This is going to get a fatwa upon my head from the browncoats, but Serenity‘s $10.1 million opening weekend is really not good at all. Unless the movie manages a truly heroic box office retention rate over the second weekend, which seems fairly unlikely, I’m guessing Serenity won’t recoup its $39 million production cost in the domestic box office, which means you can pretty much kiss off the idea of Serenity 2 as a theatrical release. I imagine some Jossheads are consoling themselves with the idea that Serenity will rack up lots of profits in the DVD afterlife, which is true enough (it was Firefly’s success as a DVD product that convinced Universal to greenlight Serenity, from what I understand), but in terms of Hollywood math, while theatrical release is becoming more and more of a platform to sell DVDs, it still matters whether a movie gets an audience in the theaters. The audience wasn’t there for Serenity.
I have to admit I was mildly surprised by the film’s poor showing; I was personally expecting something along the lines of an $18-$20 million opening, since the reviews were generally good and also I live in a mental space where the "Joss is a geeeenius" meme is well-entrenched, which skewed my perception. I should have been paying attention to my mother-in-law, who is — and I say this with great respect — absolutely the platonic ideal of the average, mainstream American, culturewise. If she sees an ad for a movie and goes "oooh! I want to see that!" then I know it’s going to be a hit, regardless of quality. As far as I know, she was entirely ignorant of the existence of Serenity. That was an ominous sign.
I do believe this opening weekend pretty much kills off the Firefly/Serenity universe (minus some secondary fan-oriented markets like book adaptations) unless Universal does the unexpected and inks a deal to put new episodes of Firefly (or, alternately, a series of Firefly movie events) on the Sci-Fi Channel (which exists in the NBC Universal corporate structure). That would be ideal for both the series and the fans, since the show/movie events could definitely generate big enough ratings for cable, and because that would still allow Universal to milk the very willing Firefly fans for another stack of DVD releases, which is where the money is these days.
But at this point, Firefly/Serenity has two strikes against it: One network cancellation and one movie opening gross that is only charitably described as mediocre. It’s possible someone will make that third pitch, but if I were a fan of this particular universe, I’d be preparing myself for a rather more negative outcome. This is also a reminder that while fan fervor will get you places, it will only get you so far. Whedon’s fandom-fu is strong, but even mightier are the needs of the corporate bottom line.