LOS ANGELES — Vampire movies are fading. Tim Burton has taken an odd left turn. “The Avengers” was going to be an unstoppable force no matter what opened against it.
There are no shortage of reasons why “Dark Shadows” sputtered at the box office this past weekend, grossing just $28.8 million. (To put it in context, it was Burton’s lowest total ever for a wide opener — even “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” took in nearly double that amount. Or as my colleague Amy Kaufman put it, chalking up the movie’s failure at least partly to things Marvel, “‘Avengers’ sucked the life out of ‘Dark Shadows’ … (leaving) the vampire comedy looking pallid.”)
Certainly it was hard to ignore the halo effect of the Downey-fest on any weekend comer. But equally conspicuous was the sight of Johnny Depp in yet another domestic disappointment. Since overperforming in “Alice in Wonderland” more than two years ago, Depp has been involved in seemingly one misstep after another.
He signed on to an art-house actioner in “The Tourist,” which flopped at the U.S. box office and became known mostly for its cringe-worthy Golden Globe nomination for best musical or comedy. He followed that up with what appeared to be a reliable breadwinner in a fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie last summer — only to see it become the lowest-grossing domestic performer of the franchise.
A new Hunter S. Thompson stab, “The Rum Diary,” was a flop even by the author’s modest standards, tacking in just $13 million at home.
And now there’s “Dark Shadows,” a dismal movie for reviewers — its 42 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes was 15 percentage points below “Transformers,” to give you an idea — and an equally bad performer by commercial standards. Even “Public Enemies” nearly matched its opening-weekend total.
But Depp isn’t completely faltering. International audiences seem to love him more than ever. Though it flopped here, the most recent “Pirates” was the second-highest-grossing film of the franchise internationally. “The Tourist” was a downright smash overseas, tallying $210 million, three times as much as it grossed at home.
“Dark Shadows” didn’t blow international audiences away when it opened in more than three dozen markets this weekend. But with about $37 million, the remake of the campy American soap has tallied more abroad than it has here.
It may be premature to say that Depp is turning into a kind of Oscar-friendly Steven Seagal, a man more popular overseas than at home. But America certainly seems to have gotten over its obsession with Depp (who now of course spends a lot of time in Paris), an obsession that during his “Edward Scissorhands” / “Gilbert Grape” heyday made him either a box-office force or a teen pinup, or both. At 48, he’s clearly making choices that international audiences are responding to a lot more than American ones.
Next up for Depp is “The Lone Ranger,” which hits theaters in May 2013. It will be the ultimate test of Depp’s appeal. Few stories get more American than that. And Depp has never seemed like less of a U.S. favorite.