Why did A Wrinkle in Time perform so poorly at the UK box office?

A Wrinkle in Time initially seemed like a surefire box office hit.

It is a Disney movie directed by Ava DuVernay and starring the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Chris Pine. Seemed like the recipe for success on paper.

However, it failed to reach the number one spot in the U.S. and it didn’t even make the top five following its release in the U.K. on Friday.

It came in sixth place with takings of less than a million, behind The Greatest Showman which has been in cinemas since December. Ouch.

So what happened? Why did A Wrinkle in Time suffer at the box office?

The source material 

Madeleine L’Engle‘s book is something of a library staple in the US but it isn’t so popular over here.

I don’t know many people that have read it or were even aware of the book before this project was announced.

Compare this to Peter Rabbit, a very well-known and beloved Beatrix Potter story that appeals to a broad spectrum of viewers, young and old, thanks to their love and nostalgia for the source material.

So it’s no surprise that Peter Rabbit has topped the UK box office for the past two weekends.

Too ambitious and complex

L’Engle’s book has previously described as unfilmable and it’s easy to see why.

The film follows Meg Murry (Storm Reid) as she travels through space and time with her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and friend Calvin (Levi Miller) to find her scientist dad with the help of Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Winfrey).

They hop around different dimensions which are beautifully realised but the science side is quite complicated. What is a tesseract? How does it work?

These ambitious concepts weren’t explained all that well, making it hard to follow, and I’m speaking as someone who has read the book.

It was a bit too weird and wonderful for audiences to emotionally invest in the story and its characters.

The timing

A family movie such as this should have been released this week, just before Easter weekend and the school holidays, when it’s likely to get more business.

It could very well take more money next week because of this.

The mixed reviews 

A Wrinkle in Time received mixed/average reviews from the critics, and while those don’t always effect box office takings (The Greatest Showman), it can have a serious impact for something like this that doesn’t have a guaranteed audience.

The competition

Perhaps if it had been released at a different time of the year it would have fared better but it came out in period that is crowded with other family friendly movies.

Besides the aforementioned Peter Rabbit, which has a ready-made audience, they also had competition from Black Panther, which is continuing to do big business, Tomb Raider, a fun adventure movie, again with an obvious market (Lara Croft fans) and The Greatest Showman, which has been entertaining viewers of all ages for months and shows no signs of stopping.

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