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Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

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Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Old 11-14-10, 02:09 PM
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Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/id..._flops_matter/

interesting article on movies that have tanked and their necessity in the overall picture of the biz
Old 11-14-10, 05:26 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Good read. Thanks for the link.
Old 11-14-10, 07:07 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

I find the article to be a bit muddied in its reasoning.

First off, the author, Nathan Rabin, is not talking about just box-office bombs, but defines a flop as a film "that did paltry domestic box office, got mixed-to-negative reviews, and never found an audience at all." Yet, he mentions that one of his main examples, Heaven's Gate, actually has found an audience and critical revision in the past few years, negating his own definition of a flop.

He further posits that the animal cruelty that occurred when filming Heaven's Gate caused changes in the industry to prevent cruelty to animals. However, he doesn't make clear why the film had to be a flop for this to occur. Heaven's Gate could've caused better treatment of animals even if it had been a hit, since it seems it was the publicized cruelty, and not the box office performance, that caused the outrage.

He also misses the the biggest contribution to cinema that Heaven's Gate gave, the idea of a director's cut being a marketable release:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven%...rector.27s_cut

Next, he directly links Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) with Sin City (2005), stating that the latter wouldn't have existed without the former. However, this is ignoring director Robert Rodriguez's own previous work, like Spy Kids 3D (2003), which was shot mostly green-screen. It seems likely that Robert Rodriguez would've conceived of shooting Sin City on green screen even if Sky Captain never existed, and in fact its existence, and failure, may have hindered him in getting a green light for Sin City instead of helping it in any way.

But there's also the logic behind it, that we need a film like Sky Captain that advances technology or filmmaking techniques but fail, when the reality is that successful films can advance technology and techniques just as much, if not more often. The Matrix was a filmmaking leap in how it melded CGI, Hong Kong style action, and Japanese Anime with an intriguing sci-fi concept, but it was also a colossal success.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World seems like too recent an example to fit his definition of a flop. He's predicting the response to the film and the effect he thinks it will have, rather than looking back on it. It also was well received critically, so fails his own definition of flop:
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/scot..._vs_the_world/

For Paint Your Wagon, he says it taught him "that itís reductive and wrong to equate commercial or even critical failure with creative bankruptcy." Which I guess is a good lesson to learn, but doesn't really deal with how Paint Your Wagon's failure was "a necessary component of the whole enterprise of filmmaking."

He mentions Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful (successful) and Pinnochio (flop) as being examples of taking creative risks, and how you can't end up with successful risk-taking films without having a few risky failures as well. However, that is an example of risk being a necessary component of filmmaking, with flops being an occasional byproduct of it, instead of an argument for flops being necessary in-and-of themselves. In fact, flops hinder risk, as a risky flop makes a studio less likely to take risks in the future. See Roberto Benigni's career after Pinnochio.

Finally, there's the argument of the flop as a corrective measure in the market, leading to studios, actors, and the directors to perform re-assessments. He points to Ben Affleck "being groomed as the next big action hero," only to switch to smaller films and directing after experiencing the flops of Gigli and Jersey Girl. Of course, this ignores the fact that both those films weren't action movies, and thus were already examples of Affleck stretching his range. It also ignores the public backlash of his relationship with Jennifer Lopez, who was not-so-coincidentally his co-star in both Gigli And Jersey Girl.

It also ignores actors who don't experience flops, but still take smaller indie rolls and expand into writing and/or directing. He implies that if Affleck hadn't experienced flops, we would have Daredevil 3 instead of Gone Baby Gone, but there's no reason to think that if Affleck had a more successful career, we wouldn't have ended up with Gone Baby Gone anyway.

As for studios, they often learn the wrong lesson from flops. He points to Ishtar as being a lesson that comedies, and really films in general, "live and die on the strength of their script and characters, not their sets and costumes." However, all Hollywood really learned was to never hire Elaine May as a director again. Heaven's Gate "taught" studios that epic westerns were doomed to fail, until Dances with Wolves came along.

