What Makes a Summer Blockbuster Flop?
Even if you haven’t had a chance to see it yet (which, considering the title of this feature, is quite a lot of you), you’ll have heard about or actively taken part in the collective kicking Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger has been getting online. It’s been going on for a couple of years, from the usual criticism of remakes/reimaginings to the mild amusement when production was shut down and the budget was subsequently slashed, but it’s apparent failure to find an audience when it hit US theaters in June and UK cinemas the weekend just gone has only fueled the fire.
So why did it fail?
The most obvious reason is bad press, and it’s the one cited by Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp in interviews regarding their big-budget “flop”. As Depp told Yahoo! UK: ““I think the reviews were written seven to eight months before we released the film… They’ve been gunning for our movie since it was shut down the first time. That’s when most critics wrote their initial reviews.”
It’s understandable that those involved would be a bit peeved, having to continue with their publicity tour a full two months after they were shredded by US critics, but Depp has a point about preconceptions, too. He states that many critics had already made up their mind about the film before they entered the theater to experience it and, while that might be the slightly harsh words of a frustrated movie star, as a writer with a working awareness of what people have been saying over the past couple of years, it’s hard to argue.
I was one of those people who went in expecting to be disappointed and/or annoyed by the film, but my mind was quickly changed by the actual movie. I quite liked the film, with it being one of the few blockbusters I’ve truly enjoyed this year and, had I been required to write a review, it would have been a favorable one. Does this mean that I’m right and everyone else is wrong? Not at all, it just means that the disappointing box office takings for the film have to be down to more than critics’ collective opinion.
Looking at some of the other high-profile failures of summer’s past, every attempt at a big-budget western seems to end in tears, so it’s a wonder why Verbinski tried at all. I’m glad he did (at least there’s something other than comic book sequels to talk about) but The Lone Ranger joins Cowboys and Aliens, Wild Wild West and Jonah Hex on a pile of high concept recent examples of the genre. They all failed to entice a paying audience, but maybe Verbinski’s past success with the equally un-trendy swashbuckling genre gave him the confidence to at least try his luck.
The truth may lie, not in The Lone Ranger itself, but in what surrounds it. The weekend before saw another disappointment – White House Down – and the one after yet another – Pacific Rim. What does this tell us? Maybe it just means that the summer blockbuster model, in which studios save their big, spectacular releases for a sunny date in the school holidays, might be broken. More than any other year, 2013 seems overcrowded and, thus, overpriced. The sheer amount of blockbusters means that people just don’t have the time, money or energy to see everything, and they’re being more picky.
If Pirates of the Caribbean were released tomorrow, would it be the success it was back in 2003? I’d say probably not and, if the trend for expensive films losing money for studios continues into 2014 and 2015, it’s not going to be pretty. The model needs to be rethought in time for the blockbuster juggernaut already planned for 2015 (The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Bond 24, Batman vs. Superman and many, many more) and 2013 may be looked upon as a turning point by future historians and film fans.