As we press forward into the year 2016, every Hollywood studio is banking on the movies they release to wildly succeed at the box office. Realistically, they know that not every movie will hit with general audiences and, ultimately, there will be some financial failures. Some big-budget movies, such as Captain America: Civil War, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Star Wars: Rogue One, are just too anticipated and carry too big of a franchise name to not at least make the studio’s financial investment back, plus some.
The fourteen movies we’re looking at this year all have budgets close to or over $100 million and as such, come with a certain amount of risk that the studio must overcome in order to turn a profit. Some of these financial risks are so great that, as we have discussed in previous years, the movie might not find a way to make moviegoers open up their wallets – a scenario every studio hopes to avoid.
Let’s be clear, we aren’t saying these movies WILL fail or that we even expect them to be bad. Instead, we’re pointing out the movies, we think, will have the toughest obstacles to overcome in order to be financially successful.
Let’s take a look at the 14 Riskiest Box Office Bets of 2016 in order of release date…
14. The 5th Wave
The 5th Wave is another entry in the ever-growing list of Young Adult science fiction novels being adapted for the big screen. The film is based on the first novel in Rick Yancey’s ongoing series of the same name. It stars Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass) as 16-year-old Cassie Sullivan, who is trying to find her brother and survive an alien invasion of Earth, while simultaneously falling in love with a mysterious boy whose loyalties may be questionable. The book has received positive reviews from critics.
Movies based on YA novels aren’t a new trend – it began way back in 1939 with Fox’s The Little Princess – but the recent influx started happening after the huge success of The Hunger Games back in 2012. Every studio hopes to enjoy the same success as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter or Twilight, while avoiding the the woeful box office fate of Ender’s Game or The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. It’s been said that The 5th Wave is Twilight but with aliens – hopefully with less sparkling and better acting.
13. Gods of Egypt
Gods of Egypt is an ambitious, big-budget fantasy film directed by Alex Proyas (I, Robot), co-written by Matt Sazama (Dracula) and Burk Sharpless (The Last Witch Hunter), starring Gerard Butler (300), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones), Brenton Thwaites (The Giver), and Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean). The story (which can essentially be seen in its entirety via the trailers) follows the mortal Bek (Thwaites) as he teams up with the god Horus (Coster-Waldau) to overthrow the god Set (Butler), who has enslaved all of Egypt. It appears to be a visually stunning movie with plenty of big, CG-heavy action scenes.
Egyptian mythology has long been a source of inspiration for Hollywood stories and blockbuster movies, but that doesn’t always translate to financial box office success. Traditionally, big-budget films with February release dates have floundered at the box office (see: Pompeii), rarely making back their entire production budgets and promotional costs. However, Lionsgate has an ace in the hole with this movie that may save their box office bacon. While the production budget was set at $140 million, due to tax-incentives and other factors, their own financial liability is only, allegedly, $10 million.
12. London Has Fallen
Olympus Has Fallen wasn’t the best action movie ever made but was surprisingly entertaining, drawing comparisons to Die Hard. London Has Fallen wants to continue that trend by bringing more of the same action and tone as the first movie. Writers Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger return to pen the script for the sequel, while director Babak Najafi brings it to life. The story for the movie goes international as our hero, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), discovers a plot to assassinate a slew of world leaders in London to attend the Prime Minister’s funeral. Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Aaron Eckhart all return to reprise their former roles.
This is Babak Najafi’s first big-budget theatrical outing, having only a handful of short films and a direct-to-video movie in his credits. Najafi could very well knock this out of the park, but controlling a movie with a $100 million working budget could prove to be too daunting a task for the fledgling newcomer. Second, Millennium Films increased the budget from by more than $30 million, meaning the film has that much further to go to see black. The first film made $162 million worldwide, and usually sequels make less than its predecessors, so this movie definitely has an uphill box office battle in front of it.
