Tuesday, May 26, 2015

'Tomorrowland' Box Office Babble


Walt Disney Pictures' latest live-action release that doesn't happen to be a reimagining of one of their animated classics opened with a paltry $32 million. Though it may ultimately have legs that'll save it, and stronger foreign grosses down the line (it only scooped up a meager amount in most of Europe), the film most likely has to make $380 million in all in order to break even and double its massive $190 million production budget...

I must warn you... What will follow is all strongly opinion-based, this is probably an epic rant that goes nowhere, maybe a lot of it is generalization. A lot of it is probably ignorant to how Hollywood movies work and whatnot. I don't claim to be a box office expert. Maybe it's full of holes and inaccuracies. It probably is. Maybe the whole entire thing is hogwash. Absolute rubbish. There's a chance I'll regret posting it here hours or days or weeks later... But it's something I want to get off of my chest...

Here it goes...

Oh, and Tomorrowland SPOILERS ahead...

The problem with Tomorrowland and its box office prospects, oddly enough, doesn’t all really lie in the marketing or its supposed quality... This can even be extended to the likes of John Carter of Mars and The Lone Ranger and several other live-action Disney films like it...

It’s the budgets...

$150 million is an astronomical amount of money, which is obvious to anyone. Some of the biggest blockbusters, films based on well-known IPs and brands, cost this much or higher...

Few original films pass such a threshold outside of a good number of animated films. James Cameron’s Avatar cost $237 million to make, and was - all things considered - a massive risk. Thankfully for him and 20th Century Fox, it paid off greatly...

The top 20 all-time domestic list - if we take away the films made in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s - mostly consists of films that were really high budget and happened to be proven hits before they even came out. Marvel Cinematic Universe Iron Man 3 is a good example, along with Warner/DC’s The Dark Knight Rises. Transformers' second installment got there because the first film was already huge, and that was based on an IP a lot of people know plus it promised action that got audiences flying into the theaters. Aside from sequels, what modern films are up there?

The original Hunger Games is up there, and it did well simply because it looked great and because of the books. But that was actually a smaller-scale film that cost $78 million. The budgets increased with the sequels, one of which is up there too. Frozen? The stars lined up for that film, but I reckon audiences treated it as a Tangled 2 in a way. Plus you have Disney, the overall pull of a classic-style Disney film, you know the deal. Spider-Man, when released in 2002, was unlike any superhero film that preceded it plus it was the big-screen debut of the wall crawler, plus it looked great.

Very few non-sequels are up there, and if they are, they are familiar to audiences in some way, shape, or form. Hunger Games and the books, Frozen and Disney's princess films/the well-liked Tangled/beloved Renaissance-era films, Spider-Man and his Marvel comics origins...

As for Avatar and Titanic, James Cameron happened to make two films that hit everyone, and I mean everyone, at the rightest time possible. Two cases of the stars all lining up...

Then as go down the list and past the top 20, you’ll see some more original stories...

Some are based on well-known IPs. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring were probably going to do good to begin with, given the source material. Harry Potter was recent and there were no previous adaptations, the iron was hot. The Lord of the Rings had been around for decades but didn't receive film adaptations that caught on like wildfire (Ralph Bakshi's 1978 film was a success back when it opened, not earth-shattering, but good-sized), and this one came with a huge scope, awesome effects, it looked like the definitive movie adaptation...

One notable original up in the top 40 is Pixar's Finding Nemo, coming off of a slew of beloved original stories, and one that happened to look great to everyone from family audiences to casual moviegoers. Adjust it, and it sits at $457 million domestically. If released today, that'd be looked at with reverence!

Then you've got films like Forrest Gump, crazy-successful once-in-a-blue-moon sleeper hits. Based on a novel, yes, but would anyone have thought in 1994 that it would be so big? It opened with an good $24 million and HUNG ON. Adjust it today, it's a movie that opened with $47 million and made over $600 million domestically. That makes Avatar's performance look like nothing! It's amazing what adjusting for inflation can show you...

However, just because something is based on an IP doesn't mean it can't be risky, this is where something like Iron Man comes in...

2008... Comic book movies regularly enjoy success, when they happen to appeal to audiences. For all the goodwill Batman Begins got, it opened with so-so numbers, but it had excellent legs once people realized, "Hey! This isn't Batman & Robin! This is actually really good!" The X-Men and Spider-Man films did very well, Hulk opened big but collapsed because it didn't gel with audiences (on a sidetone, I was 11 when it came out and knew little about the Hulk, I went in expecting a movie about an angry green giant and lots of action... I remember being bored to tears!), others tanked.

