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What’s that old saying? You can drag a teenager to watch, but you can’t make him put down his iPhone? Something like that. Teens control the marketplace, due to having so much disposable income, malleable interests, poor quality control and absolutely no worries about the economy because there will be an atomic winter by the time they’re older. It’s that sort of thinking that led Paramount to revive the Jack Ryan brand name with this weekend’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Of course, teens are also fickle, and that means that the film could only muster a weak $18 million over the extended Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
THR has crunched the numbers and revealed some surprising info. 63% of the audience for the film was over 35, a large faction of older filmgoers that usually don’t venture out on opening weekend. Moreover, more than a third of those that took in Shadow Recruit this weekend were over fifty. As far as those fickle teens, only 15% of the crowd was made up of audience members under the age of 25. That means if your usual rowdy Candy Crush-playing, gum-chewing, Molly-popping teenager tried to get a seat before the trailers started, he or she would have been dodging walkers and brushing against varicose veins. That probably significantly affected the film’s disappointing ’B’ Cinemascore rating.
The project seems to have been trouble from the start. It’s been in development for years, switching directors and stars frequently over the years: Sam Raimi was reportedly one of many who turned it down, with his requirement that he work with James Franco in the lead. Multiple title changes also don’t bode well for a film’s approach. At different times, the film was called, simply, Jack Ryan, though it entered development under the title Moscow. Hiring Kenneth Branagh as director ultimately seemed like one of many attempts to borrow from Marvel, as Branagh had delivered Thor to that studio as a blockbuster hit. This template continued by bringing in Kevin Costner (arguably the marquee draw for this audience -- maybe he should have played Ryan) as CIA agent William Harper, who Paramount hinted could have his own movie, while also appearing in a film centered around fellow Tom Clancy creation John Clark. Shades of Nick Fury.
Shadow Recruit was originally intended for a Christmas Day bow, though Paramount soon found themselves choosing The Wolf Of Wall Street in that slot, relegating the hero to a football-heavy weekend in January. And no one has ever really been sold on Chris Pine as a bankable leading man. He guided the Star Trek films to massive success, but the brand is on the marquee, not his name. He added very little to the appeal of Unstoppable with Denzel Washington, and no one was lining up to see him play a regular dude in People Like Us or This Means War.
Ultimately, the Ryan films have a successful cinematic lineage, but it’s a distant one: The Sum of All Fears literally doubled the Shadow Recruit opening almost a dozen years ago, but it’s positively ancient history to the young whippersnappers who would have checked this film out. The Tom Clancy and Jack Ryan names have circulated since then, but as airport novels from an earlier time, and when do these pesky teens have time to read when they’re busy with their Instagramming and Snapchatting? Paramount hopes that internationally the film can over perform, though right now it’s tracking at Jack Reacher levels. At least they still have that AARP audience.