Back in 1967, Rex Harrison headlined a Doctor Dolittle movie that turned into the stuff of Hollywood legend for all the wrong reasons. The production was a nightmare, it went over budget, and a slew of tie-in merchandise gathered dust on toy shelves everywhere. History seemed to repeat itself in 2020, when a new take on the story arrived via Dolittle. Though striking out with its own story and its own famous leading man in Robert Downey Jr., Dolittle evoked the Harrison film by being a startlingly large box office bomb.
Dolittle grossed just $251 million on a $175 million budget, a meager amount that put the film on track to lose a projected $100 million for Universal Pictures. What was supposed to be a new franchise for Downey Jr. turned into one of the biggest pop culture punchlines of 2020. What went wrong here, above all else, was the budget. Dolittle cost an obscene amount for a non-sequel. With that gargantuan price tag, it would have been difficult for Dolittle to thrive under the best of circumstances, let alone when saddled with toxic advance buzz.
In some ways, the world is very different than it was in 1967. But when it comes to big-budget Dolittle movies at the box office, the more things change, the more they stay the same.