The Huntsman: Winter’s War opened over the weekend to a resounding, “No thanks,” from audiences with an estimated $20 million opening. For comparison, Snow White and the Huntsman opened in 2012 with $56 million. Given its reported budget of $115 million (haha, yeah RIGHT) and an aggressive ad campaign, Universal is looking at a loss on this one. The successes of 2015 will make it bearable, but let this be a reminder to people that making sequels no one asked for is a bad idea. The lesson of The Huntsman is not that a lady-centric fantasy movie can’t work—THIS IS NOT THE LESSON—it’s that no one wanted this movie in the first place.
And Hemsworth didn’t help. He has not been able to parlay his Avengers success into non-Marvel movie stardom despite years of trying. Chris Evans gets a break because outside of Captain America, he’s not trying to be a Movie Star—his non-Marvel roles have been, with the exception of Snowpiercer, not action-oriented and exclusively indie. Ditto for Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner, both of whom work a lot yet neither of whom are pursuing leading-man status (Renner gave it up after his own Movie Star miss in 2012, and has since returned to his character actor roots). Only Scarlett Johansson has been able to turn Marvel exposure into Movie Star status. But Chris Hemsworth, even with the Minivan behind him, can’t get it done.
This is how hard it is to mint new Movie Stars. ScarJo has done it, and Jennifer Lawrence has done it, but no one else has. Not even Chris Pratt has opened a movie on his own name yet, and he wisely has chosen not to try. The Magnificent Seven will sell with his name + Denzel Washington, and Passengers will be Pratt + JLaw. And Ryan Gosling, who also struggles to open movies on his own, is poised to have the sleeper success of the summer with The Nice Guys, a buddy flick co-starring International Movie Star Russell Crowe.
Chris Hemsworth needs a buddy flick. And maybe it says something that Marvel stuck Mark Ruffalo—not a Movie Star, but very popular as Bruce Banner—into Thor: Ragnarok, and hired a director, Taikia Waititi, who is known for buddy dynamics in projects like Flight of the Conchords and What We Do in the Shadows. Thor: Ragnarok is basically a buddy flick—described to me as The Thor and Hulk Odd Couple Show In Space—and they’ve gone one step farther and bolstered it with Movie Star Cate Blanchett on the ticket.
Since Hemsworth can’t open movies on his own, even in the forgiving realm of Marvel movies, Thor is the weakest link, the Marvel brass has done everything possible to shore up the odds in Hemsworth’s favor. Even still, we’re two weeks out from Captain America: Civil War opening huge. The Avengers don’t need Thor to get it done.