'Dolittle' is shaping up to be an epic box-office flop for Robert Downey Jr. and Universal

UniversalRobert Downey Jr. in ‘Dolittle’
  • “Dolittle” made under $US1 million at the domestic box office in Thursday previews.
  • It cost $US175 million to make, meaning it will likely struggle to earn that back after what is expected to be a disastrous opening weekend.
  • The movie, starring Robert Downey Jr., has been in development for years and has an abysmal 18% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • It marks another major misfire for the studio Universal after “Cats” bombed critically and financially.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Dolittle” is expected to be a major flop at the box office when it opens this weekend.

The movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. in the latest iteration of the doctor who can talk to animals, made $US925,000 at the domestic box office in Thursday previews, a bad sign for its opening weekend. As Exhibitor Relations tweeted, anything under $US1 million equals “DVD discount bin. Stat.”

Box Office Mojo is projecting “Dolittle” to open with $US22 million over the four-day holiday weekend and Boxoffice.com is anticipating $US16.9 million over the normal three-day weekend. But those numbers could change depending on what Friday’s box-office numbers look like.

It will be a disappointing start for the movie, which cost $US175 million to produce and has been in development for years. The chance of profitability is complicated moreso by Downey’s deal, which includes a percentage of the box office on top of his $US20 million salary, according to The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ reported on Thursday that the studio, Universal, tinkered with the movie’s screenplay and production in an effort to avoid disaster, which delayed its release by nearly a year.

Universal “commissioned script rewrites and hired two new directors to help with about three weeks of additional photography” in order to make the movie “appeal to younger moviegoers and overseas audiences,” WSJ said.

The movie’s credited director is Stephen Gaghan, who is known for dramatic fare like “Traffic” (which he wrote) and “Syriana” (which he wrote and directed). The directors brought in to help steer the movie in a lighter direction were “The LEGO Batman Movie” director Chris McKay and Jonathan Liebesman, the director of 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot, according to WSJ.

But Universal’s efforts may not pay off. “Dolittle” has an abysmal 18% critic score on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which won’t help its box-office chances. The Atlantic’s David Sims called it “one of the worst movies in years.”

“It would be an exaggeration to say that ‘Dolittle’ has a plot,” Sims wrote. “The viewing experience more resembles a series of malfunctioning screen savers in which Downey Jr. twitches his head left and right while animals gallivant around him, complaining of various ailments while tossing off hacky one-liners. The only part of this horrifying tableau that changes is the scenery.”

At this point, Universal’s best hope is an international box-office miracle. It will open in China in late February, according to WSJ.

“Dolittle” follows another recent major misfire for Universal.“Cats” opened in December to horrible reviews (it has a 20% Rotten Tomatoes critics score) and has so far made just $US60 million worldwide off of a $US95 million production budget.

The good news for Universal is that its war drama, “1917,” is an Oscars frontrunner and topped the box office last weekend.

The studio should also have a solid 2020 with expected blockbusters like “Fast and Furious 9,” a “Minions” sequel, “Halloween Kills,” and the James Bond movie “No Time to Die,” which it’s distributing internationally.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.