Very few saw The Meg's $44.5 million opening coming. Preliminary estimates pegged the film at an opening closer to $20 million, despite the fact that the film pitching itself to the fan culture that made Sharknado a hit was an obvious key to success. But could it have been a bigger hit in its opening weekend? I certainly think it could have, and it's all down to one particularly big story that's been circulating around the movie over the past week. Director Jon Turteltaub has told folks that there's a bloodier, funnier R-rated cut of The Meg that eventually fell by the wayside, in the name of appealing to a PG-13-sized audience. However, if they'd stayed with that R-rated cut, we might have been looking at a bigger result making the headlines.
With trailers that promised a schlocky, over-the-top experience akin to something you'd see on cable any given weekend, The Meg's PG-13 experience played things too safely. Taking that into account, alongside the self-serious nature The Meg seems to root itself firmly within, it really robbed the film of the sort of movie it's marketing teased it to be. While the finished, theatrical cut of the film has certainly made its fair share of fans (and global dollars), the film's rating does feel like more of a liability than an asset. With all of that in mind, please re-watch the trailer for The Meg that sold us all on the prospect of a big-budget shark fest of carnage, and try to imagine what this would have looked like as an R-rated film.
That trailer promises an all out entertainment experience, with tons of bite and humor. Fine. However, take that version of The Meg and remove the constraints on gore and excitement that a PG-13 blockbuster is usually saddled with. You're left with an uninhibited cut that might deliver a ballsier experience that really goes to the proper extremes a movie such as this requires in order to be truly entertaining. If you're going to make a movie that knowingly wades into the waters of stupid fun, you really do need it to be fun. In the case of The Meg's PG-13 cut, it doesn't go hard enough (in this writer's opinion). And that's not a sentiment that I'm alone in sharing.
Besides Jon Turteltaub's remarks on how an R-rated cut would have been different, we've also got Jason Statham championing the original, more hardcore version of The Meg he supposedly signed on for. Sure, other critics had similar remarks about how this film had a problem with the tone it was trying to nail. That was bound to happen, as this movie had "made for the fans" written all over it. But after hearing The Transporter himself playing up the "radically different" version that was shaped into The Meg's final product, it's truly hard not to want to see this version he's talking up with our own eyes.
If it sold Statham on the project's initial intent, and if director Jon Turteltaub had that much gleeful fun initially creating the film in that image, then why didn't Warner Bros totally steer into that sort of madness? That strategy certainly worked back in 2006, when New Line Cinema released Snakes on a Plane. That film once tried to change its title to something totally different and more serious, prompting star Samuel L. Jackson to reject that move with all the power in his contract. Made for $33 million, the film was memed and talked up all across the internet, turning a simple concept and a ridiculous title into a fan driven, R-rated $62 million hit. For comparison, The Meg was made for $130 million, and has raked in $146 million worldwide through its opening weekend, with some saying that $400 million is the high water mark for the film to break even.
Still, The Meg did overperform domestically this weekend, so in the moment, it can be considered a victory. That said, for the film to truly be a success that breaks even, it's going to have to keep chugging along, chumming the waters for audiences hungry for that last thrill of summer. What better way to make sure the film breaks even than completing an R-rated "Megtactular" cut that could either be re-released to theatrical distributors, or promised to fans who really want to relive the magic on the eventual home video release of the film. Naturally, that'll depend on whether or not Warner Bros believes it's worth the money to finish the sequences dropped in the name of a PG-13 rating. But if they'd kept those sequences in the first place, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Instead, we might have been talking about how The Meg set a new box office record for an August opening weekend. At this point, we'll never know; however if you're curious to see how The Meg turned out in PG-13-O-Vision, you can see the film in theaters now.