‘Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’: Why It Didn’t Dominate

Experts explain to MTV News why the best-selling book didn't translate to a box-office #1.

Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy of crime thrillers has sold about 17 million copies in the United States alone. The first novel in the series, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” is the first book ever to sell a million digital copies. The books have become nothing short of cultural touchstones, the collective response of devoted fans to the uninitiated being something along the lines of “You haven’t read ‘Dragon Tattoo’? What’s wrong with you?”

That’s the entertainment scene onto which David Fincher’s American adaptation of “Dragon Tattoo” came last week. What’s more, the movie received strong critical reviews , Sony’s marketing campaign was lauded by industry insiders and MTV named it the Best Movie of 2011 . Yet “Dragon Tattoo” wound up with a six-day gross of just $27.8 million — the highest total of any new release but good for just fourth place overall and undoubtedly disappointing given its lofty pedigree.

So what happened?

“Maybe fans of the Stieg Larsson novel were satisfied by last year’s Swedish film and weren’t feeling David Fincher’s Hollywood version,” writes Deadline editor in chief Nikki Finke, who notes the weak opening is especially surprising given the film was the only rated-R wide-release over the Christmas season and that “adults are flocking to specialty box-office hits like Fox Searchlight’s ‘The Descendants’ and the Weinstein Co’s ‘The Artist.’ ”

The release date could also have been a factor, even as Sony positioned “Dragon Tattoo” as the “feel-bad movie of Christmas.” “The dark and violent subject matter coupled with intense competition for the attention of mature adults led to an underwhelming result over the happy and cheery yuletide holiday,” says Gitesh Pandya, editor of Box Office Guru.

With no wide releases slated for the upcoming weekend, however, “Dragon Tattoo” could see its box-office haul grow significantly. Sony’s distribution chief, Rory Bruer, told TheWrap that the film “is off to a good start and it’s just going to get better with every day through the rest of the holiday season and well into the new year.”

Finke, too, expects the film’s B.O. numbers to pick up this week, and Pandya suggests “a domestic final of $100 million cannot be ruled out this early in the run as moviegoers continue to catch up on films they are interested in.”

That’s good news for fans of the series and of Fincher’s film, who have their fingers crossed that the Oscar-nominated director gets the go-ahead to make the final two pictures in Larsson’s series. As Fincher told us recently , he hopes that the first film is received well enough that he’s able to revisit, in journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hacker Lisbeth Salander, “two fascinating characters who I have really come to care about.”

In the end, though, the chance to see Fincher’s adaptations of “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” might be entirely out of the hands — or, rather, the wallets — of American moviegoers. “Ironically, the biggest factor in this sequelizing or not will come down to how well it does in foreign market — a place where the Swedish version of the film already made nearly $100 million just a couple years ago,” said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “Do overseas audiences really want to see the Hollywood version after the original is so fresh in their minds and was equally well-received?”

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

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