Bombs Away: Predicting the Summer 2013 Flops

The successes of any Summer season are often easy to explain. While there is always some risk involved, specific genres (action/adventure, crazy comedies) and known names (insert current cause celeb here) bolster any box office forecast. Besides, Tinseltown has the cash generating possibilities of certain cinematic archetypes down to a science. However, the same can also be said for the flops, the films that will fail to meet expectations and, in rare cases, cost studios their credibility and mainstream meaning. Specific cinematic categories (sci-fi, intense dramas) are hard popcorn entertainment sells, and a now hot member of the Hollywood elite can cool as quickly as a snowball on ice. So here are our picks for the possible bombs of Summer 2013. While May through August may prove us wrong, we won’t be surprised if these five films fail outright, or at least in the eyes of the entertainment pundits.


The Great Gatsby
The Reason for Flopping: Bad Release Date

It made perfect sense, initially. Let Baz Luhrmann, the reigning king of creative cinematic excess, handle the prototypical Jazz age tale centering on same (minus the movie part). Granted, the Australian auteur hadn’t produced a hit since 2001’s Moulin Rouge (his 2008 ode to his Downunder homeland, was a modest success at best) and the material hadn’t produced anything remotely close to a success. The 1926 silent movie stage adaption is considered lost, and the 1949 version is considered a joke by F. Scott Fitzgerald purists. Not even Oscar winning writer/director Francis Ford Coppola could crack it the script for then hot heartthrob Robert Redford (a 2000 TV movie apparently came close). Still, Luhrmann’s leading man has starred in one consistently interesting effort after another (Revolutionary Road, Inception, Shutter Island, Django Unchained) and there was an award season shimmer to everything.

As the budget ballooned and the extravagance was expanded upon, the oddball decision to use extensive CG and 3D effects was made, as well as the Luhrmann-like idiosyncrasy of adding contemporary music to a pure period piece indicated a harder than usual sell for backing studio Warner Bros. Then the Christmas 2012 deadline was missed and the movie was moved to 10 May…a week after one of the biggest releases of the Summer (Iron Man 3) was set to bow and before another biggie (the Star Trek sequel) was set to open. Now, with Tony Stark raking in a staggering $650 million-plus worldwide and with the superhero epic showing no signs of slowing down, Jay Gatsby and his Roaring ’20s take on upper crust society seems destined to die in the Marvel movie’s wake. Maybe as counterprogramming it will work. Odds seem to be against such Hollywood hopefulness. No matter. It dies against Kirk and Spock.


After Earth
Reason for Flopping: The Name Behind the Lens

When you become a punchline for a series of aesthetic jokes, when your previous films argue for a perfect example of the law of diminishing entertainment returns, you’ve got to tread very softly into your next cinematic career choice. For former Next Spielberg, M. Night Shyamalan, this seems like the dumbest of dumb plays (and this is the guy who gave himself the role of world savior in the beyond silly post-modern fairytale, The Lady in the Water). Instead of toning down the scope, instead of moving back to something akin to his first two smaller scale “hits” (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable), he seems destined to break the believability bank with this over the top exercise in Will Smith’s commercial clout. Said Fresh Prince (along with his horribly precocious – and untalented – stale progeny, Jaden) are starring in a sci-fi story that centers on our planet eons after it is ravaged by cataclysmic events (hoping not some manner of plant uprising).

On the plus side, Shyamalan is working from someone else’s script (though it appears he had some say in the final drafts) and he’s relying heavily on the CG work of his F/X wizards to carry us over into “wow” factor territory. But as he proved with The Last Airbender, he can suck the very life out of any overblown spectacle. And then there is his history to consider. After his initial successes, he started to believe his own hype (Hell – books have even been written about it) and with Signs and The Village, he proved less than box office bulletproof. Again, perhaps a smaller story would work. Unless Smith can really ramp up international interest, we may be looking at the last nail in Shyamalan’s long in construction coffin.


