Each year Hollywood brings hundreds of new cinematic offerings to theaters - some are sure-fire hits (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron), while other big budget films' financial futures are not quite so set in stone. There are many reasons why a film could struggle to recoup a studio's investments - popularity of the source material, release date, attached cast and crew, to name a few - but there are still many risks associated with making a film for the modern movie market.
The films in our list this year aren't ones we necessarily think will be critical failures or could show up in our worst films of 2015 article come December- in fact, some of the films mentioned below show up in our Most Anticipated Movies of 2015. The only reason we have selected certain films for this list is because we think they have an additional obstacle to overcome in order to being financially successful.
Let's take a look at the Riskiest Box Office Bets of 2015...
12 The Seventh Son
Opens: 2/6 - Budget: $100M
The Seventh Son took a long, strange road into theaters. Warner Bros announced the film in 2011, began filming in 2012, made an appearance at Comic Con in 2011 and 2013, eventually showing up as one of our Most Anticipated Films of 2013...but then the demons started hitting. The film (based off Joseph Delany's series of fantasy novels, The Wardstone Chronicles) was passed from Warner Bros to Universal Studios and its release date got pushed back twice - typically not a sign of confidence in a film.
The books have a strong fan following but most mainstream audiences aren't familiar with the material - meaning, this film could very well struggle to find an interested and, more importantly, paying audience.
11 Jupiter Ascending
Opens: 2/6 - Budget: $175M
The Wachowskis hit a big sci-fi home run with their original film The Matrix, eventually earning close to a billion dollars over the course of the trilogy. They clearly have an eye and talent for films set in dystopian futures but with large-budget box office failures also under their belt like Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, we have to wonder if they've simply lost their way, or have audiences grown tired of their particular brand of filmmaking?
Jupiter Ascending has the distinct privilege of being the only film listed in our Riskiest Box Office Bets in back-to-back years. That's because its release date was pushed back from mid-summer 2014, to early 2015 to "allow for more post-production work." All that work may have paid off as the film's showcase was one of the Top 6 Things We Saw at Comic Con in 2014. We think it's time for another really good film using the Wachowskis' unique take on science fiction, but is the world willing to fork over $200M to see it?
10 Jurassic World
Opens: 6/12 - Budget: $150M
Dinosaurs haven't been seen roaming the earth for millennia, that is until the early-90s when Steven Spielberg and digital effects house ILM brought them back to life in spectacular fashion for Jurassic Park. The original film managed to amass over a billion dollars at the box office, with each sequel drawing in significantly less. But while many fans have long clamored for a fourth installment of the franchise, it took 14 years for it to actually happen.
We've discussed belated sequels before and what their chances of success are historically (Hint: It's not good). This long pause between films could either really hurt it (fans may no longer be impressed with a CGI-dino extravaganza) or it could rekindle the audience's fascination with the toothy beasts - because come on, who doesn't love dinosaurs? Jurassic World will get a boost by having Chris Pratt (who is the hottest commodity in Hollywood at the moment) cast as the leading man but even that could not be enough to make audiences pull out their wallets.
9 Terminator Genisys
Opens: 7/1 - Budget: $170M
The first three films in the Terminator franchise did exceptionally well at the box office, scoring high marks with both critics and audiences around the world - however, the fourth film didn't fare as well. Terminator: Salvation struggled at the domestic box office, needing a push from the foreign markets to even break its production budget of $200M. Bringing back Arnold Schwarzenegger to star in the film doesn't guarantee success either, as the former-governor doesn't seem to have the same box office appeal as he did in the '80s and '90s (his last four films have grossed $87M domestically combined) - meaning, Terminator: Genisys could likely face the same uphill battle at the box office as its predecessor.
Adding to the risk, filmmakers have decide to abandon the timelines set by Terminator: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation and The Sarah Connor Chronicles to explore a completely new trilogy storyline beginning with Terminator: Genisys. If they succeed, then this film could revitalize the franchise into something nearly as good as Terminator and Terminator: Judgment Day. If it fails, then it's possible the studio abandons the project altogether. For now, you can watch the first trailer for the film and draw your own conclusions.
Opens: 7/17 -Budget: Unknown
To date, Marvel has yet to have a true financial failure at the box office, and they seem to be unstoppable at finding success with whatever second or third tier character - no matter how obscure - they choose to give a solo film. Guardians of the Galaxy, a film based on a virtually unknown property to mainstream audiences, managed to dominate the theaters for a couple of months and topped the charts with a staggering $770M haul. The question isn't whether Ant-Man (a production that was in limbo for years and experienced setbacks right up until filming started) will be successful financially, but whether it can become another one of Marvel's box office powerhouses this summer.
With the film situated between The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, the studio needs both it and the character to achieve the same level of success as their other properties, in order to properly maintain their successful shared universe. Marvel and Disney have been betting on double zero on the box office roulette wheel this whole time, and up to now, all that risk has paid off. But it feels like any moment the box office roulette ball could land on red. Could Ant-Man be their first "flop" (by Marvel standards)? Watch the first trailer for the film and make your own decision.
