Monday, November 18, 2013

Riske Business: Box Office Bombs I Thought Would Be Huge

As mentioned way back on the Young Guns podcast, Premiere Magazine once predicted that the Julia Roberts sob-fest Dying Young would be the biggest movie of the summer of 1991. That did not turn out to be the case. Eighteen movies grossed more than Dying Young that summer. I’d make fun of the writers at Premiere, but that wouldn’t be fair. I’ve had many occasions where I thought a movie would be huge and it did not catch on. Here are some of my Dying Youngs.

Angus (1995)
 No one wanted the chance to dance with Melissa Lefevre. I was convinced that Angus was going to get butts in seats. It had Lex from Park and she was all growns up so “we” could dream about her. George C. Scott and Kathy Bates were supposed to bring in all of the adults. There was brand new music from Green Day, because street cred. All of the elements were there. I was there opening weekend. Were you? No, you all stuck up for bullying. Angus opened at number 8 and ended its run with a measly $4.8M.
Grindhouse (2007)
 Most of the movies on this list are not great, which makes this one hurt more. I thought people were going to come out in droves to see Grindhouse, which was an incredible theatrical experience for movie nerds. But Grindhouse was further proof that niche excitement is very different from mainstream acceptance. The box office failure of Grindhouse was heavily analyzed at the time – was it the 3 hours plus run time, the fact that it opened on Easter weekend, or people not understanding that it was “two adrenaline filled roller coasters, one ticket to ride”? Maybe it’s all of the above. Grindhouse opened at #4 with $11.6M, finishing with a low $25M gross. Oddly enough, the legacy of Grindhouse rests in the boom of independent, mostly direct-to-DVD genre fare. Probably not what Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez had in mind, but important nevertheless.
Treasure Planet (2002)
I remember buying tickets in advance for Treasure Planet on opening night. My 2002 boo and I got there super early. We thought this thing was going to fill up, just like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The joke was on us. As the show time neared it, was us and 10 other people. What happened? Didn’t Treasure Planet have everything? It was a Disney movie for kids around the holidays, it was based on the beloved book Treasure Island and it had the cutting edge mixture of hand-drawn and computer-animation (I forgot about Titan A.E. apparently). As the end credits began, the usher cleaning the theater came in and said loudly “Huge bomb.” He was right. Treasure Planet tanked, opening at number 4 to $12M and lost a ton of money for Disney. The saddest part of all was the movie’s failure represented a huge blow to the future of hand-drawn animation at the studio that once revolutionized the art form.
Loser (2000)
Biggs and an ever adorable goth Suvari. Need I say more? I do? OK. It’s directed by Amy Heckerling. That sold you, right? No, huh? I thought this movie had a ton going for it because everyone who saw American Pie was going to be clamoring for a mini-reunion. It’s like they were in high school and now they’re in college, y’all. Apparently that wasn’t enough of a draw, because Loser opened at number 8 with $6.0M and ended its run with only $15.6M – about 15% of the gross of American Pie the previous summer. I blame Biggs with his stupid hat and his stupid hair and also those g-damn three roommates of his that soured the movie every time they appeared. But seriously, this movie rightfully bombed. For a comedy, it was mean and depressing. And no one fucked a pie.
The Mod Squad (1999)
I overestimated the power of a HOT CAST and lots of attitude back when I was in high school. I remember seeing the trailer for The Mod Squad and when they showed the R rating at the beginning, I was all “Oh, yeah…they’re not f-ing around.” No one cared about the HOT CAST, as The Mod Squad stumbled into theaters opening at number 4 behind the week’s other debut, the effervescent (kidding) EDtv. The Mod Squad finished with only $13.3M on a $50M budget. It didn’t help that the movie sucked. Fun story about EDtv: When I worked at Blockbuster (RIP), there was an EDtv poster on the bathroom wall, so whenever I think of that movie I have to make wee. HOT CAST!
Wild Things (1998)
For my friends and me, Wild Things was an event. We were like “Woo-hoo! WILD THINGS!” and thought America to be the same way. But sleaze and tawdry sex to a bunch of 15-year olds is one thing; to adults, it’s something else. We were OK with the movie, but also mildly disappointed. We wanted it to be basically Skin-e-max, and what we got was a movie trying to have a plot. Boo! And for every Denise Richards topless scene, we got a Kevin Bacon penis scene. Boo! And why didn’t Sidney Prescott show more than her back? Boo! Proving that most people watch erotic thrillers at home, Wild Things opened at number 4 with $9.6M and ended its run with $30.1M.
