FILM FLOPS WORTH A SECOND LOOK
by IAFT Mentor Russell P. Marleau
A random conversation here at IAFT about movies we’ve recently seen took an unexpected – and interesting – turn when someone mentioned they liked the recent 2012 Disney film John Carter. It was qualified by an It’s-really-not-that-bad line, which we realize is only needed because the film was a major flop at the box office. Although Disney had high hopes for the film and spent a ton of money on it, the crowds stayed away. How come? I’ve talked to several people who liked the movie, and are unsure why it didn’t do better business. We started thinking about some other films that suffered the same fate.
When the Wachowski siblings’ snazzy – and expensive – live reworking of the cartoon Speed Racer hit theaters in 2008, it was practically dead on arrival. (It’s actually one of the top 10 films with the highest net loss ever.) Critics crucified it and audiences stayed away. But when we got around to seeing it on DVD much later, we found a visually dazzling film that also told a story with a lot of heart. We thoroughly enjoyed it, so why did it fail so epically?
Another recent box-office bomb that’s not as bad as its stink is Battleship. While Taylor Kitsch had the dubious honor of starring in both John Carter and Battleship, you can hardly blame him for their box office failures since neither film was as bad as everyone said.
It seems like some blockbuster films roll out with a wave of bad press before they even open. Can critics really create such a toxic atmosphere that it keeps audiences away? Do they gang up on a film and maybe exaggerate how bad it is so they can get more eyeballs on their reviews? Or is it simply a case that the movie just isn’t good and people have better ways to spend their dollars?
We don’t have the answer, but we have learned to not always trust a wave of negative reviews and/or bad press. While sites like Rotten Tomatoes make it easy to see what the majority of critics are saying about a movie, it doesn’t mean you might not like something just because everyone else says it’s bad. It would have been easy for us to dismiss movies like John Carter and Speed Racer, but we feel fortunate we found some reason to give them a look. One of the best things about any film is that it becomes a personal experience for the viewer, and oftentimes people have very different reactions to the same film. Keep that in mind the next time you’re ready to pass on a film just because it didn’t do well at the box office.