Iron Man was pretty risky. How big was he with the general public? Apparently he was no Spider-Man or X-Men or even Captain America. In 2008, I had little comic book knowledge, when I heard of the film I assumed it was going to be some sort of take on the Black Sabbath song, not gonna lie! They even used the song in the trailers and the film's end credits, anyway. The film is also special because an entire shared universe of interconnecting films that was hitherto unheard of at the time was depending on its success. The marketing was great, people got interested from the trailers and what they saw of it, and they went... AND HOW!

Keep doing down and we see Independence Day. Not based on any IP, just a big blockbuster with then super-amazing effects, destruction, and an awesome trailer. Everyone was hooked, and that's why everyone went. It was a novelty of sorts, because the 1990s was when effects began to get better and better (Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, anyone?), and audiences took notice. Nowadays, all that effects sheen means NOTHING. I won't be surprised if Independence Day 2 doesn't even make half of what the original made domestically...

Below that film is one other peculiar film

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl...

Pirates of the Caribbean was a massive risk for The Walt Disney Company. A goliath risk, even... In 2003, who would’ve thought that a Gore Verbinski-directed, $135 million-costing (a gargantuan cost back then, and big today) pirate film, a subgenre considered all but dead by Hollywood and box office pundits, by Disney that happened to carry a PG-13 rating, would be a smash hit that would start a franchise?

To add to that, this was also Disney's first PG-13 film that wasn't released under the Touchstone or Hollywood Pictures banners...

The only thing it had on its side was the actual Pirates of the Caribbean ride at the Disney theme parks, so it had something going for it, but it wasn't a guarantee, especially with such an enormous budget...

So what happened?

It's opening weekend wasn't the greatest ($47 million was certainly good in 2003, but nothing too special, not in a world of films grossing over $80-100 million on their opening weekends), but then something happened...

The people who saw it told their friends, and their friends told their friends, and so on and so forth. Disney made a mint with it, big time. Those trailers or what was shown in the marketing obviously got a good amount of people excited, but it had so much in its favor now that a good chunk of the public had seen it and liked it. The Pirates franchise will continue with the much-delayed fifth installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales, in summer 2017, which will be a good 14 years after the first film came out!

This was followed up by National Treasure in fall 2004, a conspiracy-themed action-adventure that cost $100 million and happened to be an original story not based on any pre-existing IP. Like Pirates, it was arguably a big risk for Disney. It paid off, though it took some time to get there. Its opening, like Pirates' opening, was no great shakes, but legs and whatnot helped greatly. Audiences liked it a great deal and it got itself a sequel three years later that also did very well. Why a third one hasn’t happened and probably won’t happen is a mystery to me. It was perhaps less risky than Pirates because it was rated PG and was much more family-friendly, but it was still a more interesting film than what they cooked up 5 years earlier...

The third film in this trio of risky pictures was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The least riskiest, it was based on the classic book series by C.S. Lewis and boasted Harry Potter-sized ambitions, it was released in fall 2005. This massive $180 million-costing film was a smash hit domestically and internationally.

2006 rolled around. Disney had three big budget blockbuster-type pictures that were successful, one being a risk because it was fresh, the other being a risk because it was entirely original. Naturally, Disney wanted franchises out of these big hits. Pirates would be the first to get the sequel treatment, and they were timely. Pirates of the Caribbean’s sequel, Dead Man's Chest, carried a goliath $225 million price tag, but it was a record-breaker and an all-out smash hit. It didn’t matter if the sequel had poor writing and a messy story (it got very mixed reviews, as opposed to the original), it was a sequel to a beloved film that made over $300 million domestically, it was going to be huge regardless.

2007 brought the third Pirates of the Caribbean film, subtitled At World's End, which cost $300 million (!!!) and got mixed reviews as well. It didn’t matter, it was Pirates of the Caribbean 3! It made over $300 domestically and nearly cracked the big billion worldwide. That was in the summer, National Treasure: Book of Secrets capped off the lucrative year with over $200 million domestically and over twice as much worldwide.

So 2005, 2006, and 2007 were fine years for Disney on the live-action end.

Then some problems came about in 2008...

