movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Wed Aug 26 2015, 07:14pm | 34 comments
Wait. The movie just came out last weekend and it’s already a flop?
That was fast.
Then again the TV ads did not exactly give the impression that it was an especially original movie. Heck, it did not even emphasize the fact that Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame had a starring role in this movie. So no wonder it bombed.
Damn. It just opened, didn’t it??!
I was planning to see it. Wtf.
I’m not sure a movie about brainwashed sleeper agents can be considered “original” after The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Bourne Identity, The Manchurian Candidate, Dollhouse, etc. But I may still see it this weekend. I’ll have to catch it quickly, though. After it leaves the theatres, I can only see it on DVD, Pay-Per-View, Netflix, Amazon, and a few other places.
You still can!
Opening weekend is everything. 19% of budget just isn’t good enough.
See also Edge of Tomorrow: one huge star and one big one, but it only made 11% of its budget on its opening weekend. Again, it’s not a sequel/reboot, so audiences don’t know what to expect. Even though the trailer gave away something like 80% of the story.
It’s still playing. But it won’t be around for too long, so don’t wait.
But it *is* “original” in the sense that it’s not a reboot or a sequel or a remake, and not based on a series of YA novels or comic books.
Which goes to show just how narrow Hollywood’s purview is at the moment.
Well, yes, that’s what made my pun so side-splittingly hilarious. Lots of people said Tomorrowland was an original movie, and it’s based on a Disney theme park. I’m sure someone said the live-action Cinderella was original, too.
There’s also probably a connection to the decline of “star power.” Back when having a big star in your movie guaranteed a big opening weekend, you could risk putting out more “original” movies as long as you cast a star to draw the crowds.
Yeah, Tom Cruise proves that. Edge of Tomorrow again, and before that Oblivion (30% of budget in opening weekend box office), both of them fairly derivative to a serious SF fan but still not sequels, remakes, reboots, or adaptations of big name properties.
Is it also a budget issue, though? If putting out something new and unfamiliar is inherently riskier than putting out something familiar with an established audience, then putting out something new and unfamiliar AND extremely expensive is even more so. Meanwhile, relatively cheaper originals (lower-budget sci-fi, indie dramas and comedies, a lot of horror films) can still make a profit. Is the lesson here to go as cheap as possible?
The lesson I’ve taken is not to look for originality (however weakly defined) in big-budget film.
I’ve been saying for years that what I’d like to see instead of Hollywood is a lot more people making a lot more films with vastly less money each. The money that goes to a single 47 Ronin or Mars Needs Moms could make ten small films, and some of them might be amazing.
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” It does seem like glaringly obvious and sensible advice.
Meanwhile, I’m reading a ton of articles on how Warner Brothers desperately NEEDS >Batman v. Superman to be successful, because they have twenty thousand DC Universe movies riding on it…
Edge of Tomorrow was a pretty good film. Unfortunately, it came after Oblivion, which isn’t a good film, and looked like a repeat of the earlier movie.
Tom Cruise is in that weird position–like Jennifer Aniston or Johnny Depp or Sandra Bullock before her Oscar–where I can’t tell if he’s an A-list star or not. If his next couple of movies tank, he can get work as a stunt double for Tig Notaro.
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The reported budget of *Ultra* is $28 million, which is pretty low as studio films go.
District 9 was made for $30 million, Looper for $30 million, and Chronicle for $15 million. What conclusions could we draw from that?
I’m not sure what you’re getting at…
Well, you pointed out that Ultra was already cheap for a studio film, so I pointed out that other recent original movies made just as cheaply, or cheaper, have done well. Maybe the lesson isn’t “original movies don’t sell anymore” but (as RogerBW suggests) “we need a lot more low-budget originals to increase the chance that some of them might be hits.”
I think it’s that original (i.e. non-franchise/reboot/remake) big-budget movies don’t sell well enough to justify their budgets. To make back the money on a big-budget film you need to appeal to lots of people, and in turn that means that you can’t be too thinky. A small-budget film doesn’t need as wide an audience to produce the same percentage return on the budget.
