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'Dark Shadows' Underwhelms: Are Audiences Tiring of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's Collaborations?


It’s a tough, but fair, question that I think needs to be asked: Are movie-going audiences tiring of Johnny Depp’s collaborations with Tim Burton? 
Their latest, Dark Shadows, probably wasn’t going to beat Joss Whedon’s The Avengers at the box office. But did anyone expect Burton and Depp’s twisted gothic comedy – based on a cult television soap opera from the late 1960s – to underwhelm so drastically? 
By earning an estimated $28.8 million over the weekend, Shadows suffered the lowest opening-weekend gross of any Burton-Depp effort that opened wide. (Some films, like Sweeney Todd or Corpse Bride, opened in limited release and skew the numbers a tad.) To go one step further, Dark Shadows actually marks an all-time low for Burton’s opening-weekend numbers on a movie opening as wide as this one did. You have to go as far back as 1999’s Sleepy Hollow – also with Depp – to find a film that opened in the ballpark of Shadows. That film nabbed $30M opening weekend and climbed to $101M overall.
What happened? Well, as mentioned above, Burton and Depp were updating an obscure TV show from their youth, so the potential audience was much smaller than, say, the families who turned out in droves to see their Alice in Wonderland. And, as I mentioned, virtually anything going up against Avengers in its second weekend likely was going to get shredded. David Poland, who crunches numbers over at Movie City News, said of Shadows’ numbers, “There is nothing remotely shocking about Dark Shadows’ opening. … It isn’t a revered work that has millions anticipating an adaptation by a visual master. Personally, I think WB should be happy with this number. Even if the movie was unanimously praised, this is probably all that was there for the taking on opening weekend.”   
I have been saying that Depp and Burton – by virtue of their past successes – have earned the right to try something offbeat if they’d like. The duo’s coming off of Wonderland, which made a lot of money for Disney. But Warner shelled out a reported $150 million to make Dark Shadows (probably more), so I don’t think they want to hear about Alice’s successes. What if Dark Shadows had connected with a larger audience, though? What if it matched the $56M earned by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Then we’d be singing their praises, instead of analyzing their potential future. 
It’s also worth asking if audiences are losing faith in Depp as a leading man. Are ticket buyers as willing to go down unexplored roads with Depp if he isn’t dressed as Capt. Jack Sparrow? The answer, lately, is, “No.” The Rum Diary tanked with a $5.1M opening. The Tourist flew the coop with $16.4M on opening weekend. And Public Enemies committed box office crimes by opening to $25.2M during the summer blockbuster season. That’s a disappointment. Scattered in there was Alice and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean, but they are trusted names that potentially would have earned even without Depp’s talents attached.
What happens next? Burton has Frankenweenie on the horizon, a feature-length version of his early short film. And Depp seems to have another surefire hit in The Lone Ranger, with director Gore Verbinski.
But you can bet the industry will be watching closely when these two decide to work together again. Now I wonder if audiences will be watching, as well.

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