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Movies Math The Almighty Buck

Hollywood's Love of Analytics Couldn't Prevent Six Massive Blockbuster Flops 1029

Posted by samzenpus
from the well-that-wasn't-good dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "In June, Steven Spielberg predicted that Hollywood was on the verge of an 'implosion' in which 'three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing to the ground.' The resulting destruction, he added, could change the film industry in radical and possibly unwelcome ways. And sooner than he may have thought, the implosion has arrived: in the past couple weeks, six wannabe blockbusters have cratered at the North American box office: 'R.I.P.D.,' 'After Earth,' 'White House Down,' 'Pacific Rim,' and 'The Lone Ranger.' These films featured big stars, bigger explosions, and top-notch special effects—exactly the sort of summer spectacle that ordinarily assures a solid run at the box office. Yet all of them failed to draw in the massive audiences needed to earn back their gargantuan budgets. Hollywood's more reliant than ever on analytics to predict how movies will do, and even Google has taken some baby-steps into that arena with a white paper describing how search-query patterns and paid clicks can estimate how well a movie will do on its opening weekend, but none of that data seems to be helping Hollywood avoid shooting itself in the foot with a 'Pacific Rim'-sized plasma cannon. In other words, analytics can help studios refine their rollout strategy for new films—but the bulk of box-office success ultimately comes down to the most elusive and unquantifiable of things: knowing what the audience wants before it does, and a whole lot of luck."
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Hollywood's Love of Analytics Couldn't Prevent Six Massive Blockbuster Flops

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  • Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mitreya (579078) <mitreya&gmail,com> on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:06PM (#44355493)

    These films featured big stars, bigger explosions, and top-notch special effects

    Maybe they'll start making... (gasp)... actual plots to accompany those stars/explosions/special effects?

    • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by iggymanz (596061) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:14PM (#44355575)

      Would be nice if our culture just became weary of entertainment cartel offerings, and people could once again take up more productive pastimes: making things, group outings and sports, exercise, hobbies...anything besides sitting on butts and watching brain numbing nonsense (yes, I'm as guilty as anyone)

      • by alen (225700) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:26PM (#44355761)

        My baseball teamnis the marlins you insensitive clod

        • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Monday July 22, 2013 @08:39PM (#44357299) Journal

          ... is the day Analytics get to rule the world.

          Human beings are famous for being irrational.

          True, we are predictable, but, as irrational beings, our so-called "predictability" is not actually that "predictable", after all.

          Blockbuster movies become blockbuster movies because they somehow sync with the audiences. Be it King Kong or Casablanca or Star Wars or Gone With The Wind, they sell because the fulfill something that the audiences need - either to be entertained, or to be informed, or to be enlightened.

          Lately, actually not lately, but has been for the past several decades, Hollywood has lost its touch.

          Instead of producing movies that can fulfill the needs of the audiences, Hollywood has been relying on formulas, sequels, and remakes of old classics.

          The "Analytics", sad to say, is just a new name for their formula Hollywood has been relying upon since the 1980's.

          • by Bigbutt (65939) on Monday July 22, 2013 @10:20PM (#44357865) Homepage Journal

            True. While I typically don't find anything at the movies interesting enough to see, I am sucked in by sequels or by movies that appeal to the geek in me (this year more than the past 20 or so for some reason).

            For instance, I saw The Hobbit and I disliked it immensely. I have no plans to see any of the sequels (Bilbo saved Thorin? Seriously? I don't care what some fucking appendix says.)

            More recently I was going to see After Earth. I do like Will Smith. But friends told me I'd dislike it primarily for the reasons I like Will Smith. In general he's a happy, larger than life character. In After Earth, as I understand, he's very robotic. I think that's why I didn't have any interest in seeing MIB 3D. And what's worse, I don't recall what I saw that night instead.

            I did go see World War Z and did my best to ignore that it wasn't supposed to follow the book. But having three serious (serious!) zombie attacks due to noise (air base, Jerusalem, and the airplane) and then at the end to kick a fucking can in a well lit cafeteria? I almost walked out the second time they made unnecessary noise. (The popcorn sucked big time which is really the clincher "I want some buttered, salty, far too expensive popcorn; what's playing at the theater?")

            From looking at the previews, R.I.P.D. looked okay (not enough to trigger the popcorn response though). White House Down and The Lone Ranger looked pretty stupid. After Earth and Pacific Rim didn't get good reviews from my friends and I wasn't really interested in Pacific Rim anyway. Humorously The Lone Ranger previews knocked home theater setups "Action this big shouldn't be seen on a screen this small" :rolleyes: Way to alienate the folks who are actually coming to see the movies.

            Anyway, nothing upcoming looks good enough to consider regardless of their "Analytics". Obviously I'm not the target audience. I think I can just go and buy the popcorn though :)

            [John]

          • by plover (150551) on Monday July 22, 2013 @10:55PM (#44358029) Homepage Journal

            Storytelling was recognized as formulaic as far back as Ancient Greece by Aristotle in his book Poetics. He knew then that most people like their stories to end up with the suffering hero redeemed, the villain punished for his misdeeds, forbidden love triumphant, etc. Therefore, that's what the moviegoers have paid for year after year, and that's what Hollywood continues to deliver today. It sells.

