The Bombs of Summer - 2013
With the wild summer season drawn closed it is time to assess the results, or in my case, the damage. There was victory, carnage, and quite a bit of shoulder shrugging as everyone tried to make sense of it all.
With the most lucrative frame on the Hollywood release schedule now wrapped up it is time to assess how the bottom dwellers fared. It was a tumultuous summer with many releases making it a difficult time for box office prognosticators. The last weeks of summer have felt dismal, with half-hearted releases greeting apathetic or worn out audiences. The overall mood was that this summer was a disappointment, but the opposite proved true: it was a flush frame with 10% increases in both revenue and ticket buyers over last year, bringing in a record of over $4.5 billion. So why the negativity?
Even with flashy figures by summer's halfway mark journalists bemoaned that Hollywood was diluting returns by releasing too much product at once. Numerous weekends saw a crowded release schedule leading to many titles ending up in the ditch and some surefire hits missing the mark. Still, many positive surprises also emerged. The lightly regarded NOW YOU SEE ME was $100 million+ hit, THIS IS THE END nearly did the same as a counter-programming success, as did KEVIN HART: LET ME EXPLAIN, while THE HEAT broke $150 million. Even projected misfires like WORLD WAR Z and THE GREAT GATSBY actually made a mint.
But there were plenty of titles also delivering a somber mood. In ranking the worst I used an imperfect formula to measure failure. Unlike the wildly inaccurate tactic using returns-versus-budget I applied a broader stroke involving studio expectations, size of the picture, and critical disdain. There is one other component that needs addressing, and that is global box office. Studios in recent years have relied on the inflated overseas number to buoy a sinking title, but that is not an easy mathematical either. Unique distribution costs, marketing, and reduced receipt ratios abroad make this a difficult metric to measure. Basically, you need a film to be a smash overseas to erase your mistakes. So here they are, the worst of the lot ranked according to failure.
DISHONORABLE MENTIONS (Alphabetically): These were a collection of titles that met varying degrees of failure in North American theaters but may, or may not yet see a profit. At best studios could break even and some studio suits probably won’t get fired.
Elysium So much fanfare and yet people struggled to find positives. A middling domestic return might become floated with a healthy foreign box office.
The Hangover Part 3 Most agreed this was an unneeded sequel. Proof came with modest returns, although it doubled its take overseas. The surprise comedy WE”RE THE MILLERS recently earned more money stateside.
Kick-Ass 2 The Jim Carey controversy thought to bring in free publicity may now be seen as a detriment. Barely reaching its budget, smaller returns overseas, and a healthy amount of marketing means it is a stretch to break even.
Pacific Rim This has shocked many as Guillermo Del Toro's expensive action epic barely made it to $100 million domestically, however it tripled that number overseas and may have just made enough to warrant a sequel.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters The original did middling business here but saw interest in foreign territories. This time fewer were interested with the sequel in either location.
Red 2 Just did not offer enough in a crowded market and barely earned much interest overseas.
The Smurfs 2 – Brought in half of the original’s dollars, and even earned less than PLANES, a non-Pixar effort originally created for a DVD-only release. However 75% of its money was international.
#10: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Practically indistinguishable visually from PERCY JACKSON this young-adult book series should have had a built-in audience, one that was still out of school. Sony’s tough summer continued as it opened so soft that it basically made as much as THE WORLD’S END, which opened the same weekend but on half as many the screens.
#9: The Internship
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There was a time when the re-teaming of the WEDDING CRASHERS duo of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson was looked at positively. It debuted after HANGOVER 3 and should have enjoyed a humor vacuum as that sequel fizzled, but the news that this was an unfunny, by-the-numbers comedy came out. It opened at #4 and could not beat the surprise NOW YOU SEE ME in the second week of release. Many have now forgotten this had even been released.
#8: After Earth
Another disappointment which could have ranked higher without international help. The Will Smith family venture arrived as a "serious" post-apocalyptic sci-fi venture but once they saw Jaden Smith talking to a large bird audiences quickly responded with a "What the hell?!" reaction. However the global numbers helped to avoid complete disaster. Much like PACIFIC RIM this title did triple the business internationally, but not in figures as large and it did not earn any of the respect.
While many projected EPIC to become an animated failure the film did decent business, as Dreamworks struggled with this concept. To say the idea of a turbo-charged snail competing in the Indianapolis 500 was “High-Concept” is looking back favorably. This enterprise certainly did not appeal to kids, and overall just did not work on numerous levels. The marketing campaign involved promotional partners such as automotive companies Sunoco and Firestone, while featuring a snail. It even appropriated a tagline from another franchise to no effect.
#6 Tyler Perry Presents Peeples
One of the more anonymous titles released over the summer, few even recall this opening the same week as GATSBY, and during the monstrous IRON MAN 3 schedule. Despite a 2,000 screen rollout it was widely ignored and even though it sported Tyler Perry's name (he served as producer) it managed to fall short of a $10 million gross.
Ethan Hawke closed the summer when he appeared in this ridiculous actioner that was literally a non-stop car chase, and nothing more. Selena Gomez was laughable as his involuntary sidekick and was not even afforded a character name - a benefit considering Hawke was saddled with the moniker "Brent Magna". While nothing was expected of this title it managed to distinguish itself by opening at a dismal #9 on a holiday weekend and it came in with a hilarious 2% on Rotten Tomatoes.
With little fanfare this technological thriller arrived late in the summer and was trampled under the stampede of more viable titles. Sure, you could say propping a motion picture on the shoulders of Liam Hemsworth is a risky enterprise, but other details should have helped. When you have a cast featuring Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, a 2,500 screen release, and a modest budget of $35 million then a summer success should not be out of reach. This thing flopped hard, opening at #13 for the weekend and dropping 60% from that lowly level in week two, before finishing with less than a $7 million gross.
#3 White House Down
It is explainable why this did not work, considering the like-minded OLYPUS HAS FALLEN came out months earlier. But when you have Channing Tatum in the lead of a Roland Emmerich summer blockbuster the audiences should have arrived automatically. It opened at #4, was embarassed by losing big to THE HEAT which was made for 1/3 of the money, and even adding international grosses it fell short of the budget -- to say nothing of the marketing costs. Stunning since this was expected to be among the can't-miss hits of Summer.
#2 The Lone Ranger
For the second year in a row Disney placed a scud into theaters. The troubles of this film were legion during production and nobody was the least surprised that it was dead upon release in the states. When you have over $200 in budget with a monstrous marketing campaign the movie needs to pull in half a billion to avoid derision. This movie grossed only $80 million domestically, and the only reason it was not the biggest misfire of the summer is because somehow it drew audiences abroad. The global total takes it close to the production budget but make no mistake, this was a disaster. Disney reportedly recorded a $100 million write-down based on this title alone.
(You can see where shared sensibilities led to similar results)
While the LONE RANGER may have lost more money this title distinguished itself by failing in numerous categories, and in uniform fashion. Even while opening against soft competition such as TURBO, and the even softer RED 2, this MEN IN BLACK retread landed at #7 for its first week and drifted lower hence. Globally it earned less than one half of its budget, the critics were almost unanimous in their scorn, and the feeble audience reaction was soon overlooked by the arrival of WOLVERINE. It dumped almost half of its theaters after just 2 weeks, a sign of Universal giving up entirely but don't weep for the studio. Two other titles -- FAST & FURIOUS 6, and DESPICABLE ME 2 -- drew over $1.5 billion. In fact, the cheap horror outing THE PURGE drew as much as the global take for R.I.P.D. -- $65 million -- while costing around $125 million less to produce.
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