at the box office

Jackass Forever Donkey-Kicked Moonfall, But They Didn’t Need to Compete

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate

The movies arrived in wide release this weekend, a kind of box-office David versus Hollywood Goliath, in what amounts to the first showdown of 2022. On one side: Jackass Forever, an extravaganza of bro-y stunt stupidity, ritual humiliation, and male-genital torture which cost a mere $10 million to produce. In the other corner: Moonfall, master mass-destruction director Roland Emmerich’s $150 million disaster-thriller, which is plotted around impending lunar collision and features such CGI-intensive armageddon spectacles as “gravity wave” super-tsunamis, skyscrapers cracking like Legos, and the Earth being shellacked by flaming moon rocks.

But the fourth installment of MTV Films’ Jackass franchise turned out to be the giant-killer, with Forever handily surpassing pre-release financial expectation to take in $23.5 million over its debut. The Johnny Knoxville docu-stunt-comedy drubbed Lionsgate Films’ exponentially bigger-budgeted Moonfall, which came crashing to Earth with just $10 million in ticket sales. (Although you could reasonably argue that Jackass also stands as Goliath IP: Every previous franchise entry also topped the box office upon its debut going back to 2002.)

“Johnny, Steve-O, and the crew have been very successful at cultivating an audience and building a brand — having an expectation around that brand and delivering on it,” says Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for Jackass’ studio distributor Paramount. He adds that the majority of Forever’s opening-weekend audience skewed older than expected, with 67 percent of those in attendance between the ages of 18 and 35.

While that underdog narrative has resulted in no shortage of punny headlines — “Jackass Forever Kicks February Off With a Bang,” “Jackass Forever Eclipsing Moonfall,” etc. — some industry observers have been left to ponder why. In an era of financial free fall for the theatrical-movie-exhibition industry, decimated by COVID disruptions and streaming ascendancy, why were the two titles forced to face off against one another at all? “There should never be a showdown in this marketplace, not of this magnitude,” says Jeff Bock, senior media analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “We had two weeks prior to this that had zero wide releases from studios. There was plenty of time to move one of these films. This is just a case where Lionsgate and Paramount both stuck on that date. Nobody budged. And both films would have benefitted had one of them moved off of it.”

The obvious spot to have shifted one or the other movie would have been January 28, the date vacated by the Jared Leto–starring Spider-Man Cinematic Universe entry Morbius, which was transferred into an April 1 release corridor by its distributor Sony last month on the heels of a spike in Omicron infection rates. But both Lionsgate and Paramount had their respective reasons for sticking to schedule.

Paramount, for its part, had carved out a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday-weekend rollout for its Scream reboot — the self-aware slasher film wound up tallying a robust $34 million over its opening four days — and wanted to put some room between that film and Jackass Forever so as to not cannibalize ticket sales. Lionsgate, meanwhile, had booked Moonfall into IMAX theaters long before Jackass moved onto the same drop date (due to COVID chaos, the Knoxville film had hopscotched from March 2021 to July 2021 to September 2021 to October 2021 before finally landing on February 4). The studio knew that impending February titles Death on the Nile and Uncharted were also destined for IMAX and their respective distributors were unlikely to accommodate any release-date switcheroos. Moreover, Lionsgate could not help but realize that NFL conference championship games on January 30 would siphon away male audience share if it repositioned Moonfall in the Morbius date. (Likewise, the Super Bowl on February 13.) So the studio’s best worst option could only be a Jackass face-off. (Lionsgate declined to comment for this article.)

Further contributing to Moonfall’s disastrous North American box-office showing: The film’s Canadian co-distributor, Mongrel Media, canceled its Great White North release earlier this month due to recent theater closures in that country and continuing coronavirus-related vagaries that limit auditorium capacity to 50 percent. But the film’s budget was cobbled together from a patchwork of independent backers, and its main financier was the Chinese entertainment conglomerate Huayi Brothers. And according to studio insiders, the film will ultimately be profitable for Lionsgate.

As Bock sees it, however, studios have no choice but to cooperate — out of mutual self-interest if not mutual admiration. By coordinating movie release dates and minimizing competition, the Hollywood version of lions lying down with lambs, they can help keep the exhibition industry afloat in its direst time of need. “It’s just a failure by the entire system to release both of these pretty big movies on the same weekend,” the analyst says. “Theatrical [moviegoing] is really dying on the vine right now and they need new content every week. I know the studios are all used to playing separately. But they really need to work together if theatrical is going to stay alive over the next decade. They need to start playing the game together.”

Jackass Forever Donkey-Kicked Moonfall