People like to think that Hollywood churns out hundreds of films each year simply to entertain movie-going audiences – but that’s just not the case. Sure, there are some independent filmmakers out there making movies for art’s sake, but every studio is the business of making movies for one primary reason – money.
As we did in 2013, we’ve pulled 13 movies from the slate of films scheduled to release in 2014 that we feel are the Riskiest Box Office Bets. We’ll list the opening date – along with the estimated budget (if available) – and discuss why we believe the film could be fighting an uphill battle to be financially successful.
Let’s get started…
1. The Legend of Hercules
Opens: 1/10 – Budget: $70M
Most cinephiles recognize Renny Harlin as the director of mindless, fun action films such as Die Hard 2 as well as Deep Blue Sea and any action fan worth his salt knows how good Scott Atkins (Ninja) is as a martial arts/action actor. However, outside of Kellan Lutz, there aren’t really any “A-List” Hollywood names attached to The Legend of Hercules.
It begs the question – why would Summit Entertainment spend $70M on a January action film? Maybe they’re hoping Lutz will bring in the Twilight crowd – though we can’t see middle-aged moms and love-struck teen girls lining up hours in advance just to see this at midnight.
2. I, Frankenstein
Opens: 1/24 – Budget: $36M
Unlike The Legend of Hercules, this film managed to snag great actors like Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Bill Nighy (About Time) and Miranda Otto (Return of the King) but even their combined acting talents may not be enough to overcome one of the most preposterous story lines we’ve read in a while.
Much like the namesake for which the film is titled, I, Frankenstein seems to be patched together from the corpses of other action/horror films (despite its graphic novel source material) – Underworld, Van Helsing, Highlander, Hellboy, Constantine. Modern audiences have widly varying cinematic tastes and can usually spot a stinker from the first trailer – which means they could stay away from this film if they consider it be one.
Opens: 2/12 – Budget: $110M
Skyfall and The Hobbit pulled MGM out of bankruptcy, so you’d think they would be leery of investing very large sums of money into risky movies – which is exactly what
RebootCop RoboCop has become.
With big(gish) names like Keaton, Oldman, and Jackson attached to the feature, the studio probably assumed this reboot would be a “slam dunk” at the box office but most audiences members are either nostalgically cautious of the reboot or they’re too young to remember the original. A lot rides on how well the movie is received opening weekend – if it’s great, there could be a box office bump in week two – if not, then all is lost.
Opens: 2/21 – Budget: $100M
The synopsis for Pompeii seems to be a cross between Gladiator and 2012 – a slave becomes an accomplished warrior, falls in love with a woman he shouldn’t and battles to rescue her as Mount Vesuvius explodes around him. The heavy use of CG in this film is the obvious reason for its 9-figure budget – destroying an entire city isn’t cheap is it Man of Steel? – but with a virtual lack of “A-List” talent, will all that destruction-porn be enough to draw in an audience?
Paul W. S. Anderson is the director of films that everyone pans but almost everyone watches anyway (Resident Evil, Death Race 2000). That fact, along with the fact that Pompeii won’t have much competition, could be its box office saving grace.
5. Need for Speed
Opens: 3/14 – Budget: $66M
The best thing Need for Speed has going for it is the casting of Aaron Paul in the leading role, but even as he comes off a highly successful TV franchise – Breaking Bad saw 10 million people watch its finale – that may not be enough box office karma to overcome the film’s video game roots.
Video game adaptations historically don’t do well domestically at the box office (see the complete list HERE) for a variety of reasons – typically the scripts are bad – but almost all of them do well overseas. Fortunately, Touchstone didn’t throw an insane amount of money at this project, so it could turn out to be a real box office gem for them.
Opens: 3/28 – Budget: $130M
In Noah, acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) set forth on an ambitious project to turn one of the most debated stories in the Bible into a major motion picture. Even with Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe at the helm of the ark this film has HUGE hurdles to overcome.
The amount of backlash studios receive from fanboys over poor comic book adaptations is nothing compared to upsetting an entire religion if Hollywood – not exactly known for its strong Judeo-Christian roots – starts making drastic changes to Biblical stories. If Aronofsky takes too many liberties, the studio will likely feel the pinch at the box office collection plate.
Opens: 5/16 – Budget: $160M
Warner Bros has a lot riding on director Gareth Edwards’ (Monsters) vision for arguably the most popular science fiction monster of all time – Godzilla. Sony’s horrid attempt in 1998 was financially successful but the film was so critically destroyed that a sequel was never even considered.