11. The Huntsman: Winter’s War
The next sequel on our list this year is The Huntsman: Winter’s War – the follow-up movie to 2012’s mildly entertaining Snow White and the Huntsman. Due to off-screen drama, Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Sanders aren’t returning, with Universal choosing to drop Snow White from the story all together. Instead, the focus has shifted to Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth). Eric and Sara (Jessica Chastain) – his forbidden lover – must stop two evil sisters, Freya (Emily Blunt) and Ravenna (Charlize Theron), from conquering the land.
Though Cedric Nicolas-Troyan was second unit director on the first movie, this will be his first time in charge of an entire production. Once again, a studio is trusting a large sum of money to someone who has never had to handle such a large budget. There’s also reason for pause concerning the script. Evan Spiliotopoulos only has a long list of direct-to-video animated sequels to his name, while Craig Mazin lists the two Hangover sequels and a hefty amount of subpar parody films in his credits. On top of all that, Chris Hemsworth has yet to prove he can carry a non-Marvel film to financial success as its lead actor, with both Blackhat and In the Heart of the Sea performing poorly last year.
10. The Angry Birds Movie
If you own a smartphone, then chances are you’ve played the highly addictive, time-wasting game Angry Birds. The multi-million dollar franchise has been licensed so much that it’s near impossible to look around a toy store and not see a version of it somewhere. There’s even a board game version of the app. The animated movie stars the well-known voices of Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Bill Hader (Trainwreck), Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers), Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids), Josh Gad (Frozen), and Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down).
Because of its worldwide popularity, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Columbia Pictures announced an Angry Birds animated adaptation, but why it decided to pump near-$200 million into its production and promotional budget is a bit puzzling. This will be co-directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly’s first time in charge of a production, while writer Jon Vitti has mostly TV series and the first two Chipmunk films on his resume. There’s no doubt an early-summer animated movie will see decent numbers but will it be good enough to overcome a $200 million plus budget or will the green pigs win?
Warcraft is based on the highly popular MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) World of Warcraft. Even while other MMORPGs come and go, WoW continues to be a dominating worldwide force since 2004, spawning board games, a comic series, and many expansions. The action/fantasy movie pits the humans of Azeroth against orcs of Draenor and stars Travis Fimmel (Vikings), Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four), Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), Ben Foster (The Finest Hours), Dominic Cooper (Dracula Untold), and Daniel Wu (Into the Badlands). Director Duncan Jones (Moon) brings some serious auteur street cred to the production while working off a script by Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond).
Legendary Pictures and Blizzard Entertainment first announced Warcraft back in 2009 and gamers everywhere were cautiously optimistic, while simultaneously nervous, about how the final product would turn out. Expectations in the gamer community for this movie are really high, and as such, fans will surely, and unnecessarily, pick it apart based on little details. It’s very important that Leavitt get those things correct in his script. That may not make or break this film financially, but it’s definitely something to consider. Fingers crossed Pandaria shows up in the inevitable sequel.
8. The BFG
The BFG (which stands for Big Friendly Giant) is based on acclaimed writer Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name. With classic books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach already adapted, it’s clear that Hollywood loves Dahl’s novels. The story follows a little girl named Sophia (Ruby Barnhill) after she meets the BFG, a giant who has been outcast by his fellow kind for not eating boys and girls – like every good giant should.
The movie has a very prestigious pedigree supporting it. With top industry names like Steven Spielberg directing, Melissa Mathison (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) penning the script, Kathleen Kennedy (The Color Purple) and Frank Marshall (Jurassic World) producing, The BFG would appear to have all the pieces necessary for a strong summer box office performance. However, Marshall and Kennedy have been working on this movie in some fashion since 1991. That’s a really long time to bring an adaptation to life, and The BFG isn’t really one of Dahl’s more well-known works of literature, and as such, may not be as beloved by audiences – or their wallets.
