'Cats' box office disaster tanks Universal's profit

Posted January 23, 2020 1:21 p.m. EST

— Universal took a pretty big hit last quarter largely because of the box office disaster that was "Cats."

The film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical made just $60 million worldwide since its opening in late December. The film, which has a 20% score on review site Rotten Tomatoes, was not cheap to make. It cost $100 million to produce and lost at least $70 million for Universal, according to reports.

Universal's revenue fell 21% from last quarter, its parent company Comcast reported Thursday. Earnings for its film unit decreased 49% in the quarter and box office revenue declined nearly 60%, Comcast said. That has a lot to do with "Cats," but Universal was also a victim of its own success.

The company noted that its comparable quarter, the fourth quarter of 2018, had hit films like "Halloween" and "Dr. Seuss' The Grinch." A reboot of the horror franchise, which featured serial killer Michael Myers, made a killing for Universal in the fourth quarter of 2018 with a $255 million global windfall. As for "The Grinch," the animated version of the classic Christmas tale made $511 million worldwide for Universal's animation studio Illumination Entertainment, according to Comscore.

Things are off to better start for Universal in 2020.

"1917," the studio's World War I drama, exceeded box office expectations when it opened nationally earlier this month. The film, which follows two young British soldiers who are racing against time to deliver a message that could save hundreds of their fellow soldiers, made $147 million worldwide.

"1917" is also a critical darling. The film is up for 10 Oscars including best picture and best director at next month's Academy Awards.

Universal followed "1917" with "Dolittle," a film with worse reviews than "Cats" and a big budget of $175 million. The film starring Robert Downey Jr. as the doctor who talks to animals made roughly $59 million globally so far.

The news was brighter elsewhere in Comcast's earnings on Thursday. The company reported that net income rose about 26% from the year prior. The company also reported a profit of roughly $3.16 billion in the fourth quarter.

This was thanks in large part to its broadband service. The company added 442,000 high-speed internet customer customers, but its video business took a hit losing 149,000 customers.

Comcast debuted its answer to cord-cutting, which has consumers trading in cable for streaming and online viewing, with Peacock last week. The streaming service will offer consumers ad-supported and ad-free options and will include more than 600 films and 400 series.

The company's stock was down as much as 3.5% on Thursday due to concerns about the possibility of more cable subscriber losses ahead.

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