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The Weekend Movie Takeaway: Pokemon Detective Pikachu

May 13, 2019
2 min read time

When Avengers: Endgame trampled the competition in its second weekend, preventing three new releases from making any kind of impact, some parties were no doubt concerned its dominance would stretch into the film's third weekend.

And while Endgame once again earned the top spot, enough people were invested in the world of Pokémon to allow Pokémon Detective Pikachu, a live action/CGI hybrid adaptation of the Japanese intellectual property, to earn a highly respectable $58 million — coming in just behind Endgame's $63 million.

The popularity of the Ryan Reynolds-starring film speaks to the multi-generational appeal of Pokémon, but more significantly, it may stand as the first-ever video game adaptation that people actually like.

The inability of video games to translate into successful movies has long had troubling implications for popular narrative, especially as video games and movies become more and more similar.

The fact that Hollywood can't work out how to satisfyingly transpose a narrative from one medium to another highlights the disconnect in understanding how audiences are consuming and responding to those narratives in their respective media.

The (relative) embracing of Detective Pikachu suggests that extremely careful management of the IP is necessary, along with some Marvel-style fan acknowledgement. Or maybe it's just that the Pokémon franchise is so damn weird, it was never going to obviously suffer from the leap to live action.

While Detective Pikachu was able to stand its ground in an Endgame-dominated world, several other new releases saw less-than-spectacular results, which once again projects the notion of a macro audience that can't pay attention to more than a couple of narratives at a time. In an age when storytelling is more fractured than ever, mass collective engagement in a particular narrative — as with Endgame, and the almost-finished final season of Game of Thrones — is a welcome throwback.

But the steamroll effect of this mass engagement also prevented audiences from being able to get too excited about two smaller films that could've used the love — Tolkien, which tells the life story of one of the most influential storytellers of the past century — opened to just over $2 million, earning it ninth place at the box office.

The film is notable from a narrative standpoint, using aspects from J.R.R. Tolkien's best known work, Lord of the Rings, to metaphorically illustrate aspects of the man's life.

Poms — a comedy about some ladies who start a cheerleading squad in a retirement community — did slightly better with $5 million to take sixth place.

The week's other new release, a widely-panned remake of the 1988 Steve Martin/Michael Caine classic Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson called The Hustle, was able to overcome its negative critical reception, taking the third position with a $13.5 million haul. The narrative takeaway here is that sometimes audiences go to see movies for their stars, not their stories.

One slightly encouraging result from this week's box office was the $6.6 million earned by the Seth Rogen/Charlize Theron film Long Shot. It’s valiant effort to update tired rom-com tropes had gotten pretty much curb-stomped by Avengers: Endgame in its opening frame.

While $6.6 isn't anything to write home about, the haul (which earned the film the fifth spot in the weekend box office), is only slightly down from what it earned in its first weekend, suggesting that positive word-of-mouth is sending audience members to the theater. If Long Shot can prove to have legs, it'll be a victory for a certain kind of narrative which the film offers a progressive take on.

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