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Critics pan sci-fi film 'Passengers': Can JLaw and Chris Pratt save the box office?

The movie 'Passengers,' which stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, was seen as a blockbuster hopeful, partly because of the box office draw of its two stars. Yet the film has now received very poor reviews. Will moviegoers stay away?

'Passengers' stars Jennifer Lawrence (l.) and Chris Pratt (r.).
Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures/Sony/AP
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Many critics say moviegoers should avoid hitching a ride with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in the sci-fi film “Passengers.”

But with Pratt and Lawrence’s statuses as two of the most successful movie stars currently working, will audiences still turn up, or will the bad reviews keep them away?

“Passengers” is about two people traveling on a spaceship whose inhabitants have been put to sleep for the journey to a new planet. Jim (Pratt) and Aurora (Lawrence) wake up 90 years before the ship has reached its destination – and start to fall in love. 

The film will be released Wednesday, Dec. 21. Yet many critics have already weighed in and reviews have not been positive, with the movie currently holding a low, 33-percent rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes.

Today, Hollywood blockbusters are mostly planned around characters or familiar concepts (Batman, Star Wars, Fast & Furious, etc.) rather than the actors starring in them.

"Once upon a time, it didn't matter if it was a Western or an adventure or a comedy," Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University's Newhouse School, told The Christian Science Monitor earlier this year. "People went to see actors. And I don't think that's changed. People still have their favorite actors. But I think the strongest brands in Hollywood are now characters and franchises." 

Star power along is no longer enough for savvy audiences. "There's obviously fan bases for everybody, but to competitively open a big weekend movie exclusively based on, you know, the star's name, I think is less common than it used to be,” Professor Thompson said. 

However, “Passengers” was seen as a possible blockbuster because of the popularity of Pratt and Lawrence. Pratt has now starred in two big blockbusters, 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and 2015’s “Jurassic World.” Lawrence is known for not only the “Hunger Games” franchise but hits like the Oscar-nominated movies “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” 

In fact, Thompson named Lawrence as a possible exception to the rule that an actor can’t draw an audience based on name alone. 

And expectations for “Passengers” was high, largely based on the casting. “Sony’s sci-fi romance thriller ‘Passengers’ starring Lawrence and Chris Pratt is expected to be a great match between stars and genre, continuing the box office streak of thinking-man sci-fi pics,” Deadline writer Anthony D’Alessandro wrote. 

But will the plethora of poor reviews now make moviegoers stay away? 

Just last week, bad reviews arguably scuttled a film starring an actor once seen as one of the biggest box office draws around. “Collateral Beauty,” which stars Will Smith as a man struggling with grief, also features a marquee cast of top-notch actors, including Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Keira Knightley. Yet the film opened last weekend in fourth place, taking in just $7 million domestically. 

Variety writer Brent Lang noted the poor notices that the movie received in discussing the film’s slow opening weekend. 

“The drama about a grieving ad executive (Will Smith) was savaged by critics and only managed to eke out a paltry $7 million debut for a fourth-place finish,” Mr. Lang wrote. “That’s a rough start for the picture and continues Smith’s bumpy period at the box office.” 

The bad reviews for “Passengers” could take the film down the same path as “Collateral Beauty.” Or perhaps Pratt and Lawrence will be enough to pull in a significant audiences despite the thumbs down by many professional film critics.