The Chronicles of Narnia’s second installment, Prince Caspian, followed the same route the Pirates sequel went. The budget was significantly higher, $225 million. It worked for the sequel to the beloved Pirates, why not this?

Problem was, Prince Caspian wasn’t perhaps all that appropriate for a chunk of the family audiences that the first one won. There was controversy over its violence and PG rating, and whatnot. It wasn’t as well-received either, and it opened in the competitive summer rather than the holiday season, where it could grow insane legs. It opened well enough, but it didn't have the original's longevity. Overseas it wasn't anywhere near as big as part uno, too. Something happened there...

Prince Caspian certainly made a healthy amount of money worldwide, but it wasn’t enough to double its behemoth budget. It was technically a big-scale flop. Disney no longer wanted anything to do with Narnia, so they shipped it off. Fox took over from there and spent a more modest amount on the third film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which came out in 2010 and was profitable. On top of not throwing gazillions at it, Fox released it in the winter and it had more time to catch on and breathe, plus it was more family-friendly. A fourth one is in the works...

Too bad Disney lost a potential ongoing franchise in Narnia.

By the time Prince Caspian came out, it was time to create new big budget films that could possibly start franchises. Films that would take the baton from Pirates and Narnia and Treasure, regardless of Narnia's second installment not doing well. Disney was left with Pirates still going, and National Treasure being in limbo. The back-up plan was in order...

A very family-friendly live-action/CG critter romp called G-Force came out in 2009, costing $150 million. It did fine enough domestically, being your typical leggy kids flick. Overseas it did okay, too... but in all it didn’t do well enough to warrant sequels. It fell shy of $300 million, double its budget. It was too much of a kids-only pic, had it been more for all ages, it could've done some very good business. It was the family film that skewed all ages, like National Treasure and the first Narnia.

Next in line were Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and a massive, no-holds-barred sequel to TRON titled TRON: Legacy. Pirates of the Caribbean’s fourth installment was in the works alongside these pictures, John Carter of Mars was in early development along with The Lone Ranger.

A lot of these pictures are very much like Pirates of the Caribbean. They were all big budget, they were all very risky and perhaps weren’t guaranteed hits. A majority of them were also rated PG-13...

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, for a fine example, is based on a video game series. A video game series whose more recent entries were rated T and M. Video game-based films normally don’t make for box office hits, but that’s due to poor writing and the resulting films turning out to be undesirable. There were exceptions, of course, and maybe Prince of Persia could buck the trend. Pirates did it with pirate movies, so why couldn’t Prince of Persia do just that with video game-based movies?

They got a $200 million budget, the director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a rather agreeable PG-13 rating and tone, well-known actors... What could possibly go wrong? Halfway down its road to release, Disney saw a huge management shift. Out went Walt Disney Pictures Chairman Dick Cook, in came a rather inexperienced Rich Ross...

Ross fired a lot of people within the wing, getting rid of senior marketing people and replacing them with rather inexperienced new, “fresh”, “young” blood. Problem was, this group of people didn’t seem to know how to handle Prince of Persia. The marketing failed to get tons of audiences in the seats on opening weekend, the film opened with a very disappointing $30 million on the Memorial Day weekend. It had decent legs, but it only made $90 million stateside. Worldwide, it made $336 million. The film failed to double its ridiculous budget...

Remember how Box Office Mojo jokingly
wrote about how the ads made the film
look like it was titled "May 28"?

But then someone will say the tired old, "It flopped because it was bad!"

Prince of Persia's slipshod quality is no excuse for the film's box office performance. As shown many, many, many times before, you can take a not-so-good movie and make it look good to audiences. Look at how Top 50-100 films aren't all that well-received! National Treasure is a fine example: The Rotten Tomatoes score is 44%, it got mixed and negative reviews, don't say "movies flop because they are bad!" Did Pinocchio flop in 1940 because it was bad? Did Blade Runner flop in 1982 because it was bad? Did The Iron Giant flop in 1999 because it was bad?

Anyways...

Perhaps Disney, when greenlighting the film, shouldn’t have counted the proverbial chickens before they hatched... Why in the world did the budget skyrocket to $200 million? That’s an awful lot for any film, even something based on a well-known IP!

Maybe Persia should've costed $150 million instead, so $336 million wouldn't seem too bad. More than double the budget, and it seems that Disney at least expects a film to make 2x the budget because they can handle the other things, what with being a humungous company and all. (A studio/company DreamWorks, on the other hand, probably requires their films to make more than 2 1/2x their budgets. 3x, even!)

