The box office underperformers of 2011

Odd List Simon Brew 18 Aug 2011 - 11:47

Pirates, Potter and Transformers have made over $3bn between them this year. But which movies failed to live up to box office expectations?

In a year when box office records have been breaking, and when three films thus far have crossed the $1bn mark, there’s still been room for some box office disappointments. So which films failed to catch on? And did they deserve their fate? Let’s find out…

WINNIE THE POOH
Budget: $30m
Worldwide box office: $31m

A travesty, this. Disney’s latest hand-drawn film was a real labour of love, a big screen adventure for Winnie The Pooh and his chums in the Hundred Acre Wood. It wasn’t a perfect movie, granted, but its was exquisitely crafted, was willing to try a few things with the source material, and deserved to be another sizeable animation hit for the House Of Mouse.

Only it wasn’t. It actually opened in the UK before the US, not even scraping £1m at the UK box office. Then, when it opened in the US, it was programmed against the release of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, and got trounced as a result.

It deserved better. Granted, it’s a far cheaper animated production than Disney’s last (the $200m+ Tangled), and inevitably, it’ll turn a profit. But a $31m worldwide take to date has left Disney not even releasing a Blu-ray version of the film in the UK, choosing instead for a single DVD. A real pity, as there’s lots of skill and clever storytelling here, even if one or two of the voices are a little off.

GREEN LANTERN
Budget: $200m
Worldwide box office: $176m

This was supposed to be a pivotal film for Warner Bros. Aware that its DC brand was reliant on Batman and Superman movies to keep it bubbling, the plan was to bring in another big-budget superhero film, and potentially build up to a full Justice League movie, like Marvel’s The Avengers. The problem? Green Lantern just didn’t measure up.

The warning signs were illuminated when Warner Bros agreed to stump up $9m for extra effects work perilously close to the film’s release date. A massive marketing spend, meanwhile, helped the film to a decent $53m opening weekend in America. But from then on, rotten word of mouth strangled the film. It found its way to $115m in the US in the end, but the real damage was done at the worldwide box office.

In a year where films such as Harry Potter 7b and Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 have seen 70-80% of their takings comes from outside the States, Green Lantern bombed. Its non-US haul to date is just $61m. Potter stands at $857m, while Pirates has grabbed $798m of non-US business. Even Hollywood comedies, traditionally poor travellers, have been working in non-US markets. Green Lantern, in spite of that massive marketing roll-out, simply failed to do so.

Warner Bros is bullish, insisting that a sequel is still planned. It will be replacing director Martin Campbell, but it’ll also be patently aware that the underperformance of Green Lantern might just have iced those Justice League plans for a few more years yet. Perhaps that’s why Warner Bros is rumoured to be focusing on a Batman-Superman movie instead


THE DILEMMA

Budget: $70m
Worldwide box office: $69m

Ron Howard back doing comedy? That had to be a good idea. This is the man, after all, who directed the comedy classic Parenthood. He did Splash. He was in Happy Days. Why not get him to return to the comedy genre after a long time away? That’d be great.

Turns out, nobody told Ron Howard. Whilst ostensibly billed as a comedy, The Dilemma was actually more of a dark drama, and practically a mirth free one. Sure, the inclusion of Vince Vaughn and Kevin James promised giggles, but the tone of the film goes off in an unexpected direction, and sadly, it’s a gamble that fails. The Dilemma, ultimately, doesn’t work as a comedy, and isn’t much cop as a drama, either (although it's no disaster).

The marketing did push it more as a comedic piece, but whereas word of mouth this year has pushed a comedy movie such as Bridesmaids to big success, it had the opposite effect on The Dilemma. Which, in spite of its star power, fizzled out with about enough money to cover the production budget. Just the marketing costs and the distribution expenses to pay, then.

Since The Dilemma, Ron Howard’s next project, a massive adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, has lost its funding (although he's still trying to get it made). It’s unclear what his next project will now be. A proper comedy would not be a bad idea, though.


GLEE 3D: THE CONCERT MOVIE

Budget: $9m
Worldwide box office: $8m

In some quarters, this was regarded as a bit of a shoo-in. Giving that a film of a Hannah Montana concert brought in $70m for Disney a few years back, and that the Justin Bieber film fell just short of $100m, shooting a Glee concert must have seemed like a great plan.

After all, Glee remains a television phenomenon, generating hit album after hit album. Two further seasons of the show were commissioned when season one wasn’t finished, and the concert tour itself was proving to be a massive success. Thus, the plan was simple. Film a concert, bang it out in 3D, sit back and count the cash.

Turns out, if they were going to do Glee on the big screen, they should have done it properly. Audiences in the States turned their back on the movie on its opening weekend, with it not even breaking the top ten chart. Currently, its take in the US is just $6.8m, and while the DVD and Blu-ray sales will more than likely be healthy, and Fox’s financial outlay on the movie isn’t high, this is still a sizeable commercial disappointment.

