Big Budget Bombs over the Summer

Disney’s big-budget, big-screen adaptation of The Lone Ranger landed in theaters over the holiday weekend in July, and the results weren’t pretty. Its five-day domestic gross was a mere $48.9 million, with just under $30 million more coming in from foreign markets.


For years now, Hollywood has reveled in the glory of its summer blockbusters. In recent times however, the summer hasn’t exactly gone to plan if you are a film exec. With a bevy of big budget and lavishly made movies coming; the number of resounding flops have slowly crept up too. This summer in particular, saw more than a few movies crash and burn with barely a whimper. From RIPD to The Lone Ranger, this is enough evidence that the winds of change in the summer moolah cycle are nigh.


Star Power doesn’t cut it anymore 


Hollywood is a fickle place. And for some time, it may seem actors are bigger than their movies. Like it was with Johnny Depp when he played Captain Jack Sparrow. The public absolutely adored him as the lovable pirate. And so Gore Verbinski decide that the audience would watch another movie that featured a costumed and made up Depp, and inflicted The Lone Ranger upon us. A movie that I had the bad fortune to review for this site, despite wanting to run away after the first 100 minutes or so. With Will Smith’s After Earth not doing well either, this is indicative of a greater malaise. The bigger studios have suffered considerable losses with their investments in star heavy movies rather than actual content driven cinema.


Likewise, Sony too has suffered a couple of box-office blowouts – with After Earth and White House Down – the latter a Die Hard at the White House of sorts, proving mediocre at best.


In the late 90s, two guys wrote a script about how a janitor at MIT learned to embrace his savant self. They took it to studio executives who pushed for Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt in the lead, and almost scrapped the idea when it couldn’t happen. Thankfully it did, and in Goodwill Hunting, we have one of the greatest movies of our times. The point where actors no longer essay mere characters and start pandering to what they believe the audience wants to see is a tough one to pin down.


However, let us not kid ourselves. Movies may be interpreted as artistic works but in actuality are a business. And every business needs those figures to drive it forward. But when these so called leadership figures start to get bigger than the company, the financial health of the enterprise shall suffer. And this is what Hollywood is starting to realise.


Sequels, Sequels and more Sequels


Not just sequels. Reboots, remakes and goodness knows what other spin-off of a character that has a loyal fan base. Every big budget movie these days is made with the allowance of a sequel. Some like Del Toro’s Pacific Rim don’t gross enough and hence the sequel plan has to be scrapped. Others like World War Z get the go ahead for a sequel but give lesser carte blache to the men directing. The days of original cinema and discovering new and likable characters every time you visit a cinema hall have been replaced by a veritable storm of characters from comic books and TV shows and pop culture and other regurgitated stuff that I never was interested in.


Movies have turned into big CGI contests trying to outdo each other on things like graphics and locales rather than content and characters. Whilst these technical embellishments are fantastic in most cases, they do not cover up for movies that to put bluntly, are slowly becoming more and more inane. Indeed, movies seem to have been taken over by the desire to compromise intelligence for spectacle and character development for regurgitating the same nonsense all over again.


Battleship from last year also exhibited similar symptoms, being glitzy on the surface but bombing it on the commercial and critical charts that mattered.


Lastly, was the Summer too overcrowded?


There is some merit in the argument that the leaner average gross this year was merely due to the excessive number of films that found their ways to theaters. After all, Hollywood still managed to rake in over $5 billion in business this year, but this is with an increased volume of films and also on the back of Iron Man 3‘s billion dollar plus success.The sheer number of expensive flops though is  mind-boggling  and indicative that there is a certain audience disillusionment round the corner.


This may also be however the warning signs that overkill has been attained and films must reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Indeed as Fox film chief Jim Gianopolos says, “ This summer proved that scale and spectacle alone won’t suffice. Movies need originality and compelling stories and characters. Pure tonnage of effects is not going to cut it.” Incidentally Fox has recently green-lighted Ridley Scott’s $150 million epic Exodus, a Biblical film, so we shall be able to see how Fox executives have heeded their chief’s advice soon enough.


The pointlessness of most films today has been ignored for far too long, and a bored audience is starting to walk out. There are intelligent films such as Upstream Color (highly, highly recommended) but their budgets are so minimal that they rarely get the attention they deserve. Instead, a $200 million film that could be practically a video game because of the emotionless acting of it’s richly paid stars and the fantastic effect is made time and again.


Movies aren’t all about razzle and dazzle, and I hope the warnings are heeded by the people that hold the power to enthrall us. For the tipping point is not far off.




One Response

  1. ^Completely agree with the "Upstream Color"part. Carruth is a genius, but both his films were intentionally indie and only a few indie directors eventually sell the movie to a production house or get bigger projects later (Chronicle's Josh Trank making the next Fantastic Four film). Pacific Rim would have done well if Del Toro had Megan Fox bending over bikes.

    I don't mind the big-budget duds until good low-budget films like Kings of Summer keep coming.

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