Will 2012 be a decisive year for genre cinema?
As Johnny Depp’s The Lone Ranger has its budget cut by several million dollars, Ryan wonders, will 2012 be a decisive year for genre cinema…?
As even the most cursory glance of next year’s release schedules will reveal, 2012 is a big year for genre movies. Joss Whedon will attempt to make the ultimate comic-book team-up movie with The Avengers, released in April. Ridley Scott returns to the Alien universe with Prometheus in June. Christopher Nolan concludes his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises in July.
Those are just three examples of next year’s packed film calendar. Other high-profile geek releases include Andrew Stanton’s big-budget pulp adaptation John Carter, Gary Ross’ future sport thriller, The Hunger Games, and Greek myth sequel Clash Of The Titans 2 – and these are all due out in March.
I’ve not even mentioned the maritime action epic Battleship, The Amazing Spider-Man, World War Z, another Bond movie, and the second half of Twilight: Breaking Dawn. And then there are the sequels nobody particularly expected to see, such as Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, G.I Joe: Retaliation and Men In Black III (on reflection, you could cheerfully add Clash Of The Titans 2 to this list).
As you’ve probably gathered by now, next year is an absolutely saturated year for effects-laden, potentially expensive films. And with 2012 ending with several more high-profile films – The Hobbit, World War Z, and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained are all out in December – we’ll inevitably see more than a few box-office flops before the year’s out.
This year’s Hollywood casualties proved that, even at a time when studios are becoming more and more selective about the properties they choose to invest in, with comic book adaptations, remakes and sequels being the current film types of choice, there’s no such thing as a sure-fire hit.
Of course, the number of films that actually lose investors money is small, and all but the worst box-office failures eventually break even, at the very least. Nevertheless, Warner Bros couldn’t have been too happy with the performance of the extremely expensive Green Lantern, and the tepid performance of Cowboys & Aliens wasn’t exactly a cause for celebration, either. And the less said about Disney’s ill-fated mo-cap venture, Mars Needs Moms, the better.
Given that movies like Green Lantern, Cowboys & Aliens and Mars Needs Moms represent a comparatively high financial risk, it’s unsurprising that Hollywood occasionally cuts its losses, and chooses to cancel potentially expensive movies before they’ve even begun. Earlier this year, Universal decided to abandon its ambitious plans to create a film trilogy and television series adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and also dropped plans to adapt HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness.
In the current financial climate, even a star with the influence of Johnny Depp has struggled to get The Lone Ranger off the ground – Disney originally pulled the plug on it due to financial concerns, and while the project’s back on track, its budget has been cut from an original estimate of around $158m to $136.5m.
These cancellations and cost cuts come at a time when Hollywood is making far fewer movies than it once did. According to one report, the number of films coming out of Tinseltown has dropped by two thirds in five years.
A slowly deflating DVD market has been blamed for Hollywood’s changing filmmaking tactics – where movies could once rely on a second chance on their home entertainment release, the incursion of piracy and video-on-demand has steadily eaten into profits.
The result is a Hollywood system that is becoming ever more cautious about the projects it green lights and the amount of money it invests in them. And with expensive movies such as Cowboys & Aliens, Green Lantern and Conan failing to find significant audiences, and comparatively cheap comedies and dramas making huge sums, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hollywood executives begin to look beyond effects-laden films for investment opportunities.
Just look at the huge success of civil rights movement drama The Help. Since its August release in the US, it’s raked in more than $162m at the box-office. That’s not a huge sum when compared with the billion-dollar success of, say, Pirates Of The Caribbean 4, but then again, Pirates cost ten times as much to make.
Bridesmaids is another example. Made for just over $32m, Paul Feig’s raucous comedy brought in a global return of $281m. Likewise, The Hangover Part II made four times its budget during its theatrical run.
Faced with those figures, it’ll be interesting to see where Hollywood heads next. After all, investing around $30m in a comedy, drama, or a piece of sci-fi with only a minimum of special effects (Limitless did surprisingly well earlier this year) and seeing a modest return is far less risky than investing north of $150m on a potential flop.
It’s likely then, that Tinseltown’s people in suits will be keeping a close eye on the performance of next year’s clutch of expensive genre films. With every month seemingly crammed with big-budget flicks, all clamouring for broadly the same audience, we’re sure to see a few box-office casualties.
Lavish sci-fi and comic book movies will inevitably continue to appear in the future, of course, but it’s possible that we won’t see another year quite so packed full of genre fare as 2012 for a long, long time.