Why The BFG Failed At The Box Office
As pointed out in a 2016 box office report in Forbes, Steven Spielberg was in a similar spot with “The BFG” as he’d been with his animated film “The Adventures of Tintin” five years prior. The “Tintin” comic book, by Belgian author Hergé, were far better known throughout Europe than in the United States, where mention of the character invited only indifference stateside. “Tintin” made only $9.7 million over its opening weekend in the U.S., eventually grossing a mere $77 million domestically. This was against a budget of $135 million. Worldwide, however, “Tintin” earned about $374 million, so it can most certainly be considered a hit.
Roald Dahl is a British author, and while several of his books have been adapted into successful U.S. movies — “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Witches,” “Matilda,” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” are all of note — there was something about the film of “The BFG” that was perhaps too aggressively English for mainstream U.S. audiences. That the film climaxes with a dinner with Queen Elizabeth is certainly notable. Perhaps U.S. audiences would have preferred a White House dinner with Ronald Reagan? Oof. Never mind.
Spielberg had directed bombs before “The BFG,” but they seem to be getting more common as the landscape changes. Prior to “The BFG,” the filmmaker’s most notable financial flops were “Munich,” “Always,” “1941,” and “Amistad,” each of which merely broke even. Since “The BFG,” however, most of Spielberg’s movies have accrued awards attention, yet earned little scratch. “The Fabelmans” only made $39.8 million overall. “West Side Story” made $74.8 million on a $100 million budget. Films like “The Post,” “Bridge of Spies,” and even “Ready Player One” were bigger overseas.
Perhaps, at the end of the day, “The BFG” was merely too European.