Every year Hollywood studios toss a bevy of movies into theaters hoping something will stick. They’re not naive enough to think every movie produced will turn a profit, but they’re also anticipating each project will give them some sort of return on their generous investments. Often, studio tent-poles have inflated budgets to work in impressive special effects or pay for an A-list celebrity headliner. That can often be a stumbling block when trying to recoup production and marketing costs – though not always the case.
Disney’s last Pirates movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, was a critical mess but still made over $1 billion worldwide on just a $250 million budget – which is why you won’t find Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, or other big budget movies such as Transformers: The Last Knight, on this list. No matter how critically panned those movies turn out, they’re always going to make money – giving their studios very little risk on their massive investments.
The fifteen movies we’ve decided to focus on this year (see our choices from 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013) were selected for various reasons including: An overly-large budget, sub-optimal release date, historically tough genre, etc… We’re not saying these movies will fail, that we think they will be bad or that we even want to see them perform poorly at the box office. These are just the movies we think might have the hardest row to hoe when it comes to turning a profit for their respective studios.
Here are our 15 Riskiest Box Office Bets of 2017.
15. Monster Trucks
January is generally usually the month where studios send movies they expect to under perform, though that’s not always the case (see Lone Survivor‘s wide release as an example of a January success story). But, the failures far outnumber the successes when it comes to box office returns at this stage of the New Year. Paramount Pictures was feeling somewhat confident about their upcoming live-action/animated alien movie, Monster Trucks…that is until the trailer released and the internet had one long, boisterous laugh.
It’s easy to see Paramount was originally high on Monster Trucks. After all, it does have director Chris Wedge (Epic, Ice Age) at the helm, was written by Derek Connolly (Jurassic World, Star Wars: Episode IX) and stars Lucas Till (X-Men: Apocalypse, MacGyver) and Jane Levy (Don’t Breathe). It’s possible the movie will be a light, fun family flick, but tossing $125 million at this film seems fiscally irresponsible. Paramount has to be hoping that whatever this film (undoubtedly) loses at the box office, will eventually be made up in the home theater market.
14. XXX: Return of Xander Cage
Early in his career, Vin Diesel was making a name for himself in the world of Hollywood action movies. He already had Pitch Black and of course, The Fast and the Furious (which is on its eight installment – The Fate of the Furious) under his belt but XXX was a completely different type of action movie – it was an Xtreme Xction movie. The film proved to be highly profitable at the box office, though the sequel starring Ice Cube failed to attract the same audience.
Fourteen years later, Vin Diesel is back in XXX: The Return of Xander Cage and based on the action-filled (and absurd) trailer, he’s once again brought his love for all things extreme with him. No doubt this franchise is hoping to get the same box office bump The Fast and the Furious Franchise did when Diesel returned in movie number four. As far as January films go, this one looks like it could be fairly standard high-budget/low-production/corny affair. It’ll need to compete with Underworld: Blood Wars and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter for viewers, though.
From 1977 until 1983, members of the California Highway Patrol (“CHiPs”) kept the freeways of Los Angeles safe from criminals, car accidents and various other mishaps. Starring Erik Estrada as Officer Frank “Ponch” Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as Officer “Jon” Baker as two motorcycle cops, viewers enjoyed all their antics and acts of heroism each week – so much so, that a reunion movie aired on NBC fifteen years after the show was cancelled.
In 2014, Warner Bros hired comedian Dax Shepard (Robot Chicken) to write, direct and star in a movie adaption of the now-iconic TV show – which will also co-star Michael Peña (Ant-Man), and Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil). Since then, the only news to come from the CHiPs production is a handful of stills and an announcement about moving the release date up five months – though the trailer did finally release recently. Like 21 Jump Street and Baywatch, the movie is allegedly aiming for a hard R rating by including “crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use”.
12. Power Rangers
Saban’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, without a doubt, changed the landscape of children’s television by redefining what definition of an action show. Filmed partially in Japan and partially in America, fans of the show were thrilled watching the Rangers use martial arts and their Zords to kick the crap out of Rita Repulsa, her Putty Patroller minions and her seemingly endless supply of giant monsters. With over-twenty seasons under its belt, the show remains highly popular today.
The two previous Power Rangers movies didn’t exactly set the box office on fire twenty years ago, but hasn’t stopped Lionsgate or Saban Entertainment from pumping nearly $150 million into this current theatrical endeavor. Despite less than warm reviews on the Rangers’ suits and first trailer, fans’ expectations for this movie remain high. It’s a well known fact that fan and critic opinions often differ, so a panned critical response might not affect its box office returns. However, if fans recoil from early viewings, it might put a damper on the six sequels the studio has planned.
