‘Pan’: The Great PG Revolution is not off to a great start


This summer, with the success of movies like “Cinderella” in the bag, we wondered if the PG rating had been unfairly maligned and asked if perhaps studios would be wise to take another look at the live-action all-ages adventure. Said studios were already on their way to testing the hypothesis, with a trio of such movies set for release within a few early fall weeks.

Two of those experiments are now underway, and the results aren’t exactly encouraging. This weekend saw the big-budget spectacle of “Pan” open--and promptly draw dismal numbers. The Peter Pan origin story took in just $15.5 million, arriving in third place behind a pair of holdovers.


Box office results: In the Oct. 12 Calendar section, an article about the box office leaders for movies said that “The Martian” had already made back its production budget. It has not. —

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Meanwhile, “The Walk,” Robert Zemeckis’ visually ambitious look at wire-walker Philippe Petit, widened to more than 2,500 theaters after a limited release two weeks ago. Its numbers were also pretty wan--just $3.65 million, a lowly seventh on the weekend box office list.

Sony, which released “The Walk,” can ride good word-of-mouth in the weeks ahead, but it will have to overcome some daunting precedents to have a hit. The movie’s numbers this weekend have another No. 7 ranking associated with them--the seventh-worst total in the modern era for any film opening in 2,500-3,000 theaters. (None of the six ahead of it or the 43 below it, incidentally, got close to a $50 million total when all was said and done.)

Helping Sony’s bottom line is that “The Walk” cost only $35 million, barely a fifth of “Pan.” Still, neither result bodes well for a renaissance of the all-ages PG adventure.

The reason studios had stopped making these movies in recent years, turning instead to the more violent PG-13 precincts of a “Hunger Games” or “Avengers,” is that the all-important older teenage demographic turned out in droves to see those movies while turning away from PG.

The thinking with movies like “Walk” and “Pan” has been that kids are a pretty important box-office constituency too, especially for a movie their parents are happy to come along for (see under: all the Pixar successes over the years). The Steven Spielberg/Amblin movies of decades ago became not just aesthetic influence but economic rationale for bringing these movies back. This weekend, though, shows that the rationale wasn’t so sound. (Tellingly, “Pan” was bested by an animated movie and a PG-13 release.)

Two underperformers does not a trend make, and observers would be wise to note that the quality of the film has as much to do with a film’s performance as its rating does.


Yet PG is undoubtedly a tougher target to hit, in turn requiring the movie to be that much better than a PG-13 film if it’s to succeed financially. Having a road clear of kid-friendly PG-13 movies doesn’t hurt either‎, and “The Martian” -- a PG-13 movie that fits just that description -- is sitting right on that road for both “Pan” and “Walk.” Meanwhile, Spielberg himself has lately moved on to upscale films for adults (he’ll have another when “Bridge of Spies” opens in a few days).

The PG will get another shot this weekend when “Goosebumps,” based on R.L. Stine’s ‘90s phenomenon, hits theaters. It’s the latest attempt to breathe life into the PG adventure. Given studios’ past skittishness, its condition is critical.