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Months of Meryl: Adaptation 

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Mid-Year Report: Blockbuster Bombs - Why Did They Flop?

by Seán McGovern

If 2017 is showing any consistency in audience tastes over the last few years it's that no amount of star power, budget or marketing gimmicks can force audiences to buy tickets, with news that the US Memorial Weekend was the lowest grossing since 1999. I've been told variances of the rule that for every production budget on a blockbuster, you can expect the marketing budget to be half if not equal to that - meaning that managing to break even is still a loss.

The year is noticeable once again for some high profile box office casualties - King Arthur, Ghost in the Shell, Power Rangers, Baywatch, possibly Alien: Covenant and the latest Pirates of the Caribbean, which regardless of its #1 spot at the Box Office has a budget of $230m (!) to recoup and turn into profit.

There is plenty of speculation that the way we watch films is contributing to the losses, but how to explain Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy and the Marvel Universe - huge financial successes that tick many of the same boxes as the recent failures? If we like to believe that audiences are more selective or that we truly consider the reviews, then why do the Transformers films keep getting made? (seriously please someone explain)

Full figures (and reader speculation welcome) after the jump...

 $175m Box Office to Date: $120

In its favor: Guy Richie's particular directorial style, the potential crowning of Charlie Hunman as a true screen star and King Arthur being neither sci-fi nor superhero gave it the chance to stand out.

Hindrances: An enormous budget places immense pressure on a film to succeed, and the shifting release dates from July 2016, to February 2017, to March, to May shows a complete lack of faith in the project. Perhaps swords and sorcery just does not appeal to audiences at the moment.


$110m Box Office to Date: $169m

In its favor: A very popular and well respected original source, a pre-made demographic, ScarJo: Queen of Sci-Fi, the 3D factor and admittedly sumptuous visuals.

Hindrances: Controversy surrounding the casting of a non-Asian actress and the reports of making Johansson appear Asian, the philosophical core of the original was skimmed off, generally very dour with characters hard to care about.

Budget: $100m Box Office to Date: $140

In its favour: Nostalgia and a pre-made audience of millennials, Elizabeth Banks (imho), removing the kitsch factor of the original series while keeping the silliness (Rita Repulsa eats gold. Gold.), a new young cast.

Hindrances: The kitsch factor of the original series was what made it so loved and fans of the original likely didn't need a reintroduction. Origin stories are neither new nor exciting.

*It's being reported that a sequel may get produced, not due to tickets but to toy sales.


 $69m Box Office to Date: $28.5m

In its favor: The R-rated Risk - adult content for an adult audience, bankable and gorgeous stars like Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, nostalgia of the original TV show.

Hindrances: Baywatch was always a guilty pleasure and maybe audiences didn't really feel the need to be reintroduced to it, TV adaptations are increasingly high risk with 21 Jump Street more an exception than a rule, the R-rating prevented a younger audience from seeing it - who probably should have been the intended audience to begin with.


 $97m Box Office to Date: $160m

In its favor: The Alien title attached - not just Prometheus this time, Ridley Scott, the legacy of the previous films, the Xenomorph we all know and love.

Hindrances: A ponderous script, characters no-one really cared about, over-exposure with the alien itself removes the fear factor that was only unique in the original. There may still be time to recoup losses.

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Reader Comments (22)

If there is a "blockbuster" every weekend, then nothing is really a blockbuster. Perhaps audiences are getting blockbuster fatigue and saving up their moviegoing for certified blockbusters (Star Wars, Marvel, etc).

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

The release pattern also crams a lot of these films together. I thought Hollywood had learned its lesson from Hunger Games, Beauty and the Beast, Deadpool, etc. that blockbusters can come now at any time of year. In fact, I think it benefits them to have the room to themselves. King Arthur should have been released in March or in the dead months of September and October. It probably would have done better then instead of being drowned by Guardians of the Galaxy.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Game of Thrones proves people are still into sword and sorcery, but King Arthur looked messy and was messy, garnering awful reviews. I think reviews matter when audiences are skeptical. Audiences more or less trust that a Marvel or Star Wars film is going to be good, and those that go see Transformers flicks know what they're getting and like it. They don't trust yet another spin on King Arthur or any ole tv or anime adaptation. Reviews matter in those cases and will either make or break the opening weekend. When it comes to Pirates, there's no mystery there. It's the 5th film, it looked awful, got bad reviews, and still made a pretty big chunk of change, especially world wide.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTr

While it's true that the summer release schedule is crammed, moving to spring or fall is no solution. These days the entire year is crammed with tentpoles.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTr

The whole "movies need to make twice their budget to be profitable" line is probably true on some level but, I don't know, I feel like if it were as true as people make it out to be no expensive movies would ever get made and they seem to be getting made every week. We've all heard those stories of "Hollywood accounting" being used to hide profits on movies, I can't help but wonder if that's going on with their press releases as well.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMJS


Agreed. If it was so difficult to make their money back then the notoriously risk averse Hollywood would never green light such budgets.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTr

I actually walked out of " Ghost in the Shell" - the android with a soul concept was better done "West World"

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

AC hurts most because it and the previous film have meddled with the Alien legacy and those 2 films are classics even if your no horror/sci fi fan,if RS doesn't make at least 1 film to tie into Alien what was the whole point.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Bad movies with actors that are not box office are always are hard sell. Who wants to see a Guy Richie movie with Charlie Hunman on King Arthur? Not me. Ditto anything with Zac Efron, Scarlett Johansson, The Rock or James Franco, even if he dies early in the movie. Alien franchise is spent. Johnny Depp ... I just don't think anyone cares for him anymore. He seems to be going through the motions, maybe even acting while altered. I love the blind item that said he wears an earpiece so someone can feed him his lines. Seemed believable.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Hopefully this puts the nail in the coffin for the Pirates franchise, but I'm sure it will break even due to its international grosses.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterArlo

Nat, have you watched the trailer of Victoria and Abdul? Man, is Judi Dench good or what? Why isn't it talked about more?

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKD

I've always assumed that most big movies make their money back eventually after video rental and sales, streaming rights, toys, memorabilia, etc. just sometimes it may take time, even several years.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike Troutman


Zac Efron, The Rock, and Scarlett draw if the ingredients are right.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTr

There was no audience for an R rated "Baywatch comedy at least with the Rock and Zac Efron in the lead. The Rock can afford a bomb once in a while not too sure about Mr Efron.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

The Rock isn't as big a draw as the success of some of his films suggest. He tends to be very strategic in choosing roles. Very few of his most succesful movies truly rely on him as the selling point, though he adds value. Franchises like The Fast And Furious films don't rely specfically on him. San Andreas is the type of huge spectacle distaster film that doesn't need a major star to make bank (was Jake Gyllenhaal suddenly a huge draw because The Day After Tommorow made bank? Same scenario). Central Intelligence was a comedy, and Kevin Hart is the big comedy draw. Hercules did solid international buisness, but it's based on a character and myth familiar to everyone.

Dwayne's career as a top box office draw is mostly smoke and mirrors. He has some drawing power, but I don't think he's anywhere close to what Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise or Will Smith were in their prime, when you could literally just take an original idea/concept, put their face on a poster and watch hundreds of millions of dollars roll i.

May 30, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjonty

I actually did see "Baywatch" in order to start the summer as shallowly as possible.

And it didn't hold it to it's own raunchy sex action / comedy premise. The only nudity was male (Not necessarily a complaint, but the target audience might not be as interested), and that nudity is used for comic effect. And the leads kept their shirts ON for the majority of the movie.

It just wasn't that funny, Zac and the Rock didn't really have great chemistry, and the plot was a rather straight-forward, possibly ripped from the TV series story.

May 31, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Personally speaking - when something comes out with "this is a blockbuster" stamped all over it I tend not to be taken with it. It probably comes down to originality, word of mouth AND entertainment. Which is why a film like Get Out, with a budget of $4.5m became a bonafide blockbuster raking in $241m.

I don't think studios give audiences enough credit - you might be able to predict the mentality of teenage boys but don't think you can with the rest of us.

May 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSeán

I think this is good news.

May 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

While Channing Tatum ended up being the best part of 21 jump street, it was Jonah Hill who brought people in. If you're gonna do a comedy you need a trusted comedy actor to lure an audience. Baywatch has two Tatums, neither of which are as talented as Tatum, mix that with bad reviews and you got a bomb. Also Efron just doesn't have it, for a guy who was crowned the next DiCaprio he's looking more and more like the next Kutcher. Efron will be on a bad CBS sitcom within 10 years.

May 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike Troutman

@Mike you certainly know how to burn!

May 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSeán

@Mike you are probably right about Zac Efron. I think he's going to have a tough time, not only with his career, but with his self-esteem. He's putting way more effort into working out than seems healthy. I think he has some real demons.

May 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I agree with @Mike on Zac. Dwayne Johnson has been very smart in picking his movies. He as at his best in "Snitch" (2013) a solid well crafted action movie.

May 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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