Film critics follow weekly box office returns as if they actually matter, comparing the disparity between the informed opinions of their reviews and the sheer number of tickets bought by the laity and despair. It is so unfortunate that Guy in Tights Hates Guy in Body Armor: They Slaughter Thousands Before Becoming Friends has made so much money despite its poor reviews. Everyone wonders what kind of message this might be sending to the studios.
The answer is: none. There is no kind of message being sent to the studios at all. If everyone in the country goes to see a movie, it won’t make a difference. If they stay away in droves, it likewise changes nothing. That’s because most everyone has the wrong idea of what the film industry is and what it does.
Hollywood isn’t in the business of making money. It never has been. Because no movie has never actually made any money.
In 1990, what had long been an inside joke in the industry landed on the front page – or, on any page in any newspaper at all, since this kind of story doesn’t usually get reported. Art Buchwald sued Paramount pictures for breach of contract. Buchwald claimed to have written the treatment for Coming to America, which was subsequently filmed as a comedy vehicle for Eddie Murphy. Murphy was credited with having written the story in the credits, but Buchwald claimed that the movie had been based on his work and that his contract stipulated that he would get a percentage of the profits.
The filmmakers were reportedly dismissive of Buchwald’s claim. One went so far as to indicate that it didn’t matter whether or not the claim was true, as Buchwald’s contract only awarded him “chump points”, that is a percentage of the film’s overall profits. True to this, Paramount’s defense was that Coming to America had never made any money, despite earning hundreds of millions at the box office. The case was settled after the judge sided with Buchwald, but this wasn’t an isolated incident. It was just the most visible.
There are all kinds of signs that money doesn’t really matter in Hollywood. Roland Emerich’s version of Godzilla is thought of as a disaster. Except, it wasn’t. It was actually the top movie at the box office the weekend it premiered and, if you look at the budget versus the world-wide receipts, it was actually a successful film. On the other hand, Tron:Legacy was a massively successful movie going by the numbers, but had its sequel cancelled in the wake of another movie’s perceived failure – that would be Tomorrowland, which, it must be emphasized, also earned more at the box office than its reported budget.
Hollywood is a shell game. In an industry that never makes a profit, massive failures must happen to offset the successes. And if the massive failures don’t happen, they must be created. Oh, Hollywood doesn’t deliberately make bad movies. They tried that, and learned a costly lesson when their intended failure, a romantic movie featuring the two most unattractive people they could find, not only went on to become a massive success, but also won four Oscars.
No, bad movies can’t be created, they must happen organically. But, bad publicity can make a decent movie look bad every time.
Naturally, not every massive film failure in Hollywood can be chalked up to bad publicity. But it is important to note that not every film is, in fact, Hollywood. So-called independent films are lurking everywhere. Just because Warner Bros. released Battlefield Earth doesn’t mean they actually made it. They released the box office darling Amadeus, too, but they didn’t produce that one, either.
But let’s talk about something Warners definitely made. Let’s talk about the flop that proves me wrong, and shows that people staying away in droves does matter. Let’s talk about Jupiter Ascending.
Much has been expected of the Waschowskis since the release of The Matrix. That film was an unexpected, unqualified hit. But, their recent follow up, Jupiter Ascending, was a complete failure. Critics hated it and theaters stood empty — except neither of those statements is true.
The movie made back its budget. And whereas I would never suggest that I’m disappointed that we will likely never see the other two films in the (I’m assuming) trilogy, Jupiter Descending and Jupiter Maintaining a Stable Altitude, I will say this: I saw no fewer than three critics who declared, upon its February release, that there was no way the movie wouldn’t be on their list of top worst of the year. It is important to note that this was a year which had yet to see the release of both Fifty Shades of Grey and Jem and the Holograms. Neither fared well with critics at all, though one did well at the box office and the other you didn’t even remember until I mentioned it.
Originally slated to open in the summer of the previous year, the release of Jupiter Ascending was mysteriously pushed back. Rumors swirled and a disaster was made. But, Jupiter Ascending wasn’t a disaster in any sense of the word. It wasn’t, perhaps, particularly original (it was, in fact, a reworking of The Waschowski’s earlier hit The Matrix with a fresh coat of paint and the latter’s often overlooked anti-capitalist message writ large with a cudgel to the nose), but it didn’t make any less cash than any other Waschowski movie — excepting The Matrix. That doesn’t sound like a horrible movie. That sounds average. The Matrix remains the outlier in the Waschowski’s catalog, not Jupiter Ascending.
I believe that Jupiter Ascending was deliberately buried by the studio, for reasons only they know. Which means, of course, that I have clearly lost my mind. Everyone knows that one bad movie can ruin a film company. In fact, it has done so many times. Why in the world would Warner Bros. risk such a thing?
Yeah, about that. First of all, there’s literally no risk involved. And second of all, we’ll find out more in Blog Post 3: The Revenge.
Oh, you might think this is getting tedious, but sequels are guaranteed sells and our research shows that this is trending very well in the Midwest.