            I think the problem is pretty simply a glut. Thanks to modern media and communications, and extra thanks to cheap filmmaking gear, everyone is constantly exposed to endless variations and combinations of these stories. Flip on the TV and there are dozens of movies waiting to stream into your brain. Even if a few are decent, most don't even rise to the level of Sharknado or Snakes on a Plane. And with so many choices, we lack the editorial reviews and critics we might otherwise use to keep out the dross.

            When you see a movie that's truly new and novel, it sticks with you. Sometimes its a good story or came from a good book, sometimes it's a great actor, sometimes it's a new special effect or cinematography trick, or sometimes it plays on our childhood memories. Of course success quickly breeds imitation, and within months there are 58 variations on the theme, adding to the glut. And when the producers tire of the imitators, they release an official sequel or three, and eventually add a "reboot" or "remake" of the originals that captured our imaginations so long ago. They snazz it up, apply extra-modern graphics, bring in Daft Punk to record the soundtrack, hire sexy-fresh new kids to be tomorrow's stars, and retell the same old stories.

            Spielberg knows his problem is not that his next movie will have trouble competing with the current releases. It's that he's really competing against our fondest memories of classics such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Shindler's List, Star Wars, Jaws, Casablanca, Snow White, and Toy Story, all of which are still busily crowding themselves onto our cable channels and Netflix queues. So other than the fact that he's got a billion dollars in the bank already, he's completely screwed.

            • by mvdwege (243851) <mvdwege@mail.com> on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @12:53AM (#44358549) Homepage Journal

              It's not just simply a glut; it's a bad glut.

              If you boil everything down to bare bones, there are only a few plots. What matters is execution. When your monster invasion movie has at least three scenes ripped off from Evangelion in the trailer alone, that is a bad sign, to give just one example.

              There is a reason Nolan films do well: Nolan is not perfect, but he does go the extra length in execution.

            • by Bongo (13261) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @04:25AM (#44359277)

              It is an art and what makes one clothes designer great and successful and another rubbish, it is art, and entirely intuitive.

              All those films listed as flops, I've seen the trailers and immediately was meh. Why? No idea really.

              I enjoyed a one minute action scene in The Americans (it was edgy, unpredictable, funny, clever) more than the 2 hour (felt like) big battle at the end of Man Of Steel, and likewise Iron Man 3. Yaaaawn. Emotionally it was just endless boredom. It gets to the point where you're watching and just thinking... Matrix I, oh now we're doing Dr Octopus, oh now we're doing Bourne, etc.

              Yet some years ago the latter would have seemed impressive.

              I think TV writers understand this better or have better opportunities to weave complex stories and set up more sophisticated surprises and shocks.

              NOW I know Joss Wheedon is going to kill a favourite character right in the middle of me laughing at something else... now I know... and writers know I know... so they have to think of something more clever.

              They can still invent clever things in blockbusters -- like for me how they used the three levels of dream in Inception to overlay three action sequences running at different speeds, that was cool.

              But honestly, most of the appeal of Iron Man for me was Downey's version of the character, whilst all the ohh look terrorists ohh look action was very meh. Ben Kingsley's switch to London drughead was the most memorable thing in that film.

              Maybe that's it, we love the quality of characters and storytelling. The rest is just bling.

              Hey I'm off to get a job as film critic now :-) Yeah I know, don't give up the day job.

      • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:28PM (#44355789) Journal

        ...weary of entertainment cartel offerings, and people could once again take up more productive pastimes: ... group outings, sports, exercise...

        Dude, you're gonna lose your Geek Card over that.

      • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rsborg (111459) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:28PM (#44355795) Homepage

        Would be nice if our culture just became weary of entertainment cartel offerings, and people could once again take up more productive pastimes: making things, group outings and sports, exercise, hobbies...anything besides sitting on butts and watching brain numbing nonsense (yes, I'm as guilty as anyone)

        Sad thing is, it doesn't have to be an XOR function between the two sets of activities. What really sucks is that a large part of our cultural output is seen as entirely entertainment oriented. Perhaps what we're seeing is that the upcoming younger generations see this and come to our same conclusions - and thus the disappointing flops.

        Maybe instead of trying to artificially create the memes and hashtags on the social networks, Hollywood ought to listen to what's being said and take that for inspiration? I guess that's just really much more effort than rehashing the same damn blockbuster formula over and over again.

        In other news, the economy aint doing so swell either - and my Netflix queue is quite long...

        • I guess that's just really much more effort than rehashing the same damn blockbuster formula over and over again.

          That one?

          http://entertainment.slashdot.org/story/13/07/22/1216259/the-book-that-is-making-all-movies-the-same [slashdot.org]

        • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Shavano (2541114) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:14PM (#44356265)
          Or they could make movies on budgets that don't require them to blow the doors off every cinema in America to turn a profit.
          • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by MrNemesis (587188) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @04:15AM (#44359247) Homepage Journal

            It's a big part of the problem.

            I think one of the key differentiators here is the amount of starting capital. Movies outside of the Hollywood machine might have the budgets for at least a certain level of special effects but because they don't have the marketing budget to ever think about attaining blockbuster status, there's no incentive to have to rake back in hojillions of profits because that money was never spent in the first place. As such, there's no desire to pander to every single market and thus less of a chance that your movies comes out as blandly homogenised-by-committee crap. Take Looper, or Prometheus for example. Set themselves up to say something brilliant and profoud about their retrospective environments, and then didn't.

