Indiana Jones hits theaters for one last adventure, but box office prospects look shaky

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Harrison Ford returns as Indiana Jones in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”

Disney

It’s Harrison Ford’s final bow as the boulder-dodging, whip-wielding, Nazi-punching Indiana Jones.

On Friday, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” arrives in theaters, marking the fifth and likely final chapter in the Lucasfilm movie franchise.

Disney spared no expense in bringing the film to the big screen, starting with a nearly $300 million production budget. Factor in marketing costs, which are typically equal to half the production budget, and a swanky premiere and after-party at the Cannes Film Festival, and “Dial of Destiny” has quite a hole to dig itself out of.

Box office analysts are predicting the film will capture between $60 million and $65 million during its first three days in theaters and around $90 million for the five-day holiday weekend. That would mark the latest mediocre opening in the summer blockbuster season, following disappointing bows for “The Flash,” “Elemental” and “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” earlier this month.

It would also fall well short of the $100 million “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” secured during its first three days in theaters in 2008. Previous Indiana Jones installments, released in the 1980s, saw significantly lower box office openings because tickets were significantly less expensive at that time and the films were released in fewer theaters.

For instance, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was released in more than 4,200 theaters, while 1989’s “The Last Crusade” was released in 2,300 cinemas, according to Comscore data. In 2023, blockbuster features are generally opening in 4,200 locations, with some films, such as Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3,” opening in as many as 4,450 locations.

“Dial of Destiny” also marks the first time Steven Spielberg hasn’t directed an Indy movie, although the musical score was written by franchise stalwart John Williams. James Mangold, who helmed “Logan” and “Ford v Ferrari,” directed the new one.

The sequel comes 15 years after the “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which ended up with a 77% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes but was widely panned by audiences. Despite a solid opening, the fourth Indiana Jones film tallied only $317 million domestically. It did manage to reach $786 million globally, according to data from Comscore.

The lackluster audience response resulted in a pause in future films, including the potential for a spinoff featuring Shia LaBeouf as Indiana Jones’ son Mutt Williams. In 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion, eventually taking the franchise away from its previous studio partner Paramount Pictures. Disney kept the character on ice while it worked on new Star Wars and Willow content — two other franchises that came from Lucasfilm.

Now, in 2023, the fifth installment in the swashbuckling archaeologist’s movie adventures has generated a 67% “Fresh” score as of Friday morning, with critics saying “Dial of Destiny” doesn’t quite capture the thrill of earlier adventures. Still, with Ford donning his iconic hat and whip combo, the film gives audiences a nostalgic rush, according to the critical consensus.

It’s unclear whether that will result in a ton of ticket sales, however.

“The target audience of men over 35, who grew up on the entire series, will need to show up with their families and, perhaps, introduce the iconic character to their little ones who weren’t even around for the previous movie,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “The franchise has overcome stalled pop culture relevance before, but this time it also has to face that added challenge of winning back viewers who weren’t as keen on ‘Crystal Skull’ as they were for the original films.”

Hollywood has had mixed results with nostalgia plays in recent years. While “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” captured healthy box office sales, others have floundered on the big screen. “Blade Runner 2049,” “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Terminator Genisys” came up short with old fans and new audiences in North America.

“Dial of Destiny” could benefit from audiences keen to see Ford, who will turn 81 next month, hang up his fedora and potentially even pass off the torch to a new generation.

Even with tepid reviews heading into Friday’s release, Robbins notes that critics and audiences don’t always agree.

“Indiana Jones’ nature as a traditionally less front-loaded franchise compared to the comic book blockbusters we’re used to seeing play with a short fuse also means a sizable portion of its audience could opt to see the film after the initial fan-driven previews and opening day,” he said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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