27 July 2014

Summer at the Box-Office - The Films Left Out in the Cold

Okay, so we've looked at the successes, and 2014 has yielded many. However it wouldn't be blockbuster season without a side-order of turkey. In fairness, failing late (but not impossible) slip-ups courtesy of “The Expendables 3” or “Hercules”, it’s hard to fathom a Titanic disaster emerging. Last year the sunniest months of the year broke records, but also boasted the financially cataclysmic trifecta of “The Lone Ranger”, “White House Down” and “R.I.P.D”. 2014 has been somewhat different, with movies underperforming rather than outright disintegrating. Money has been lost, but not in the millions bled by the aforementioned clunkers.

Budget - $40 Million
Worldwide Total - $104 Million

“Blended” is wholly indicative of what I’m talking about. The film hasn’t made any proper money, but it’s unlikely to have lost much either. “Blended” exists in a benign middle-ground, but for executives that’s little better than outright failure. The film reunited “50 First Dates” duo Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, but audiences didn’t really seem to care, content to revisit their previous works as opposed to supporting anything new. Critics handed the feature a colossal beat down on opening weekend, despite the fact – by recent Adam Sandler standards at least – it’s not that bad.

What went wrong? – Sandler’s time as a marquee star has been on the wane for a while now, reaching a nadir with the spectacular capsizing of R-rated venture “That’s My Boy” in 2012. A “Grown-Ups” sequel propelled a little life back into his brand, but for the most part his incredibly low standards seem to have fatally wounded his goofy aura. With “Blended” Warner & Happy Madison have tried to conjure memories of past triumphs, but audiences were deliberately unreceptive to the attempt. The phrase “too little, too late” comes to mind. If Sandler were to endure another “That’s My Boy”, or maybe even the innocuous slip of a “Blended”, his career as a leading man could be over. As it is, he needs a hit, and needs it bad. It might also be to Sandler’s benefit if he didn’t lazily admit to his recent works being little more than paid vacations on primetime television. 

Jersey Boys
Budget: $40 Million
Worldwide Total: $57 Million

Clint Eastwood brought the famous stage-musical to the big screen, but despite an encouraging opening hour, the film quickly exhausted itself at the box-office. An unusual product like this is often more dependent on reviews/word of mouth than most, and whilst an A- CinemaScore from test audiences must have originally promoted hope, a tepid 54% on Rotten Tomatoes tells a different story. This was always a massive hit and hope from Warner, and had the film been better…well who knows. But in its current form the feature represents a stone-cold bomb.

What went wrong? – Fundamentally the stoic director doesn’t really feel right for the material, and the screenplay is mismanaged. There’s no mainstream hook, looking at other successful summer musicals (2007’s “Hairspray” and 2008’s “Mamma Mia”) audiences have responded to pizzazz and stunt casting.  Eastwood opts to avoid both, to the benefit of his integrity but also to the detriment of the end result. Marketing felt slack from an early juncture, so it’s also entirely likely Warner lost faith in the film’s potential moving into release. 

Edge of Tomorrow
Budget: $175 Million
Worldwide Total: $358 Million

Handily the most entertaining and thoughtful major release of the season so far, “Edge of Tomorrow” none the less stumbled badly in the domestic market. International numbers have been solid, but the vast budget coupled with a tame $96 Million gross stateside resulted in a severe mood dampener. Another keen indicator that critical notices are secondary to brand awareness, “Edge of Tomorrow attaining a fantastic 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, yet here we are. It’s unlikely the film will get close to the $450-500 Million needed to break even.

What went wrong? – Well the budget for starters. Evan at their peak it’s tough for a star to hit the numbers required of “Edge of Tomorrow” to succeed, and Tom Cruise is certainly past that point. He’s still an exceptional lead and a good script selector, but the man’s relationship with the public is troubled, as evidenced by the sub-$100 Million grosses on recent vehicles like “Jack Reacher” and “Oblivion”. Director Doug Liman has an industry reputation for splurging cash he doesn’t have, and whilst the film has the rich, textured spectacle of an unforgettable extravaganza, that won’t really allow the accountants to rest easy. Coming up against little-big movie of the year “The Fault in Our Stars” was an unlucky final nail in the coffin, but really, the fiscal logistics of this one never made sense. 

A Million Ways to Die in the West
Budget: $40 Million
Worldwide Total: $84 Million

There comes a point in life where every boy must set aside his teddy, but sadly for Seth MacFarlane said choice seems to have incurred a brutal sophomore slump. Reviews were fairly savage for the writer/director’s follow-up to 2012 high-roller “Ted”, failing to even inch in on the baseline $100 million achievement. By contrast “Ted” is one of the biggest R-rated earners of all time. Similar adult oriented comedies like “Neighbours” enjoyed pleasing totals this summer, but with its muddled agenda and indulgent DNA, “A Million Ways” tanked.