7. The Legend of Tarzan
Edgar Rice Burroughs first introduced his character Tarzan in a 1912 magazine publication. The orphaned child raised by Mangani great apes known as Viscount Greystoke, would become the now-iconic ruler of the jungle. He made an additional 25 appearance in various books by Burroughs – though that doesn’t account for other works of literature by different writers. Like his amour Jane, Hollywood has been in love with Tarzan since the very beginning. There have been over two dozen actors to wear the famous loincloth, the most well-known being Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Ron Ely in the Tarzan television series (1966).
This time, director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 1 & 2) will do his best to help actor Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood) bring the character to life. They will be working off a script co-written by Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan). Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad) fills in the role of Jane Porter, while award-winning actors Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight) and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) co-star in the epic adventure. The biggest thing this movie has to overcome is its release date, which coincides with two other family-friend tales – The BFG and The Secret Life of Pets. In order to be a box office success, it will most likely need to recoup its cost before Ghostbusters and Star Trek Beyond open just a few weeks later.
After years of unsuccessfully trying to get a third film added to the franchise by Dan Aykroyd (thanks in large part to a stubborn Bill Murray), Columbia Pictures ultimately decided to reboot the franchise, instead of extending its universe. Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) directs the feature, while Katie Dippold (The Heat) provides the script. The story follows Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), two authors who are run out of their industry for saying ghosts are real. Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones of Saturday Night Live fame, join the two ladies as they battle the invading spirits, while Chris Hemsworth rounds out the cast as their
eye candy secretary.
Out of all the entries on this list, none is more beloved by fans of all generations than Ghostbusters. The reach of the action/comedy franchise extends beyond all racial, age, and gender barriers, and crosses cultural borders worldwide – which is why there’s so much pressure on Feig and company to produce a high quality movie. McCarthy and Wiig are solid comedic actress and have clearly proven they can carry a movie but it’s possible that gender swapping the entire team (a decision many detractors of the film say is purely a political correctness move) could spook enough moviegoers that they skip this reboot entirely.
5. Suicide Squad
While the modern version of the Suicide Squad was created by John Ostrander in 1987, that was not the first time the team appeared in print. To find the original version of DC’s Comics anti-hero team, you’d have to go back all the way 1959 in a publication titled The Brave and the Bold. The team has remained popular since Ostrander retconned it nearly 30 years ago and the name is easily recognized by many fans of the television show Arrow. This will be the first time the team has appeared in a theatrical release and the biggest factor is has in its favor is the inclusion of writer/director David Ayers (Fury, End of Watch).
However, the biggest cause for financial concern could be the film’s cast. First is the casting of Will Smith in the lead role as Deadshot. Smith has proven himself to be a very likable actor, but his box office draw the last eight years has been less than stellar (Men in Black 3 being the exception.) The rest of the cast – Margot Robbie (The Big Short), Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Jai Courtney (Terminator: Genisys), Joel Kinnaman (Robocop) – while recognizable to millennials, aren’t as well known to the over-40 crowd – that alone could be enough to keep numbers low. Trailers for the movie look amazing though and we eagerly look forward to seeing how Leto interprets The Joker.
Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has been adapted for film four times (1907, 1925, 1959, 2003), including an animated film featuring the voice talent of Charlton Heston – who also starred in the Academy Award-winning 1959 version. The story is so popular among writers that it has been adapted for stage numerous times, including a epic-live London performance outdoors in 2009 featuring an actual chariot race. The modern adaptation was co-written by Keith Clarke (The Way Back) and John Ridley (12 Years a Slave). MGM has also brought in producers Jason Brown and Roma Downey – who worked on the last year’s surprise hit faith-based film Woodlawn – so, it appears the movie, for the moment, is in good hands.
However, outside of those few behind-the-scenes names, the only other well-known person attached to the film is Morgan Freeman as Ilderim. Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) is a talented director, but only fans of comic book movies and action films will know who he is. Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) – portraying the revenge-seeking Ben-Hur – and Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four) – playing his back-stabbing best friend Messala – are solid actors but neither has yet to successfully carry a big-budget movie in a leading role position. The release date for the film has been pushed back once already, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it get pushed further back into 2017.
