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'Focus' continues Will Smith's trend of box office disappointments

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Will Smith and Margot Robbie star in the heist drama "Focus," which had a soft opening at the box office.
Frank Masi/Warner Bros.
Will Smith and Margot Robbie star in the heist drama "Focus," which had a soft opening at the box office.

The actor’s latest film continues a string of poor performances at the box office. Could this be the end of his reliability to bring audiences to the theater?

Will Smith’s latest film, "Focus," debuted at number one at the box office this weekend, yet it only grossed $18.7 million. That’s significantly less than Smith’s expensive 2013 flop,  “After Earth," which opened to $27.5 million and grossed just over $60 million domestically.

"Focus" stars Smith as a veteran con-man whose grand plans run awry when he gets in too deep with an amateur con artist played by Margot Robbie.

Still, the poor debut of “Focus” — which some experts predicted would debut to as much as $22 million — might mark the continuing box office decline for the actor, who previously was one of Hollywood’s most bankable names.

Brent Lang, Senior Film and Media Reporter at, spoke with The Frame today about the decline of star power and whether the weather was partly to blame for the low opening of "Focus."

Interview Highlights:

Relative to a budget of $50 million, $18.7 million is not a disastrous opening, but when you compare that to Smith's star value, how do you rank it?

It's certainly a soft opening. I agree that it's not a disaster, but it's a disappointment for Smith, who was looking for some sort of demonstration of his star power, particularly after "After Earth" crashed and burned in this country a couple years ago.

I heard that Warner Brothers, the studio behind the film, blamed cold weather or snow in some parts of the country. Does that feel legitimate, or is there some other thing that's going on here?

They might be correct in that you could have maybe shaved about a million dollars off the box office, given the bad weather in the south and in the midwest. However, that cuts both ways, and it's not as if there's been great weather in large parts of the northeast over the last few months, [when] films like "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "The Spongebob Movie" have done great box office. So it's not as if nobody's going out and seeing films.

Maybe Will Smith's fans are just afraid of cold weather?

[laughs] It could be true.

But let's put this in context: over the last 15 years, Will Smith has probably been the most bankable star in Hollywood. Is this just a sign of changing times, or did he make some bad choices in terms of movies?

I'm not particularly sure that this is all Will Smith's fault. You could make an argument that he stayed away from the screen too long at certain points. There was about a four-year gap between "Hancock" and "Seven Pounds" [in 2008] and "Men In Black 3," and that's an eternity in Hollywood. However, in that time what drives people to go out of their homes and go to the movies changed somewhat, and I think star power has diminished overall. A lot of films that rely on that kind of "face on the poster" marketing just aren't driving people to the theaters at the same levels that "Fifty Shades of Grey" or "The Hobbit" are able to.

Meaning that it's the concept, not the star, that's driving people to theaters. And even though we don't know what the foreign numbers are going to be for "Focus," in the past he's been one of the rare African American actors who is as popular, if not more popular, overseas than he is in the United States. "After Earth" did only $60 million domestically but it did almost $200 million overseas. So a large part of the "Focus" story is not yet told. Is that fair?

Yeah, I think that's fair. I'm hearing from insiders that break-even for "Focus" is about $125 million, so it's possible that it could make its money back, and even potentially make some money for the studio.

If you're a producer with a Will Smith movie in the works — there's another "Bad Boys" film coming out, and he's also slated to be in "Suicide Squad" — would you be a little bit nervous? Would you start worrying that he's no longer a guaranteed draw?

Those films that you just mentioned are interesting because they show that Smith's team is somewhat concerned that he's not a big enough draw to open original concepts. "Suicide Squad," a comic book movie, shows that he's looking to connect with a younger generation of moviegoers. His biggest test will probably be ["Concussion"], a football drama that he has at Sony Pictures and that's slated to come out next winter.

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