Hollywood would like for all their films to succeed both financially and critically, but the harsh reality is few films make it into the black. Some films are such risky prospects that we often wonder why the studios chose to invest so much money in them; example: in 2012 Disney invested $250 million in John Carter but the film only earned $73 million domestically – high risk, low reward.
We ran down the list of over 130 movies releasing in 2013 and picked ten that we thought are the Riskiest Box Office Bets of 2013. These are not films we think are going to fail, just ones we think have the most to overcome in order to be successful.
The list is in chronological order of release date, and along with the estimated budgets of each film, we’ve broken down our reasons for placing it on this list.
Opens: Jan 25th
Budget: $60 Million
JANUARY RELEASE – First off, unless your film is titled Zero Dark Thirty, having it open in January is almost always an omen that a film has the potential to underperform. Even the most “successful” January films over the last ten years only averaged $86 million at the box office, so Paramount will need a strong showing from Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters to recoup its costs.
“R” RATING – Making an animated film based on children’s stories can usually lead to financial success – but making a more horror/action-oriented film from a child’s tale is always a risky move since the potential audience is immediately limited.
CAMPY TONE – It’s going to be difficult for audiences to take a rated “R” film seriously when its look, style and tone scream over-the-top camp.
Opens: Jan 25th
TOO MANY COOKS IN THE KITCHEN – Besides opening in the “movie death-sentence” month of January, Movie 43 has a mind-boggling amount of major Hollywood talent attached to it – and that may not be a good thing. The film has 11 directors and 15 writers, all telling 12 different stories, tossed together in a sort of sketch comedy.
PRODUCTION DELAYS – Director/producer Peter Farrelly started this project back in March of 2010, but with so many popular actors and directors like Hugh Jackman (The Wolverine), Emma Stone (Gangster Squad) and James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) attached, production would sometimes shut down for months waiting on talent availability. Massive delays during filming tend to result in a poorly made film, so Movie 43 is definitely fighting an uphill battle.
Opens: March 8th
Budget: $200 Million
UNCALLED FOR PREQUEL – The last time James Franco was in a prequel that no one asked for (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), it turned out well for all parties involved. However, a 45-year-old sci-fi film is a far cry from a 74-year-old classic musical. Producing a modern prequel for a popular and beloved classic like The Wizard of Oz has the potential for ugly critical and financial repercussions.
CHANGING THE STORY – To make Oz the Great and Powerful, director Sam Raimi once again had to take liberties with a well-known story, like he did in Spider-Man. Because the original Oz remains popular with audiences of all generations, viewers will watch expecting to see something familiar. If they see something they feel is an extreme departure from the source material, they could rebuff the film and it would be sunk before the midnight showings even finish. The last thing Disney wants is this movie to be the John Carter of 2013.
Opening: March 29th
Budget: $185 Million
REWRITES, RE-SHOOTS & RELEASE DELAYS (OH MY!) – After test screenings of G.I. Joe: Retaliation received very bad scores, Paramount addressed the problem with script rewrites and scene re-shoots. They also pushed the release date back eight months to post-convert the film to 3D and add in more scenes with Channing Tatum. That’s like trying to make a cake taste better after it’s already come out of the oven – all you can really do is add more frosting.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE – The first film suffered from too much CGI, an unneeded love story, unfunny humor and overall weak casting. Judging by the trailers, the second film may have fixed those flaws by using more practical effects and bringing in proven action stars like Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis. All those changes are good; however, the franchise may have a hard time reinventing itself for an audience that grows more skeptical (and weary) of movies based on toys and games.
Opening: May 24th
Budget: $110 Million
FORMULA CHANGE – Director Todd Phillips struck summer gold in 2009 with The Hangover and while The Hangover II was a financial success, it was generally panned by audiences and critics alike for being too much like the first film. This time around Phillips is changing the formula for The Hangover III – no weddings, no bachelor parties – with a rumored story involving the Wolfpack breaking Alan (Zach Galifianakis) out of a mental hospital. A change in formula at this late date seems like a risky move to us, because even though the second film was raked over the critical coals, it still managed to pack theaters.
HUNGOVER AUDIENCE – Many fans of the franchise simply didn’t want to believe the bad press and reviews surrounding the second film and watched it anyway – only to leave theaters shaking their heads. There is a good chance that because the second film was so disappointing audiences might take the “wait and see” approach to the third film, which could mean significantly lower and disappointing box office numbers for the studio.
Opens: June 14th
Budget: $175 Million
BIG SHOULDERS – Superman may be the strongest person on planet Earth, but bearing the weight of starting a shared movie universe for DC Comics alone may be too much – even for him. Man of Steel wasn’t supposed to kickoff the Justice League franchise, but the success of Marvel’s The Avengers is making WB scramble. Since the script was (re)written over a year ago, any cameos of Batman or Wonder Woman showing up would be completely shoehorned in – which could hurt the overall shared-universe story.