            Honestly, I don't really care that much about the plot re-use; there are only so many plots and so many ways you can fit them into 2hrs, but so many big-budget movies recently seem to have actually forgotten how to deliver them with style (or indeed at all in many cases). The effects all look the same, the characters are all the same.

            Eurotrash pontificating here, but this is why I've ended up like euro-centric cinema the most these days. There's a fair few attempts at effects-laden hokum but most of the stuff tends to revolve around some sort of a character study in $period_setting. Cheap to film but requires good acting/directing and a solid script. My favourite example of these came as a recommendation from a friend to see Il Divo, examining Giulio Andreotti, an Italian politician with incredible staying power. I know, I'd never heard of him either, but he's painted like a real-life version of Francis Urquhart [imdb.com]. It's an immensely stylish swoop through Italian politics and corruption and general hideousness with fantastically opulent trappings and a convoluted plot. It got next to no publicity here in the UK but all the Italians I knew were raving about it (and thankfully we have enough indie cinemas here that you can guarantee that most of these films will receive some sort of showing, at least in London). The same director has done at least two other films with the same lead actor, Tony Servillo, all character studies and, by and large, examining completely different themes and all, IMHO, enthralling viewing.

            Also IHMO (and yes, I'm trying to be objective about the rose-tinted specs effect), Hollywood's last "golden period" was something like 1998 to 2005 where a lot of movies with interesting ideas or themes, or even just old ones but with a radical new style, came out and a large chunk of it's output since then has been distinctly boring. Thankfully, as Hollywood history has shown, this is usually a cyclical thing and after the current swathe of identikit superheroes and invading CGI monsters collapse under their own weight we'll hopefully see interesting ideas brought to the fore again.

            £0.02

        • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:26PM (#44356351)

          No, its not that this younger generation is any wiser (they are not), its just that the movies being produced today are unappealing garbage compared to what they were 25 years ago. They are appealing to the lowest common intellectual denominator and that is seems to be why, the movies are filled with sugar filling of expensive special effects with little sophistication. The action and violence is vastly overdone and grotesque. The themes are either artificially saccarine or often far too graphic. Overall for me it has made seeing a movie such a disgusting thing I stay away.

          I grew up in the 1980s, seeing Back to the Future, Batman (1989), the Original Star Trek movie series, non sci fi such as Funny Farm, and so on, which I always find far more pleasant and to have a feel about them that seems more down to earth than the stuff made today. Even the lesser rated 80s movies like Nothing But Trouble are better than what is generated today.

          • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by ultranova (717540) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:37PM (#44356463)

            Batman (1989)

            The only true Batman movie is the 1966 version [imdb.com]

            . "How was I to know they'd have a can of shark-repellent Bat-spray handy?" Instant classic :).

          • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Rakarra (112805) on Monday July 22, 2013 @08:00PM (#44357051)

            its just that the movies being produced today are unappealing garbage compared to what they were 25 years ago

            No they're not. They're about at the same level of quality as they were 25 years ago. You just remember the really good ones, you forget the stinkers that came out to the theaters every weekend. Good movies stuck around longer too, these days a movie has a month or two to earn almost everything, but 25 years ago a good movie could stick around for 6+ months. So they were more "present."

            The summers of 1982 and 1984 were spectacular years for movies, but otherwise I think the movie quality is about the same. Production values are way way up though, which is part of the problem. No way should The Lone Ranger have had that high a budget. I know they were trying to recapture the Pirates magic, but still... Sounds like it had the same problems as John Carter -- decent movie that was budgeted way too high for it to be able to break even on modest returns.

            I grew up in the 1980s, seeing Back to the Future, Batman (1989), the Original Star Trek movie series, non sci fi such as Funny Farm,

            I did too! However, you have to acknowledge the quality even of the movies you just mentioned -- Star Trek 1 was edited and directed poorly and comes across as listless and plodding. Star Trek 5 was a disaster all around. I loved Batman(1989) when it came out, but I have to admit that it doesn't hold a candle to the Christopher Nolan movies. Though Michael Keaton made the best "Brooding Bruce Wayne."

            And even Back to the Future had the sub-par part III.

          • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by canadian_right (410687) <alexander.russell@telus.net> on Monday July 22, 2013 @09:03PM (#44357431) Homepage

            The average movie was not better 25 years ago than today. 25 years ago most movies were schlock, just like today. But the only movie you hear about from 25 years ago are the GOOD ones. Bad movies don't make it onto the best 20 movies of 1979 critics list.

            Lots of great movies are being made, it's just that you generally won't see them at the local 5 screen mega-cinema. There are good movie critics out there that can point you to good movies. Some are even made by Hollywood.

          • Re:Better plots? (Score:4, Informative)

            by Saint Fnordius (456567) on Tuesday July 23, 2013 @09:34AM (#44360847) Homepage Journal

            Ahem. Sturgeon's Law [tvtropes.org]. Fnord.

      • Our culture (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jbolden (176878) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:02PM (#44356157) Homepage

        In all fairness this is one you can't blame on our culture. Blockbuster movies need to be international. International means they can't have as much culture. Pure action translates well to large audiences worldwide, the more plot the more character the worse it translates.

        This one you can blame the 3rd world.

