Why 2013 Is ‘The Year Of The Super Flop’


Unfortunately, 2013 is proving to be the “year of the super flop” for the movies. A certain number of films, of course, are doomed to failure. Not every movie can be a hit. But this year has provided spectacular flops. When a $30 million movie tanks, most people do not even notice it. And if the budget is controlled, even a movie that gets terrible reviews can make a profit. Hansel and Gretel was made for $50 million, was panned almost unanimously, but took in $200 million.

But summertime is when we see the “tent pole” films, the ones that are supposed to be the blockbusters. These are the movies that bring in so much money that a whole raft of indulgent, really uninteresting vanity projects can be made, while still providing enough for half of Hollywood to have private tennis courts, even though officially they still lose money. Perhaps the original Star Wars movie is still listed in the loss column. But this year, a lot of the big films have been super flops.

We have seen some hits: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, World War Z, as well as the latest Star Trek. But think of the other movies, the ones that paid for so many ads you felt you knew them, and then found no audience. A great example is The Lone Ranger. It cost more than $250 million and will almost certainly not be profitable. It took in only $29 million over the July Fourth weekend. And who can forget Pacific Rim? Again, a huge budget, topping $200 million, and a small audience. You know you’re in trouble when your first week box-office take is well behind some kiddie cartoon.

I would ask who could forget After Earth, the Will Smith stinker, but the real question is who might remember it? It had a tiny box office and a gigantic budget. Oblivion starred Tom Cruise, but headed to oblivion right away, although it was not a bad picture. And earlier in the year, we had Jack the Giant Killer, A Good Day to Die Hard and Gangster Squad. There were a few reasons for the collapses at the box office. First, of course, in the summertime, we have at least one new movie, often two, opening the same weekend. It gets the buzz, all the publicity. But with rising prices when you go to the theater (3-D and the special RX screen, which is not terribly special at all, raise prices quickly), many people are getting more selective about what they see. And if you missed opening week, there’s a new blockbuster the next one.

Add in the fact that we generally get another chance to see the movies about two months later when they come out on DVD and On Demand, and we pay a whole lot less. There are some movies I skip because I don’t need to pay more than $20 for my wife and myself, when weeks later I can get away with paying $5 and can make microwave popcorn for a lot less than they sell the stuff at the theater.

Another problem is when movies start sending messages. The old-time producer Sam Goldwyn used to say, “If you want to send a message, send a telegram.” But producers often want to lecture us. If a message is slipped gently into a really fun package, no one minds. But too many producers want to hit us over the head with a social or political message, and those movies tend to be ignored, except by the Hollywood elite.

The number of films based on comic books is not surprising, since much of Hollywood is now more interested in creating “packages” than interesting movies, and there is even a formula used to develop scripts. Creating different types of films is getting impossible. Steven Spielberg told interviewers that his film Lincoln was a hair away from being on HBO because Hollywood thought it made the audience work too hard at thinking. Imagine a lesser producer trying to bring up something new.

On the other hand, I go to the movies and tell you which ones to see. There are a good many to miss.