Sunday, August 11, 2013

The summer box office failure

Matt Damon and Jodie Foster team up with the artistic savant Neill Blomkamp for Elysium.  The film is projected to end the weekend today with ticket sales of $30.5 million.  Don't be surprised if the gross is downgraded Tuesday, after the studio's grabbed (minor) bragging rights.

pearl harbor

Make no mistake, this box office will translate into only one thing: Bomb.

The $120 million budget (before prints and advertising) was not spent for a film Sony hoped would slowly edge to $80 million over the next four weeks.  The bucks were thrown at this sinkhole in the hopes that it would gross a minimum of $150 million with some expecting it to gross over $200 million.

Elysium is an action, sci-fi film and those are supposed to open big.  Two weekends ago, The Wolverine opened to $53 million in ticket sales and people were calling that disappointing. Before that, the horror film The Conjuring opened to $41 million in ticket sales.  Other summer opening weekends: Monsters University $82 million, and Man of Steel $116 million.

The Lone Ranger had a similar opening ($29.2 million) to Elysium and is considered to be one of the summer's biggest bombs.

Elysium will easily gross $65 million as it falls down the top ten in the coming weeks.  Careful nursing of the film (Jodie and Matt go back out to resell the film) could get it to $90 million.  But the film is a bomb.

That's not just our call, that's Sony's call.  By noon Sunday, the studio was declaring that it would be strong overseas.  That's not a lie but it is the excuse and cover studios hide behind when they've got a bomb.  You usually wait until Monday afternoon to trot out that standard line.

There are some who will dispute our notions that the film will likely not hit $100 million and will require heavy nursing to get to $80 million.  They will point to There's Something About Mary.

That film was something special in many ways.  And it was not heavily advertised compared to other films in the week it was released.  It built a following via word of mouth and became the rare thing, a film that can debut in the top five, hang around there for a few weeks and then, against all odds, grab the number one spot.

Elysium's advertising was through the roof.  Everyone was aware of its opening.  As an action adventure film, it had a larger potential audience.  It's opening weekend was going to be the best it ever did.  That would have been true even if the film had opened to strong reviews.  But the film opened to mixed reviews and has bad word of mouth.  There is no better weekend for Elysium.

For the film now, there is only sliding down the top ten.

Next Friday, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Kick-Ass 2 and Paranoia open in wide release.  They will all grab spots in the top seven.  And they're not the only promising films opening.  Elysium will probably drop to at least number four.  It could go lower.  If it goes lower, it will be dumped by theaters quickly and move that much faster to the 'dollar theaters' (discount theaters that are a film's last stop before DVD and streaming).

Elysium was not an adult film (heavy-handed films rarely are).  But Lee Daniels' The Butler is.  We predict it's going to open stronger than Elysium did.  If that happens, the last excuse for Elysium will be no more: 'It's hard to sell adult films.'

In the end, the film was a failure for obvious reasons.  Matt Damon does not sell tickets (see this analysis).  A bald Matt Damon sells even fewer tickets.  Jodie Foster's didn't hurt the film.  The minute she went to college, her sexual identity was pretty much known across the country.  Most ticket buyers today grew up knowing Jodie was gay.   A failure to give Jodie material to work with does hurt the film.  She needs to be wicked in the sense that Dennis Hopper or Anthony Hopkins would have been.  While she's planning the deaths of millions, the script refuses repeatedly to give the character those key moments as though, in the end, they're attempting to say, "Well even the people at the top are trapped in roles through no fault of their own."

You can't do that.  When you do that, quit pretending you're being mature.  What you're doing is disappointing the audience.  A lot of the criticism of Jodie's performance is about the script and not the actress and a lot of the criticism is really about the fact that a woman's been cast in the role of the villain but not given the needed scenes -- scenes that would have been written for Jon Voight in about 30 seconds or he would have walked off the film.

A weak script, a poorly written villain, way too much jawboning for an action film (especially from the lead -- action films prefer their men to be strong and silent) and a non-star in the lead.

The largest blame goes to those who signed off on the casting of Damon.  Since 2009, he has carried the lead in one bomb after another plus the disappointments Contagion ($75 million in ticket sales with a $60 million shooting  budget) and We Bought A Zoo ($75 million in ticket sales with a $50 million shooting budget).  The list of bombs include action films like Green Zone ($35 million in ticket sales) and The Informant ($33 million) and The Adjustment Bureau ($62 million).  Leaving aside ticket sales, there's the fact that Damon is a short, squat, fire plug with no sex appeal.  There was never a reason to cast him in the lead role but there were a ton of reasons not to cast him.  Sony needs to answer as to why Damon was cast to begin with.  What?  Jean Claude Van Damme wasn't available?  His casting would have made more sense.  Burt Reynolds in the lead would have made more sense.  It's really past time for studios to stop wasting millions on actors like Matt Damon and George Clooney who consistently fail to sell tickets.  A cold spell is one thing, you can't always be hot.  But these actors who have repeatedly failed to carry a picture shouldn't be cast in big budget films or paid multi-million dollar salaries.

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