Maybe Seth MacFarlane is better heard, not seen.
The "Family Guy" creator's R-rated Western comedy "A Million Ways to Die in the West" disappointed at the box office, grossing $17.1 million through Sunday domestically and thus missing opening weekend expectations of $20 million to $25 million.
That was about a quarter of the three-day haul from the weekend's No. 1 movie, Disney's revisionist fairy-tale "Maleficent," starring Angelina Jolie, which grossed $70 million. It also fell well below MacFarlane's first big-screen directing effort, the 2012 stuffed-animal-comes-to-life hit "Ted," which opened to $54.4 million.
No one expected "A Million Ways," about a craven farmer who faces a fearsome gunslinger, to match "Ted." But distributor Universal Pictures put a lot of money in marketing the movie and created plenty of pre-release awareness. And with the gold rush for Universal's "Neighbors," the studio has proved there's an appetite for R-rated movies with gross-out gags.
Here are some possible reasons for why "Million Ways to Die" didn't hit its box-office target.
Seth MacFarlane as leading man? He is undeniably a comedy force, but he's not Mark Wahlberg. There's no doubt that "Ted" bringing on the movie star as the human counterpart increased the chances that the badly behaved teddy bear voiced by MacFarlane would click with viewers. For "A Million Ways," MacFarlane put himself, in the flesh, in front of the camera, and this may have limited its draw.
MacFarlane has had plenty of success with cartoon voice-overs, but the last time many Americans saw his face was when he was hosting of the Oscars and singing "We Saw Your Boobs."
Few yee-haws from critics. Critics generally disliked it, and that could have contributed to the misfire. "A Million Ways to Die" holds a 33% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with many critics making unfavorable comparisons to Mel Brooks' classic Western send-up "Blazing Saddles." Moviegoers gave it a grade of B, indicating that word-of-mouth could be limited.
Westerns are box-office roulette. The Western may be the quintessential American genre, but its box-office pull has declined in recent years. On the one hand, Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" was a huge hit in 2012 and the Coen brothers' "True Grit" remake did strong business in the U.S. But the category contributed one of last year's most notorious flops ("The Lone Ranger") and in 2011 saw the disappointment of "Cowboys & Aliens."
Didn't die young. "Ted" and "Neighbors" had something in common: They skewed young. "Neighbors," with the help of Zac Efron, generated about 47% of its opening weekend ticket sales from people under 25. Just 28% of the audience for "A Million Ways" was in that bracket. In the glass-half-full scenario, older moviegoers tend to see theatrical releases after the opening weekend, extending the life span of some movies. But it appears the audience was simply more interested in "X-Men."
Killer competition. There was plenty else to choose from this weekend besides a dirty Western. "Maleficent" bewitched the box office, and there's still "X-Men: Days of Future Past" in second place and Warner Bros.' "Godzilla" in fourth. The bright side for "A Million Ways" is that it wasn't expensive. It cost just $40 million to make.