Even “The Rock” couldn’t prevent the worst Memorial Day weekend at US cinemas in nearly 20 years

Fans couldn’t smell what “The Rock” was cooking this holiday weekend.
Fans couldn’t smell what “The Rock” was cooking this holiday weekend.
Image: Paramount Pictures/Frank Masi
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Hollywood executives say Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is as close to guaranteeing butts in seats as any actor can be. But even the action star couldn’t rescue the US box office this Memorial Day weekend.

Johnson’s latest movie, Baywatch, debuted at number three with $23 million in domestic returns during the holiday weekend’s worst US box office showing in nearly two decades.

The domestic box office, which includes US and Canada, brought in a paltry $172 million over the four days ended May 29. The last time the box office dropped that low during Memorial Day weekend was in 1999, when Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace led a four-day total of just $142.5 million, during its second week in theaters.

When adjusted for ticket-price inflation, the picture is worse. You’d have to go back to Memorial Day weekend 1991, when Backdraft topped the box office with an adjusted $144 million, to find a worse showing.

Franchises like Star Wars, X-Men, and Fast & Furious have reigned during Memorial Day weekends past. But this year, amid a summer of unappealing sequels and strong TV and streaming releases, movies like the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales, just aren’t having the same draw. The Pirates movie topped the box office over the weekend with a modest $77 million in domestic returns.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has been the sole bright spot of the summer, thus far. The superhero movie, which premiered in the US on May 5, held the number two spot over the weekend with $25 million in domestic box-office returns, bringing it to a total of $338.5 million in the US and Canada. It’s the second-highest grossing movie of the year, domestically, behind Beauty and the Beast.

The weekend’s abysmal performance overall did nothing to stave off concerns that this could be the worst summer box-office in a decade (paywall). Generally, years with stronger Memorial Day admissions see stronger summer box-office totals, the Washington Post found (paywall), through a 2015 box-office analysis.

The industry is now looking to the next slate of releases to shore up summer returns.

“It’s crunch time for the industry after a lackluster May and a dismal Memorial weekend,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore, told Variety. “The good news is that June looks to deliver the goods and no movie is better suited to lead the cavalry charge than Wonder Woman later this week. The pressure is certainly on for the final three quarters of the season to get us out of this downturn.”

Anticipated titles like Spider-Man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Dunkirk are also slated for July release in the US.