To a startling degree, audiences either rejected or were indifferent to MacGruber, the latest Saturday Night Live adaptation. Despite a boatload of promotion (particularly on SNL home NBC), MacGruber mustered just $4 million on its opening weekend at 2,551 theaters.
MacGruber's start ranks as the worst-to-date for 2010 among 1,000-theater-plus launches. It's also the ninth worst start ever for a picture playing at more than 2,500 sites. The news is even worse in terms of estimated attendance. On that front, MacGruber had the third poorest 2,500-plus site debut, behind only The Rocker and Lucky You.
The key reason for MacGruber's failure may have been an inability to transcend the rote one-joke nature of its source material. Like most recurring SNL sketches, the show's MacGruber interstitials repeat the same gag of the MacGyver-like main character being distracted from defusing a bomb that's about to explode over and over again. People who have been exposed to it for free got the joke long ago, and the movie's marketing did little to attract the uninitiated, presenting random, generic action spoof scenes instead. The hope may have been for the next Austin Powers, but MacGruber's spoof subject, MacGyver, was too limited and not popular enough to break out (similar to what happened with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story).
As dreadful as MacGruber's opening was, Saturday Night Live has seen worse. The brand was so weak that MacGruber was its first movie since 2000, when The Ladies Man struck out with just $13.6 million in its entire run. The nadir of the franchise came in the mid-1990s with the back-to-back flops of It's Pat and Stuart Saves His Family. Both only mustered limited releases, but performed relatively worse than MacGruber. Released in Aug. 1994, It's Pat grossed just $60,822 in its entire run at 33 sites, while Stuart Saves His Family managed a mere $912,082 at 400 sites in its April 1995 release.
Saturday Night Live had a promising box office start with its first adaptation, The Blues Brothers in 1980. It pulled in $57.2 million or the equivalent of around $170 million adjusted for ticket price inflation, and it was the tenth highest-grossing movie of 1980. It took nearly 12 years for the next SNL movie, and it would be the franchise's peak. Released in Feb. 1992, Wayne's World rocked the box office with a $121.7 million haul or the equivalent of around $235 million today, ranking eighth for the year.
Both Blues Brothers and Wayne's World debuted amidst high points of cultural relevance or perceived quality for Saturday Night Live. Unlike most future SNL movies, both Blues Brothers and Wayne's World also were musically-oriented: Blue Brothers was a veritable musical revue, while Wayne's World struck a chord with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" among other tunes. Wayne's World also had the goofy-but-relatable buddy comedy angle going for it.
The third SNL adaptation, Coneheads, came more than a decade after it was a regular sketch on the show and suffered for it, notching $21.3 million in its entire run in 1993 (and is probably best known for the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Soul to Squeeze"). Wayne's World 2 followed but the moment had passed and it went the way of most comedy sequels, generating a fraction of the business of its predecessor ($48.2 million). Another sequel, Blues Brothers 2000, arrived way too late in 1998 and tanked with a $14.1 million total. The brand attempted a mini-resurgence starting with A Night at the Roxbury in Oct. 1998, grossing a decent $30.3 million. Superstar was released in Oct. 1999 and also had a decent run, making $30.6 million. But any momentum stalled with The Ladies Man in Oct. 2000.
All told, the ten Saturday Night Live movies prior to MacGruber have grossed $338 million or the equivalent of over $680 million adjusted.
While a number of Saturday Night Live cast members have gone on to have successful movie careers (Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, etc.), the actual sketches and characters have not been nearly as successful theatrically. It's partly inherent in the threadbare nature of sketch comedy, but SNL has been known to run recurring jokes into the ground and has carried that lack of inspiration into the movies and the marketing, leading to a brand that currently has very little bankability beyond free venues like network television and the internet.