        • Re:Our culture (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@@@hotmail...com> on Monday July 22, 2013 @10:25PM (#44357899) Journal

          In all fairness this is one you can't blame on our culture. Blockbuster movies need to be international. International means they can't have as much culture.

          Bollocks. Lazy studio thinking. Lazy thinking in general. You're assuming that audiences are uneducated and want neither to think nor to learn, and that because it may be difficult or more challenging than scripting a gunfight, that it is impossible for writers, directors, and actors to communicate a story effectively in a world with slightly different cultural norms and expectations.

          Many Hollywood films - indeed, entire genres - are deliberately placed within cultures (and/or against cultural backdrops) that are separated from the expectations and standards and mores of the early twenty-first century USA -- sometimes by a little bit, sometimes by gaping chasms. When well-executed, the audience is immersed in the film's cultural context, and able to follow the plot despite their lack of (initial) familiarity with the setting.

          This is the bread and butter of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, even of the political thriller. One does not need to have flown a starship or know how to cast magic spells to appreciate Star Trek or Harry Potter. One does not need to be indoctrinated into the world of high finance to enjoy Wall Street, nor deeply study geopolitics to grasp the fun of The Hunt for Red October.

          And honestly, those international audiences have been consuming the output of the United States' cultural industries for decades. The typical foreign filmgoer is probably almost as familiar with the genre conventions and tropes of American filmmaking as any American.

      • by erroneus (253617)

        They didn't. They are just running out of money. People are as stupid as ever before and possibly more.

    • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jkflying (2190798) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:19PM (#44355653)

      It's like they think we can't tell the difference between a movie targeting our demographic and a good movie. Just because it targets our demographic doesn't mean we'll enjoy it.

      • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by peragrin (659227) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:54PM (#44356077)

        exactly.

        White middle aged male. I love a good indie flick that I have to watch in subtitles.

        Take something simple and recent. the girl with a dragon tattoo. The original swedish movies are awesome. The james bond remake are a joke in comparison. Changing who is even the star.

        I call it hollywoodifcation. when they take a good story and make it fit into hollywood story board.

    • Re:Better plots? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by blarkon (1712194) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:26PM (#44355757)
      Go and look at the list of top grossing films and point at the one with the intricate plot. Avatar's was non-existent. The director even said that he wasn't going with a detailed plot because it would harm the box office.
    • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LordNimon (85072) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:42PM (#44355955)

      I heard that the plots and scripts are being dumbed-down so that they translate better into foreign markets, especially China. So instead of one culture enjoying a movie, none of them do.

    • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:43PM (#44355989)

      "Maybe they'll start making... (gasp)... actual plots to accompany those stars/explosions/special effects?"

      They think they've found some "formulas" that are common to blockbuster movies... and maybe they're right. BUT... as much as I hate to say this again, correlation does not equal causation. The fact that many blockbusters may have followed particular patterns does not mean that following those patterns will automatically make a good movie.

      All formulas aside... it STILL has to be a good movie.

      • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:17PM (#44356285)

        "Maybe they'll start making... (gasp)... actual plots to accompany those stars/explosions/special effects?"

        They think they've found some "formulas" that are common to blockbuster movies... and maybe they're right. BUT... as much as I hate to say this again, correlation does not equal causation. The fact that many blockbusters may have followed particular patterns does not mean that following those patterns will automatically make a good movie.

        All formulas aside... it STILL has to be a good movie.

        Here's you a formula: fast movement, slow movement, scherzo, fast movement. The classical formula for a symphony. In the hands of a Beethoven, even the worst is good. In the hands of a Harvey Blorkfarter... Hey, who remembers Harvey Blrokfarter?

        Here's another formula: pairs of rhyming lines in iambic Pentameter.

        Formulas are just the framework. It's what you put on the framework that counts. You can use the best materials (paints, words, musical themes, star-grade actors) and it's still going to be piece of putrid trash if the spark isn't there.

        The downside of the computer era is that we think that everything can be digitized, reduced, run through mathematical processes and produce gold. It's just the modern-day philosopher's stone, in a way. But computers are just tools and no customer survey can ever replace actually being in touch with your customers. No formula can replace a creative inner Muse. Art is art, not science, and it is better so, or all the artists would be replaced by kaleidoscopic art generation machines a la 1984 and the human touch would be lost.

    • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dave Emami (237460) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:56PM (#44356095) Homepage

      Maybe they'll start making... (gasp)... actual plots to accompany those stars/explosions/special effects?

      General: Mr. Bay, can you think of any idea how to outwit these terrorists?

      Michael Bay: I believe I can. We start... by making a big CG building and then we have a meteor go CROSSHH! and it, and it's all like CRAAWWW a-and motorcycles burst into flame while they jump over these helicopters, right?

      General: No no! We need ideas how to stop the terrorists!

      Michael Bay: An eighteen-wheeler spins out of control and it's all like BROSSHH! And then this huuuge tanker full of dyna-

      General: Those aren't ideas, those are special effects!

      Michael Bay: I... don't understand the difference.

      General: I know you don't. Get him out of here!

      (South Park, "Imaginationland")

    • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:02PM (#44356151) Journal

      The problem is they are relying on customers to tell them what they want in movies. I

      Not surprisingly, the easiest things to describe are described ( Explosions, stars, special effects), and the more difficult things to describe are not described well ( plot, character development, etc...).

