Two weeks after The Flash flopped, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opened for the extended Independence Day weekend in the US (which also included Canada Day this year for our neighbors to the north), earning a weak $60 million over the standard, Friday-Sunday three-day weekend, and an okay-ish $82 million for the extended five-day weekend through Tuesday (estimates had it at $80-85 million for the five-day weekend). 


July 4th isn’t a major box office holiday, so a sub-$100 million result isn’t the end of the world, but $60 million for a major blockbuster with a $100 million plus ad campaign behind it is not a great result for anyone (see also: The Flash). The second weekend will tell the tale, but if Destiny drops by more than 55%, it’s game over, especially given Destiny’s insane budget.

I’ve seen both directions of spin online over the weekend, from the typical “people in the movie industry are rooting against a movie” line from fanboys to “actually, Destiny is doing well”, but these are both traps. While it’s true, July 4th isn’t a major box office holiday, and the $82 million haul can be parsed as “acceptable”, that three-day $60 million total is NOT acceptable. Not for a film of this size, starring Harrison Ford, with Disney/Lucasfilm and their nine-figure marketing budget behind it. July 4th is only an acceptable excuse for the middling returns on Monday and Tuesday, NOT what happened on Friday through Sunday.


And of course, people who make and write about movies aren’t rooting against Destiny, or any movie. No one WANTS to see a movie bomb, especially not one starring a beloved star playing a beloved character, AND just as the industry is recovering from the once-in-a-generation disruption of the pandemic (and standing on the edge of another significant disruption from labor strikes). Hollywood needs all the help it can get right now, it would be best if every movie is good and is received well and makes a lot of money. That isn’t reality, however, where every movie is a crap shoot and this one is a snake eyes. 

Then there’s the budget of it all. Destiny has a reported budget of $295 million (in comparison, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was made for $185 million in 2008, or $261 million in today’s money). That would be bad enough, but I’ve heard the actual budget is well north of $300 million, with COVID costs, Harrison Ford’s up-front salary (at least $25 million), and Steven Spielberg’s producer fee being weighty elements on the budget sheet. As underpaid as visual effects artists are, Destiny also carried hefty VFX costs, thanks to the extensive de-aging of Harrison Ford and other actors throughout the film. 


Internationally, it isn’t much better. Destiny pulled only $70 million, less than The Flash’s similarly disappointing $75 million haul. In China, Destiny completely tanked, with a $2 million opening. The 2010s dream of a growing Chinese audience bailing out troubled Hollywood blockbusters is well and truly dead, China is no longer a reliable market for Hollywood. That makes for a global three-day start of $130 million, less than half of Destiny’s reported budget. Again, the second weekend will tell the tale, but with a B+ Cinemascore, indicating mixed word of mouth, it looks like we have our second blockbuster bomb in a row.

What’s going on? Does everyone hate blockbusters now? No, of course not. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse topped $600 million this weekend, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is pushing toward $840 million. No Hard Feelings, not an action movie but a major release starring a Movie Star, dropped only 47% this weekend, a strong hold for an R-rated film, bringing its global haul to $51 million (though it, too, is hobbled by its budget, $45 million is a lot for a comedy in this environment). 


But audiences—already growing pickier throughout the 2010s—are more selective now than they were before, that’s for sure. And Destiny never won over younger audiences, in particular. Its audience skewed 50+ and male, so basically, the guys who saw the original trilogy in theaters as kids turned out for Destiny, and no one else. Of note, the 18-49 demographic gave Destiny a B- Cinemascore, indicating that they definitely like the movie less than their elders. And, as we already learned in 2008 with Crystal Skull, throwing in a hip actor of the moment as a sidekick simply isn’t enough to sway younger audiences to Indy. Millennials weren’t interested in Indy in 2008, and now Gen Z is a pass, too. Regardless of what studio is in charge of Indiana Jones, younger audiences have never been given a reason to buy into this character.

If audiences are burned out on anything, it’s not blockbusters or superheroes—it’s nostalgia. The Flash mined an unpopular franchise for nostalgia, and it failed (including Michael Keaton’s Batman was a nod to the 50+ dude audience, too, they are clearly not enough to sustain a blockbuster by themselves). Destiny mined nostalgia for an admittedly beloved character, but nostalgia alone isn’t enough to draw the kind of broad audience these mega-budgeted movies need to succeed, you have to give younger/uninitiated audiences a reason to buy in, too.


I’ve seen a lot of comparisons with Top Gun: Maverick this week, but Maverick didn’t over-rely on nostalgia for the original Top Gun. It’s there, but it’s not the dominant element of the film, and Maverick specifically courts a younger, new audience through the inclusion of the younger aviators, a diverse and appealing group of characters. And it worked! Not only was the movie a huge hit, it created a new wave of fandom among younger viewers. Top Gun tags remain active on fan sites like Archive of Our Own and Tumblr, even a year later and with no real expectation of more films in the franchise. And as popular as Fleabag is, Phoebe Waller-Bridge herself has a niche appeal, and isn’t enough on her own to bring in that broad audience blockbusters need.

Summer 2023 got off to a strong start, but it has been floundering over the last month. We still have a number of big releases left, including Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Barbie, The Haunted Mansion, and Blue Beetle, but there is now a lot of pressure on these films to make up the ground lost by The Flash and Destiny. But if we learn anything from two major flops in a row, let it be that it’s time to let nostalgia as a driving force in entertainment go. Let’s look forward for new stories to tell, not back.