What went wrong? – I can’t help hypothesize that choosing to lampoon the old west automatically made the film a tough sell. It’s not a particularly lucrative genre these days, and lacks contemporary audience attachment. Universal certainly marketed the film heavily enough, but the soggy reviews and lack of obvious high-concept ingenuity appear to have undercut its chances. Opening alongside the over-performing “Maleficent” and at a point where “Neighbours” was still functioning as part of the zeitgeist can’t have helped.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Budget: $145 Million Worldwide Total: $391 Million

In a summer sans Pixar you’d think “How to Train Your Dragon 2” would clean-up, especially given the love that’s gestated for the 2010 original over the years. In a shock move, the film was bested by “22 Jump Street” on its opening weekend, never really recovering and subsequently causing DreamWorks’ stock to take a notable dive. Critics have been kind (90%+ on Rotten Tomatoes), although audiences have been cooler with the picture, which frankly doesn’t approach the superlative standard of its forerunner. It was my bet to end as the season’s highest grosser, but is now almost certain to represent 2014’s biggest box-office WTF.

What went wrong? – The marketing didn't miss a beat, and the early reviews stemming from its Cannes debut seemed unanimously positive. Maybe this franchise is more niche than initially believed, with devotees keeping the DVD/TV sales at a peak, rather than any sort of wide conversion ever occurring. That sort of loyalty is presumably reserved only for Pixar and Minions. The first movie also endured a soft opening, but that movie recovered in a way the sequel hasn’t. Instead “How to Train Your Dragon 2” will likely amble toward orange, requiring home entertainment and merchandising to make It any sort of sustaining success. A third entry must now harbour question marks, especially given the toxic consequences this movie’s lacklustre showing foisted on DreamWorks as a company.

Also DOA – Just last weekend “Sex Tape” (WW - $25 Mill) debuted in 4th place and confirmed something that's been percolating for a while; Cameron Diaz really isn't much of a draw anymore. True, she headlined the spring’s deplorable yet moderately successful “The Other Woman”, but that movie skewed toward an entirely female audience and opened alongside little obvious competition. Sex Tape (also starring Jason Segel & Rob Lowe) is part of the rated-R renaissance that’s been in full force since 2009’s “The Hangover”, a commercial summer subgenre that permanently appears overpopulated. There have been sizable hits like “Bridesmaids” and “Horrible Bosses”, but those films had something that set them apart from the competition. “Sex Tape” seemingly doesn't. Cancerous reviews, unimaginative marketing and an A-lister on her last legs ain’t the cocktail most studios execs are ordering, and for the unfortunate crew at Columbia just served one, well, I expect they’re preparing to spit it right back out. Nobody will be mixing these ingredients again for a while.

“Deliver Us From Evil” (WW- $36 Million) was being pegged for big things a number of months ago, described by a glut of lazy wordsmiths as “2014’s answer to The Conjuring”. However whilst that film generated $318 Mill on a $20 Mill budget, “Deliver Us from Evil” has managed a paltry $36 Mill return on a $30 Mill investment. Director Scott Derrickson has decent pedigree in the horror genre, his 2012 shocker “Sinister” was fabulously profitable, but this latest foray has been a victim of overhype, heightened budgeting and poor word of mouth. Horror fans are notoriously chatty on the internet, and it would seem with a middling B- CinemaScore “Deliver Us From Evil” failed to cut the mustard with its chief demographic (“The Conjuring racked up a much stronger A- average). It also provides further indication that Eric Bana is still nobody’s idea of an alluring leading man, the actor hasn't played a large part in a commercially successful movie since the 2009 two-punch of “Star Trek” and “The Time Traveller’s Wife”.

There are a number of films that might find themselves in a tight spot over coming weeks. “Hercules” is set to fall well behind Luc Besson’s “Lucy" this weekend, the former on track for a $30 Mill debut. That number wouldn't normally be cause for concern, but the Dwayne Johnson vehicle will require around $250 Mill to reach profitability. That total feels a long way off, especially with “Guardians of the Galaxy” less than a week away. International sales will likely prove its salvation though. “The Expendables 3” also found itself in a uniquely troublesome position, with a DVD-quality leak of the feature plopping online, almost a month before theatrical exhibition commences. LionsGate have begun to get the regrettable scenario under control, but not before hundreds of thousands of downloads were netted. It’s particularly devastating for the studio, given that the chief consumers of pirated content are teenage boys, the same demographic they were hoping to pack theatres with on August 15th. The summer’s biggest wildcard has got to be the Platinum Dunes instigated revamp of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. Reactions to trailers and casting has been fairly vitriolic, but this is a Michael Bay produced revamp of a classic 80s nostalgia piece, and you’d be a muppet to bet against it outright. I still suspect the film will struggle, but not nearly to the extent some prognosticators are suggesting. If reviews are anything other than horrible (or even vaguely amicable, along the lines of the first “Transformers” affair), then the Megan Fox and William Fichtner starring actioner could pass $100 Mill domestically, with international markets a veritable maelstrom of potential. I certainly anticipate the feature will assassinate “Into The Storm”, its direct weekend competition, which has so far looked a stale found footage debacle.

 An Article by Daniel Kelly, 2014


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