Maybe the problem is Max Landis’s haircut?
I’m all for small-budget films. This afternoon, I’ll probably see American Ultra or When Animals Dream. But there are quite a few big-budget films that don’t fit your premise: Inception, Gravity, Interstellar, many of the Pixar films, and—going back a bit further—The Matrix. They were all original, at least somewhat “thinky,” and fairly profitable. If studios used those movies as an example, and made “original” films that were genuinely original and intelligent, they might be surprised at their success.
It also doesn’t preclude small-budget films from being not-so-thinky and trying for broad appeal. (See: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.)
Opening weekend gross as fraction of budget:
Only Gravity is anything near a “success” in those terms.
If you go along with the studio logic that only the opening weekend is important, then that’s true. If you decide that a movie is a long-term investment which keeps earning money for its entire run, and often for years afterward, then you might have a different standard of success.
I’m pretty bad at math, and I’m not as familiar with studio economics as you are, but here are the numbers I’m looking at:
Inception cost $160 million to make. It earned $292,576,195 domestically and a total of $825,532,764 worldwide.
Gravity cost $100 million and earned $723,192,705 worldwide ($274,092,705 of it domestically).
Interstellar cost $165 million and earned $675,020,017 worldwide ($188,020,017 domestically).
So my not-at-all-rhetorical question is: Why isn’t that considered a success?
Well, I’m theorising without data – I’ve never worked in the film industry – but I suspect that the long lead times are a factor. If your potential sequel should come out a year after the first film, you need to make a decision about it pretty quickly after the first film is released. If you wait half a year for the first batch foreign and DVD/etc. money to come in, it’ll be too late.
Combine that with poor impulse control and a total lack of ability not to open presents before Christmas, and I can see how they might focus on opening weekend rather than first month of release.
Ah, okay. Yes, that’s a good lesson that Hollywood needs to learn.
The real problem is too many movies are being released, which means opening weekend is everything and very few movies have a chance to find an audience if one isn’t there on opening weekend.
Yeah, that also makes sense. If I ever get round to doing a full analysis of what gets sequels and what doesn’t, I’ll include second-weekend percentage drop in the figures too.
Only in Hollywood — and of course, in Washington D.C. — can a budget of $28 million be considered “low.”
People have been saying that since the 1980s and no one in Hollywood ever seems to pay attention. Heck, even director Tim Burton once said it in an interview and nobody in Hollywood paid attention to him either.
I guess it’s just one of those lessons they need to learn the hard way.
More seriously, seems like this article – and the whole conversation – hinges on putting an awful lot of stock in the opinion of the screenwriter. A guy who’s claims to fame are a famous last name, and a single previous feature. Chronicle was a reasonably strong commercial and critical success, American Ultra failed on both counts, but because Max Landis is batting .500, he’s going to decry the state of the American filmgoing audience? And we’re supposed to listen? Meanwhile, Landis’s first major studio film, due out for Thanksgiving, is… a retelling of Frankenstein from Igor’s perspective. Original storytelling, indeed.
And need we remind him that his own father, once among the top comedy directors in Hollywood, has made only one feature since 1998’s Blues Brothers 2000 (2010’s Burke and Hare, a widely panned Simon Pegg film MAJ mentioned a couple of times but never reviewed). It’s a tough fucking business, man, and so far, Max has been lived a fairly charmed life.
I just want to pat his head and tell him, “Look, I’m sorry your movie tanked. It happens to the best. Come back when you grow up a little.”
The most charitable thing I could say about Blues Brothers 2000 is to note that almost any Blues Brothers sequel made after the death of actor John Belushi was bound to be a disappointment. Yet, even taking that into account, I still found that movie to be pretty awful.
As for Burke and Hare, enough of that movie has faded from memory that it today seems more forgettable than anything else though I do remember missing the presence of Pegg’s old acting pal Nick Frost and raising an eyebrow or two at the film’s depiction of a female prostitute.
All in all, it was not a movie I’d recommend to anyone until you are the type of completest who just has to see every film Simon Pegg ever made. And even then, you’re bound to be disappointed.
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