Thursday, 21 March 2013

Box Office Flops that aren't flops – but maybe they really are...Yahoo Movies UK are a little muddled...

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In the original Yahoo article Click to read there are 12 films listed. The information given on 8 (EIGHT) of them is incorrect, sometimes massively so. The article is a very good idea by the way (Well done Ben Arnold of Yahoo UK), it is just poorly researched. So I think I’ll take the unusual step of going through the list one film at a time, to point out where the article is right and wrong, and give you a clearer sense of how risky the film business is.

One area where Ben Arnold is definitely right is the Hollywood trades and American media. They are far, far too quick (and gleeful in my opinion) to cry Bomb or flop. Especially based on purely North American takings in ONE weekend!
Is this really a more family friendly title?

Should have stuck with Killer!

 The first thing to note is the difference between the shooting budget (the one you always see) and the total budget, which includes the P & A (Prints & Advertising) costs. Next, that a flop usually refers to the Box office takings only; in other words the money the film makes at the cinema. This is despite the fact that films now make significantly more money from the likes of DVD & Blu-Ray sales, TV money, rentals and digital sales.  Finally To break even you have to NET as much money, from box office, as its total costs. (Here Net isn't what is left after all costs are accounted for, but what goes back o the  studio after the cinemas keep their share of the ticket price / Taxes etc.) Remember covering the shooting budget is not enough. So saying a film ‘Wild, Wild West’ made $222m and therefore covered its $170m costs is doubly wrong. Firstly because the total cost was $220m and secondly because even if we were to say 50% of the gross goes back to the studio, the net takings would be $111m, far short of the shooting budge ($170m), let alone the total budget ($222m). Remember, as much as the studios would like them to, Cinemas don’t simply hand over 100% of the ticket money. There are various scales, and it changes from region to region, but a good rule of thumb is to say approx 45% f the reported gross goes back to the studio. These are not always exact figures, you use whatever official totals are provided and approximate net as stated above.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013).
Shooting Budget $60m / Total budget $85m.
This is a curious one. Fantasy / fairy tale films tend to make much more of their gross outside North America than in it. So why they were so quick to jump on this film (and Jack The Giant Slayer) is a mystery. You could almost expect a fantasy film (particularly one not set in America) to make 2/3 of its total ‘internationally’, and not be surprised if the percentage was even higher. That being the case Hansel & Gretel always seemed on course to cover its shooting budget at least, and move into profit; and that is exactly what happened. [The studios delayed this film from 2012 because they hoped that The Avengers & The Bourne Legacy would significantly increase Jeremy Renner’s box office profile. It looks like they were right.]

H & G has $205m and counting; 45% of that tally means over $92m is already in the bank. With the film’s total budget a trim $85m, you can see why the sequel they were ALWAYS planning is being rushed to the top of the ‘to do’ pile.

Yahoo is correct, the film is getting a sequel; but then it “always” was. More to the point, having just mentioned how the media are too quick to call a film a flop based solely on the North American box office (and just a few days of it at that) they then repeat that Jack The giant Slayer is a Bomb. It isn't  not yet. It may end up that way, but there is a long way to go yet, as H & G proved.

“Then there was the 'Jack The Giant Slayer' factor, another fairytale property which had bombed disastrously just a week or so before.”

Hook (1991)
Shooting Budget $70m / Total Budget $????
This is a weird one; the film would actually have been OK if it wasn't for the very thing that Ben uses to show how it didn't flop. Apart from a relatively (extremely relatively) low gross for a Spielberg juggernaut, the film would actually have made a profit for the studio. However agreeing to give Spielberg, Hoffman & Williams 40% of the gross meant that $120m of the, roughly, $135m netted for the film went to the talent; leaving just about $15m against an outlay of at least $90m. That’s at least a $75m loss!

Yahoo is both right & Wrong here. Technically it made money at the box office so no flop, but the studio lost a ton so...

“Spielberg, and its stars Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams, took no salaries, instead going for a 40% share of the gross revenue. Dumb move, right? Wrong. The 'rare Spielberg flop' made over $300 million (£198 million). Now that's a payday.”

Only for the talent Yahoo...

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Shooting Budget $100m / Total Budget $150m
The story behind this film is pretty chaotic. Tim Burton came on board with a script that was well regarded and big ideas. But then 20th century Fox slashed the budget and changed the script. Tim Burton talked about giving up the film business for good, and was keen to never work for Fox again. The film’s open ending (which many disliked) both mirrored the ending of the book, and was meant to allow whichever poor soul got stuck with the sequel, something to work with. The combination of Burton’s rep, a popular book, and beloved film series, and an interesting cast, meant the film did turn a profit at the box office; with approx $163m against a total budget of $150m.

