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Let’s Talk About Why Cats Failed at the Box Office

The musical debacle is set to lose at least $71 million.

Ever since the brain melting trailer for Cats debuted in July, audiences have eagerly anticipated just how bad this adaptation of the iconic Andrew Lloyd Weber musical would turn out to be. But according to the box office numbers, maybe we weren’t that eager at all. Cats opened to a paltry $6.5 million, down from its projected $10-15 million earnings. It’s a massive flop for Universal, despite an all-star cast and a family-friendly holiday release.

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So what went wrong? The obvious culprits are the creepy and disturbing CGI design, which was met with widespread mockery on social media. The studio even put out a new cut with updated special effects after the film was released.

The terrible reviews didn’t help either. Cats currently holds an 18 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an audience rating of 54 percent. Our own Rachel Leishman described the film as “What if we confuse everyone and make this very sexual?”

Both of these issues are more than enough to sink a film, but musicals usually perform well, especially during the holiday season. In 2006 Dreamgirls opened big during the holidays, going on to make $154 million worldwide. The following year, Tim Burton’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street garnered $152 million, which was impressive considering its R-rating.

Cats was also not lacking in star power, counting Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, and Judi Dench among its cast. But the failure of Cats is also indicative of a larger miscalculation.

Cats, which had a legendary Broadway run from 1982 to 2000 (it was revived in 2016 but closed at the end of 2017). It was very much a pop culture staple for Generation X and older millenials. Generation Z however, had its own blockbuster musicals like Mamma Mia!, Wicked, Hairspray, and Hamilton. While the people making these movies may have been the Cats generation, kids today aren’t.

Cats also suffers from another waning trend: the “so bad it’s good” movie. There was once a time when audiences would flock to a movie to enjoy it ironically. Think Catwoman or The Meg or anything with Nicholas Cage. But as movie tickets get more expensive (plus concessions) you’re looking at spending nearly $50 just to make fun of something. Why dish out all that money when there are plenty of mock-able offerings on television and streaming channels?

If there is any hope for Cats in the future, it will likely be in the form of midnight movie screenings or streaming rentals. Or more likely, the film may fade into obscurity, disappearing as mysteriously as it came.

(via Deadline, image: Universal Pictures)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.

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