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'The Fall Guy' Is This Year's 'Dungeons and Dragons'

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 6, 2024 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 6, 2024 |


Last year at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, a few friends dragged me kicking and screaming into the world premiere of Chris Pine’s Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. I am not a person who cares about Dungeons and Dragons — either the game or the genre of film in which it belongs — but I fell in love with the movie. It’s one of my favorite types of movies to see in theaters: Raucous, funny, well-executed action flicks with a couple of fun cameos, a little romance, and a few winks toward the audience. I liked it so much that when it was released wide, I forced my family to see it in theaters, despite all of their protestations. They were wildly skeptical. It was one of the best times we’ve ever had in a theater as a family.

Dungeons and Dragons earned $37 million in its opening weekend on the way to a disappointing $93 million domestic box office on a budget of $150 million. It was a box-office dud, but one that did eventually find an adoring audience from home viewers, so much so that there has been real interest in a sequel (that will almost certainly never happen).

Likewise, this weekend’s The Fall Guy has unfortunately followed a similar trajectory. It had a boisterous reception at SXSW, great reviews (87 percent on RT), fantastic cameos, big stars, lots of winks, and a similar budget. I assumed going in that this one would be great — Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, David Leitch — and dragged my family along, again against their will. Like Dungeouns, it is a blast, and quite possibly the most fun I will have in theaters this year. I am not the only critic who has said as much, and audiences are likewise enthralled (87 percent audience score).

It opened to only $27.5 million, and it will be lucky to earn $100 million domestically. However, I can almost guarantee that it will find a large and adoring audience of home viewers.

The question, however, is why the blockbuster masses aren’t showing up for a near-perfect blockbuster film. It’s not an overall lack of interest in moviegoing — Super Mario Bros. came out the weekend after Dungeons and Dragons was released and earned $1.35 billion. I think the key in both cases is in the hesitation of my family to watch the movies: The IP is working against them.

It didn’t matter how broadly funny and mainstream accessible Dungeous and Dragons was, or how big the stars, and it didn’t matter either that knowledge of the role-playing game was unnecessary. People — like those in my family, one of whom even plays D&D — had an idea about what a Dungeons and Dragons movie might look like, and they weren’t interested. No amount of marketing, positive reviews, late-night talk show interviews, or magazine profiles was going to change that perception. The only way to change that perception was to watch the film itself, and most people waited until it was free to do so on streaming.

My family was equally disinterested in The Fall Guy, despite the presence of Ken from Barbie and Mary Poppins from that mid sequel. The Fall Guy is based on an early ’80s TV series no one under 40 has heard of and that most people over the age of 40 had no interest in. The studios are so hellbent on making IP-based movies that they don’t stop and consider the damaging effects that IP has on audience interest.

It didn’t matter that no knowledge of the TV series was necessary — there are a couple of meaningless show-related cameos, and Ryan Gosling shares the same character name as Lee Majors in the TV series, and that’s about it — the connection to an old and mostly forgotten TV show doomed it from the beginning. That IP was not only unnecessary, it hurt the film. They could have called it almost anything else — Stunt Guy, Bang Bang Kiss the Nice Guys, Colt, Ryan and Emily Make an Action Movie, Barrel Roll, etc. — and it would have performed better than The Fall Guy.

It’s a shame, too, because The Fall Guy is the kind of blockbuster action film we used to get before the superheroes invaded the box office. The action sequences are eye-popping, the chemistry between Gosling and Blunt is crackling, the jokes are clever, and the plot is meaningless. The plot exists only to set up epic action scenes and the clever banter between Gosling’s stunt-man character and the director of the movie (played by Blunt). Aaron-Taylor Johnson and the best and yet most insulting McConaughey impression I’ve ever heard are also along for the ride, as well as a producer, played by Hannah Waddingham, and a stunt coordinator, played by Winston Duke.

I wish I could convince more people to see it because I can’t imagine anyone leaving the theater unhappy, but I also know how much effort it took to coax my family into coming along with me. The cost to attend a movie these days ($86 for my family of five, before concessions) is such that moviegoers want assurances that they’re going to have a good time before they splurge. I get it. I go to the movies 40-45 times a year, but I only take my entire family three or four times, and only when I know that it’s worth the expense. A movie based on a 1980s TV series most people have forgotten or never heard of does not sound like a safe bet, and that IP overshadows everything else that’s great about it: A funny, action-packed, romantic blockbuster from the guy behind John Wick that’s not only a love letter to stunt performers but very likely the first film to ever get an Academy Award for stuntwork.

You may not believe me now, but you’ll wish you’d seen it in theaters in two months when you watch it on Peacock.