A $13m profit at the box office means Yahoo got this one right, but it’s nowhere near as big a money spinner as they imply.

“...well over three times its production budget.”

Knight & Day (2010)
Shooting Budget $117m / Total Budget $175m
A flop is a flop. You have to wonder what went wrong here; 7 – 10 years earlier and he combined star power of Diaz & Cruise would have carried this film to at least $400m. Unfortunately for Fox the film ‘only’ grossed $261.9m. That’s enough to break even on the shooting budget of $117m, with approx $118m, but around $57m short of the actual break-even point.

Yahoo got this one very wrong, $57m is almost enough to film Jack Reacher!

“But still, it managed to make $261 million (£173 million). Not too shabby.”

Pretty shabby with those two starring and $57m down the toilet.

1941 (1979)
Shooting Budget $35m / Total Budget $??m
I remember liking this when I caught it one random Christmas years ago. It’s hard to gauge because there’s no hint of what the P &A spend was. Given the large (for the time) budget you’d expect it to be high too. The film made approx $93m, so something like $42m went back to the studios (it was a joint venture between Universal & Columbia). It seems unlikely that it made any profit at the cinema Box Office (A P & S spend of > $7m seems low, even for 1979) But with Video and Laser Disc about to take off, the film should have ended up profitable in the end. OF course that still means it was, all but definitely, a Box Office flop.

Yahoo is in error again, although it isn't clear by how much.

“It made nearly $100 million (£66 million) from a $32 million (£21 million) budget.”

Again giving the impression that Cinemas show films for the studios free of charge, they really don’t.

The Last Airbender (2010)
Shooting Budget $150m / Total Budget $200m
Alongside patrons booing his name during the trailer for Devil, This abomination of an adaptation is the reason that you won’t see the name M. Night Shyamalan on any of the current trailers or Posters for the upcoming ‘After Earth’. Will & Jaden Smith, a pretty potent duo, are Shyamalan last hope to regain any of the credibility or good will, he earned with Unbreakable & The 6th Sense.  Based on one of the best, and most beloved Children’s stories of the century, the $319.7m it made is testament to the popularity of the source material. Once again though, with a total cost of $200m and an approx ‘net’ return of $143m, the film is another Box Office flop.

Yahoo once again states that the film actually did OK in the end, it really didn’t.

“Yet somehow, box office numbers climbed up from there, and continued to climb. It ended up making nearly $320 million (£211 million).”

About $130m less than it needed, and heaven knows how much less than a good film adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender could have made.

The Tourist (2010)
Shooting Budget $100m / Total Budget $140m
A remake of French film ‘Anthony Zimmer’ (2005) he Tourist did do much worse than expected in North America. The international takings, whilst still below expectations, were far better; $67m Vs. $210m international. If the North American takings had been a little bit higher, then the film would have broken even. That said, a $125m return, from a $140m spend, still means a box office loss of $15m and a flop.  I’ll eat one of my hats if that shortfall wasn't made up in sales & rentals.

Yahoo, it is good to see some else reminding people, in America especially, that this film was nowhere near the disaster they believe. Unfortunately Yahoo is still wrong to say it was a Box Office success.

“It was a resounding success for the Columbia Pictures accounts department, who counted box office takings of $278 million
(£183 million) on its $100 million (£66 million) budget.”

It so was not...

Waterworld (1995)
Shooting Budget $175m / Total Budget $??M
This film was drenched in rumour and supposition, but the $175m budget has been settled on; the P & A costs are not so easy to pin down. That said it doesn't really matter. With a gross of $264m the film lost money, even if they managed to distribute and advertise it for free! $119m went back to the studio; so they were $56m down before you factor in any other costs.

I can’t see how Yahoo ever thought this was within 1,000 light years of success. This was a very big flop at the box office Yahoo.

“And sure, it was expensive (a rollicking $175 million - £115 million - back in 1995), and no one really liked it all that much. But it still made $264 million (£174 million) at the worldwide box office. It wasn't a king's ransom in profit, but flop is a bit harsh”

“Harsh”? Not at all...

Wild Wild West (1999)
Shooting Budget $170m / Total Budget $220m
A Big Budget, Steampunk adaptation of the 1960s TV show. Once again Yahoo has made an error in trying to reclassify the flop status.

“But as it managed to recoup its budget, making $222 million (£147 million), it can't quite be branded a flop.”