11. Ghost in the Shell
The style of art known as manga has been popular in Japan for quite some time, but arguably, none have been as popular (or at least as influential) as Mobile Armored Riot Police – a.k.a. Ghost in the Shell – by Masamune Shirow. Shirow – who wrote and illustrated the series – targeted Japan’s youth (specifically adolescent youth) with his futuristic, cyberpunk story. However, the series was so well received that its popularity grew all over the world. As a property, Ghost in the Shell is a mega-franchise – having several animated movies, video games, manga series and television shows under to its credit.
There’s no doubting many in the fan community are eagerly anticipating the live-action version of the manga, but to the general viewing public, all they know is the film stars Scarlett Johansson, is set in futuristic Japan, and has a not-so-subtle (a)sexual vibe. The studio may need to tap into the pockets of those general viewers in order for this movie to reach the black. As we learned with Scott Pilgrim, the fan community alone generally isn’t enough to keep a property afloat at the box office – no matter how great it is.
10. The Lost City of Z
To the average viewer going off the title alone, they might think The Lost City of Z was just another bland entry into the crowded world of zombie movies. Fortunately, this movie has nothing to do with the undead – though it does center on missing explorers. The fabled Lost City of Z was rumored to have existed somewhere deep in the Brazilian jungle and became the obsession of explorer Percy Fawcett. Fawcett attempted three trips into the jungle in search of the city – failing on the first two, then disappearing on the third, along with his son and friend Raleigh Rimell.
Paramount Pictures optioned the rights to the book by David Grann detailing the events surrounding Fawcett and his quest to find The Lost City of Z. While it stars the familiar names of Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller and Robert Pattinson, they may not be enough to convince audiences to venture into theaters for this semi-biographical tale – as interesting as it may be. Biographies are already a tough sell, but The Lost City of Z also has the added misfortune of opening the week after The Fate of the Furious and two weeks before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
9. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
King Arthur, his exploits with his legendary Knights of the Round Table, his mystical sword Excalibur and how he acquired it have been the subject of many books, movies, television shows and animated tales. There’s even a mini-theatrical performance featuring the sword in the stone at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. While the actual existence of King Arthur has been debated by historians, the accounts of how he defeated Saxon invaders lives on through folklore – and Disney cartoons.
With names such as Guy Ritchie, Eric Bana, Djimon Hounsou, Jude Law and Charlie Hunnam attached to the project, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword certainly has an interesting pedigree. However, this movie has many things working against it, specifically: tone/style, choice of lead actor, and release date. Ritchie’s hectic, often gritty, style of of storytelling can be an acquired taste for some viewers, while Hunnam (though talented) has yet to carry a big budget movie to box office success as its lead. Opening between established action franchises such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t working in its favor either.
8. The Mummy
Perhaps one of the most well-known monsters in history, The Mummy has been a part of Hollywood for nearly a century. Making appearances in several solo movies, co-starring in an Abbott and Costello comedy, receiving a two season animated series, multiple comic books and now, two full reboots – it’s safe to say The Mummy will continue to rise from the dead for quite some time. Any person returning from the dead is generally a viable source of horror for any story.
In an attempt to kick off their shared monster universe (which includes Van Helsing, Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman), Universal Pictures has placed their aspirations into the hands of director Alex Kurtzman, writers Jon Spaihts and Christopher McQuarrie and actors Tom Cruise, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe, with Sofia Boutella featured in the title role. Universal has a lot riding on The Mummy‘s success. If the movie stumbles with audiences, their potential new franchise could be sealed in a sarcophagus and entombed from another thousand years (or at least another decade).
7. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Budget: $180M (rumored)
Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent, a.k.a. Valérian and Laureline, is a French science fiction comic first published in the pages of Pilote in 1967. Created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, the foreign comic isn’t as well known to audiences as other comics but its space opera and time travel themes have been the influence behind popular movies such Star Wars – who recreated several story beats and elements directly from its pages. The award-winning comic was eventually translated into English in the 80’s and received a short-lived animated TV series in the late-2000’s.
As influential (and epic) as the comic is to many modern day fans, to the casual moviegoer Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is essentially an unknown commodity. Even with established sci-fi/action director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) helming the project and a cast that includes John Goodman, Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen, Dane Dehaan, and Cara Delevingne, this movie faces an uphill battle at the box office. It doesn’t help it’s opening a week after Spider-Man: Homecoming and War for the Planet of the Apes, opposite Dunkirk and a week before The Dark Tower.
6. The Emoji Movie
Back in a time when smartphones didn’t rule the technological landscape, the only way to share a wink, smile or frown with someone was with an emoticon – :-). In the late-90’s, programmer Shigetaka Kurita created the first emoji – a graphical representations of an emoticon. Taking his inspiration from weather maps, Chinese characters and manga, Kurita gave the world an entirely new way to express itself. Today, there are nearly two thousands emoji characters, ranging from the most popular “Face With Tears of Joy”, to the “Pile of Poo”.
