Friday, August 14, 2015

Yes, it is possible to lose money doing this

'Fantastic Four' Could Lead to $60 Million Write-Off for Fox

Whenever a corporation uses this much money this quickly and this publicly, there is an inevitable wave of second guessing. Lots of people will tell you they saw it coming all along. Some of them may even be telling the truth, but, viewed from sufficiently high up, there is no obvious explanation for how this film turned out so badly, either critically or financially. It was based on Marvel characters; the hot young cast was coming off or going into high profile projects like Whiplash, House of Cards, and the Rocky reboot Creed; it did not go wildly over budget; as far as I know there were no major disasters that beset the production.

(It's true that studio execs started getting nervous late in the game, but being able to spot a disaster 100 plus million into the process doesn't actually help.)

Going into this, movie studios had developed the attitude that they had finally arrived upon a safe formula for producing blockbusters. It was a costly formula and you had to have access to a relatively small set of established licensed characters, but within those constraints, you were more or less guaranteed a steady stream of huge hits .

As mentioned previously, this is not the first time Hollywood has convinced itself that it'd found the secret to success:

There's an old and very common saying in Hollywood that the biggest money-losing film ever was the Sound of Music. The joke here is that though the film did rather well...
Upon its initial release, The Sound of Music briefly displaced Gone with the Wind as the highest-grossing film of all-time; taking re-releases into account, it ultimately grossed $286 million internationally. Adjusted to contemporary prices it is the third highest-grossing film of all-time at the North American box office and the fifth highest-grossing film worldwide.
... The films it inspired lost a lot of money. That's a bit of an oversimplification. Music was just the last of a string of hit musicals in the early Sixties ( West Side Story, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins) but it was the biggest and it suggested an upward trend and, to the extent that it was responsible for what followed, it might well justify that money-losing title. 
The commercially and/or critically unsuccessful films included Camelot, Finian's Rainbow, Hello Dolly!, Sweet Charity, Doctor Dolittle, Star!, Darling Lili, Paint Your Wagon,* Song of Norway, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Man of La Mancha, Lost Horizon and Mame. Collectively and individually these failures crippled several of the major studios.
I don't want to push the analogy with comic-book movies but there are similarities, particularly regarding the budgets and the stories executives told themselves to justify them. 
We are probably still a ways from Song of Norway and Mame, but FF is not going to be the last superhero film to lose money. (My superpower is acknowledging the obvious.)

* This film is included under protest. I refuse to make fun of any musical that stars Lee Marvin.

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