World War Z
Reason for Flopping: Near Fatal Pre-Release Buzz

OUCH! How does one survive a story like this: Brad Pitt hits upon Max Brook’s take on a global undead pandemic (just call it the novel version of Ken Burn’s Zombie War) and decides that his take on the familiar genre trope will rewrite the walking dead canon (though, in many ways, something similar already has — every Sunday night — on AMC). Anyway, he gets the script he wants, puts his own Plan B production company in place to handle the possible epic particulars. And then the studio steps in and hires the horrid Marc Forster (perhaps best known for a series of less than successful awards seasons efforts), and that’s when things get ungainly. The shoot starts going over budget, the material is massacred into something akin to Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake on steroids, and the filmed ending fails to impress.

Reshoots are recommended, at a massive cost, with many concerned that, no matter what, the final product will still fail, utterly. Still, they replace 40 entire minutes. And then, just to make the already poisonous buzz that much more lethal, Vanity Fair gets those in the know to confess their creative incompetence in print. That’s right, in hard to retract, could be taken out of context black and white. At this point, critics are anxious to see the results, if only to proffer their own privileged “I told you so’s” to the media mix. Now, Pitt is a major movie star, one of those rare crossover successes who seems capable of saving even the most mediocre of movies (see: the otherwise awful Killing Them Softly). Still, only the most miraculous of offerings could survive such negative press.


The Lone Ranger
Reason for Flopping: Genre vs. Budget

$250 million. One quarter of a billion dollars. You read that right. That’s the reported budget for this revisionist Western based on an old radio serial that hasn’t been successful since Clayton Moore guaranteed Klinton Spilsbury would fail, marketing wise (Google it, youngsters). And let’s not forget the upcoming costs for promotion and ads. There’s a reason this property has sat dormant for decades — and we can overlook the ethically questionable casting of international rock rogue A-lister Johnny Depp as the Native American sidekick, Tonto — to wit: The Western is a risk. Now, we also acknowledge the same was said about the swashbuckler, but somewhere between the conjecture and the commercial bottom line, Captain Jack Sparrow proved pirates are indeed profitable (Heck, that horrible last installment in the POTC series scored a ten digit box office bonanza. 10. digits.).

But there’s a catch. First, if you believe estimates, the movie will have to clear a similarly styled international coup to come close to breaking even, and last time we checked, the oater hasn’t guaranteed such paydays. Then there is Depp, whose last two films, The Rum Diary and Dark Shadows, failed to ignite blockbuster receipts. Still, the previous collaboration between director Gore Verbinski and the star won an Oscar (for the animated wonder, Rango). And don’t forget the marketing might of Disney. If anyone can sell the worldwide public on Armie Hammer as a masked hero, seeking Wild West justice against infamous rival Butch Cavendish, it’s the House of Mouse. Don’t be surprised, however, is this latest release from producer Jerry Bruckheimer ends up the same as a pair of his previous productions (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time).


Reason for Flopping: Post Avengers Syndrome

How are you going to keep them coming back to this aging film franchise, after geek god Joss Whedon has shown them what a real fun superhero movie can look like? What’s that you say? You’re not interested in having a good time? You’d rather see your genetically modified champion in brooding, antihero mode? Well, then Christopher Nolan has got you covered with his crackerjack Dark Knight efforts. So where does this once important series now travel? Well, with the prequels percolating along with intriguing regularity, it’s time to take the most popular X character and carry him over to — Japan? Huh? (Apparently, it’s all tied into a 1982 comic book run co-written by the celebrated Frank Miller).

It just seems so… pointless. Haven’t we explored this character’s back (and front) story enough? Of course, with Hugh Jackman remaining crucial to the series’ success, it seems like a healthy return on the investment is a given. But then there is the shadow of possibility lingering over everything. Fanboys can drool over the unfulfilled promise of former director Darren Aronofsky (who envisioned a more “Nolan-esque” approach to the mutant) or what other possible production permutations (other considered helmers included Mark Romanek, Doug Liman, and Antoine Fuqua) could have wrought. Of the five films mentioned here, there is enough previous audience goodwill to guarantee a decent opening weekend. But unless current auteur James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) exceeds expectations, don’t look for long cash cow legs. Guess we can blame Loki for that as well.