Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Day Late & A Dollar Short - 5 Reasons Why Big-Budget Movies Underperform

If you've paid attention to the movie industry over the last few years, then you will know that certain movies under perform and flop. Which makes sense after all. Not everyone has the time and the money or wants to put in the effort to watch all movies that come out each year. And as we all know by now by just looking at the upcoming movie schedule, or recent box office numbers, it doesn't always hit deserving films. Edge of Tomorrow, lauded as one of the best Tom Cruise films since the man went gaga? Underperformed. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, directed by one of the best film makers of our generation and one of the best comic adaptations around? Underperformed. The-Movie-That-I-Am-No-Longer-Allowed-To-Name-Or-Argue-For-It's-Greatness-Anymore-Even-Though-It-Was-Genuinely-One-Of-The-Best-Comic-Movies-Ever-And-Butthurt-Fanboys-Need-To-Shut-The-F-Up? Underperformed. You get the idea. By time of writing even the new Terminator did not make as much as people wanted it to make, putting future sequel plans at risk. Now why is this? Well, let's take a look at the list. 

 1.) Delusions of Grandeur 

We may love certain brands and franchises like Star Trek and Terminator, or just individual actors like Tom Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow) or Will Smith (After Earth) are world-wide recognized talents/icons but that does not guarantee instant success, if success at all. Star Trek has always been niche, as has been Scott Pilgrim Vs The World which, while based on a successful comic, was not as widely known to the general public as Batman or other superheroes. A lot of these movies deserved to get made, I'm still so happy to have finally gotten a big budget A-Team movie or a Master and Commander movie back in 2003, but a lot of these products seem too niche and something that is in the public mind can still be niche. After all, everyone knows who Kirk, Spock, Klingons, and the starship Enterprise are but the two Abrams Star Trek movies only pulled in around 300 Million Dollars each. I think that we need to rephrase a lot of the ways we think about certain franchises and projects, and Hollywood studios need to do the same. Certain projects just don't warrant the 150-200 Million Dollar blockbuster machine. Say what you will about The Expendables but these movies do it exactly right. They are modestly budgeted films by Hollywood standards with anywhere between 40-100 Million tops in terms of budget, the set pieces are small, but they know how to cater to their demographic and because they don't spend so much money they can pander to that specific demographic. They may not be critically acclaimed like Edge of Tomorrow, Scott Pilgrim, Master and Commander, and other under performers were, but at least they can warrant their budgets.  

2.) Poor Timing 

Sometimes you can have it all: a great script, great cast, great directors, a studio that doesn't screw over said great director, cast, and script, and you can still end up with a flop in the middle of summer. Edge of Tomorrow, for example, had to compete against Maleficent, a modern fairy tale deconstruction, and holdover X-Men Days of Future Past, a big superhero splosh extravaganza. And this is just one example. Nearly every big flop that people have no idea why it flopped, flopped because it opened to close to a similar enough movie. It's like not wanting to go out eating the same food from two separate restaurants two days in a row. Yes, you could do that, but you could also try out something else. Doesn't matter if the second restaurant was better, you just happened to have come across the first one first and now they are at a loss. It just happens. This is something Hollywood seems to have already come to grips with after we had to witness that embarrassing game of chicken between Marvel and DC last year when it came to finalizing the release dates of Batman v Superman and Captain America 3: Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny. Both were solicited for the same weekend but eventually DC relented and changed the date. Because, outside of the hardcore fans, the studios knew that the average Joe was just gonna have time and energy to watch one movie that weekend, already cannibalizing their own sales. And that's, ultimately, what it comes down to.  

3.) Audience Exhaustion 

This especially comes to play with franchises and the superhero genre in particular, especially now that the superhero movie is the default genre for action movies released year-in-year-out in Hollywood's summer season. It seems like every studio needs it's own summer blockbuster. But people have stuff to do and with ticket prices slowly rising, people become choosier about what they see. Often times it's like with a child spending all his allowance early on in the month, then having nothing left for the rest of the month even though there is something interesting they wanna check out. Actually, this does also apply to college students... moving on. Point is that releasing early in the summer now means being the first films that people can spend their money on, but with "Blockbuster/Summer Season" now apparently spreading from May to late August, this means that viewers will be completely burned out halfway through. You can't, after all, watch all the movies that are being released, and even if you do there will be times when you watch the respective movie's trailer and think to yourself whether or not you have to watch another star ship get blown up or New York get demolished again and again. At some point people will start skipping certain movies. I feel this myself and I am a self-described movie fan. And even if audiences are completely brainless as the Internet often thinks they are and if they only give their cash to big cash cow franchises and mindless "comedies", eventually they are gonna get bored and move on to greener pastures. It's just a roll of the dice which movie gets hit first that year or when the blockbuster fatigue starts setting in. 

 4.) The Changing Landscape of Entertainment 

But in the end I can argue every day of the week for why certain movies were snubbed, rationalize it away, when a lot of the issues come down to how formulaic the blockbuster has become and how much easier it is now in our digital era to catch up with other media, be it through Netflix or other streaming platforms, or the TV Renaissance in general. With ticket prices rising into the two digits easily now, movies have to go all guns blazing. Either go big or go home, specifically: the living room. I have worked in a movie theater before and there was a reason all we ever showed were blockbusters and the latest animated family film, pretty much all of which are blockbusters anyway, so this was really redundant: they still warrant people to fork over the cash to watch them in theaters. People need to justify their expenses when a single movie ticket costs as much as a month worth of Netflix and for two tickets and some refreshments you can buy a couple of video games. Or groceries that don't involve ramen... but you get the idea. 

 5.) Incompetent Studios 

I have to admit that I could only really come up with four points but Top 5's sell better in search terms, but I wanted to some up some final thoughts here. In the end, it really doesn't matter how good your movie is, when it opens, against which movie it opens, what other alternatives there are, these are all factors to consider, but the making and the breaking of a film ultimately comes down to the people behind the people behind the camera: the studio suits. Ultimately, film making is a business, and when your accountant and/or money man screws up, when your CEO's mistakes lead to a stock price crash, it doesn't matter how good your product was. Every year bad executives in the film industry squander money and inflate the a film's budget unnecessarily because they need to spend another 100, 200 Million Dollars on advertisements instead of relying on viral marketing and mouth to mouth propaganda. We live, after all, in the age of twitter and Facebook. When, for instance, my friend Jessica wants to know whether or not she should watch a movie now or wait for the cheap theater or the DVD release, she just asks around on social media. No amount of marketing will ever make up for a bad movie. A trailer that reveals all the vital plot details will lead to a drop off of sales and only because an executive thought it was good to showcase all the set pieces in the trailer.

This pretty much wraps up my rambling on Under performing movies, why not join us on Facebook or comment below to continue this discussion, I really wanna hear from you guys what you think makes movies under perform.

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