(Update 07/22/13: The bad news for Hollywood continues as three more films performed badly at the box-office this past weekend- Red2 , R.I.P.D. and Turbo. Of the three, Turbo did the best, coming in third after grossing $21 million over the weekend ($31 million over five days) on a $135 million budget. Red 2 came in 5th, having grossed $18 million on a $84 million budget, which is relatively small for a summer action blockbuster film. R.I.P.D. bombed, coming in 7th place and grossing only $12 million for a film that cost $135 million to make. So far, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for Hollywood)
Five. That’s the number of big budget films that have had disappointing box-office results this year. Does this spell doom for Hollywood and the future of big blockbuster films? George Lucas and Steven Spielberg would have you think so, but I’m inclined to think not. It could, however, make Hollywood more reluctant to put tons of money toward future projects. There’s no consistent evidence that can help explain what went wrong. Three of the films, while derivative, were original properties: After Earth, White House Down and Pacific Rim. The other two were based on already established properties: Jack The Giant Killer and The Lone Ranger. Two of the five films are sci-fi, one is a western, one a action film, and the last a fantasy film. Three films starred talent that usually draw viewers to the theaters, while the other two starred less recognizable actors. Obviously there must be some reason these films haven’t done well and there may be one indicator as to why- none of these films are sequels, prequels, reboots, or extensions of other previously established films. To compare, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Star Trek 2, Despicable Me 2, Hangover III, Oz The Great and Powerful, and Fast & Furious 6 all fall in those categories. It appears that the only original films that produce box-office success nowadays are comedies, as exhibited by films like The Heat.
So what gives? Lately Hollywood has chosen the easy route- relying on sequels, reboots, or previously established properties for their next big hit. So reliant is Hollywood on this business model, that when an original film is made, the consensus is that the film will fail. Had Christopher Nolan not had the success of The Dark Knight to use as leverage, Inception would never have been made. Sadly, that film was met with skepticism before it was released, with many analyst expecting it to fail. Whether the film’s success can be attributed to the original idea of the film executed perfectly or the Nolan fanboys turning up to see his latest film will never be determined, but Inception proved that an original idea can lead to a big box-office haul. Unfortunately, it’s becoming harder and harder for an original idea to be a success, let alone get greenlit. So why might that be?
I think the biggest factor to the success and failure of these films (and those that have come before) was the marketing of the films. All of these films had the potential to be hits, yet due to the way they were marketed, ended up being failures. One of the best examples I can think of is last year’s unfortunate dud, Dredd 3D. Dredd 3D was a reboot of the popular British comic character, Judge Dredd, of which was previously made into a film in 1995 starring Sylvester Stallone. Dredd 3D was an excellent comic book adaptation, done on a modest budget ($45 million) yet showcased some of the best action scenes of any of the films released last year. Yet it only grossed $36.5 million, a huge disappointment considering how great the movie was. I’ll admit that all promotional material for the film, including the trailers, gave off a cheesy, B-Movie vibe. The movie was marketed horribly. The only reason I gave it a chance was because of my love for the character along with a strong rating from critics. I soon learned that many other people I spoke too experienced the same thing- the film looked cheesy, but turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I believe marketing strongly influenced the five films above, hurting even Pacific Rim, which was actually a good film. On paper The Lone Ranger sounds like a success, considering it was directed by Gore Verbanski of Pirates of the Caribbean fame and starred Johnny Depp, who lately seemed like he could do no wrong. Yet the trailers for the film displayed an uninspiring knockoff of the Pirates series. Yes, The Lone Ranger was actually a bad film, but trailers usually try to disguise this. Take Clash of the Titans, which had an excellent trailer but was a horrible film yet still did well at the box-office. Trailers are supposed to make films look appealing, but the trailers for these five films missed the marked. It’s a shame because even though many of these films were dissapointments, at least Hollywood was moving in the right direction toward original ideas. Unfortunately, the disappointing box-office returns for these films may make Hollywood go back to their tried and true method- sequels.