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The Grinch Who Stole the Girl in the Spider Web’s Spotlight

At the box office this weekend, Illumination’s latest animated feature dominated, while the Claire Foy–led follow-up to ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ proved to be a cautionary tale

The Grinch and Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander Illumination/Sony/Ringer illustration

This weekend’s box office featured a conceptually strange movie showdown. In one corner, there was a green, grumpy, pot-bellied, Christmas-hating cave-dweller voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch; in the other, Claire Foy with piercings, a pixie cut, and a much cooler back tattoo than Ben Affleck. Put another way: In one corner, there was an animated kids’ movie from a studio known for churning out hits; in the other, a belated sequel with shaky reviews and none of the original film’s cast or crew. As it turns out, there wasn’t much of a competition between The Grinch and The Girl in the Spider’s Web, with Illumination’s latest offering hauling in $66 million en route to topping the domestic box office, while Sony’s film sputtered with a paltry $8 million.

The Grinch’s debut is the third-highest opening ever for an animated film in the month of November, lagging just behind Frozen ($67 million) and The Incredibles ($70 million). To state the obvious: That’s good company, considering how both The Incredibles and Frozen went on to jump-start their own franchises and make over $600 million worldwide (with Frozen making a ridiculous $1.28 billion). While The Grinch might not make Frozen numbers, it should have some box office permanence as one of the only holiday-themed movies on the current slate—which is a polite way of saying The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is technically still in theaters.

Illumination, meanwhile, has continued to cement itself as a commercial powerhouse, even if its movies don’t attain the same level of critical adoration as the likes of Disney and Pixar. Since 2013, the studio’s films have grossed $971 million (Despicable Me 2), $1.16 billion (Minions), $875 million (The Secret Life of Pets), $634 million (Sing), and $1.03 billion (Despicable Me 3). It’s possible The Grinch finishes its run on the higher end of the Illumination spectrum; after all, the Dr. Seuss character is recognizable IP for generations of moviegoers. Parents who take their kids to go see the new film are likely familiar with the 1966 animated special, the Jim Carrey–starring live-action movie from 2000—or both. With an opening weekend like this, and with the holiday box office there for the taking, it’s no wonder the Grinch has been shit-talking J.R. Smith.

Theoretically, The Grinch and The Girl in the Spider’s Web seemed to be perfect counterprogramming—one was geared toward kids and the other toward adults. But not even adults wanted to see the latter, as the Sony Pictures film’s meager $8 million total came in fifth at the box office on its opening weekend, which is … not great. It probably didn’t help matters that the film was mostly panned by critics, with the rare instances of praise being doled out only to Claire Foy for her take on Lisbeth Salander. Even with a production budget of $43 million—which is less than half of what it cost to make David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in 2011—the film is likely to come out as a commercial flop for the studio. On the bright side, Sony is still making bank with Venom, which opened in China this weekend to a whopping $111 million, the second-highest debut for a superhero movie in China. (Yep, the “Venom would make a great boyfriend” marketing worked.)

While The Girl in the Spider’s Web was dead on arrival, it shouldn’t have any effect on Claire Foy’s campaign for an Oscar nomination for First Man—that’s the Foy performance people are going to remember from 2018. It’s Sony that should bear the brunt of the movie’s failure. Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo made the studio $233 million, which is rather remarkable for a bleak, R-rated, 160-minute affair. Rooney Mara’s Salander got an Oscar nomination. The pieces were in place for a Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Instead, Sony not only rebooted the franchise, it opted to begin with the fourth installment of the book series—which wasn’t even written by Stieg Larsson, who died before it was penned. There might not be a perfect template to reboot previously lucrative intellectual property, but Sony’s Girl in the Spider’s Web failure is a textbook example of what not to do.

Every film currently competing at the box office will have to prepare for an onslaught of buzzy releases over the next two weeks, including but not limited to: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Widows, Robin Hood, Creed II, The Favourite, and Ralph Breaks the Internet. Not all of these movies will break out, if only because the wealth of options may cancel each other out (and because there’s no chance anyone is excited for this iteration of Robin Hood). As Thanksgiving approaches, there’s no better time to head to the multiplex—and no more likely time for a film to fail to meet expectations.