      Its like a GM in baseball using viewer feedback to determine how to build his team instead of actual measurable facts ( hits, walks, strike outs, innings pitched, earned runs, etc).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Exactly. Let's look at the Metacritic ratings of these movies:

      R.I.P.D. - 25 (They wouldn't even screen it for critics)
      After Earth - 33
      White House Down - 52
      The Lone Ranger - 37

      None of these films can be considered to be loved by critics, and most of them are hated. Super expensive special effects are like polishing a turd. Don't waste the money unless your product is solid (like the LOTR trilogy). Seriously, Hollywood spent $200 million on The Lone Ranger. And over $100 million on The Great Gatsby. Did anybo

      • Re:Better plots? (Score:4, Informative)

        by xevioso (598654) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:18PM (#44356291)

        The funny thing is, Hollywood may come to the conclusion that there is a direct relationship between how crappy a movie is and how well it does.

        Although this is not a set-in-stone relationship (I'm looking at you, Jon Carter); the general rule of thumb is, the crapper a movie is, as determined by RottenTomatoes/MetaCritic, the worse it does over the long run.

        And Pacific Rim, by the way, is NOT a flop, at least not yet. It's made $175 million, and it's budget was $180 million.

    • by xevioso (598654) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:14PM (#44356261)

      It's way too early to mark Pacific Rim off as a flop.

      As of today it's worldwide haul is $175 Million, which is close to it's actual budget of $180 million.

      http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=pacificrim.htm [boxofficemojo.com]

      It has not yet opened in China or Japan, where it is expected to do gangbusters business. It may or may not make back the marketing costs and become profitable, but there is a good chance that it will, which will put it into the esteemed category of "Movies people think were flops but which actually weren't".

      The jury is still out.

      • by godel_56 (1287256) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:33PM (#44356415)

        It's way too early to mark Pacific Rim off as a flop.

        As of today it's worldwide haul is $175 Million, which is close to it's actual budget of $180 million.

        http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=pacificrim.htm [boxofficemojo.com]

        It has not yet opened in China or Japan, where it is expected to do gangbusters business. It may or may not make back the marketing costs and become profitable, but there is a good chance that it will, which will put it into the esteemed category of "Movies people think were flops but which actually weren't".

        The jury is still out.

        Yes, I expect it will make a good profit when all worldwide takings are added up. We must also remember that movies have to gross about three times what ever it took to make them in order to break even. There is usually an expensive promotional budget on top of original production costs, and the theaters and DVD/Blu-ray retailers also get to take a profit.

    • Re:Better plots? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sehlat (180760) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:48PM (#44356527)

      The problem is NOT the plots. There are only a very few plots. (e.g. "boy meets girl", "the man who learned better," etc. etc.)

      The problem is storytelling. Hollywood invests millions in stars, explosions and what-not, and pretty much forgets that the basic goal of what they have to do is tell a story . Neither "Citizen Kane" nor "Casablanca" have special effects, but they're on pretty much everybody's "best of all time" lists. If you're not telling a captivating story, you're wasting the audience's time and money.

    • Re:Better plots? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Monday July 22, 2013 @08:10PM (#44357113)

      In spite of the summary several of those films are doing fine in the box office and a few hits like Man of Steel more than erase any losses from the others.

  • by L. J. Beauregard (111334) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:08PM (#44355513)

    Moar copyright laws! Bigger penalties! Longer terms!

    It's fun to add to the Deeeee-M-C-A!

  • Here's an idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by redmid17 (1217076) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:09PM (#44355527)
    Don't do the following: 1) make shitty movies (overbroad but use the smell test) 2) Make sequels to shitty movies that might have barely made a profit 3) Make 18 superhero movies, reboot them, and complain when they flop 4) Don't let a fucking formula from a has-been screenwriter dictate the structure of every movie (http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/8947871/The-origin-of-the-latest-Hollywood-formula) You can pay me now or later. I just want a 1% cut of all new movies.
    • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:19PM (#44355647)

      You can pay me now or later. I just want a 1% cut of all new movies.

      Make sure you specify 1% of the gross, not net. Otherwise with Hollywood accounting you will somehow wind up owing THEM money.

    • Re:Here's an idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:01PM (#44356147) Homepage Journal

      Well, I saw "Pacific Rim", and it wan't a shitty movie. It wasn't a great movie, either. It was mediocre, in a particular way that seems to be becoming more common as businesses begin to feel more confident crunching the numbers on a work of art. It's happening in publishing too, as second tier authors churn out clones of The Dresden Files, Sookie Stackhouse, The Hunger Games, and of course, Twilight. The formula is "Like X but with Y" -- e.g. "Like Twilight, but with zombies." Some literary agents are even asking for this kind of summation in query letters.

      I think this is because on a spreadsheet at least, it looks like you can make money without risk these days, if you just get the formula right. Usually these mediocre "me-too" books and movies aren't bad; in fact they often display a high degree of a certain kind of perfection -- the kind of perfection that consists of not making too many major mistakes.

      Take "Pacific Rim". It's high-concept -- giant monsters vs. giant robots -- and the script and director work hard to deliver exactly what is promised. No time is wasted on back story or set-up; the exposition is somewhat crude and artless, but it is calculated to take the minimum time possible to get the viewer to the giant robot action. You have to admire the high level of artistic discipline required to predictably churn out something serviceably mediocre, but it means that you won't get something great. If *all* you're looking for in a movie is CGI battles between giant robots and monsters, it'd be hard to improve on "Pacific Rim"; it's just that most of us, even mecha-loving geeks, kind of appreciate a story that has a bit more creative excitement in it.

