Why 'Widows' has flopped at the box office despite stellar reviews and a powerhouse cast including Viola Davis and Liam Neeson

FoxViola Davis in ‘Widows.’
  • “Widows,” a heist movie from the “12 Years a Slave” director, Steve McQueen, that stars Viola Davis, disappointed at the box office in its opening weekend with just $US12 million.
  • Box-office experts agree that the movie should have been released outside the busy November schedule.
  • A social-media analysis from Crimson Hexagon showed that online buzz around the movie had decreased dramatically since its first trailer debuted.

A studio heist thriller from an acclaimed director with a powerhouse diverse cast, Steve McQueen’s “Widows” is the kind of movie that audiences who clamor for original, well-made films might have been lining up to see at the theatre.

But the movie fell flat at the box office in its opening weekend with just $US12 million (it cost $US42 million to make). Predictably, it came in behind the latest movie in the blockbuster “Harry Potter” universe, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”

Less predictable, though, was that it came in fifth overall, falling short of the weekend’s other major new release, the Mark Wahlberg-starring comedy “Instant Family,” as well as the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “The Grinch,” which held strong in their third and second weekends.


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So what went wrong with “Widows”? It stars the Oscar winner Viola Davis and the audience favourite Liam Neeson, along with Colin Farrell, the “Get Out” star Daniel Kaluuya, and more. It’s an action movie wrapped in a tale of corruption that’s politically and socially relevant. And yet, it didn’t find an audience.

A social-media analysis conducted by the consumer-insights company Crimson Hexagon for Business Insider found that social-media buzz around the film during its opening weekend was subpar, especially compared with that surrounding the debut of its first trailer on June 4. The movie generated more than 26,000 posts on Twitter and Instagram at that time, according to Crimson Hexagon, compared with fewer than 10,000 posts Friday.

A chart from Crimson Hexagon showing the data is below:

WidowsCrimson Hexagon

Declining interest in the film could be attributed to a marketing problem. BoxOfficeAnalyst.com’s Doug Stone said the movie was primarily marketed toward African-American audiences even though the film was “really not ethnically unidirectional.”

“While this type of marketing thrust isn’t a bad thing in and of itself for the appropriate product, the film perhaps should have been marketed to cross over to a broader audience,” Stone told Business Insider.

Jeff Bock, a senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, said that Fox, the studio behind the movie, didn’t make a smart call opening “Widows” against Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts” (Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” fared better earlier this month, having made over $US380 million worldwide). “Fantastic Beasts” overshadowed “Widows” online, as well. According to Crimson Hexagon’s analysis, “Fantastic Beasts” generated more than 157,000 Twitter and Instagram posts over the weekend.

Stone agreed that the film’s release date in the midst of a jam-packed schedule wasn’t favourable and said it would have fared better opening later in the year.

“The consensus among theatre exhibitors is that the 11/2 – 11/21 period is very much overloaded with product,” Stone said.

Its mature themes and R rating most likely limited its appeal, too, and Stone said “that may have been a detriment during this particular time frame” when more family-friendly options are in theatres.


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“Widows” also highlights a trend in recent months of audiences ignoring critical reviews. Poorly reviewed films, including “The Nun,” “Venom,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” have exceeded expectations at the box office despite subpar or even abysmal reviews. On the flip side, audiences ignored “Widows” despite its impressive 91% critic score on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Similar issues plagued critically acclaimed films like “First Man” and “Suspiria,” which failed to generate excitement among general moviegoers.

All of this is why a rebound for “Widows” is hard to predict. Oscar buzz and good word of mouth could benefit the movie in the long run, as well as this weekend’s holiday, according to Stone. But a lack of interest now despite plenty of critical buzz may not bode well for that prospect, either.

“User ratings were not stellar with it showing 66% on Rotten Tomatoes,” Stone said. “The Metacritic response was somewhat better, but the Cinemascore was a B. That is not a great result. IMDb responses put it as above average but not in the good category.”

“We’ll have to wait and see how it performs this week before we make any long-term judgments,” Bock said.

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