All that said, the article's author, Nathan Rabin, is also the writer of the AV Club feature "My Year of Flops," and the book of the same name, which I enjoy:
http://www.avclub.com/features/my-year-of-flops/
Old 11-14-10, 07:44 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Also, Jersey Girl wasn't a collossal flop. It made a little over 25 mil on a 35 mil budget. Not great buisness, but not really a flop either.
Old 11-14-10, 08:47 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

The real lesson of flops seems to be "don't give a filmmaker a blank check and full creative freedom as a reward for a successful film."
Old 11-14-10, 10:11 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Groucho View Post
The real lesson of flops seems to be "don't give a filmmaker a blank check and full creative freedom as a reward for a successful film."
Didn't that happen with James Cameron twice, first with Titanic, then with Avatar, and it paid off both times?

Also, there's Apocalypse Now, where Copalla himself has said, "We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane," but which was a box-office success and is considered a classic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalypse_now#Reaction

Then again, I think the Wachowski brothers had both (or near too it) for the Matrix sequels, and look how those turned out.
Old 11-14-10, 10:16 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Rypro 525 View Post
Also, Jersey Girl wasn't a collossal flop. It made a little over 25 mil on a 35 mil budget. Not great buisness, but not really a flop either.
Grossing less than the budget is pretty much the definition of a flop, by almost any measure. Keep in mind that studios don't get back only a fraction of the gross (a rough rule of thumb is typically 50%), and factor in advertising, marketing, and distribution for the film, and it's easy to see why such a film would be considered a flop.

It also has a 41% critic rating on rottentomatoes:
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/jersey_girl/

Keep in mind that a film's financial, or even critical, success has no bearing on its actual quality as a film. I've enjoyed plenty of films that have bombed at the box-office, and even have enjoyed a few that were both financial and critical failures.
Old 11-14-10, 10:20 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Jay G. View Post
Then again, I think the Wachowski brothers had both (or near too it) for the Matrix sequels, and look how those turned out.
Let's look how it turned out:

Reloaded: $742M worldwide
Revolutions: $427M worldwide

And that doesn't even include DVD sales. I'd say that blank check was a pretty good investment.
Old 11-14-10, 10:22 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Jay G. View Post
Didn't that happen with James Cameron twice, first with Titanic, then with Avatar, and it paid off both times?
True, but how often do we get genuine blockbusters out of these scenarios, and how often do we get rollerskating fiddlers?
Old 11-14-10, 10:22 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

"It's just wind. It's wind. It blows all over the place! What the fuck!"
Old 11-14-10, 10:43 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Groucho View Post
True, but how often do we get genuine blockbusters out of these scenarios, and how often do we get rollerskating fiddlers?
That roller-rink scene was awesome and effectively juxtaposed the two socioeconomic classes with the introductory tree-ribbon waltz.
Old 11-14-10, 10:46 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

A mention of the American Humane Association (AHA) giving Apocalypse Now an "unacceptable" rating for its treatment of animals led me to think more about Rabin's claims about Heaven's Gate:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocaly...al_photography

It turns out, the AHA's Film and Television Unit has existed since 1940, in response to the film Jesse James (1939). That film was a smash hit.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America...ne_Association
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_James_%28film%29

Now, Heaven's Gate did have cases of animal cruelty, but wasn't the genesis of monitoring animal health and safety on set:
http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/cruelcamera/cruelty.html

Heaven's Gate did cause SAG and AMPTP to agree that any domestic film that operates under SAG rules must be cleared by trained AHA animal safety monitors. However, the "no animals were harmed.." phrase wasn't used until 1989, nearly a decade after Heaven's Gate.
http://www.slate.com/id/2117565/
http://www.americanhumane.org/protec...rotection.html
http://ezinearticles.com/?No-Animals...ors&id=1589832

Rabin also apparently confuses the American Humane Association (AHA) with the The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), since he refers to the "American Humane Society," which is not the name of an actual association.