      I've made something of an effort over the last couple of years to go back and re-read many classic sci-fi novels from the 40s - 80s, and almost without exception the great stories break some canons of taste. If you read a great novel critically, you'll almost always see that it has structural or artistic flaws; rules are broken, but so that the story can reach levels you can't get to by adhering strictly to a formula. I don't know as much about cinema as I do about books, but I bet it's much the same: you've got to be willing to try some things that are wrong, or questionable at least, to rise above mediocrity.

  • by bagboy (630125) <neo AT arctic DOT net> on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:10PM (#44355541)
    These days there is so little to a story and much more to the effects. There will be good blockbusters sure, but the better ones are about the story (ie, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit/etc).
    • by Nerdfest (867930) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:18PM (#44355639)

      Even the Hobbit was a bit disappointing. My review of it was "Overall quite good, but could have used a lot less Temple of Doom".

      • by Tough Love (215404) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:39PM (#44355915)

        Even the Hobbit was a bit disappointing.

        What do you mean, "a bit"? Bunny sled... birds crapping in the hair of 99% invented character... chased by tens of thousands of orcs, no problem... axe embedded permanently in skull of living dwarf... more Hollywood screen writing than actual Tolkein content... just for starters...

      • by TopSpin (753) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:53PM (#44356071) Journal

        I came up with the exact same summation; too much Indiana Jones. Some parts were great. Bilbo and Gollum under the mountain were truly excellent; it really did the book justice. The trolls weren't bad. The dwarf backstory was ok, going far beyond the book and doing it well.

        But damn... Radagast the rabbit sledding superhero? The interminable goblin chase sequence....? wow. The whole mountain giant sequence was an exercise in excessive CGI combined with some unexplainable contempt for continuity. At some point during production someone had to think "wtf is this?"

        There are two more. It is conceivable they didn't promulgate these mistakes to the remainder, but given that they've undertaken to stretch this relatively simple story over, what, 7.5 to 8 hours of movie... we could be in for a lot more fail.

    • by bmo (77928) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:24PM (#44355721)

      >but the better ones are about the story (ie, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit/etc).

      You mean a sleep-inducing walk, talk, walk some more, talk, walk some more, talk, walk even more, talk more movie?

      >much more to the effects

      There was supposed to be a Star Trek reboot movie, but it really should have been called Lens Flare.

      Actual good movies out of Hollywood are few and far between. Sturgeon's Law applies. Sometimes the reviews are much more entertaining than the movies themselves.

      Like the reviews of the "new" Star Wars movies.

      http://redlettermedia.com/plinkett/star-wars/ [redlettermedia.com]

      --
      BMO

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:16PM (#44355611) Journal
    The same thing that is killing USA's Auto companies (save tesla), Boeing, and hollywood, is that MBA's now run things.
    Hollywood USED to be about making the best ART. Now, with the MBA's, it is about making short-term profit.
    Likewise, Boeing used to make the best aircrafts (in both military AND commercial). The 787 is all about making short-term profit (in the same way that GE does).
    Then US car companies, GM and Ford, used to be about making the best car possible. Now, it is about making short-term profits.

    If we really want to restore America, we need to roll back the changes that reagan did. In particular, we need to require that executives NOT own any of the publicly-traded stock in that industry.
    • Um... when was Hollywood about "making the best ART"? It seems to me that almost the entire history of Hollywood is about making money. The studio system, which thrived from the 1920s-40s was designed to make profits, not art. Are we talking about some period before the big studios came into existence? Like, the silent film era? Or is there some period of history that I don't know about during which profits were eschewed in the name of art?
    • by Krishnoid (984597) * on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:35PM (#44355881) Journal

      The same thing that is killing USA's Auto companies (save tesla), Boeing, and hollywood, is that MBA's now run things.

      Don't forget Las Vegas [youtube.com].

      • " The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior's college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it's like checkin' into an airport. And if you order room service, you're lucky if you get it by Thursday.

        Today, it's all gone. You get a whale show up with four million i

  • by AdamHaun (43173) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:18PM (#44355637) Journal

    And sooner than he may have thought, the implosion has arrived: in the past couple weeks, six wannabe blockbusters have cratered at the North American box office: 'R.I.P.D.,' 'After Earth,' 'White House Down,' 'Pacific Rim,' and 'The Lone Ranger.'

    That's only five movies, not six. Was that number a typo, or did you leave a movie out?

    • That line apparently leaves out the movie "Turbo", which is an animated movie about a racing snail that I haven't heard of before this. I'm not sure that one counts as a "summer blockbuster".

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:20PM (#44355667)

    'R.I.P.D.,' 'After Earth,' 'White House Down,' 'Pacific Rim,' and 'The Lone Ranger.'

    Could someone briefly explain why *any* of those movies would be compelling, even if done well?

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:20PM (#44355669) Homepage

    In 1967, following the success of "Mary Poppins," Roy Disney said that the Disney studio ought to have "at least one 'Mary Poppins' every year."

    There's nothing new about the money people wishing there was a simple formula that they could get rid of all the pesky issues of creativity, talent, and the public's taste.