It might not take a future Glee movie off the agenda. But it should keep concert films out of cinemas for a good decade or so to come.

SCREAM 4
Budget: $40m
Worldwide box office: $97m

Let’s get this straight: Scream 4 is no flop.

Appreciating that the production budget doesn’t take into account marketing and distribution costs, there’s no way the film won’t be in profit by the time the DVD and Blu-ray sales, and other ancillaries, are factored in. The problem, though, is it was expected to do so much better than it did.

The performance of the first three Scream movies, over a decade ago, was spectacular. Cheap to make, the three films took $173m, $172m and $161m at the worldwide box office on their original release, and made far more than that on DVD. A belated sequel, though, is always a risk, and while Scream 4 seemed to attract those who enjoyed the original trilogy, it clearly struggled to bring in new fans to the franchise.

It didn’t help that the film petered out into fairly standard fare, after a promising beginning. You can help but feel there was a bolder, cleverer film to be made out of Scream 4 than the seemingly compromised one that we got. Perhaps the rumoured behind the scenes troubles did have an impact.

The performance of the movie has all but killed the idea for a fresh trilogy, we’d have thought. The current thinking is to do a proper reboot, and start again from scratch. Which, given how economical the films are to make, is likely to be a smart idea, and ultimately, a more profitable one.

SUCKER PUNCH
Budget: $82m
Worldwide box office: $89m

In defence of Sucker Punch, the extended cut on the Blu-ray improves matters (more on that here). But there’s little doubting that Zack Snyder’s most recent film, and his last before his Superman reboot, performed well below where Warner Bros wanted it to be.

Castigated critically in some quarters, although defended by a small core, this was Snyder at his most unleashed. It was also him being quite economical, as whatever you thought of the end product, there’s little doubt that it’s visually impressive, especially as the work done on the movie came in for under $90m. That wouldn’t pay for half of the budget of many of this year’s biggest movies.

The problem was that the film couldn’t survive lousy word of mouth. Plus, the marketing campaign focused on its five scantily clad protagonists, and never convincingly managed to get across just what the film was about. As such, a massively disappointing $36m US haul was only partly offset by the $53m of non-US takings.

Snyder will be under more editorial control, you’d imagine, on Man Of Steel, and the evidence of Sucker Punch is that that might not be a bad thing. As it stands, once marketing costs are factored in, Warner Bros won’t see profit on this one for a little while yet.

THE BEAVER
Budget: $21m
Worldwide box office: $6m

The Beaver was never designed to be a blockbuster, but it still remains a mighty surprise just how little business it did. Inevitably, much of the for that, with some justification, has been laid at the door of Mel Gibson.

If the film had been released before Gibson’s most recent set of transgressions and well-reported comments, there’s an argument that suggests The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster, could have done ten times the business that it ultimately did (it couldn’t even crack $1m in the US).

Still, there’s also the fact that The Beaver is actually quite a melancholy film, and not the light-hearted project that some of the advertising may have made it appear. In fact, the cautious promotion, courtesy of the Gibson factor again, also did the film few favours.

It should pick up a core audience on its DVD and Blu-ray release. But The Beaver is surely proof that a movie star can have a negative, as well as positive, impact on the gross of a film.

MARS NEEDS MOMS
Budget: $150m
Worldwide box office: $38m

Comfortably, by some distance, the flop of the year, and one that’s had consequences.

Mars Needs Moms is the latest motion capture project from Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers Digital, and to say it failed to find an audience would be no understatement. Costing $150m to make, and opening to just $6.9m in the US on its first weekend, the film has little hope of making Disney its money back, and the red ink surrounding it is going nowhere fast.

The repercussions came quickly. Disney had already decided to end its ownership of ImageMovers Digital, which has only just now found a new home at Universal. Furthermore, Disney also pulled out of Zemeckis’ planned performance capture remake of The Beatles movie, Yellow Submarine. Further planned performance capture projects, including The Nutcracker and a potential Roger Rabbit sequel, might just have been delayed as a result.

For Zemeckis, who produced the film (Simon Wells directed), he’s now toying with a live action movie for the first time in a decade. Performance capture lives on, though, with Tintin and Paradise Lost either finished or about to enter production.

Mars Needs Moms, though, remains as one of the biggest financial flops of recent times, in spite of the fact that other big movies have garnered worse reviews this year. That said, there’s still little reason to seek it out.

The one that didn’t flop…

There are films released this year that may have been perceived to have flopped, but in fact have done anything but. Cars 2 is perhaps the best example. It survived tricky reviews for a worldwide gross of $476m. Plus it boosted the sales of merchandise, arguably the main reason for its existence in the eyes of some…

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