Summer in California has always been amazing for movie-goers. The strong summer heat and still air in the evenings will always be the perfect weather for a trip to the theaters, but something has been happening this summer movie season, something unexpected. Movies are bombing. Hard. So hard, in fact, that Hollywood is starting to notice, and even big wigs like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have been saying that the paradigm is changing. “..three or four mega budget films are going to come crashing to the ground, and then everything will change.”
But why are these films failing? Here are some of the elements that make a movie a success or failure, and why they did or didn’t work, then take a look at some of the biggest upsets of this spring and summer.
One – The Pieces: A film is a perfect storm of all the right elements of story, visual effects, direction and talent all coming together to create a movie, if something is missing, the whole house of cards crashes down.
Two – The Budget: Housing isn’t the only place where gambling can cause an industry to fail. Every film is an investment with a calculated risk, for some of these projects, you have to wonder if the calculator was broken. Too big a budget, and you can’t earn it back, too small, and you can’t bring the punch the audience deserves.
Three – Trivia: The Wild Cards. This is where the real tragedy happens. There’s nothing that can really be done about these acts of god and otherwise unpredictable factors in a film. They’re often current events, or social changes that nullify the effectiveness of a movie at the box office.
#10 – After Earth
The Pieces: Nobody likes M. Night Shyamalan’s recent work. Audiences feel that he’s a one trick pony that everyone is tired of watching, and he’s so played out, that even the star power of Will Smith and the brazen and fresh-faced innocence of his son Jaden can’t keep this bird in the air. There’s no sense of wonder, nothing to relate to, the characters are as foreign as the planet they land on, and the direction gives us nothing to hold onto, and certainly nothing unexpected. Even Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender took risks in the storytelling and had visual drama that AE simply lacks.
The Budget: $135 million to produce the film, with an additional $100 million to market it, makes the $27 million opening weekend is a serious kidney punch to the film as well as the career of the star, the LA Times even went so far as to say his “star has faded”, citing his break from Hollywood. With a shortfall of over $200 million to correct, it’s unlikely that this film will be the one to recharge the stars’ career.
Trivia: With so many Science Action films in the works, there has to be something distinct about what you do. With Tom Cruise’s Oblivion as a harbinger just fading on the horizon, there was little that could have been done about this precanned land mine. Speaking of which…
#9 – Oblivion
The Pieces: While Tom Cruise’ swagger might have smiled him through the early 2000’s, the last few years have shown him thriving as the foil amongst an ensemble, such as in 2008’s Tropic Thunder and 2012’s Rock of Ages. Oblivion shows the actor against a bleak backdrop of a destroyed earth, and gives us little hope for a surprise. Morgan Freeman makes the most of a predictable role as the leader of the underground, but there’s little discovery in the film, for all the spectacle, there’s not a lot of scenery.
The Budget: with a production cost of $130 million, and a domestic box office take of $53 million, Oblivion was left to look overseas to recoup its costs, and while it will ultimately make money for the studio, It’s too close for comfort to be considered a success, similarly to AE, some media sources are questioning Cruises’ strength as a leading man.
Trivia: The made-you-look trick of a wasted earth that’s actually inhabited has been visited numerous times, so when the curtain fell and there were humans alive, a cringe of disappointment is most certainly in store for anyone hoping for a fresh take on a formula that has been around almost as long as Tom Cruise, and even the twist ending isn’t enough to overcome the bland presentation of crisis in the film.
#8 – Lone Ranger
The Pieces: There was a great deal of hope that there might be some rocket fuel left in the engines that drove the Pirates of the Carribean crew, but with an all-but unknown leading man, cultural backlash over Johnny Depp playing a Native American, and a story that was never leaked in marketing, the visuals wern’t enough to drag people to see this film.
The Budget: Ranger was a damned expensive film. Only recouping $50 million of a $215 million dollar budget on opening has left Disney looking for someone’s neck to hang it on, and unfortunately, Johnny Depp seems to be the candidate voted most likely. While his accolades include top billing in three different billion-dollar films (Alice in Wonderland, and two of the Pirates Films,) his most recent films have shown him waning in public appeal.
