If high-flying Universal was due for a box-office fall, the cosmos seriously overdelivered with "R.I.P.D" -- the Ryan Reynolds-Jeff Bridges action movie well on its way to becoming the biggest flop of summer.
Analysts are projecting a three-day total of less than $15 million for the supernatural tale, in which Reynolds and Bridges play ghost cops from the Rest In Peace Department.
That's an unmitigated financial disaster for a film that the studio says cost $130 million to make, and rivals say was even pricier. Competition include Friday openers "The Conjuring" from Warner Bros., Summit's action comedy "Red 2," and the DreamWorks Animation family film "Turbo," which debuts Wednesday.
It will be the first major misfire in a long time for Universal, which has been on a tear. Six of its seven releases this year have debuted at No. 1, led by summer hits "Fast & Furious 6" and "Despicable Me 2," a repeat winner at the box office last weekend. (The 3D release of "Jurassic Park" opened at No. 4 in April).
"Given their year, Universal was probably due for something like this," Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock. "But it's a whopper. We could be talking 'Jonah Hex' territory here."
That was the 2010 action fantasy Western based on the D.C. Comics character of the same name that ranks as one of the worst wide openings ever. It opened to $5.3 million and topped out at just under $11 million for Warner Bros. and was never released internationally.
"R.I.P.D." is similarly based on a comic book, Peter M. Lenkov's "Rest in Peace Department," published by Dark Horse Entertainment.
In it, after Detective Nick Walker (Reynolds) is killed by accident, he is recruited into the Rest In Peace Department and partnered with veteran officer Roy Pulsipher (Bridges). The dead police officers are tasked with protecting the living from bloodthirsty evil spirits who refuse to move into the afterlife.
Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker co-star in the film, which is directed by Robert Schwentke ("Red"). There are six credited writers on "R.I.P.D." – never a good sign.
The critics haven't weighed in yet because Universal has mainly skipped early screenings and will show it to reviewers on Wednesday and Thursday nights, just before its debut. That's also not a good sign.
It appears the studio has already begun the process of moving on from "R.I.P.D.," which was shifted from its original June release date. There's currently more promo material and advertising visible on "Two Guns," Universal's Mark Wahlberg-Denzel Washington action film that opens Aug. 2, than there is for "R.I.P.D."
"R.I.P.D." will be the latest in a string of big-budget flops over the past three weeks, which have been caused in part by the historically crowded summer, which will see the studios roll out 20 films with production budgets of more than $100 million.
Guillermo del Toro's $180 million "Pacific Rim" underwhelmed last weekend, and that came on the heels of the previous weekend's disappointing debut of Disney's $225 million "Lone Ranger." The $150 million "White House Down" misfired for Sony the week before that, and that studio's $130 million sci-fi thriller "After Earth" tanked in May.
Unlike several of those films, however, "R.I.P.D." could have trouble recouping much of its costs overseas. It's an original concept and neither Reynolds nor Bridges has much box-office clout abroad. The studio will open it in about 10 foreign markets this weekend, then gradually roll it out over the next couple of months overseas.
Despite all the duds, the overall domestic box office remains healthy, and summer is running about 13 percent ahead of 2012. May and June were record-breaking months, but July won't come close to matching last year's, when "Dark Knight Rises" drove major business.