While emojis are fun to include in everyday online conversation, someone thought it would make an excellent subject for an animated feature film. Sony Animation is producing The Emoji Movie – featuring the voices of T.J. Miller, James Corden, Rob Riggle, Ilana Glazer, and Patrick Stewart as Poo – but they had to win a bidding war against Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures first. So…congratulations? Animated kids movies usually perform well but this movie does feature emojis as its central characters and brings to life a talking pile of poop – not necessarily a recipe for box office success.
Proficient horror writer Stephen King is no stranger when it comes to seeing his novels adapted to the big screen. Along with The Dark Tower (another one of his works), It will also hit theaters in 2017. The original It novel was released in 1986, with a made-for-TV movie following in 1990 – both were received warmly by audiences. The story follows a group of students during the 50’s, known as The Losers Group, who fall prey to Pennywise – a clown who is the manifestation of something much more evil. After children go missing in present day, the group reforms to once again battle Pennywise and confront all of their fears, which he represents.
Even though it didn’t make our list of The 30 Most Anticipated Movies of 2017, there’s no doubting the excitement and anticipation swirling around the remake/reboot of It among the horror fan community. The film has one big thing in its favor: Mama director Andrés Muschietti is behind the camera. Ultimately, the remake will need a performance by Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise that’s on par with Tim Curry’s iconic character from the 90’s in order to defeat those pesky box office demons.
Back in 1990, a psychological horror thriller called Flatliners hit theaters. It starred several big names in the acting industry at the time – Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon – as medical students attempting to see what’s beyond the life/death border – while never quite dying. Their dangerous experiments with the afterlife found its mark with audiences, and the film has developed somewhat of a cult following over the years – though it’s fallen out of minds of modern moviegoers.
Niels Arden Oplev (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mr. Robot) is directing this quasi-reboot, while Kiefer Sutherland once again plays his character from the original movie, Nelson Wright, with one minor change – he’s been upgrade from med student to doctor. Ellen Page and Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) join him and are worthy additions to the cast. However, this property has been essentially lifeless for 27 years – audiences may not be interested in reviving it.
Dean Devlin has been the talent behind many successful and popular properties to come out of Hollywood in the last 20 years. Independence Day, Stargate, The Librarians, Leverage; each of those projects has enjoyed long-term success, both on the big and the small screen. For all of his numerous endeavors, Devlin has never directed a feature film – Geostorm (not to be confused with the affordable Izuzu-made car from the 90’s) will be his first attempt behind the camera.
Geostorm stars Katheryn Winnick, Gerard Butler, Ed Harris, Andy Garcia, and Abbie Cornish – a more than capable cast – but it doesn’t bode well that after bad screening reviews, the studio ordered reshoots for most of the ending and pushed the release date back more than a year. The premise for Geostorm reads like something generally associated with made-for-TV sci-fi movies: As a man heads into space to prevent climate-controlling satellites from creating a storm of epic proportions, his brother discovers a plot to assassinate the president Palma (Garcia). The ludicrous story could be all it takes for viewers to stay home, rather than buy tickets.
2. Murder on the Orient Express
When it comes to detective/murder mystery writers of the 20th century, one name stands out above the rest: Agatha Christie. Over the course of her illustrious writing career, Christie became known as the “Queen of Crime” for creating and developing a certain story structure in her mystery novels – many which are still copied today. Most of her stories, including Murder on the Orient Express, all unfold the same way: a murder happens, suspects hide secrets which a detective slowly unravels, and it ends with some sort of shocking twist.
Murder on the Orient Express is among Christie’s more popular novels, having received a film adaptation in 1974 starring Ingrid Bergman and Sean Connery (pictured above). With Kenneth Branagh behind the camera, Daisy Ridley and Johnny Depp in front of it, the movie seems poised for success. However, most of the weight falls on writer Michael Green’s shoulders, who also penned scripts this year for Logan, Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049. Though the 1934 novel is considered iconic, the property may no longer be fresh in the minds of the general public.
Rounding out our list this year is a comedy barely anyone has heard of – Downsizing. The science fiction dramedy movie stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a husband and wife whose lives have gotten so out of control they decide to shrink themselves, when the wife backs out at the last minute – leaving the husband alone as a tiny man. Neil Patrick Harris, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin and Jason Sudekis co-star in this movie written and directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), with Jim Taylor (Nebraska) co-writing.
It took Payne and Taylor almost two and a half years just to write the script, which feels like an awfully long time to piece together a comedy about a shrinking man. Along the way it the film lost its original cast of Reese Witherspoon, Paul Giamatti, and Sacha Baron Cohen, in favor of Wiig and Damon (which isn’t a downgrade) – that tends to happen on a project that’s been developing for 8 years. Comedies released during Christmas season have done well in the past, but the special effects necessary to pull off a shrinking Damon could give Downsizing an inflated budget too big to overcome.
It’s important to remember that every movie on this list will stumble at the box office during its theatrical run. Some of the movies we’re mentioned have as much potential for success as they do failure – one path is just more slippery than the other. Which movies do you think will be the Riskiest Box Office Bets of 2017?