The third movie in Warner Bros.' animated Lego franchise, "The Lego Ninjago Movie," opened to just $21 million this weekend, well short of its $30 million projection. It's a disappointing performance taken on its own, and far worse when previous chapters of the franchise are taken into consideration.
Three years ago, "The Lego Movie" became a surprise sensation, thanks to its smart laughs, joyful characters, recognizable pop culture tie-ins, and an infectious Oscar-nominated tune. It opened to a massive $69 million in the U.S. and Canada; it will take many weeks for "Ninjago" to reach that number, and stands no chance of coming close to the $469 million worldwide mark set by the original "Lego" movie.
Worse yet, this is not an outlier, but seemingly the codifying of a trend. "Ninjago" is the second "Lego" spin-off to fall short of the original. The first one, this February's "Lego Batman Movie," earned rave reviews but slipped to $311 million worldwide. The regression is obvious.
Granted, the Batman spinoff is far more comparable to the original, given the fact that Batman is an international institution and was part of the first Lego movie. "Ninjago," on the other hand, is a much more niche title -- it's been a very successful line of shows, video games and playsets for Lego, but their popularity is mostly limited to a young, affluent audience. So to be fair, it was operating at a disadvantage compared to the other movies, as far as IP goes.
But on the other hand, "Ninjago" came with that "Lego Movie" name recognition, which should have helped counterbalance things a bit. Clearly, little block people are not the automatic draw they were once thought to be.
The weekend's other sequel, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," was also a bit of a disappointment. It took in $39 million domestic, which is just a few million more than the original 2014 film, and given its far-worse reviews -- we thought it was the most retrograde and repulsive movie of the year -- it seems unlikely to hit the first movie's $128 million.
The awards season box office is now underway, and that's where starpower really helps. Emma Stone and Steve Carell star in "Battle of the Sexes," which is a festival favorite about the landmark 1973 tennis matchup between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It's a crowd-pleaser that's sure to get Oscar buzz, and it took in $500,000 from just 21 theaters.
"Stronger," the Jake Gyllenhaal-led movie about a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, had a less promising opening. It made just $1.75 million in 574 theaters.