Justin Bieber’s Believe didn’t entice the masses away from mulled wine and mince pies after all. Despite a Christmas Eve “retiring” declaration and his nearly 48 million Twitter followers, the Jon M. Chu helmed concert-tagged-on-interview took just $1.25 million on Christmas Day in the US, ranking 14th at the box office.
In comparison, its predecessor — the also Chu-directed Never Say Never (2011) — punched in $12.4 million domestic when it opened before going on to haul nearly $100 million worldwide.
International receipts are yet to come in for a full sales picture, and Believe played in only 1,037 theaters (approximately three times less than Never Say Never.)
But on what box office tracking site Rentrak reports is the second highest-grossing Christmas Day in the US and Bieber’s native Canada, there’s no spinning this one. It’s a poor showing for the pop prince’s second cinematic outing considering his extensive social media reach and consistently high profile this year, although that may well have been the sticking point.
Believe faced off against a mix of already in play and highly anticipated features. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug bit off another $9.3 million on December 25, bringing its total to $149.9 million since opening on December 13. Martin Scorsese’s big-name packing The Wolf Of Wall Street came a close second taking an estimated $9.15 million on its Christmas Day opening.
Rounding out the Top Five, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (released December 18) added an estimated $8.1 million tallying its total to $56.7 million. Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty scored $7.9 million, while David O. Russell’s lauded American Hustle tallied another $7.4 million on the big day after its December 13 release. The rest of the Top Ten included 47 Ronin, Frozen, and Grudge match.
The Los Angeles Times reports Believe was bankrolled by Bieber, his longtime manager Scooter Braun, Chu and Usher to the comparatively small tune of $4 million [Note: Mojo quotes $5 million], so personal losses aren’t horrendous. Perceptually, however, is another matter.
Braun and the 19-year-old teen icon frequently told fans Believe would tell “the truth” and “clear up all the rumors,” as well as showing footage of the 2012-13 Believe concert tour. But, just days before the film opened Chu corrected that in a slew of interviews.
Originally conceived as a concert-film, Chu told the LA Times the mostly music-dominant film was never intended to be a cinematic missive at the tabloid headlines and scandals that engulfed Bieber this year.
“I didn’t want this to be a defense of things he did, because you can just go down the list,” Chu told the outlet. “We addressed things having to do with him being a human being — the basis of his character.”
Although there is mention of Justin’s face-off with paparazzi during the London leg of his tour, and the struggle to maintain his sense of self in a year which saw him described as a “clueless,” “thug,” “pop brat,” “diva,” and “narcissist,” Believe was mostly filmed back in January during the singer’s Miami concerts — and it shows.
A proportion of the film showed saccharine to-camera testimonials about Bieber from tour dancers and the singer’s camp. Segments that work far better include Justin’s breakdown recalling the death of six-year-old fan Avalanna “Mrs. Bieber” Routh from brain cancer last year, the real talent he demonstrates in the studio during the making of his 2012 Believe album, and the impressive concert footage.
While fan re-tweets gushing about Believe on Bieber’s Twitter feed indicate it satisfied beliebers, critics and adult moviegoers would certainly want to see more of the March onward dramas both on and off his 15-month trek.
Items such as Justin’s graffiti trail through South America, his hilarious sheet-covered exodus from a Rio brothel, the context to that New York restaurant mop bucket incident, the ‘sleeping’ video shot by an alleged Brazilian porn model, a backstage nose at the singer’s delayed London 02 Arena show in March and days later fainting at the same venue, the “Mally” the monkey saga — all of this real-life, interesting material and more is missing.
“I want people to know that you’re normal people,'” Chu recalls telling Braun and Bieber, the Los Angeles Times reports. “[To Braun] You’re not the puppet master and [to Bieber] you’re not this douche-bag kid. I want people to know you guys the way I know you.”
The singer faints backstage during London 02 Arena show in March 2013.
Bieber apologizing for being ill on stage at first Believe tour show in Glendale, Arizona, September 29, 2012.
Positive Believe reviews focused on the limited “humanizing” aspect of the film, and the reality that this pop phenom is not only a superstar but a young individual catapulted at an impressionable age to warping, worldwide fame in an industry littered with child and adult casualties while attempting to grow up under relentless — and latterly — mocking scrutiny.
Hollywood Life: “It is an interesting and honest portrayal of a human being who is currently experiencing fame beyond measure and doing his level best to keep his head on straight at the same time.” Variety notes the film’s “first-class” “production values” and says Chu stops short of letting it become a “celebrity apologist” piece.
The Wrap offers:“The film never makes Bieber a martyr or seeks the audience’s pity, but it fairly acknowledges he is dealing with a kind of attention most will never face… Believe is probably as personal as Justin Bieber circa 2013 is going to get —- not because, given the ubiquitousness of the media coverage of his rise to stardom, he won’t open up, but rather that he probably can’t.”
Meanwhile, over at Showbiz 411 Roger Friedman junked Believe as a “promotional device” for “hard core younger kids, especially outside the US, and in another article adds,”Bieber and his cohorts think this movie will show ‘who he really is.’ If that’s the case, then he is a blank screen upon which others project their ideas. He is inarticulate and seemingly without his own specific thoughts or philosophies about anything. He is innocuous.”
The Boston Globe dismissed the movie as “damage control” with an agenda to “distract” from the teen star’s “misbehavior by painting him as burdened by talent and goodness.”
(Photo: A scene in the film showing the singer recalling the death of a child fan, Avalanna Routh.)
To fans, Believe is a chance to immerse themselves in their beloved idol and get up-close and relatively personal. To the majority of critics, and the box office so far; not so much.
A rosier take on Bieber’s end of year report is his completion, despite everything, of a 156-date world tour that grossed over $125 million and (mostly) delighted millions around the globe. The tour was capped by the singer’s visit to a Typhoon Haiyan-hit Philippines and his fundraising of over $3 million through his own relief effort drive.
Musically, Bieber delivered his best output to date with his 15-song Journals collection. It recently topped iTunes charts (its duration there was short but it got there.) The set saw the singer offering confessional lyrics amid R&B soundscapes and both low-fi and bold hip-hop production, that effectively paves the way for his album proper slated for the fourth quarter of 2014. He’s also just reclaimed the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Social 50 chart for the first time in 18 weeks as the most popular artist across all social media platforms.
More importantly, Justin appears to have understood he needs and will benefit from a time-out from a difficult 2013 transit made demonstrably more so by the industry complex that narrated it.
“I’m going to take my time [next year] to really find my sound as an adult. That takes time and patience, and I’m grateful I have the ability to step back and focus on my creativity,” he told USA TODAY by email earlier this month.
He added, “I just try every morning to wake up and tell myself what I’m thankful for and make that day great. I want to touch the world in a positive way and help people, and that is what I’m focused on.”
Love the Biebs or hate him, the kid kept it interesting. Believe just never quite got around to showing us.