U-Turn (1997)
Well, this is a case where I thought a movie was going to be a hit because of its deep cast. For example, I thought there was a subset of people who come out to movies because they love Nick Nolte and would say “Two for U-Turn,” followed by Powers Boothe fans, etc., and all were mutually exclusive. When you combine all of these fan bases with the Oliver Stone peeps, you got yourself big box office. That’s not how it turned out. I ended up seeing U-Turn the way everyone did: seven years later on TNT when nothing else was on. U-Turn opened at number 8 with $2.7M and ended its run shortly thereafter with only $6.7M.
A Perfect World (1993)
A Perfect World did well internationally, but domestically only grossed $8.1M on its way to a final total of $31.1M. I don’t think that’s enough, because this is one of the best movies of the 1990s. If you haven’t seen A Perfect World, you really should. I remember thinking this movie was going to open #1 and win a whole slew of Oscars after reading Roger Ebert’s review. I also factored in that the talent involved was hot at the time: Clint Eastwood starred & directed coming off of Unforgiven and In the Line of Fire. Plus, Kevin Costner had just done The Bodyguard, JFK and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Sadly, that all paled in the shadow of fellow Thanksgiving 1993 release Mrs. Doubtfire and A Perfect World has since been almost forgotten. This movie is incredible and also has Dern ’93, who has never looked foxier in a movie. Oh-ma-ga.
Jetsons: The Movie (1990)
A key theme running across this list is that I used to confuse my personal excitement for a movie with my prognosis of its potential box office success. The most egregious example of that was Jetsons: The Movie. I was 8 when this movie was released and can honestly say that I was the most excited person on Earth for Jetsons: The Movie. A lot of that had to do with the poster, which lit up like the brightest star in the galaxy. Look at it. It’s still one great, big beautiful bastard. It’s like if Michelangelo made double-sided one-sheets.
I stayed up the entire night before the movie came out so I could get the Daily Herald newspaper and read what the local critic had to say about the movie. I also wanted to see what the show times were for all of my local theaters so that I would know the perfect place/time to go see Jetsons: The Movie. I went with one of my favorite movie buddies, my mom, on opening night and we were among about five people in the theater. I was so sad. I still liked the movie and I asked my mom to take me to Sound Warehouse to buy the soundtrack on the way home. I had to have instant access to such classics as “We’re the Jetsons” (Jetsons Rap) by XXL and, of course, “You and Me” by Tiffany. Did you used to do that too? I had to have the soundtrack to every movie I liked. This is how a Jewish boy ends up with the soundtrack to Home Alone as a Chanukah present. Jetsons: The Movie made only $5.0M in its opening weekend and finished with $20.3M, proving that it might not be the best idea to release a kids movie in 1990 that is based on a show from the '60s which had its last blaze of glory in 1987 when it ended its run on syndication. In terms of staying current with what kids like, 3 years might as well be a million.
Go (1999)
Here’s the movie that inspired this list. Again, I mistook that my thinking the movie looked cool would translate into everyone thinking it looked cool. Go got my attention because Entertainment Weekly gave it an A and the movie was being compared (in structure more than quality) to Pulp Fiction. In retrospect, that’s because it was shamelessly ripping off Pulp Fiction so it’s an easy comparison to make. The movie was also the follow-up to Swingers by director Doug Liman, which I thought had more mainstream cachet then it did. HOT CAST. HOT SOUNDTRACK (I still love the song “New” by No Doubt). How could this not gross $100M? Go was a non-starter, opening to only $4.7M and ending its run with $16.9M. Its legacy to me will forever be that it was on one of my go-to make out movies, because this was at the time when the line “You want to come over and see my DVD player?” worked. Best DVD make-out story: The first DVD I owned was The Matrix, and I invited my 1999 boo over to watch it with me. She wanted to canoodle. We did, but I turned her back to the TV during the last 30 minutes so I could watch the movie. I had an unbroken 30 minute make out session while watching the end of The Matrix with my eyes open the entire time. I did not think of Julie even once. That is the time I made out with The Matrix. It was so Zion.

Your turn. What are your Dying Youngs? What is the most ridiculous movie soundtrack you owned? What are your best movie make-out stories? Be discreet – I don’t need to hear about you going 23x3 during Ransom.


