'Blade Runner 2049' underperformance at box office a 'mystery' to Denis Villeneuve despite career-best reviews

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

Blade Runner 2049 had all the ingredients to be a box-office smash. It was the long-awaited sequel to one of the most seminal sci-fi films of all time. It united two of Hollywood’s biggest names, franchise newcomer Ryan Gosling and returning star Harrison Ford. It was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who last year saw his slow-burn, arty alien-invasion drama Arrival cross the $100 million mark in the U.S. on its way to nine Oscar nominations. And it received a rapturous critical response, notching an 87 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and receiving a seal of approval from both Ford and original Blade Runner helmer Ridley Scott.

But Blade Runner 2049 stumbled, earning only $88 million in U.S. ticket sales (and $240 million globally) on a budget of $155 million, leading to a potential $80 million loss for producers after marketing costs, and leaving commentators to question whether the film’s underperformance has “killed off the smart sci-fi blockbuster.”

“I’m still digesting it,” Villeneuve (who also directed the critically acclaimed films Sicario, Enemy, Prisoners, and Incendies) told Yahoo Entertainment during a Facebook Live interview (watch below) when asked what he thought about the sequel’s struggles. “We had the best [critics’ reviews]. I’ve never had a movie welcomed like that. At the same time the box office in the United States was a disappointment, that’s true, because those movies are expensive. It will still make tons of money, but not enough.”

While noting that the film did perform well in Europe and larger U.S. cities, the French-Canadian filmmaker could only speculate on why it didn’t connect wider. “I think because maybe people were not familiar enough with the universe. And the fact that the movie’s long [its run time is 2 hours, 44 minutes]. I don’t know. It’s still a mystery to me. I make movies — I don’t sell them.”

Another challenge for the marketers was how to promote a film that was so full of twists virtually from the outset. Trailers and promotional materials — as well as cast and crew interviews — had to remain purposely vague to avoid spoilers, which ultimately did not seem to connect to viewers unfamiliar with the original’s premise.

It is not lost on Villeneuve that the film is actually experiencing the same fate as Scott’s original Blade Runner, which despite its classic status also barely registered at the box office when released in 1982.

“That’s the first thing one of my sons told me. He said, ‘Papa, you honored the first movie until the very end,'” Villeneuve laughed. “I was not looking for that, but what I’m at peace with is the fact that the hardcore fans that loved the first movie really welcomed this one, and that for me means the world.”

Watch our full Facebook Live interview:

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