A month earlier, Warner Bros. put out the $125 million Clash of the Titans. FX-heavy out the wazoo, with creatures and action and stuff... Why couldn't Prince of Persia cost nearly as much? How much did they pay the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal?

Earlier that year, Disney scored a monster hit with another huge-scale live-action picture... Now I didn't mention this one earlier because it arguably wasn't much of a risk despite its massive budget...

You can probably guess what it is...


The $200 million-costing Alice in Wonderland...

Alice in Wonderland already had so much going for it, so it really wasn't as big of a risk. Why?

Everyone knows the classic story, it's arguably iconic. A lot of people are familiar with Walt Disney's 1951 animated film based on the property so people probably saw this is as a remake/reimagining of the Disney classic rather than just another adaptation of the Lewis Carroll stories, Tim Burton directing, the marketing campaign - fired up in mid 2009 - was already great, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, the film looked like a must-see...

Then something else happened during the holiday season of 2009...

A little movie made by James Cameron...

Avatar.

After that film came a very brief 3D craze. Now everybody had to see Alice in Wonderland... And everybody did. $300 million+ domestic, to everyone’s surprise, and over $1 billion worldwide!

That beat out the maddest of box office predictions! By a country mile!

So Alice was big, Persia lost money. The safe bet won, the risk didn't.

The post-Cook marketing people also left The Sorcerer's Apprentice to die, a lame $150 million-costing film that appealed to few. With a modest budget it could’ve been something of a small hit, as it did carry a PG rating and was more family-friendly. It didn't, however, appeal to adults and teens unlike a good family film, the marketing failed to sell it. With a roughly $100 million budget, it could've done well enough. The film did have good legs during the summer, and it ultimately collected $215 million worldwide. Of course that's pretty bad for a film expected to make at least $300 million...

Then came TRON: LegacyTRON: Legacy is very much a Dick Cook-era production like Alice, Persia, and Sorcerer's Apprentice, and perhaps they overshot things once again when giving it a $170 million budget. The original TRON, which Walt Disney Productions made and put out in 1982, was not a very conventional film that also happened to carry a big budget and groundbreaking special effects. It didn’t do well at the box office, but it did garner a wide base over the years. Disney seemed to act off of that alone, or maybe they felt that TRON and its ideas would be more relevant with modern audiences considering that computers were still somewhat foreign to most American moviegoers in the early 1980s...

Still, spending $170 million on a TRON sequel was a big risk...

The marketing campaign already went into full gear two years before it even came out. In 2008, a test trailer showed up out of nowhere at Comic-Con, shocking and amazing the attendees. That same test trailer was given an official release in summer 2009, as the film was already underway. The post-Cook marketing people took the campaign up to eleven, marketing the living daylights out of the film.

One of Rich Ross’ main “goals” as Chairman of Walt Disney Pictures was to make pictures for young boys, a demographic that Disney felt they were scaring off at the time. It’s the reason why Walt Disney Animation Studios was briefly forced to cease making films based on fairy tales that happened to be about princesses, it’s why Rapunzel was retitled to Tangled, it’s also why some particular projects were greenlit later on down the road. We'll get to those...

Ross saw potential in TRON: Legacy and assumed, because it would be in 3D, it mostly took place in a big sci-fi fantasy world, and because of the success of Alice behind them, that it would be the next Avatar. That’s right... A sequel to a cult classic being the next Avatar... The marketing campaign for the film was huge, they pulled out all the stops on it.

TRON: Legacy actually did very well. It had a great domestic run, and it grossed a strong $400 million worldwide, but against that hefty budget and the aggressive marketing, the gross kind of looked weak. A third film stalled and stalled, the franchise slowly lost traction. The third film is reportedly set to shoot in October...

Ross’ Disney was beginning to crumble by the beginning of 2011, a little over a full year into his tenure. He was dumping Cook spillover from the potential hits (Persia) to the oncoming clunkers (Mars Needs Moms), and was green lighting very few new projects... One of the pics he greenlit was Prom, which felt like a Disney Channel movie and should've been exactly that. It did nothing in theaters, it disappeared with grace...

