How's this for irony? The same week Warner Bros. reestablished its mainstream priorities by dramatically cutting off Picturehouse and Warner Independent at the knees, the studio opened the summer with one of its biggest bombs in years: Speed Racer, the imperially promoted, poorly received $100 million Wachowskis film that opened this weekend to $20.2 million — if that. A Defamer operative inside Time Warner sent word Sunday that the studio's estimate could be overstating its actual gross by as much as $2.5 million, placing it in third place overall behind the relatively well-received What Happens in Vegas, which Fox is calling at $20 million but is likelier to cap out between $18 and $18.5 million. We'll know the actual numbers later today, but as explained after the jump, it couldn't get much more sobering for Warner Bros.
Warners' popular company line has invoked Speed Racer's comparatively low $100 million budget as flop insurance, but that rationale factored in a decent run internationally as well. Alas, the rest of the world turned its back, too, chipping in less than $13 million of the global $33 million take. And it gets worse: The families at whom Warners was ostensibly aiming Speed Racer not only didn't come out, but with Disney offering The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian this Friday and Iron Man retaining momentum in its third week, they probably will never come out.
The studio will find black ink eventually on home video, but the collateral damage is ugly. Emile Hirsch? Can't open. Wachowskis? Tighten their leashes (and quit giving them a pass, media). The Dark Knight? More like the Great White Hope for Warner Bros., whose buzz-building efforts on its behalf make Speed Racer look like the Dennis Kucinich campaign. Hell, Picturehouse fared better with the Spanish-language Pan's Labyrinth on a fraction of the screens in 2006; maybe thinking small could do all right by Warners after all.