Why 'Cats' is one of the biggest box-office flops of the year

UniversalJennifer Hudson in ‘Cats.’
  • “Cats,” which cost $US95 million to make, is on track to lose a ton after factoring in production and marketing costs.
  • The movie musical has a paltry 18% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Jeff Bock, the Exhibitor Relations senior box-office analyst, called it a “word-of-mouth failure.”
  • The movie wasn’t even finished by the time it hit theatres. The studio, Universal, told thousands of theatres on its opening day that they would receive a new version with “improved visual effects.”
  • The movie could still find life on home release, though, said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Universal Pictures’ “Cats” is based on a popular musical, was directed by an Oscar-winning director, and features an all-star cast including James Corden, Idris Elba, and Taylor Swift. Yet when it arrived in theatres earlier this month, it flopped hard at the box office. “Cats” opened with an abysmal $US6 million domestically and has since grossed just $US38 million worldwide off of a $US95 million production budget.

“This is a word-of-mouth failure more than anything,” Jeff Bock, the Exhibitor Relations senior box-office analyst, told Business Insider.

The movie got a paltry 18% critic score on the review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. Bad reviews don’t always mean poor box office, of course. “The Greatest Showman,” another movie musical that the critics panned, grossed $US435 million worldwide after a slow start. And while “Cats” opened the same day as “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” it could have been prime alternative viewing for those uninterested in that franchise.

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Taylor Swift as Bombalurina in a scene from Associated PressTaylor Swift in ‘Cats.’

“Usually, even a poorly reviewed musical can catch fire if the film has few showstoppers,” Bock said. “Sadly, ‘Cats’ is devoid of much life and stitched together with dull, uninspired numbers.”

‘Cats’ hit theatres before it was finished

The movie was already marred when the first trailer appeared in July. Many were put off by the way the actors appeared as cats but kept their human features.

“When the trailer dropped, it started a huge conversation that was really polarised,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore. “It got the conversation going about the movie, at least. Controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it creates awareness. The hope is that when it’s released, the movie speaks for itself.”

Deadline reported after the movie’s release that the effects weren’t ready when the trailer dropped. The film’s director, Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), was even working on the movie right up until its premiere in New York City on December 16, according to Deadline.

Cats UniversalUniversalJudi Dench in ‘Cats.’

Hooper later talked to Business Insider’s Jason Guerrasio about the tweaks to the movie’s effects that were made after the first trailer debuted.

“I think, possibly, in some characters in the trailer the original face had gotten a little bit lost under the fur,” Hooper said. “So I think the biggest difference, which is subtle but it’s important, was to pare it back and sculpt it more lovingly around the actor’s actual face so I lost none of it.”

But the movie still wasn’t finished by the time it hit theatres. Universal told thousands of theatres on its opening day that they would get a new version of “Cats” with “improved visual effects,” The Hollywood Reporter first reported, citing a memo.

People were already put off by the visuals of the first trailer and critics’ negative reviews, and it went on to receive a C-plus grade on Cinemascore, which surveys audiences on a movie’s opening night.

“Cats” is on track to lose $US100 million, Variety reported, citing “rival studio executives.” Deadline offered a more conservative estimate of a $US71 million loss after factoring in production and marketing costs, but only if it reaches $US100 million globally – and at its current pace, the chances of that seem low.

There might still be hope for “Cats.” Dergarabedian said the movie could find new life on home release.

“Maybe it will be a cult movie someday,” Dergarabedian said. “There are a lot of people who probably want to see what the fuss is about but don’t want to pay to see it in a theatre.”

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