He also greenlit Oz The Great and Powerful and the long-gestating The Lone Ranger. The former because of Alice's success, the latter because... Maybe he felt a guns-a-blazin' Western fit right in with his "chase the young boy audience" strategy, and maybe he thought that would be the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster that would be the next Pirates, if Persia ended up not being just that. Maleficent also moved forward under his watch, again, because of Alice's success, and later the success of reimagined fairy tale flicks like Universal's successful Snow White and the Huntsman.

At the same time he shuttered many things. He and his cronies barked death to 2D animated films and fairy tales after late 2009's The Princess and the Frog only did moderately well. However, it was too late to cancel upcoming Disney Animation fairy tale Tangled, but he did go as far as getting the original title changed to the awful title it has now. (I never liked that title, never. One of the other pending "non-girly" titles, The Secret Tower, was far better.) Tangled was a hit, and now he was singing a different tune, fairy tales were a-ok under his watch now, which is why Frozen moved forward... But it wouldn't be a 2D film as planned.

Ross also took Disney Double Dare You out back, an animation studio (or was it going to be a mere label?) that was going to specialize in spooky, more horror-themed stories with the likes of Guillermo del Toro involved... Oooooh how awesome that would've been! But Ross killed it. Mars Needs Moms bombing lead to ties being cut with Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers, and probably for the better.


However, a real problem began to emerge in mid-2010, when John Carter of Mars moved forward. The Andrew Stanton-directed epic based on the influential Edgar Rice Burroughs books was a massive risk, but Cook saw potential in it back in 2007. It was the very book series that influenced the likes of Star Wars and several other iconic sci-fi/fantasy stories, it was from an acclaimed Pixar filmmaker, and it promised big scale thrills and a possible franchise.

However, the budget spiraled out of control under Rich Ross, when the film finally began production. The budget would be $250 million... $250 million! Any wise executive dealing with the aftermath of films that cost $150-225 million flopping would've worked very hard to keep the budget for John Carter of Mars under control no matter what. Reportedly Stanton was in over his head when directing his first live-action picture, but I'm not getting into that, all I'm going to say is this... A wise or more seasoned executive would've tried to really keep things under control. If Stanton was indeed not ready, he should've had smart and experienced executives keeping him in line. Ross was anything but experienced to run a film studio, and this was the first big project he truly oversaw...

Instead, the production ended up being something of a mess. A big mistake was in the making...

But then the marketing executives seemed to interfere, John Carter of Mars’ title lost the “Of Mars”. They'll say Stanton himself had it removed because he felt the film was more of an origin story, but that doesn't line up. The film ends with the title John Carter showing up for a second time, and Of Mars fading in under it. Plus, rumor has it that the marketing people argued "Of Mars" didn’t test well and that Mars Needs Moms flopping would’ve effected the film if it had that title. Up until 2011, it bore the title John Carter of Mars. I don't know, what story do you believe? The execs being nut jobs sounds more feasible to me.

Its trailers failed to mention the Edgar Rice Burroughs connections, or Andrew Stanton’s Pixar pedigree. The film looked like a Star Wars knock-off mixed with Avatar and Prince of Persia. A lot of people don't know that the titular hero came first in 1912. How did Disney marketing let that all happen? Some article with a source who is identified as an unnamed Disney "marketing mole" will tell you that it was truly all Andrew Stanton's fault and that he controlled the marketing and that he made the Disney marketing head cry in an argument, yadda yadda yadda. Other stories say it was nasty studio politics, and that Ross and his cronies intended to kill Stanton's film, writing it off as spillover from the Dick Cook era that was one long, proverbial "rip the band-aid" moment.

Whatever happened, the marketing started out as a bust and continued to be a bust...


The Lone Ranger ran into issues the same year John Carter's marketing kicked up, its budget also skyrocketed to $250 million! Again, why the hell would you spend $150 million alone on a film based on The Lone Ranger? A property that probably isn’t well-known amongst 15-35yo moviegoing audiences and possibly their parents even. Plus the film, despite ending up carrying a PG-13, would be pretty violent and perhaps be too weird for some audiences out there. Westerns are also not guaranteed smashes overseas... But again, what could possibly go wrong? It’s from the director and producer team of the Pirates trilogy, has Johnny Depp playing an eccentric character, and action!

By 2011, Pirates was waning in the US. The fourth installment dipped in ticket sales, grossing significantly less than the first installment even! Worldwide, it didn't matter, it was the biggest one overseas, probably thanks to the 3D/IMAX 3D uptick.

