The Cats Movie Had A Brutal Box Office Opening, Can Anything Save It Now?

Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella in the Cats movie
(Image credit: Universal)

It's easy to crap on the Cats movie, and enough people have done so to fill many litter boxes. But the movie itself just didn't fill seats in its opening weekend. Worse, it does not seem poised to leg out like The Greatest Showman musical, which opened in December 2017 against a Star Wars movie and a Jumanji movie, just like the Cats musical in December 2019.

Hugh Jackman's movie had great word-of-mouth to save it. The star-studded Cats has some so-bad-it's-good word-of-mouth going on, but its potential as a cult classic probably won't help it make money in its run through early 2020.

A couple of months ago, Cats was projected to make anywhere from $10-$20 million at the domestic box office in its opening weekend of December 20-22. That didn't happen. According to The Numbers, Cats opened to $6.5 million across 3,380 domestic theaters, for a per-screen average of $1,923. That's not good. Sure, it's unfair to compare it to Star Wars, with its $175.5 million domestic opening and $39,832 per-screen average. But Cats also just disappointed on an apples-to-apples level.

Cats was always going to struggle in its holiday opening, but box office prognosticators thought it would be fine if it legged out like musicals can.

But while The Greateast Showman, for example, only made $8.8 million in its opening weekend in 2017, it had an A CinemaScore from moviegoers polled on opening night, an 86% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 7.6 rating on IMDb. That helped it overcome meh reviews (56% on RT) and keep crushing to a $434.9 million win worldwide, per Box Office Mojo.

Cats, on the other hand, has a C+ CinemaScore from polled moviegoers. It does have a 63% audience score, which isn't bad, but only from 859 verified ratings. IMDb users really went to town on it, giving it a 2.7/10 rating from 3,652 users. RT critics were also harsh with a 19% rating.

According to THR, Cats cost $100 million to make, not including marketing costs. Also presumably not including the last-minute VFX work and cost of shipping new updated versions of the movie to theaters after it already opened. That was almost unheard of, but there you go.

Cats had a $6.5 million domestic opening and so far only $4.4 million internationally, although those international numbers may be updated later on Sunday. As of December 22 morning, Cats is sitting at a total of $10.9 million worldwide. It's going to need a lot of help to come close to making a profit.

Maybe it will find a new audience during the holidays or in the new year. Maybe the A-list cast can get the word out in a positive way. Maybe the soundtrack will take off and bring even more people to the movie. Maybe international audiences will take to it in surprising ways, like Japan went absolutely nuts for Bohemian Rhapsody. The world is a strange place and anything can happen.

As we wait to see how Cats fares long-term, and if it changes any plans for future musicals, keep up with everything heading to the big screen next year with our 2020 movie release date schedule.

Gina Carbone

Gina grew up in Massachusetts and California in her own version of The Parent Trap. She went to three different middle schools, four high schools, and three universities -- including half a year in Perth, Western Australia. She currently lives in a small town in Maine, the kind Stephen King regularly sets terrible things in, so this may be the last you hear from her.