It can because of the $222m gross only about $100m went back to the studio, making a massive $120m loss at the box office: Proving once again that no movie star, even the biggest star in the world, is a guarantee of success.

Yahoo make’s the 2nd biggest error here, and got their sums very wrong.

“But as it managed to recoup its budget, making $222 million (£147 million), it can't quite be branded a flop. But it was dangerously, perilously close.”

Yes, close to losing enough money to make I Am Legend and 
exactly enough for I Robot.

Pearl Harbour (2001)
Shooting Budget $140m / Total Budget $190m
This is a strange one. I don’t remember lot talk about the film being a flop, because it made money at the box office. It also (partially because of the horrific attacks of 9/11, with the similarities and the, understandable, patriotic fever that followed) sold very well on DVD etc. in North America. It was battered critically but the bottom line is that $449 gross = approx $202m back to the studio, so around $12m profit at the box office.

On the one hand Yahoo is right, this was never a flop. But on the other hand I really have trouble recalling anybody who said that it was a flop in the first place(?) Awful? Yes. A money loser? Never.

Superman Returns (2006)
Shooting Budget $209m - $270m / $310m - $370m
Getting the exact cost of Superman Returns isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. The film did have between $63m + $70m from the Superman films that never got made. Basically it never had a prayer of making money, but it would have gotten a sequel if Bryan Singer hadn't decided to make Valkyrie first; this gave WB time to scrap the whole thing and start again...again. The popularity of Superman was seriously overrated and the assumption that just having the character and John Williams score would yield Spider-Man level grosses proved false.

So even we go to the lower end of the estimates Superman Returns cost $310m to make and market. That is nowhere near covered by the $176m returned to the studio. Flop with promise
On the plus side, Superman is again a character well known around the world, giving ‘Man of Steel’ a shot at become Warner Bros owned a hit from their mainstream DC comics, that doesn’t have a Guy dressed like a bat in it.

Yahoo makes the biggest mistake here. At best this film lost $134m, with mitigating circumstances.

“But despite all the odds, and all the talk saying that it did, it didn't flop. It made $391 million (£258 million) worldwide, nearly $20 million more than 'Batman Begins'.”

This is just riddled with inaccuracies. IT did flop, spectacularly! And it may have grossed $20m more, but it cost well over $100m more to make, so that’s hardly a bragging right. Sorry Yahoo...

Jack Reacher (2012)
Shooting Budget $60m / Total Budget $93m

This one is a lack of up to date film business info. There were some frankly ridiculous stories flying around the trades in January. I don’t know if it was just a lack of actual film news or what; but floating the idea that a $60m action-lite thriller (very low budget for a Tom Cruise ‘tentpole’) was in danger of not becoming a ‘franchise’ (hate that word) was pretty asinine really. Tom Cruise is still a big international star, so Jack Reacher was always going to make the Lion’s share of its money internationally. But once again we had people eager to find bad news and put the stink on a film that was doing just fine. Subsequently the film has become Tom Cruise’s 19th film to gross over $200m worldwide (a record I think); the writer / director, Christopher McQuarrie, has been all but handed the keys to the next Mission Impossible film; and early work on next film in the Jack Reacher series has began over a month before this article was posted.

Financially it certainly isn't a flop as the profit to the studio is currently around $4m, with the film still earning in some markets. It has certainly done well enough to have potential for a much higher grossing sequel. (Like The Bourne Identity; which, coincidentally cost $60m / $90m and made $214m.)  Especially if they don’t do something daft like change the title from ‘One Shot’ to ‘Jack Reacher’! Oh, I see...

Yahoo end on kind of a high note here; Jack Reacher is certainly no flop.

“the whiff of flop was in the air. The returns were certainly not in the region of Cruise's other big franchise – the 'Mission: Impossible' series. But flop is a bit harsh. It made $216 million (£142 million) on a $60 million (£40 million) budget, which is fairly solid. But it's thought that because it didn't breach the $250 million (£165 million) threshold needed for the studio to consider a sequel, that Cruise may not play the renegade hardman a second time.”

However forwarding schadenfreude laced news from 2 months ago about the death of a new Franchise only works if you remain current enough to know that one month ago, almost to the day, sequel news was put out. That news was strengthened just a few days ago when it was reported that Jack Reacher, Mission: Impossible 5  and The Man From Uncle will be fighting for the actor’s attention.

So there you go. I hope this doesn't read as some kind of nti-Yahoo, or anti Ben Arnold piece. I just see mistakes on their film site far too often and decided to take a more compressive approach to being a pain in the arse and pointing them out ;whilst giving my own readers (Yes all 5 them, including dogs) something new to read.


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