Last edited by Jay G.; 11-14-10 at 10:51 PM.
Old 11-14-10, 11:00 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Fist of Doom View Post
Let's look how it turned out:

Reloaded: $742M worldwide
Revolutions: $427M worldwide

And that doesn't even include DVD sales. I'd say that blank check was a pretty good investment.
True, they were successful financially, although Revolutions drastic drop-off in box-office, and the fact its domestic gross didn't match the budget, is a negative sign. There's probably a reason why Pirates of the Caribbean is getting a 4th film, while the Matrix isn't.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Matrix_Revolutions

Instead, I probably should've gone with the Wachowski's followup, Speed Racer, which didn't even recoup it's budget in worldwide gross:
http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=speedracer.htm
Old 11-14-10, 11:24 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Groucho View Post
True, but how often do we get genuine blockbusters out of these scenarios, and how often do we get rollerskating fiddlers?
I don't know the exact ratio, but it's probably around the same ratio of hits to bombs as with normally budgeted films and studio intervention.
Old 11-15-10, 01:50 AM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Jay G. View Post
Grossing less than the budget is pretty much the definition of a flop, by almost any measure. Keep in mind that studios don't get back only a fraction of the gross (a rough rule of thumb is typically 50%), and factor in advertising, marketing, and distribution for the film, and it's easy to see why such a film would be considered a flop.

It also has a 41% critic rating on rottentomatoes:
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/jersey_girl/

Keep in mind that a film's financial, or even critical, success has no bearing on its actual quality as a film. I've enjoyed plenty of films that have bombed at the box-office, and even have enjoyed a few that were both financial and critical failures.
Maybe your definition. I consider a flop failing far more miserably then the example of Jersey Girl.
Old 11-15-10, 06:47 AM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

But without flops — all flops — the movies would be a much less vital, unpredictable, and colorful universe for us to get lost in.
I would have guessed that the importance of a flop is that it weeds out investors who would be willing to bet on a riskier movie. So, over time, the group of people who back movies becomes more and more risk-averse. The result is that most movies look like each other, that remakes, sequels and franchise titles rule the day, and that a movie can't get made unless there is a marquee name attached to it.
Old 11-15-10, 07:46 AM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Nick Danger View Post
I would have guessed that the importance of a flop is that it weeds out investors who would be willing to bet on a riskier movie. So, over time, the group of people who back movies becomes more and more risk-averse. The result is that most movies look like each other, that remakes, sequels and franchise titles rule the day, and that a movie can't get made unless there is a marquee name attached to it.
which perfectly sums up the current movie climate.
Old 11-15-10, 11:49 AM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

For a guy who watched a year's worth of flops, he seemed to focus an awful lot of "Heaven's Gate". That wasn't nearly as interesting or informative as I was hoping it'd be.
Old 11-15-10, 01:08 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

I agree. It's a pretty poor article that, in the end, doesn't really say anything.
Old 11-15-10, 01:53 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by fumanstan View Post
Maybe your definition. I consider a flop failing far more miserably then the example of Jersey Girl.
Not just my definition:
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/box_office_bomb
box-office bomb (plural box-office bombs)

1. (idiomatic) A motion picture that generates relatively low revenue at the box office, especially that which is less than the budget for the motion picture.
My favorite movie was a giant box-office bomb.
Synonyms
  • flop
  • turkey
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-box-office-flop.htm
A box office flop or box office bomb is a film that fails to even meet or exceed the cost of the filmís budget when it is released to the public for viewing.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Box_office_bomb
The phrase box office bomb (also referred to as a flop) refers to a film for which the production and marketing costs greatly exceeded the revenue regained by the movie studio.
Old 11-15-10, 02:03 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

The wikipedia definition matches my definition, although "greatly exceed" is subjective.
Old 11-15-10, 02:06 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by KillerCannibal View Post
For a guy who watched a year's worth of flops, he seemed to focus an awful lot of "Heaven's Gate". That wasn't nearly as interesting or informative as I was hoping it'd be.
I agree....the article was a reach.
Old 11-15-10, 02:40 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by fumanstan View Post
The wikipedia definition matches my definition, although "greatly exceed" is subjective.
The wikipedia definition also mentions the marketing costs, which averages about $35 million for a movie.
http://www.the-numbers.com/glossary.php
http://entertainment.howstuffworks.c....htm/printable

The other answer is that marketing averages about 37% of the overall cost of a film:
http://answers.google.com/answers/th...id/714452.html

Even going with a relatively small marketing budget of $20 million, Jersey Girl likely cost a total of $55 million, and netted only $12.5, which means the costs were more than 4x the return, which counts as "greatly exceeding" the return in my book.
Old 11-15-10, 02:42 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Originally Posted by Jay G. View Post
True, they were successful financially, although Revolutions drastic drop-off in box-office, and the fact its domestic gross didn't match the budget, is a negative sign. There's probably a reason why Pirates of the Caribbean is getting a 4th film, while the Matrix isn't.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Matrix_Revolutions