Trivia: Cowboys aren’t as sexy as pirates, and while that’s a sad fact, it meant that Ranger was left alone to stand on the story. Armie Hammer is likable, but he’s been in very little to fill this big a pair of boots, and many in the industry are thinking that Disney put their risky casting move in the wrong role. The elephant in the room was most certainly the choice not to find a Native American actor to take the role of Tonto, and the portrayal of the Indian sidekick has been panned as being in poor taste.
#7 – White House Down
The pieces: Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx should have clenched the title in what was to be the summer Action-Comedy blockbuster to end all. If only it were funny. The script felt so out of touch with the actors strengths, it becomes uncomfortable watching as tatum’s hillbilly-washed-out-wannabe-secret-service-agent fumbles around with self-admonishment while Jamie Foxx plays the most horrifyingly ghetto president ever presented on film. The film could work either way, If it were self aware and silly like 21 Jumpstreet, or slick and fast like G.I. Joe, (yes, it was worse than G.I. Joe.) it would be worth watching, but the bumbling antics of the heroes in this film, and the overblown menutia-born melodrama will make you root for the bad guys while a fictional black president is more obsessed with his sneakers than the American people.
The Budget: returning $25.7 million of a $150 million budget, the film hit the ground so hard it bounced. There was no reason and no explanation for why a film this small minded should cost this much, and while Roland Emmerich is used to huge explosions and attractive scenery being ticketworthy, WHD lacks the intelligence of any of his previous films.
Trivia: The portrayal of a bumbling, ineffectual black president is the worst thing hollywood could do right now. Regardless of which side you land on, no-one’s going to feel comfortable laughing about a Malcolm X impersonating black president who almost nukes Iran. Everyone knows Foxx’s hometown is comedy, and Tatum is a stout straight man, so it was surprising to see them miss the opportunity.
#6 – World War Z
The Pieces: There are few guarantees in the movie industry, and that is exceptionally evident with World War Z. What was a hugely successful book with a massive fan following, all of whom were looking forward to the movie, the venomous response to the first few images of the film caused the studio to scramble and regroup, rewriting and reshooting huge portions of the film. Knowing that it was twice baked, audiences had moved on by the time the curtain went up.
The Budget: How much does it cost to reshoot half a movie? 40 million dollars according to this film. While it was great that they were receptive to criticism, $190 million is a hefty price tag for a zombie apocalypse thriller, and while the overseas numbers are clear to keep Pitt on top of the world, Z could have been huge at home.
Trivia: This is one of the times when everything was in place to make an exceptionally successful film, but the public knowledge of the films’ troubles in production were like blood in the water. Once fans saw that there were problems, they didn’t want to pay to see the result. The film looks to recoup its costs, and even turn a profit, but it’s nowhere near the billion dollar mark that tentpole projects like this look to sit upon.
#5 – Olympus Has Fallen
The pieces: Gerard Butler has proven himself repeatedly to own a place amongst the grizzly revengeful likes of Karl Urban and Liam Neeson. In Olympus, the practical effects are devastating, and convey the true level of barbaric, calculated, violence it would take to overpower the defenses of the white house. Sadly, whatever money they set aside for CGI seems to have been spent on beer and pizza. Never before has there been such disappointing computer generated imagery in a movie. It looks like some kid with a copy of Falcon 3.0 recorded his gameplay and spliced it into the film. It’s so poorly done, it actually breaks the believability of the film. The aircraft look like the textures were never applied and when the threat of the film looks ridiculous, it’s hard to take it as seriously as it wants to be taken. There is no excuse for this kind of oversight in this day and age in filmmaking.
The Budget: This is the only film in this list that suffers from not having enough money spent on it. at $80 million, the bean counters could have dug a little deeper to polish this film, audiences polled have cited the unfinished look of some of the post production effects as offputting, and had it’s effects matched the artistry of the cinematography and acting, it would have been a staple of American grit flicks for generations to come.
Trivia: With the remake of Red Dawn landing last October, the “asians are taking over, we must fight” arguement isn’t fresh for audiences, leaving only the diehard action fans as fodder for this particular film, and its a poor choice to come half dressed to a party of your most dedicated critics.