3. Pete’s Dragon
In 1977, Disney introduced the world to a lovable, but clumsy, animated green and purple dragon named Elliot in the live-action/animated comedy Pete’s Dragon. The film became a Disney classic, but was eventually forgotten to all but the most loyal of Disney’s fans. The House of Mouse hopes to change that by reintroducing Pete and his mischievous dragon later this year in a reimagining of the story. Robert Redford (Captain America: Winter Solider), Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World) and Karl Urban (Dredd) will play the leading adult roles in the movie, while relative (and adorable) newcomer Oakes Fegley portrays the orphan Pete.
Like several other films on this list, Pete’s Dragon has a director, David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), who has yet to work on a large-budget movie, while Toby Halbrooks makes his freshman appearance as the film’s screenwriter (though he did work with Lowery as producer on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints). For the most part, Pete’s Dragon has been out of the public eye since its last home video release in 2001. Many adults who grew up with the movie have fond memories of watching it but that won’t necessarily translate into big box office return. If anything, all changes to the story could make the over-40 crowd skeptical of the remake and avoid it entirely – ala, “You ruined my childhood” complaints.
The cute, little plastic dolls with fun, crazy-colored hair known as Troll Dolls, were created by Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam in 1959 and became wildly popular with American children in the 1960s, 1970s and again during the 1990s. In an attempt to make the toy hip again, the Dam Company tried to rebrand the image as “Trollz” in 2005 but was unable to reach the same level of popularity their property once enjoyed. A few years after announcing a Trolls animated movie was being produced, Dreamworks Animation purchased the entire Troll brand from the Dam Company – so they own it outright now.
Mike Mitchell (Sky High) and Walt Dorm were brought in to co-direct the feature film, while writers Jonathan Aibel (Monsters vs. Aliens) and Glenn Berger (Kung Fu Panda) were hired to pen the script. Trolls also has a bevy of recognizable voice talent onboard: Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), Justin Timberlake (Runner Runner), Russell Brand (Rock of Ages), Gwen Stefani, Icona Pop and YouTube star, GloZell. Animated movies tend to produce favorable box office returns but it’s a bit of a head scratcher as to why Dreamworks Animation would pump well over $100 million into this project. Troll Dolls haven’t been popular with children for over 20 years but can still be seen on sitting atop various adults’ pencils – the property may just be too out-of-style for contemporary children to be interested in.
1. Assassin’s Creed
The last film on our list this year might also be the most important when it comes to the future of video game movie adaptations. Assassin’s Creed, the popular first-person action/adventure game by Ubisoft, earned plenty of accolades with its first release in 2007. That was followed up by eight additional titles for various platforms, with a dozen or so other variations for smartphones and handheld devices – making it one of the most popular video game titles in recent times. The movie will be directed by Justin Kurzel (Macbeth) and co-written by Bill Collage (Transporter: Refueled) and Adam Cooper (Exodus: Gods and Kings).
Despite having a big question mark in the script department, Assassin’s Creed seems to have a lot going for it: New Regency, the production company behind the Oscar-winning films 12 Years a Slave and Birdman, is producing the film; fantastic actor Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) is playing the lead role of Callum Lynch (a character created specifically for the film); and seasoned actor Jeremy Irons joined the cast as Abstergo Industries leader, and father to Marion Cotillard’s character, Alan Rikkin. If Assassin’s Creed fails to impress at the box office (despite whatever critical success it may reach), then it could potentially spell the end for the entire sub-genre of video game adaptations.
There are plenty of small-to-mid budget films that could also have a hard time turning a profit for their respective studios (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Hail, Caesar!, Zoolander No.2, The Brothers Grimsby, to name a few) but since their investments aren’t as large, their risk of loss isn’t as high. Still, despite how it may occasionally appear, Hollywood studios are in the business of making money for themselves and their investors – they need all of these various films to perform well financially.
What movies coming out this year do you think might struggle at the box office? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.