Judging by coverage the film received at San Diego Comic Con in 2013 and the first trailer, Edwards appears to be on the fast track to success but will audiences be still interested with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opening the week before and X-Men: Days of Future of Past opening the following week? The atomic lizard has a very loyal worldwide fan base, which could be what gets it over the opening weekend hump.
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Opens: 5/23 – Budget: $225M
Even though X-Men: First Class received generally high marks from critics and audiences, it didn’t quite cover its production budget at domestic box office – needing the overseas market to turn a profit. X-Men: Days of Future Past is the most ambitious – and expensive – outing for Fox and the franchise yet.
Though the film ranks number three on our Most Anticipated Films of 2014, the fact remains, that outside of fanboys, the audience required to recoup $250 million plus marketing costs just may not be there. There’s very little doubt the film will be successful but can it be a quarter of a billion dollars successful?
9. Jupiter Ascending
Opens: 7/18 – Budget: $200M (Rumored)
The Wachowski siblings haven’t had a financially successful film since The Matrix Revolutions left theaters in 2003. Over the next 10 years, their cinematic offerings included Cloud Atlas (oof) and Speed Racer (double oof) – not exactly what you would call a “box office power house.”
Still, Warner Bros liked their script pitch for Jupiter Ascending so much they not only green lit the project, but gave it a staggering $200 million budget – the Wachowski’s last two films only grossed $223 million…WORLD WIDE. Casting Mila Kunis could inadvertently mean the sci-fi film turns out to be a success, as her last six films have raked in $1.8 Billion in gross receipts – though that’s probably just a coincidence.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
Opens: 8/1 – Budget: Unknown
Marvel surprised everyone at Comic Con in 2012 when they announced one of their stranger comic series – Guardians of the Galaxy – would become a feature film. They surprised once more by announcing James Gunn would be directing their riskiest outing yet.
Gunn is a talented director but Disney could regret allowing someone with no experience directing big budget films to helm the project if box office numbers aren’t stellar. One positive is how enthusiastic Gunn is towards the comic books, characters and story. The exact budget for the film hasn’t been released but it could easily be upwards of $150 million.
11. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Opens: 8/8 – Budget: $125M
The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film in 1990 grossed over $200 million on a $13.5 million investment, but that was during the height of the world’s love of everything Turtles.
Fast forward 21 years, Nickelodeon Studios has a popular new TMNT animated series but for the most part, the frenzy has died down. Some argue making Michael Bay executive producer means he will do something crazy to the turtle canon (like once making them aliens) but typically the movies he is associated with make lots and LOTS of money. Anti-Bay fanatics aside, whether the world is still interested in Turtle power remains to be seen.
Image Credit: Stjepan Sejic (nebezial)
12. Dracula Untold
Opens: 10/17 – Budget: Unknown
Most everyone is familiar with Dracula due to his being portrayed in cinema countless times over the years, but he’s never been given a proper origin story - Dracula Untold looks to correct that. While some films have touched upon how he came into existence, it’s usually as a smaller part of the larger story. This will be the first time his origins are actually explored (with a number of changes to the usual canon).
The budget numbers haven’t been made public but rumor has it placed well above $100 million and time will tell if Gary Shore’s big screen directorial debut is a success. The supernatural origins of Vlad the Impaler as Dracula is definitely an intriguing concept but the film can’t be all teeth and no bite.
Opens: 12/12 – Budget: Unknown
While the Biblical story of the Israelites escaping from Egyptian captivity has been told several times, the film will undoubtedly be compared to Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic The Ten Commandments. Christian Bale is a fantastic actor but can he fill Charlton Heston’s sandals as Moses? Exodus will also need to overcome the same religious obstacles as Noah and in some ways, is connected at the box office hip to how Noah is received by Faith-based moviegoers.
As revered as Ridley Scott is as a director in the film community, he hasn’t connected with American audiences at domestic box office hit since American Gangster in 2007. With Prometheus, Robin Hood and The Counselor not performing at high levels, Scott needs this film to succeed.
Hopefully, most of these films meet or exceed our expectations and entertain audiences all year long but the cold reality is, some of them will most likely fall short. That’s the harsh truth of the world of cinema, it’s just a matter of seeing which ones fall the hardest or rise the highest.
Which films do you think will struggle to find an audience and a profit in 2014?
Follow me on Twitter – @MoviePaul – and tell me which movies you think could fail financially.