#4 – Red 2
The Pieces: Coming back out of retirement, Red 2 showed little chance of besting the younger, faster, slicker Fast and Furious 6 for the team-up caper movie of the year, but with so many movies in the caper genre pushing past it in line, (Now you see me, Dispicable Me 2) eventually the senior citizens should see the writing on the wall. Even Bruce’s other franchises have sapped the strength from Red 2, with A Good Day to Die Hard showing strongly as a fan favorite in late winter. Malkovich is as funny as ever, and Mirren is to die for, but the story went for a nap while the team went in search of a fridge to nuke.
The Budget: $18.5 million opening of $80 million leaves this as one of the lower earners, but the reduced budget softens the blow. Marketing would have helped, but there’s only so much you can expect from this franchise, which took in 1/5th of its budget on its first weekend.
Trivia: Stories about aging spies and hitmen in the comic book movie style don’t have a whole lot of traction nowadays, and while the original was funny and different, the sequel is a bridge too far.
#3 – The Internship
The pieces: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn have great chemistry together, looking at their success with 2005’s Wedding Crashers, it’s easy to see how this project got greenlit, but there was a lot of grumbling amongst the techno-elite about how one of San Francisco’s tech giants was portrayed, and subsequently the kinds of individuals that work there. Everyone feels awkward at weddings, it’s why Crashers was so relatable, but there’s only one industry that can compete with movies in California, and that’s technology. Portraying all of the social quirks of 1980’s geeks in 2013 while not showing any of the intelligence paints the tech industry to be a day care for adults with computers. The internet is everywhere, and the geeks are not pleased. But that’s another story entirely.
The Budget: $17.3 million taken in on a budget of $58 million. It was modestly priced, but there are some times when a deal is too good to be true.
Trivia: Battling Fast and Furious 6, Iron Man 3, Fox’s Epic, Now You See Me, and even the low budget champ The Purge, You have to wonder if the internship had a chance in hell. Then you watch it, and know for sure.
#2 – Jack the Giant Slayer
The Pieces: The premise for Jack the Giant Slayer reads like Shrek without the humor and likability. Ewan MacGregor has been without a franchise for a few years, and it’s unlikely that Jack will bring sequels with how poorly this film fared. Even with an early season release, this film still failed to launch compared to the myriad of popular competitors roaming theaters at the time, and despite the curiosity of Nicholas Hoult and the charming wit of Stanley Tucci, Jack just didn’t have a chance.
The Budget: With a full $195 million budget, high expectations were let down when the opening weekend bringing in a disheartening $27.2 million, Jack will depend on help from abroad to not remain an eyesore in the eyes of the industry giants.
Trivia: Jack was plagued by more than one giant during its opening, releasing just after The Hobbit, and with The Great and Powerful Oz knocking on its door, there was little room to share in the nostalgic, quirky fairy tale section of the billboard, and Jack was the low man on the bean stalk.
#1 – R.I.P.D.
The Pieces: Ryan Reynolds has been struggling to find his footing in the last few years, there’s limited play value to the shy sense of humor that won people’s hearts and funny bones in Van Wilder, and his more grizzly side could take a move out of the Ryan Gosling playbook, and shift into more mindful work ala Drive. R.I.P.D. sells short the talent Reynolds has shown himself previously to possess. Jeff Bridges makes solid effort of the grim and gruff character, but having seen his work in True Grit, Rooster Cogburn he ain’t.
The Budget: With $130 million on the line, returning $12.76 million on opening weekend will make even the staunchest studio execs stutter and double take. With weak overseas returns, it shows unlikely that this flick will make back its costs.
Trivia: Paranormal shoot-em-ups are hardly in high demand, and with Men In Black cornering the market, R.I.P.D. needed to take itself a little more seriously if it was going to stand a chance against a three-hit franchise that just dropped it’s latest last year. It was funny at times, and visually engaging at times, but there was a lot of time in between where audiences need more to keep them coming back.
Hollywood is changing constantly, and trying to ride the wave of what audiences want and don’t want to see is tough, just let Lucas’ and Spielberg’s words sink in for a moment.
“There’s going to be an implosion where 3 or 4 or maybe even a half-dozen of these mega-budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and thats going to change the paradigm again.” “What’s going to happen is you’ll see fewer films, fewer theaters with nicer films, and they’ll cost you $50.00, maybe $100.00, maybe $150.00 to go see.”
While it might be a long time before that prediction comes true, we’ll keep watching the tide to see where the money, and the audiences are going.