Production halted on The Lone Ranger in order for the studio to keep the budget in check... By in check they meant reducing it by $25 million.

The Lone Ranger would cost $225 million!

Meanwhile, Maleficent began to gain traction. That would be greenlit with a $180 million budget. Seemed more reasonable, given the success of Alice in Wonderland and given the fact that Walt Disney’s classic Sleeping Beauty is iconic and beloved.

In mid-2011, Ross greenlit one peculiar production. One that seemed to fall in line with his “chase the young boy audience” mentality: A science fiction script by Damon Lindelof, who worked on LOST and would later write Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness. They greenlit it, and $190 million was eventually thrown at it.

What could possibly go wrong? Even after G-Force, Prince of Persia, and Sorcerer's Apprentice flopped... Even after big sci-fi action flick TRON: Legacy didn’t quite post the numbers they wanted...

Lindelof’s script would get a director and co-writer in Brad Bird the Pixar mastermind who directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and also the highly successful Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol for Paramount. Bird was named director in early 2012. The picture became Tomorrowland, a sci-fi tale that was more focused on ideas and themes rather than big action and spectacle...

What could possibly go wrong?

Spring 2012... John Carter bombed at the box office thanks to the awful marketing campaign, and good overseas grosses couldn’t save it. The picture had to have made around $500 million in order to break even! A ridiculous amount to expect for a ton of films really, even some tentpoles! Had Stanton's space epic cost less than $150 million, it wouldn't have been much of a less. $284 million worldwide isn't terrible. If the film had cost $125 million, with all its big sets and monsters and fx spectacle, $284 million would've been okay. Maybe not franchise-starter good, but it wouldn't be much of a loss. At least it would've doubled the $125 million budget...

(I'm aware of John Carter of Mars' long history in Hollywood. Many movie attempts were made, and maybe those "development" costs carried over onto Disney's film, similar to how Tangled's development costs ended up making that budget balloon to $260 million!)

So now they were left with two risky live-action "tentpoles", one carried a $225 million budget and had a stigma attached to it already, the other would be $190 million. Rich Ross was ousted as Chairman, replacing him was experienced veteran Alan Horn. Would he turn the ship around and right the wrongs?

As he was coming in, the Marvel acquisition under Dick Cook was beginning to pay off dearly. The Avengers, the first Marvel Studios film released by Walt Disney Pictures, grossed $600 million+ domestically and $1.5 billion worldwide in the summer of 2012. Every following Marvel film was huge and highly profitable...

What was next for Disney and big budget live-action pictures? A non-risk, Oz The Great and Powerful. It cost $225 million price tag, opened spectacularly, had okay legs, did good overseas, it doubled its budget. That was in spring 2013. A sequel is in development... The Lone Ranger came next and crashed in summer 2013. It had a poor opening and very poor legs, its aggressive marketing campaign failed to sell it and it didn’t really catch on overseas. Did the marketing department even try? Or did they not think it would do good from the get-go? Maybe they assumed "it'll bomb, so let's see if we can get it to make as much as it can."

Maleficent then came about in summer 2014 and was big, making over $200 million domestically and $700 million worldwide. More films like it were greenlit. It was clear that a money tree was in these live-action reimaginings of Disney animated classics. Take an iconic Disney animated classic, do it in live-action with a cast that the BuzzFeed crowd approves of, and boom! Cinderella continued this streak this past spring. It’s made over $500 million worldwide.


So... Tomorrowland...

$190 million budget, original story, has the theme park connection, it could've been something of a modest hit. I'm going to jump the gun just yet. Maybe some freakish thing will happen and will get the film into the black, I don't know. $32 million isn't technically awful, and it did get a small Memorial Day boost yesterday, maybe it'll have legs. Maybe not. It has a middling "B" CinemaScore grade, but then again, so did Prince of Persia and that made 3x its 3-day gross. No PG films are out until Inside Out in mid-June, and if Tomorrowland gets traction before it comes out, it could continue to burn slowly before it wraps up. If Tomorrowland follows a similar pattern, it'll make at least $96 million domestically. Worldwide is currently up in the air. It opened soft in European territories, but it could surprise next weekend in China and other markets.

I still want to wait and see. The press is oddly a mixed bag, there's a lot of snarky articles but there are articles that are immediately rushing to defend the film. Hooray for integrity!

