The Ranger Stood Alone

Courtesy of Disney

"There's going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm." That was Steven Spielberg a month ago speaking at the University of Southern California. He posited a future where the financial failure of blockbusters - a classification he helped invent with the success of Jaws in 1977 - would result in a price disparage between "tent pole" films and smaller niche movies.

Since then, we've already seen his prediction come to pass, with Megatickets being sold for World War Z and Pacific Rim, tickets which include a slew of extras, including a digital format of the film upon home release. And over the weekend we saw Spielberg proved right again, with the apparent failure of the Johnny Depp lead Lone Ranger. The $200 million film made less then a quarter of that across five days, which fell below even the adjusted estimates of $60 million made by the studio on Thursday. Bad reviews and poor word of mouth, and being a western which generally perform poorly in international markets (it is traditionally an American genre) suggest that it will only continue to fall, and will limp, if not outright disappear from the top ten rather quickly.

Financial failure is nothing new in films; there are always bombs. This just happens to be the biggest one so far this year, and certainly the highest profile, what with Depp, Jerry Bruickheimer and Gore Verbinski's names all over it (it was marketed above all else as the team that brought you the Pirates franchise, a claim that holds less weight with each new entry). Last year, it was John Carter bombing in March that set off the summer movie system, and its been a while since a major studio lost so big on such a "sure thing." And on the July 4th weekend to boot. It is also another kick in the crotch of the star system, which many claimed Brad Pitt was the reason for the success of World War Z. But this is just the latest in a string of films sold on Depp's name that have come up dry (like last year's abysmal Dark Shadows). Having a name attached isn't necessarily a selling point anymore.

And I'm in favour of it. We need failures like this, to force the studios to reexamine the movie making process. Making a movie because it will test well, focus groups like it, or it is as generic as possible to appeal to the largest audience isn't working as well as they thought. And even the movie that make money aren't technically making money. Man of Steel had a sizable opening weekend, but didn't break any records (and the majority of it's profits came from licensing agreements with corporations). And the drop off the following week was 63%, because word had gotten around that it wasn't worth seeing. The reason that Dark Knight and Avengers ended up making billions of dollars is because, above all else, those were good films. They were good from the core. They were built around ideas, and genuine affection for the material, and had people involved that actually cared about telling a story that was worth something rather then just making a movie people would be likely to see. They made billions because people kept going back and watching them in theatres again and again. With films like Man of Steel and Lone Ranger, those that see them straight away will tell others not to.

The studios need to remember, which they do from time to time, and always seem to forget, is that if making movies is a business, which it is, then the business needs to make money. And to make money, you need to have a product people actually want, and will enjoy. Summer blockbusters are the equivalent to that crap that gets sold late at night on TV: cheaply made, prone to breaking and not worth the money invested or paid. Big movies can be good movies too, and good movies keep making you money for years, even decades if its good enough. It just takes that extra little bit of effort right from the start, and that extra little bit is too much effort for most studios.

My biggest worry from the Lone Ranger is Ruth Wilson. The lady is a fantastic actress, but I don't want to see her fall into the Gemma Arterton trap: a talented British actress, who comes to America and ends up being wasted as the long interest in a series of empty headed CGI slogs, instead of actually doing something worth watching, which they have to go back home to the UK to manage. Alice Eve looks poised to follow this same misguided path, and they are all so much better then what they are being told they should appear in (at least, I hope that's the case, and they aren't making these horrible decisions because they feel the projects were worth it).

Remember though: as bad as Lone Ranger is, it could have been worse. It could have had werewolves.

Via Box Office Mojo.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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