  • by DRMShill (1157993) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:21PM (#44355677)

    Pacific Rim has been out for a little over a week and it's already made back it's production budget http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=pacificrim.htm [boxofficemojo.com] . I'm curious to know what Nerval's Lobster's definition of a Hollywood bomb is.

  • The problem is that creativity can't be quantified. Pretty much by definition.

    You can copy someone else's creative idea and that can even work for a while, until all the creativity has been wrung out of it making it old and tired. But there is no formula to create something new.

    Measuring the quality of a a creative work is like the story of the blind men and the elephant. You can look at all the parts but it won't tell you a damn thing about the work as a whole. And if you try to build another one just by sticking the same parts together you won't get an elephant, you'll just get a mess.

  • theories (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:22PM (#44355697) Homepage Journal

    but the bulk of box-office success ultimately comes down to the most elusive and unquantifiable of things: knowing what the audience wants before it does, and a whole lot of luck.

    My personal pet theory is a lot simpler:

    Not overfeeding them on the same stuff.

    There are only so many times you can see the same movie and enjoy it. Hollywood blockbusters have largely turned into remixes of the same movie. If you know anything about storywriting, you've long realized that almost all Hollywood movies have the same script. Not just similarities the way most stories have, say, a beginning, a middle and an end, or a dramatic curve with a typical shape, but actually the same fucking script. Replace specifics like names, locations or technologies/species/etc. (giant robots/aliens/monsters/whatever) with placeholders and you'll see that they're pretty much all telling the same story.

    And you can only hear the same story so often before it gets boring.

  • by necro351 (593591) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:25PM (#44355727) Journal

    I haven't gone to see any of these movies not because I wasn't _mildly_ interested, but because it wasn't worth $14--$17 times three: the cost of bringing myself and my family. That is a lot of cash to see a "meh" movie. It wasn't long ago that movies used to cost $6 a head.

    Perhaps the geniuses in Hollywood should use their analytics to actually pick per-movie MSRPs: something they can do with Google's analytics, after they've already bought the movie and are just trying to maximize their investment. Or if that would piss off customers, then just decide to roll out movies such that 3D is the same price as 2D as a special "bonus" or promotion, to effectively bring the price down on movies that you are afraid aren't going to do as well as you thought pre-production.

  • Idiocracy (Score:5, Funny)

    by skine (1524819) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:27PM (#44355769)

    And there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when [...] movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!"

  • by lesincompetent (2836253) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:27PM (#44355773)

    big stars, bigger explosions, and top-notch special effects

    —exactly what keeps me away from cinemas.

  • by pecosdave (536896) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:28PM (#44355787) Homepage Journal

    I love Tarantino movies - lots of people love Tarantino movies - lots of people really really hate Tarantino movies.

    I liked Watchmen. I thought it was excellent even if it did depart from the book a bit and yes, maybe grew a little dull at times, but was deep enough to get into. Fully half the theater walked out during the first half hour I was in there.

    Rocky Horror sucks. The people who like Rocky Horror will tell you it sucks. It's the longest in-box office run of any movie every. It was made before I was born and it still shows every weekend at a theater a half mile from my apartment.

    The problem with Hollywood movies today is they use the freaking formulas.

    Star Wars - though a formula setter - didn't follow movie formulas of 1977. Yes, say all you want about it being stolen source material, I fully believe you, but it's not how movies were made back then. I know plenty of people who hate Star Wars, not a lot since I chose not to associate with those sorts, but there are many, many people out there who consider themselves too good for such low-brow action flicks.

    Avatar - biggest hit of all time. Yes all the block-buster formulas applied, but it also had formula breaking blends of primitive people, aliens, advanced species, spiritual and technical aspects. Even while complying with every blockbuster formula out there it twisted in subject matter only really addressed properly in Japanese Anime and threw in every movie category possible and made it work. On the flip side - Suckerpunch tried exactly the same thing and failed because they focused too heavily on making it look cool and forcing the fact they did so on you. Avatar did it seamlessly.

    With the exception of maybe Avatar most of the movies I mentioned, that succeeded or even better yet, did okay but got a cult following had tons of haters. They will endure because of it.

    IMHO cult status trumps block buster opening any day. Yes, fine, huge payday on a blockbuster up front, this is what studios want. Cult movies are more of a long term investment. They keep on giving. Disney has learned this, they're milking movies that flopped forty years ago today and making a profit. Disney has learned that movies are long term investment, not just box office warriors. They build a brand and milk it.

    You can milk a cult movie. No one cares about a box office hit they forget about and nobody talks about a few years later.

  • by alen (225700) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:31PM (#44355827)

    Blu ray is $25 or so
    Movie theater is $30 plus the junk food and other costs to see a movie once

    If they want people to pay premium prices offer a premium experience
    Roomier seats
    Kick out people making noise
    No kids in adult movies
    No babies

  • Pies in the face (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:35PM (#44355875)
    Here's a thought. Stop trying to throw 3D pies in my face and actually sell me a persuasive plot. If you don't want me to wait for Netflix, provide a compelling experience at a fair price.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:38PM (#44355903) Journal
    MAD magazine had a spoof some 20 years ago, about a movie without any plot or any story. Just a huge series of explosions saying, "all action no stupid boring talking parts". TV shows were moving in that direction with programs like Air Disaster, "Most thrilling moments of .." "Americas Most Watched videos..." etc etc. Even they provided too much of context and so finally came the corniest show of the genre, "Destroyed in Seconds!". Some presenter comes in and says something stupid like, "It only takes a minutes for things to get DESTROYED in SECONDS!". Then follows series of accidents, speed boat crashes, race track disasters, floods etc. They did not even have to invest in special effects, They just get video some guy shot and package it into half an hour. People have seen enough real disasters in video enough times. The disaster porn thirst has been fully quenched. Hollywood is not going to make much money off it.
  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:42PM (#44355961)

    Yes, almost all the movies these days suck. But failures?