What went wrong? Trailers didn't sell it, plain and simple.

Or did they?

$32 million on opening weekend wouldn't be bad for another movie. Good, even. The problem is, Tomorrowland cost $190 million to make.

Did it really need to cost that much, though?

I don't know about you, but I saw the film and it did not look or feel like a $190 million movie to me. It shouldn't have been expected to make 2x its budget from the get-go... $380 million worldwide.

What I saw was a smaller-scale adventure comedy/drama that was certainly science fiction, but it wasn't a big fantasy film or massive adventure. The trailers made it seem like the film was going to be this big boom-bang-pow adventure set in a dazzling retro-futuristic city, and the trailers were light on the characters themselves. Both George Clooney and Britt Robertson's characters, Frank Walker and Casey Newton respectively. They didn't even need to show Raffey Cassidy's character Athena. What would've happened had the trailers focused more on them and not the city/cool effects/action?

We visit Tomorrowland roughly three times. In the beginning Walker experiences a bit of it as a kid, then the scene abruptly cuts off. Then Casey grabs the pin, goes to a field out in the woods, and explores it for maybe less than five minutes. The pin timer expires, she's back in the real world. The rest of the film, up until the third act, is Casey journeying to find answers, ultimately teaming her up with Athena and then Walker. There's a set-piece involving a shop full of geeky cool things, with some booms and bangs, but that's about it. The enemies are Disney-style audio-animatronics, there are a few gadgets and stuff here and there...

The last third finally takes us to the titular city, but it's anything but lively and dazzling. It's rundown, dilapidated, post-apocalyptic. We see some cool stuff here and there, and we get a setpiece that doesn't involve too many booms and bangs. No flying around the city, no big CG creature or alien threat to stop, no audio-animatronic war. There's a fight, two robots, a portal, the thing they have to stop, but it's nothing crazy. I've seen the same stuff in films that cost $100-120 million, and it was bigger in those films. On top of all that, it has a message that’s very much front-and-center and one that's currently troubled and dividing audiences and critics alike, it comments on the state of the world today, and it’s through and through a science fiction film...

This should've costed $90 million minimum, not $190 million.

Yes, marketing is an issue with these live-action pictures. Yes, them being hard sells is an issue with these live-action pictures...

But so is Disney...

Or whoever is throwing all that money into these pictures...

G-Force didn’t need to cost $150 million, even with tons of effects or flash.

Prince of Persia didn't need to cost $200 million.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice should’ve costed less than $100 million.

John Carter of Mars' budget shouldn't have ballooned to anywhere near $150 million.

The Lone Ranger shouldn't have costed anywhere near $225 million, or $125 million even...

It is and was certainly bold of Disney to spend so much on all of these risky films, films that probably weren’t meant to be the kinds of films that gross over $500 million worldwide and launch franchises. To expect that of something original is a bit ridiculous, wouldn't you say? I mean, it's already quite enough when it's for something that's pretty much guaranteed to strike gold!

If Tomorrowland had cost $120 million tops, its box office uphill climb wouldn’t be so massive. The same goes for The Lone Ranger. A $100 million Lone Ranger would’ve been a success, since the film did ultimately make $260 million in the end, that’s more than 2 1/2 times a $100 million budget. A $150 million-costing John Carter still would’ve flopped with $284 million worldwide, but the write-down wouldn’t be as massive. A $150 million Prince of Persia would’ve done okay with $336 million worldwide.

The problem is, once again, Disney going for excess with budgets...

I feel that this is what ultimately hurt these “tentpole” films, and it’s too early to say what Tomorrowland will end up being, be it a flop or a modest success or hit even, but still... It cost too much to make.

Did Disney perhaps get some sort of overconfidence after the blockbusting trio of Pirates, National Treasure, and Narnia? Disney can certainly afford the losses of those films, for they have their own animation studio, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm alongside theme parks and consumer products and merchandise, and every other asset from ABC to ESPN...

The problem is, when something doesn’t do well, the current Disney seems to cease to try, try, try again...

Polar opposite of what Walt Disney did. Walt soldiered on with crazy experiments and risks despite being low on money at many times in his life... Even when he was in debt! You owe how many millions to the bank circa 1948? That's okay, make an animated feature that's not a package anthology film, get into live-action, film nature documentary short films, get into TV... Oh, and now that we've recouped, it's the early 1950s now, let's... Build a theme park!