Instead, I probably should've gone with the Wachowski's followup, Speed Racer, which didn't even recoup it's budget in worldwide gross:
http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=speedracer.htm
Warner summed Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions into one large, hefty sum total when it came to the budget. They spent $300 million up front for the two films. Even when prints and advertising are thrown upon that $300 million, The Matrix Reloaded's box office totals pretty much covered the cost for both films production AND prints and advertising budgets AND made the studio money. Revolutions' total, while "disappointing" compared to that of Reloaded, is that of pure profit.

Your logic makes absolutely no sense if Warner spent say $500 million and made back, minimum, $669 million in profit alone (assuming Warner spent $200 million on P&A on the two films... and that's a very extreme estimate too).

The reasoning why Matrix isn't getting a fourth film is because the Wachowski's don't want to return to the series. Unlike say Disney, Warner and (surprisingly) Joel Silver know when enough is enough. I wouldn't be surprised if a fourth Pirates film doesn't do as well as the last entry considering the audience's lackluster response to it. [It made a lot of money, but does anyone actually admit to liking it? Seems to be the par for course of most of Depp's movies lately.]

Heading back to the Wachowski's really quick, while Speed Racer was a box office disaster both domestically and internationally, the film has gotten some recognition after the film's release. Time called it one of the best films of 2008, which I whole heartedly agree with. Like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Speed Racer was ahead of its time. Speed Racer's biggest obstacle was that it was too high concept for the audience it was going after; however, it is one of those rare family films that actually places emphasis on the family unit (like Pixar's The Incredibles) rather than succumbing to the lowest common denominator. Speed Racer also would help bring the film Ninja Assassin into the fold due to Rain. Another highly underrated film from the Wachowski's, but unlike Speed Racer, made its money back once the film was released internationally.

He mentions Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful (successful) and Pinnochio (flop) as being examples of taking creative risks, and how you can't end up with successful risk-taking films without having a few risky failures as well. However, that is an example of risk being a necessary component of filmmaking, with flops being an occasional byproduct of it, instead of an argument for flops being necessary in-and-of themselves. In fact, flops hinder risk, as a risky flop makes a studio less likely to take risks in the future. See Roberto Benigni's career after Pinnochio.
I think Benigni might be too extreme of an example. Benigni's filmography isn't that expansive despite being in the industry for three decades as he seems to pick and choose his next project. The Tiger and the Snow, his follow-up after Pinnochio, got decent reviews; however, it didn't really find life inside America. One could argue the only reason that Life Is Beautiful became the acclaimed film it was is partly due to the Weinsteins throwing money at it to win some Oscars. One could then argue the only reason Pinnochio was a box office disaster in America was due to the Weinsteins tearing the film apart and trying to make it American.

In terms of box office bombs as a disaster, I agree with the definition that:

The phrase box office bomb (also referred to as a flop) refers to a film for which the production and marketing costs greatly exceeded the revenue regained by the movie studio.
There are a lot of films that underperform when released theatrically. However, with DVD/Blu-ray, it's easy for a studio to recoup lost costs. Serenity might be a more recent example of a film that failed to take back its budget when released theatrically, but did well when it hit video. I don't know if Scott Pilgrim (another Universal film) will be able to do the same financially (the budget is nearly double that of Serenity and DVD/BD sales aren't the same as they were five years ago), but the film may find a second life due to the successful word of mouth, balls-to-the-wall Blu-ray release and/or numerous television showings years from now. [If anything, Universal learned nothing from Serenity which I feel is the reason why Scott Pilgrim failed. You don't market a film that has a built-in niche audience to that same audience. You don't have to preach to the choir, you already have their money. Instead, focus on everyone else.]
Old 11-15-10, 02:43 PM
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Re: Why Box Office Bombs "matter"

Too lazy to click on all the links you always post, but in any case for some reason I wasn't thinking about this being specifically just box office returns, so you're right that it would be considered a box office bomb or flop. My head was already thinking about including home video returns, which Wikipedia says Jersey Girl was profitable after the fact. I retract!

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