You’ve probably caught the news by now that Paramount has taken the very late in the day decision to postpone the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation by the best part of a year. The movie was due out in just five weeks, the promotional campaign was in full swing (press interviews were apparently already underway), and yet the decision has been made to move the film back to March 2013. It’s a staggeringly last minute move, seemingly out of the blue (although presumably Paramount has been considering this these past few weeks).
But why? Well, there are three explanations doing the rounds, not all of which are the official ones. So let’s take a look…
THEORY ONE: THE COMPETITION WAS TOO TOUGH
There’s a large suspicion that Paramount simply blinked in the midst of ferocious competition. It’s hard to imagine a summer of blockbusters that’s been quite like this one already, with three major superhero movies dominating the schedules. The first of those movies is already devouring the box office, to the detriment of the competition.
Look at Battleship. It was released in April in other parts of the world, adding some $200m to its coffers before its US bow. it was shaping up to be a solid hit. Universal released it two weeks after The Avengers in the US, though, and it was battered out of sight (its opening weekend just scraped over $25m, very low for a major blockbuster). Usually, a blockbuster has a one or two week window to bring in half of its US box office gross, before the next one chugs along and takes over. The Avengers is one of those exceptions that’s breaking those rules, and Battleship has been the highest profile casualty of that to date. Sony must be quite nervous about Men In Black 3 this coming weekend.,
And look where G.I. Joe: Retaliation was scheduled to fall. It had a June 29th release date, which gave the film one week before the release of The Amazing Spider-Man to make its money (with The Dark Knight Rises a few weeks after that). The week before? Brave and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter are scheduled for US release, and the chances are that one of those two, Brave more than likely, would hold a second weekend audience.
It’s often overlooked that a blockbuster movie is a nine-figure, self-contained business in its own right. Paramount, I’d wager, saw that it was getting hard for its film to even get noticed in the crowd of the summer, (it was already a gamble of a project, given most people’s opinion of the first movie) and protected its investment. The negative cost of the movie was likely to be around $100-150m at the very least, and in the current climate, just getting to a $50m opening weekend in the US would have been an achievement.
Moving it to next March gives it a slightly clearer field. Ironically, it now opens a week after Jack The Giant Killer, Bryan Singer’s movie that Warner Bros chose to delay for the best part of a year, after releasing an initial trailer for the movie. As things stand, the next blockbuster scheduled post-March 29th 2013 in the US comes a good four weeks later: the Tom Cruise sci-fi adventure, Oblivion. That gives G.I. Joe a solid chance at being a hit, in a less crowded part of the schedule.
I suspect that the key reason for Retaliation’s release lies here: that had Paramount done nothing, one of its big tentpole movies was going to get trampled on. Hence, its decision to swerve so late in the day (and, as @markbmb points out on Twitter, Paramount is getting a slice of The Avengers‘ takings, which helps offset the immediate financial impact, too)
THEORY TWO: IT’S FOR THE 3D BOLT-ON
This is the official reason given by Paramount for the delay, although it’s hard to believe that it only boils down to a last minute decision to press the 3D button. This sounds more like a useful cover to buy the film some time to get more profile and enthusiasm behind it.
The film is blatantly all but finished, and Paramount argues that its international – ie, non-US – box office revenue will be bolstered by a post-production 3D bolt-on. That sounds about right, too, whether people like that or not, and I’d imagine that Paramount will make more money by adding 3D to it.
But I still think there’s a strong, overwhelming element of cover story to it. That it gives a plausible explanation for the delay, without overtly having to admit that the film was not tracking too well. Basically, they bought themselves some time, and 3D provided the useful cover to do that.
THEORY THREE: THE FILM WAS RUBBISH, AND PARAMOUNT PANICKED
See, this is the one I don’t buy. The theories that have been thrown around in the past 12 hours have generally centred on the fact that Paramount knew it had a dud on its hands. I’m not sure it has.
The first G.I. Joe movie really wasn’t very good at all, to the point where it was a surprise to many that it even got a sequel (despite its solid box office take). But the early signs for Retaliation were far more promising. Jon Chu is a smart choice to direct, and I went to a special screening of ten minutes of footage from the film a month or two back, and it seemed to be shaping up perfectly well. Granted, the material was out of context, but I was shown action sequences that were well-edited, and gelled together. If the film is terrible, I’ve really seen no evidence of that.
In the absence of better explanations, it’s easy to assume that a film is a stinker. But it’s hardly being buried in the schedules. It just happens to be the third big movie – after Jack The Giant Killer and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters – to escape summer 2012 for a safer climate. Granted, the timing of Paramount’s move hardly helps battle the suspicion that it has a poor movie on its hands. But I’d wager it’s better than many are giving it credit for. I’d, at the least, put hard cash on it being a superior movie to the first one.
A FINAL THOUGHT
The argument generally runs that blockbusters get a bad name for having to be quite so deadline driven. That the thrust to get a movie in on time for a pre-determined release date leaves to corners being cut. At the very least here, Paramount has bought itself and its filmmakers a good nine months to tune the movie to the nth degree, and I’m not necessarily certain that’s something to criticise it for.
Granted, the film may still turn out to be terrible, and it may bomb at the box office. But there’s a sporting chance that what looks to all intents and purposes like a business decision may yet be to the benefit of the movie, and the movie’s chances.
I’d still love it if Paramount allowed those of us who want to watch it in 2D to see it now, though…