Disney has money pits everywhere, they have no excuse.

Should they continue with original, ambitious live-action pictures, they ought to consider the budgets and scale them down. Disney likes to scale things down, so why don't they scale down the budgets of these films? Why don't they save the $150-250 million budgets for the stuff that's obviously going to break even? You know... Marvel films and Star Wars chapters?

Disney live-action’s slate is mostly just reimaginings of Disney animated classics. Very few offbeat Tomorrowland or John Carter-esque projects are on the slate, outside of The BFG and maybe The Finest Hours.

The former is a Steven Spielberg production, his first for Disney that isn't a Touchstone picture, and it's about giants. I can imagine that it could cost less than $120 million, $100 million even. The only Roald Dahl films to score are the two films based on his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The budget has already been determined, I reckon, and I hope it isn't too big. It's July 1, 2016 release is arguably not too, too breathable, but we'll see what happens...

The Finest Hours? I honestly have no idea how much it'll cost. It's based on a book that's based on something that actually happened in 1952, two T2 tankers were effected by a nor'easter off of Cape Cod. Storms, shipwrecks... I can see it costing less than $100 million. It originally held an October 2015 release, but Disney pushed it to January 2016. It's probably going to be one of those "more for the adults only" films, it doesn't sound like a family film, and when I saw the Disney name on it at the CinemaCon presentation, I was shocked. I honestly thought that this would be a Touchstone release...

But what after that? Hopefully TRON: Ascension moves forward, but that's a sequel and nothing really new, even the TRON franchise is interesting and far more exciting than the umpteenth reimagining of a Disney animated classic. There's Guillermo del Toro's Haunted Mansion, which is essentially the Haunted Mansion-inspired film we deserve, and a more horror-centric one would certainly be fresh and new, but is that moving forward? Or is it going to move forward?

What of recent acquisitions and projects like Goblins? Floors? In The Land of Imagined Things? A Wrinkle in Time? I assume the likes of Matched, Tribyville, Terra Incognita, and The Stuff of Legend aren't going to happen at this point.

Actually... It's worth noting that inbetween all those big films made from PIRATES to now, you had a lot of little scale films, some of which did well and others didn’t. Films like Bridge to Terabithia, Bedtime Stories, Touchstone films like Real Steel and Need for Speed, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Alexander and the Terrible Day, Into the Woods, Spielberg's upcoming Touchstone release Bridge of Spies...

I won't exactly comment on Disney's spending on the "hit" pictures, though I can see films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier being $120 million-costing films, not films costing more than $170 million. At least Marvel tries to avoid the big 2-0-0 with their non-Avengers/Iron Man films, all of the Phase 2 films in that category cost $170 million to make. Even Guardians of the Galaxy! Hey, John Carter of Mars and The Lone Ranger and Tomorrowland cost more than that fx heavy film that's full of alien planets and creatures!

Basically, yes, Disney ought to watch the budgets on the live-action pictures from now on. Instead of sending ambitious, cool concepts like Tomorrowland to the garbage airlock, they should think of the money that goes into these things and what kind of box office potential these films will have. Especially in a day and age where films have a short time to breathe in theaters, must dash right out of the gate, and do good business before the right-around-the-corner home media release.

I wouldn’t greenlight a script like Tomorrowland with a $190 million budget in mind. I’d shoot for $120 million tops, $100 million even... Perhaps when Tomorrowland was greenlit, Ross and his cronies didn’t know much about its story. Damon Lindelof, who was brought in to do a sci-fi script, likes to treat things like a “mystery box”. Maybe they just greenlit it thinking “It’s a big sci-fi story and it’ll get young boys interested. $190 million!”

But why do that? I’d want to read the script first, get an idea of the size and scope of the picture, its themes, its ideas...

Similarly, I wouldn’t even think of giving The Lone Ranger a budget anywhere near $150 million. I would tell Mr. Verbinski that building steam locomotives isn’t necessary, find a more cost-effective way and still make the train scenes convincing!

Disney needs to get budgets under control with their non-franchise live-action pictures... They aren’t guaranteed wins, and sometimes marketing works, sometimes it doesn’t... Why? Because clearly they can't handle a loss, even when they probably can with everything else making money for them. I don't want these kinds of pictures to go away for good, I want diversity on Disney's live-action slate... At the same time I don't want films like Tomorrowland to be labeled as "flops". These films should be successful to some degree.

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