The Big Picture
- The release of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was underwhelming, grossing only $60 million domestically on its opening weekend.
- Box office experts predicted the lackluster performance due to the film’s high budget and lukewarm reception.
- The decision to premiere the film at the Cannes Film Festival was misguided, as it didn’t align with the festival’s critical aspirations and received negative reception from critics.
Harrison Ford returning to his iconic role should have been a slam dunk, right? In hindsight, the release of a new Indiana Jones film after 15 years away from the big screen should’ve been welcomed, impactful, and highly regarded. In a cruel twist of fate, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny swung to an underwhelming opening weekend at the box office, grossing a minimal $60 million domestically. Worst of all, many box office predictors foresaw this outcome weeks in advance. The fifth installment of the Indy franchise appeared to be doomed from the start, but how could a series with such strong brand recognition, a legendary star, and a previously established commercial appeal financially falter this greatly?
Archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary artifact that can change the course of history.
- Release Date
- June 30, 2023
- James Mangold
- Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Boyd Holbrook, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
- 142 minutes
- Main Genre
- Adventure, Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, War
- Walt Disney Studios
- Jon Kasdan, Philip Kaufman, David Koepp, George Lucas
Steven Spielberg Almost Directed ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, with the series now owned by Disney as a result of their purchase of Lucasfilm, follows the return of Indiana Jones for one last adventure in a race against time and the Nazis to retrieve a legendary artifact that can alter the course of history, along with the aid of his goddaughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Before any Indy film was ever put on screen, creative heads Steven Spielberg and George Lucas signed a deal in 1979 with original distributor, Paramount Pictures, to make five movies. Until February 2020, Spielberg was set to direct his fifth Indiana Jones movie, now under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy at Lucasfilm. However, the director stepped down to allow a voice of a new generation to interpret Indy. Soon after, James Mangold, whose then-recent film, Ford v Ferrari, was just nominated for Best Picture, was hired to replace Spielberg.
The filming of Dial of Destiny, then untitled, was not the smoothest operation. As with most films at the time, production was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Harrison Ford, who was in his late 70s during filming, suffered a shoulder injury rehearsing a fight scene. Between the scale of production that ranged across various international locations and elaborate visual effects used to de-age Ford in the film’s opening flashback, the budget of Dial of Destiny was reported to be approximately $300 million, which doesn’t include marketing costs.
Disney Was Always at a Disadvantage With ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’
Many box office experts were predicting a lackluster opening weekend for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny relative to its budget and brand recognition. Unfortunately for Disney, the prognosticators saw clearly. The film opened to an abysmal $60 million on its opening weekend domestically on June 30, 2023. In order to merely break even, the film needed to gross at least $600 million worldwide, which it definitely did not. On top of the financial woes, the fifth Indy film, intended to be a send-off to the iconic character, has received lukewarm reviews at best, which may or may not have contributed to the empty seats in theaters.
There was a period from the mid-2010s up until the pandemic where almost every film Disney released to theaters was a guaranteed billion dollars at the global box office. The studio’s greed, represented by their reliance on major blockbusters with increasingly higher budgets with each passing year, is starting to catch up with them. While it is easy to lump Dial of Destiny in with the plethora of underwhelming franchise turnouts at the box office in 2023, including Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Fast X, and The Flash, this could easily be an isolated case, as Disney’s release strategy is worthy of blame.
Premiering ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ at the Cannes Film Festival Was a Mistake
In a very puzzling decision, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2023. The prestigious global film body, which screens movies out of competition for awards, has had its fair share of populous appearances throughout the years, including Top Gun: Maverick last year. Where the smash hit of 2022 had the presence of Tom Cruise lavishing the power of the theatrical experience amid the industry’s state of uncertainty post-pandemic at the festival, Dial of Destiny‘s presence was misguided. Simply put, the film was not made for the target audience, especially of the critical body, of Cannes. Films that are met with critical acclaim at Cannes hold vastly different aspirations than a crowd-pleasing blockbuster in an Indiana Jones movie. Naturally, the critics, who are more inclined to films like previous Palme d’Or (the Best Picture of Cannes) winners The Tree of Life and Parasite, were very sour on Dial of Destiny.
Months before the film even hit theaters, the film was attached with poor word-of-mouth. If anything is to be learned from the public’s relationship with the theater experience post-pandemic, it is that franchise and IP brands are no longer enough to guarantee a profit. Between the high costs of tickets and concessions and the inevitable modern obstacle of more activities to compete against theater-going, audiences are more selective of what movies to commit their time and resources to. While the industry is not entirely at a stage where artistic merit wholly correlates with financial prosperity, recent trends indicate that audiences are beholden to a standard of quality.
What Does ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’s Poor Box Office Performance Say About Hollywood?
Similar to DC’s perceived financial assurance of Michael Keaton‘s return as Batman, Disney miscalculated the strength of the Indiana Jones brand and the character’s viability with a younger audience. The market that was excited to see Indy’s return 15 years ago in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has aged significantly, and their kick for a comeback of the character has already been satisfied. Even though the character was designed to be evergreen, Indiana Jones is pastiche. He lacks a specific hipness with younger audiences and is too old to garner nostalgia from the same group that flocked to see all the Spider-Men return in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Upon release of the 2008 film, the idea of 65-year-old Harrison Ford playing his iconic character was stretching the limits of engagement. Now that the actor is now 80, it is reasonable to be skeptical of his abilities to hold the screen and convincingly sell himself as an octogenarian action star.
In the end, the detailed examination of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny‘s lacking box office performance may be a case of a fraught Monday morning quarterback. Luck and circumstance are critical in the industry, and the film did not have them on its side. The summer of 2023 is a particularly busy and cramped slate of tent-pole franchise releases. Coming off the heels of disappointing critical and commercial turnouts for Elemental and The Flash, Dial of Destiny appears to have suffered the woes of audience burnout surrounding legacy projects and franchise retreads. Perhaps not ideal for the studio and theater exhibitors, but if the film was released in the relatively shallow slate of August, Dial of Destiny would be viewed more fondly.
More than paying tribute to an iconic character or era in film history, the fifth Indiana Jones movie will be remembered as an inflection point in the state of Hollywood. Studios are bound to take notes, as the reasons why Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny fizzled at the box office are not exclusive to this one film, but also the gradual collapse of the franchise/IP-driven system that the industry has relied on this century.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is available to stream on Disney+ in the U.S.