    So far this year, 7 movies have grossed more than $200 Million. Another 9 have grossed more than $100 Million. Most of the movies listed as having "cratered at the box office" have made $60 - 80 Million and some of them were just released this month. RIPD has only made $12 Million but it was only released 3 days ago.

    And that's just box office in the U.S. Add in the rest of the world, DVD, etc. and they are making a metric shit-ton of money. Where exactly is the failure here?

  • by sabt-pestnu (967671) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:47PM (#44356019)

    I minimized my browser with this thread as the active tab.

    When I looked at my taskbar, the text showing was...

    "Hollywood's love of Anal"

    I suppose that says something about windows? Like, taskbar entries only support so many characters, or something? :)

  • by kova.lee (2650343) on Monday July 22, 2013 @05:57PM (#44356101)

    It's the entertainment industry in a nutshell - the second an act or movie becomes popular, EVERY studio/label/whatever clones it in an attempt to cash in on the success. Backstreet Boys takes off and sells millions? Enter N'Stync, 98 Degrees, etc. Dark Knight racks up a billion dollars worldwide? Now every superhero movie has to be "dark" and "gritty." Nirvana sells millions of records and overtakes Michael Jackson in the top 40? Enter the grunge era where every band that uses distortion and 4 power chords gets a record deal.

    Very few people have "original" thoughts. Everyone else is about oversaturating the market to try to get their little piece of the pie.

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:24PM (#44356339)

    Lone Ranger, good movie with an interesting plot but tons of Historical Inaccuracies. Just what you'd expect. About the most exciting thing was Helen Bonham-Carters ivory leg.

    Despicable Me II, good movie, good with the kids too much Minions.

    Pacific Rim, Godzilla meets Transformers.. Pass, wait for cable.

    After Earth? Really do we have to talk about how dumb it was? Hell No! Will Smith did his best glad handing every talk show with his kid, but it couldn't save it.

    R.I.P.D looks promising but maybe too much CGI and too little plot. Maybe.

    RED II, good movie saw it this weekend but Meh, Bruce Willis is making too many movies, Loopers, Die Hard 99. He must need money. Helen Mirren is great in as is John Malkovich is very funny. But why did they get Cathy Zits Jones? Also Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins so the two Hannibal Lecters in the same film. Hopkins is getting old, you can tell. Cox in this Russian Spy Zar garb is ridiculous. Something about Helen Mirren with a .50 cal sniper rifle though...

    White House Down? Really? do we need to even say how bad it was. You could tell that from the trailers.

    Horror flicks do well, this weekends box was lead by a horror flick but those usually die out after a couple of weeks.

    It also doesn't have to be a summer movie.

    This year a Walken/Pacino flick was released? Did anybody see it? It's already on Red Box "STAND_UP_GUYS" It has Alan Arkin in it too, good movie but
    it was out of theaters so fast I couldn't believe it.

  • by maynard (3337) <j.maynard.gelina ... m ['il.' in gap]> on Monday July 22, 2013 @06:55PM (#44356571) Journal

    The problem with Hollywood films right now can be summed up by they're killing the cat in an attempt to save it. What do I mean?

    There's a popular screenwriting book called Save The Cat - The Last Screenwriting Book You'll Ever Need [amazon.com] that sets a page by page forumla for events within a typical movie. Things like, an opening image, setting the theme, introducing the hero, start of a B plot at the beginning of Act II, cross points for A and B plots, the great False Defeat, leading up to a Crisis of Self Confidence, and then the Big Payoff.

    Blah blah blah blah.

    Slate has a good article [slate.com] on how this book as turned movies into showdown of formulaic familiarity.

    It's not like the forumla is bad, per se. But if every film had been made this way we'd never have classics like Bridge Over The River Kwai, Laurence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, yada yada yada. Because the formula is limited. At its heart, it harkens back to Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces [wikipedia.org] thesis (which every /. nerd into Star Wars should have heard about). A fine way to tell the Great Hero story, but terrible for deep character studies. And that's what's missing in Hollywood film and why good television like The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones and Mad Men have become so popular (and let's not forget the first few seasons of Battlestar Galactica, which were fantastic).

    In fact, George R. R. Martin's entire Song of Ice and Fire series eschews the whole Great Hero narrative and offers flawed characters with conflicting motivations told from multiple points of view, and - sorry to bring this word in on a tech site but... - that's why it's art. Which is also why Transformers isn't.

    A lot of people have been discussing issues with the blockbuster cycle and financing, and that's all part of it too. But there is a serious dearth of experimental writing involved too. The whole Hollywood system is screwed up. But let's at least Thank God for HBO and other cable network financing of long form multi-episodic storytelling.

       

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