2013: the year of the flop

Why have so many big budget blockbusters bombed this year?

Right, we’re just going to come out and say it… 2013 has been a disastrous year for Hollywood movies.
 
Every year in the summer ‘blockbuster season’ there are hits and there are flops, but this year it’s the flops that have grabbed the headlines. From ‘After Earth’ to ‘White House Down’, studio bigwigs have spent billions producing product that audiences have mostly ignored.


 
According to stats site Box Office Mojo, only six films have made a profit in excess of $300 million so far - which, we reckon, is roughly the amount that constitutes a success because production budgets don’t include marketing costs (often at least $100 million).
 
Those six films are ‘Iron Man 3’, ‘Man of Steel’ ‘Fast and Furious 6’, ‘Despicable Me 2’, ‘The Croods’ and ‘Monsters University’.
 
That leaves plenty of movies which barely broke even - despite intense focus group testing, huge production budgets and elaborate global marketing campaigns. But why?

We’ve had a look at this year’s most high profile flops to find out. It’s worth remembering that several haven’t even been released in the UK yet, like our first example, ‘The Lone Ranger’. Nonetheless, Disney has already predicted it’ll lose $190 million, so it’s unlikely us Brits will make much difference.


'The Lone Ranger'
 
Johnny Depp, Jerry Bruckheimer, a recognisable brand – ‘The Lone Ranger’ had the same ingredients that made ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ a success. At least Disney thought so, and gave Bruckheimer and co. $215 million to make it happen. But the film was almost cancelled mid-way through over budget concerns and it only took only $85m at the US box office.

What went wrong? In a rare example of press junket honesty, the film’s star Armie Hammer told us that American critics “slit the jugular” of ‘Lone Ranger’. He said reviewers judged the project on its behind-the-scenes problems and poisoned audiences against it in advance. But critics hated the ‘Pirates’ sequels and they made billions. The simple reason it flopped may be that people just don’t like westerns anymore.


'R.I.P.D'
 
Ryan Reynolds, great as he is, could be this year’s Taylor Kitsch, who headlined ‘John Carter’ and ‘Battleship’, two of 2012’s biggest bombs. Reynolds’ disasters are ‘Turbo’ (see below) and this adaptation of the little-known comic. A bigger failure than famed flop ‘Green Lantern’, even a bearded Jeff Bridges busting ghosts wasn’t enough to garner ‘R.I.P.D’ some much-needed mass-appeal.
 
What went wrong? Not out in the UK until September 20, ‘R.I.P.D’ suffered in the States because, well, nobody really knew it existed until its release. A terribly reviewed, thinly-veiled rehash of ‘Men in Black’ - only with paranormal spirits instead of alien nasties – it also had a confusing title.


'Turbo
'

Animated movies are often cash cows for studios. Take ‘Despicable Me 2’ – currently the second highest grossing film in the UK this year. Or ‘The Croods’, which also did great business thanks to canny scheduling.  Dreamworks were hoping for the same with this tale of snail who ends up racing in the Indy 500. Yet ‘Turbo’ never got off the grid. It cost $135m to make and raked in $125 worldwide. Not a huge failure, but a mighty disappointment nonetheless.
 
What went wrong? Besides the Reynolds curse, the problem with ‘Turbo’ could’ve just been timing.  Releasing it less than a month after ‘Monster’s University’, when the Pixar flick was still hoovering up cash in cinemas – wasn’t too smart. Maybe the Indy 500 idea wasn’t a strong enough concept. It’s still due out in several territories, but the all-American subject matter doesn’t really lend itself to international audiences.


'After Earth'

A father’s folly. Will Smith developed and produced this sci-fi project for son Jaden. M. Night Shyamalan was drafted into direct, while Will himself was in a supporting role. Smith used to be bulletproof at the box office, but ‘After Earth’ flailed, especially in the US, and the film was panned by critics. It didn’t bomb as much as others on our list, earning $235 million, but the $135million production budget, advertising costs and Smith’s hefty producing fee won’t have left much change for studio Sony.

What went wrong? The reviews were poisonous – not surprising considering the director – and the rumours of secret scientology messages didn’t help. But we think an underdeveloped premise that saw Jaden essentially run away from cheap-looking CGI monsters for the slight running time killed the movie. Story is still king.


'White House Down'
 
Any film with Channing Tatum in a John McClane-style vest saving the President of the United States from terrorists who have invaded the White House should be a success. Give it the requisite number of knowing nods and winks and you have great b-movie schlock on your hands.
 
What went wrong? ‘White House Down’ was a failure however and the blame most likely lies in ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ - an extremely similar “‘Die-Hard’ in The White House” film which was released earlier this year and stole its thunder. Another film hoping for international audiences to bail it out.


'Jack The Giant Slayer'
 
‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ (presumably renamed because Beanstalks didn’t test well) is just the latest example of Hollywood taking fairy tales and making them 12A appropriate, but where ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ succeeded Jack and his sling did not. It cost $195 million – which was even more than ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ and ‘Pacific Rim’.

What went wrong? Perhaps a Jack and the Beanstalk movie is just too silly a concept for audiences to accept (see also: ‘Battleship’). Lack of star power was also a problem - Nicholas Hoult (of ‘Skins’ non-fame) headlined the film.
 
Where are the sequels?
 
We can talk about a lack of mass appeal, a hack director or a poor choice of leading actor, but the real reason for 2013’s lack of success is simple – the movies simply haven’t been good enough.
 
This year has lacked a single standout blockbuster that has been heaped with praise. Even ‘Iron Man 3’ had its critics and won’t live as long in the memory as last year’s ‘Avengers Assemble’. Quality-wise, no blockbuster has rivalled last year’s ‘Skyfall’, which deservedly made more than a billion dollars.

Something else you’ll notice in this list is that none of the films are sequels. Most tried to start franchises, but were unable to sell their concept to audiences. Hollywood’s remaining blockbuster hopes this year are follow-ups to ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Thor’ and ‘The Hobbit’.

The flops above mean that, for better or worse, we’ll see even more sequels and superhero movies from now on.