HOT & COLD – WB really only has two “go-to” DC characters for movies – Batman and Superman (we still don’t acknowledge Green Lantern) – and of those, only Batman has enjoyed any success lately. So to keep the Superman franchise alive, director Zack Snyder will need to produce a 300-style hit and not a Sucker Punch-style letdown. Also, Snyder will need his relatively unknown leading man, Henry Cavill, to turn in a strong, convincing performance as Clark Kent/Superman.
Opens: June 21st
Budget: $150 Million
DELAY OF THE LIVING DEAD – The zombpocalypse movie World War Z – based on Max Brook’s famous novel – has received so much delay that at one point the production was in danger of being shut down. Adding to the delay is the fact that four writers have handled the script – J. Michael Straczynski, Matthew Michael Carnahan, Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard. Then, seven months before the film was to release, Paramount moved the opening date back six months to allow for an extensive seven-week long re-shoot.
UNCONVENTIONAL ZOMBIES – With very few exceptions, zombies in films have always been depicted the exact same way – unorganized, slow moving, bloodthirsty, relentless and dumb. This movie looks to turn that generally accepted mythos on its ear by making the zombies super quick and ultra-organized (similar to ants). Finally, with the advances in practical zombie effects in shows like The Walking Dead, choosing to go with all CGI zombies is a dubious decision, at best.
Opens: July 3rd
Budget: $250 Million
TV SHOW MOVIES FAIL – There have been over a hundred TV show-based movies and only a handful of them have been financially successful; yet, every year a new TV show-based movie hits theaters. Hollywood just keeps throwing money at these fruitless endeavors hoping that they will turn out to be the next Star Trek or Mission Impossible and not Dudley Do-Right or McHale’s Navy. If we kept doing something with a success rate of 5% we’d stop investing any money – let alone 250 million dollars.
WHITE MAN CASTING – Hollywood seems to have a problem casting ethnic characters with well,…ethnic actors. Disney cast Johnny Depp as Tonto – The Lone Ranger’s faithful companion – a move that obviously made to help draw in audiences. Nothing against Depp, but he is only partly (very partly) Native American. With plenty of great Native American actors around to portray the character made famous by Jay Silverheels, we wonder if going this route is something audiences may ultimately reject?
Opens: July 12th
Budget: $200 Million
STUDIO MEDDLING – Guillermo del Toro has a fantastic eye for creating unique monsters then using them to produce great sci-fi/horror films. The man is a genius at what he does and studios should trust him to continuously deliver top-notch films, but apparently Warner Bros doesn’t have faith that Pacific Rim will recoup its blockbuster-size budget without the help of 3D. WB pressed ahead with the 3D conversion even though del Toro said the format wouldn’t work for his film. Audiences are slowly growing tired of post-converted 3D films, choosing to watch 2D versions of movies and spending the few extra bucks only on films shot in native 3D.
AUDIENCE EXPECATIONS – Unsurprisingly, Pacific Rim is one of our Most Anticipated Movies of 2013 but we’re fanboys – what will the general movie-going audience think? Since the success of Transformers, people may go in expecting all robots to have the same quick movements during fight scenes, but the Jaegers in PR will move very slow in comparison. If audiences feel the “stars” of the movie don’t live up to expectations, then this flick could be doomed, financially.
Opens: October 11th
CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS – The original South Korean thriller Oldboy directed by Park Chan-wook is a hard R-rated film filled with ultra-bloody violence and some stomach-wrenching twists. Director Spike Lee is not a stranger to controversial topics, but he may need to use kid gloves handling this narrative. Hollywood usually defuses this type of situation with humor, but this dark story of vengeance is so disturbing that humor may not be enough to settle mainstream American audiences.
HARD SELL – Hollywood has been remaking Asian films for American audiences for decades. Sometimes they score hits like The Departed or The Magnificent Seven but more often they strike out with films like The Eye or The Grudge. American audiences can be a fickle group to please, so determining exactly which remakes they will flock to is tough. But the key to success is the same as it’s always been – a great story.
We’re not hoping, or even suggesting, that any of these films will be utter failures – but it’s clear that Hollywood needs its films to overcome several potential obstacles – story, casting, subject matter – to see a profit from their (sometimes obscenely) large investments.
Only time will tell if these high risk cinematic bets will pay off for all studios involved, but with dozens of films touting $150-plus million budgets, this year they’re all going to need good showings just to break even.
What films do you think present the biggest box office risk of 2013 and why?
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