to nab “fine, whatever” viewership.

If this wasn’t about Hollywood mistaking social media shit-posting for grassroots fandom, what was the point? Well, at the very least, the reissue offered up a “new” movie amid a ridiculously quiet weekend for new releases. Top Gun: Maverick accounted for 75% of the entire weekend box office, partially because there was nothing bigger than David Cronenberg’s $1.1 million-grossing Crimes of the Future opening last weekend. If by some miracle the perpetually online actually bought tickets to see Morbius in a theater, well, great. If not, well, it’s not like Sony spent a fortune advertising the reissue and it doesn’t change the film’s narrative from one of success to one of failure (which arguably happened when Samuel L. Jackson’s Snakes on a Plane “only” opened with $13 million in August of 2006).

Moreover, Sony knows that Morbius got miserable reviews, a C+ from Cinemascore and a horrific 1.88x multiplier from a not-great $39 million opening weekend. They know that $163 million worldwide from a $75 million budget with that kind of buzz is not a franchise born but, at best, a bullet dodged. The notion of a standalone Morbius sequel is deader than dead. But since Sony’s grand plan is to create their own universe of Spider-Man villains, the character of Dr. Michael Morbius, played by Jared Leto, can still be of value. Morbius is useless as a hero/anti-hero. However, by leaning into the mockery associated with the character, by essentially throwing themselves on the sword, Sony can use Jared Leto’s self-serious living vampire as a comic foil for a later ‘Sony’s Spider-Man Universe’ movie.

The post-credit cookies for Venom: Let There Be Carnage (“Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock’s in the MCU!”), Spider-Man: No Way Home (“Never mind, Eddie is no longer in the MCU.”) and Morbius (whereby Michael Keaton’s indifferent Vulture ends up in the Venom/Morbius universe and randomly convinces a bored Morbius to team up to kill Spider-Man) seemed like pranks on the online comic book superhero think piece industry). And now putting Morbius back into theaters, knowing full well it would play in mostly empty auditoriums, is a way to keep the character in the news cycle even if it meant embracing the failure and belittling their own branded IP. The reward is a Venom 3 featuring Jared Leto’s living vampire whom Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock can give him the business to audience applause.

There may be some comic value in seeing one admitted loser forced to interact with a guy who thinks he’s god’s gift to science (played by a very, no judgment, self-serious actor) even while he’s as much of a punk as the disheveled journalist/pundit. Venom 3 doesn’t need Morbius anymore than it really needs Peter Parker/Spider-Man (be it Tom Holland or Andrew Garfield). Let There Be Carnage earned $505 million worldwide on a $110 million budget, dropping just -14% from Venom sans China. But Carnage was the big added value trump card. Offering up Morbius for the roasting would qualify as an added value element from a character who has otherwise been made value-less. It’s not so much three-dimensional chess as it is “Well, what do we have to lose?” checkers.

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