  1. Re: Wild Things, I have a friend who to this day refers to her only as Neve "No-Nudity Clause" Campbell. I also don't understand why A Perfect World wasn't a hit, that movie is fantastic.

    I won't go into detail about my best movie make-out story, except to say that my then-girlfriend and I were completely alone in a 200+ seat theater for a screening of Mary Reilly. I've never been more grateful for the total failure of a movie, and that feeling has very little to do with the content of the movie itself. I finally watched it once it hit video, though, and audiences were right to stay home in droves.

    As for my Dying Youngs, how the hell was Tango & Cash not a monster hit? That movie is pure fun and should've had at least 9 sequels by now. I want to see Tango & Cash in space. I remember walking out of that movie and thinking it was gonna be HUGE, bigger than Robert Z'Dar's jaw. This is why I don't work in Hollywood, I guess.

    1. Neve got a copy of the script that was called: WILD THINGS: UP TO A POINT

  2. I hit publish too soon...another failed prognostication of mine was Joe Versus the Volcano. Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan in a movie that was truly unlike anything I had ever seen before, I thought it was a guaranteed smash. I was all kinds of wrong, but I stand by my love of that movie. Fantastic, and deserves an audience.

    1. That's one of my favorite movies of all time.

    2. May you live to be a thousand years old, sir.

    3. If that movie came out in 1995, 2000, 2005, or 2010 it would be a hit.

  3. I saw every single one of these movies in theaters. I accept no blame for their failures.

  4. "...I turned her back to the TV during the last 30 minutes so I could watch the movie. I had an unbroken 30 minute make out session while watching the end of The Matrix with my eyes open the entire time."

    That's awesome.

  5. If it makes you feel any better we finally got to see Neve's boobs in When Will I Be Loved and they were kinda weird (IMHPO). I'd rather look at Kevin Bacon's sausage.

    I guess I've never been much of a box-office prognosticator as I can't really think of a time I really thought about it. I hate to keep rehashing this old chestnut, but at 7, I probably thought Jaws: The Revenge was going to be the biggest thing ever...

    The first time my current fiancée and I got naked together was during a DVD viewing of the EXTENDED CUT (snort) of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, proving that it is possible to nerd-bore a girl into just having sex instead. That's also why I call my penis "Frodo" (NOT because it's a short adventurer). Sadly, however, this did not repeat itself when I finally watched the entire extended cut on blu-ray last year (insert sad slide-whistle sound here).

    1. This thread has the potential to get icky, but "short adventurer" just made me laugh really hard.

  6. Some of my Dying Young's...

    Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - I thought that this would speak to my generation and make everyone realize how wonderful Edgar Wright is. Instead, America went in droves to see an action movie where a group of old fucks coast on nostalgia and bad jokes for two hours. And I say that as a huge fan of a lot of those old fucks!

    Lockout - I thought Luc Besson would do for Guy Pierce what he did for Liam Neeson, make a respectable character actor into a B movie action star. It didn't happen. While I like the movie, I'll admit that it should of been more fun than what it was. But a part of me wishes I got to see more adventures of Snow.

    As for my contribution to "F this Movie Presents: Red Shoe Diaries", me and my then girlfriend/now wife decided to watch "The Reaping" on cable. All I'll say is that I don't remember anything past the 20 minute mark and am damn happy about it.

    1. You owe Hilary Swank a thank you note.

    2. I completely agree on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I guess that's one of my Dying Youngs, too, and for the same reasons. Edgar Wright is the best, and that movie did all sorts of cool things that should have spoken to the current generation of moviegoers. I'm so sad that it didn't perform well, but I still love it, and always will. It would easily go in my top 5 of all time.

  7. My would Dying Young's would have to be:

    The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle - I was 8 when me and my family went to go see it at the drive-in as I fairly remembered the cartoon it was inspired by and it was one of the first films that I have seen Robert De Niro in. This got a bad rap from fans of the show and critics alike, as in the end it made just $35M worldwide on a budget of over $76M.

    Just My Luck - I came to see it because I was a Lindsay Lohan fan at the time (pre-meltdown) and one of the first instances to see a pre-Star Trek Chris Pine on the big screen. Unfortunately, the whole thing didn't end up being that funny and the movie barely broke even worldwide with over $38M on a budget of $28M.

  8. I remember u-turn being really similar to Red Rock West and almost nothing else.