Terminator: Dark Fate may have opened at No. 1 at the US Box Office this past weekend, but it still under-earned. Film industry pundits are unanimous in their agreement: it's a bomb. A huge bomb. Its losses are estimated at between $70 million and $100 million. The tone of the editorials are positively funereal: did we just witness the death of a movie franchise?
God knows the Terminator franchise had plenty of chances to succeed. Since 2003, it has had four sequels, and they all underperformed at the box office. There was Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation, Terminator: Genisys and now Terminator: Dark Fate.
Each of these sequels was meant to launch a new trilogy. None of them made enough money to continue. Dark Fate, co-plotted by James Cameron and with Linda Hamlton back as Sarah Connor for the first time since Terminator 2: Judgment Day, might have stood more of a chance. Alas, it didn't. Its box office failure might put the franchise in the mothballs for the foreseeable future.
We can assume the latest movie's failure is franchise fatigue. The series already had three lackluster sequels and audiences are tired. The low box office for Dark Fate suggested that audiences stayed away during opening weekend. Even during peak showtimes on Saturday and Sunday, theatres were half-full at best.
The Biggest Reason Audiences Stayed Away?
When audiences don't show up during opening weekend, it's usually due to bad word-of-mouth. I saw anecdotal evidence for one big reason they didn't want to see the movie.
The movie kills off John Connor in the first five minutes of the movie. It erases the future where he became the leader who saves Humanity.
And fans hated that.
The friends I saw it with on Sunday didn't know that was going to happen and the rest of the movie just lost them. They sat seething in rage for the next two hours of the movie.
They said that John Connor was a character who was built up since the first movie. He has been the reason for the entire story. His mere existence is the reason a Terminator was sent back in time. He casts his shadow over the entire story, even if it's really Sarah Connor's story. Fans became invested in the existence of John Connor through three so-so sequels and a failed TV series. John Connor became a mainstay of the franchise for over 20 years.
To change the timeline by killing off John Connor feels like a betrayal of the fans' emotional investment in him.
Advance reviews were mixed and some of them hinted at or outright spoiled John Connor's death at the start of the movie. Many people might have already guessed that already. It left a bad taste in their mouths and I suspect word spread. Personally, I'm neutral about it, but I found the ire interesting.
I totally respect changing the focus of the franchise to an even more feminist perspective than before, but there should have been a way to do it without completely negating John Connor. Killing him off so casually might be a mistake that's killed off the franchise.