Opens: 7/24 - Budget: Unknown
People all over the world have been in love with the boy from Neverland, Peter Pan, for over a hundred years (he was first introduced in the 1902 novel The Little White Bird by J. M. Barrie). There have been many books, plays, movie adaptations (animated and live-action), TV shows, and even a live television musical performance - all revolving around the mischievous flying boy who never grows up. Clearly, audiences have a desire to continue watching anything having to do with Peter Pan...or do they? In December 2014, the NBC musical Peter Pan Live! scored horribly low in the ratings, as only 9.2M viewers tuned in to watch Alison Williams sing and fly for 3 hours.
Another factor that could potentially keep Pan from being a box office success, is its subject matter. Creating a non-existent origin story for a classical character beloved by generations across the world can be tricky to pull off (see: Oz the Great and Powerful), so if director Joe Wright doesn't hit on all cylinders with this film, audiences could potentially throw it to Tick-Tock at the box office.
6 The Fantastic Four
Opens: 8/7 - Budget: Unknown
No film in this list (or in 2015 for that matter) has more box office risk associated with it than Fox's reboot of The Fantastic Four. The film was mostly filmed in secrecy over the past year and, except for a leaked picture of The Thing and Doctor Doom, there hasn't been any promotional material released for the film at all. We expected to see the movie make an appearance at Comic Con 2014 but that didn't happen (maybe 2015?), but the lack of even a poster or logo for the film is befuddling at best.
Fox has made several risky moves with this Fantastic Four reboot: choosing Chronicle director Josh Trank, deciding to use an original story instead of once from comic canon, making Doctor Doom an anti-social programmer, and the real internet-breaking (sorry Kim Kardashian) casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm. As some have pointed out, Fantastic Four is growing somewhat stale by modern standards and the books aren't necessarily flying off the shelves - in fact, after April 2015 Marvel is canceling the long running series. Trank's unique take on the property could be just what the franchise needs to give it a breath of fresh air. It'll be interesting to see if audiences agree.
5 The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Opens: 8/14 - Budget: $75M
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a hit television show about an international spy organization starring Robert Vaughan and David McCallum that ran for over 100 episodes starting in 1964. The Emmy-awarding winning show was so popular that it spawned a spinoff (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.), 8 feature-length films, a series of comic books and over 20 novels. All that former popularity hasn't helped get the film made though, as it's been five years in the making, has switch directors twice (David Dobkin to Steven Soderbergh to Guy Ritchie) and recast the lead character twice (George Clooney to Tom Cruise to Armie Hammer).
Of the 80 or so TV show movie adaptations currently in existence, only a handful can be considered "successful" at the box office (Star Trek, Mission Impossible, 21 Jump Street, The Equalizer) but generally, they tend to underperform financially. Costar Armie Hammer's last TV show-inspired movie, The Lone Ranger, was one of the biggest box office flops of 2013 despite being backed by Disney and having Johnny Depp's name attached. Only time will tell if Warner Bros and director Guy Ritchie can make audiences nostalgic enough to show up for movie about a fifty-year old TV show.
4 Hitman: Agent 47
Opens: 8/28 - Budget: Unknown
Even though it was widely panned by critics and received lukewarm reviews from audiences, the first Hitman film still managed to rake in over $130M between the worldwide box office and DVD sales on a modest of budget of $18M. Jump forward eight years and that hefty return the studio once enjoyed on its investment might not happen a second time for Hitman: Agent 47. According to game maker Square Enix, the entire Hitman game series (which includes 5 installments) has sold over 8 million units since the franchise started in 2000 - so at least the game still has some popularity from which to draw.
As we see it, this movie has 4 issues to overcome in its quest for box offices success: 1. It's Based on a Video Game - Video game movie adaptations, with few exceptions, struggle to find a paying audience, 2. Is it Still Relevant - By the time the film is released the game will have been out of the mainstream gaming market for months (Hitman: Absolution released in 2014), 3. Experience - Aleksander Bach is making his feature film directorial debut (he has only directed commercials before this), 4. No Promotion - There's been very little news promoting the film since its announcement 5 years ago.
3 Crimson Peak
Opens: 10/16 - Budget: Unknown
Director Guillermo del Toro has a somewhat bittersweet relationship with the box office. While his movies all tend to do fairly well overseas, they can't seem to catch on with the domestic movie-going audience. Sure, he has a very large and loyal cult following, but that hasn't really translated into a large box office return for the studios. As an example, after the trailer for Pacific Rim (his last theatrical endeavour), most fans (including us) were looking forward to watching giant aliens and robots clash - however, it failed to become the summer blockbuster it was intended to be.
The gothic ghost story Crimson Peak shouldn't sport the same hefty $190M price tag as Pacific Rim, so finding financial fortune may not be all that difficult, but it's becoming clear some audiences either don't like del Toro's brand of monster/ghost story-telling or don't quite appreciate his unique eye for the macabre. The movie should get a decent bump with the casting of Tom Hiddleston as the leading man, but as studios are starting to find out (see: Disney and The Lone Ranger), casting a popular actor doesn't always mean box office success.
2 The Martian
Opens: 11/25 - Budget: Unknown
The Martian is a sci-fi film based on Andy Weir's best-selling novel and directed by Ridley Scott...that almost no one knows about but should. The book is a survival tale about NASA astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who uses his MacGyver-like abilities to endure the harshness of the Mars surface after being stranded on the big red planet. Between its amazing sci-fi director, star-studded cast and tense storyline, there's plenty to be excited about regarding The Martian.
However, finding an audience for this film may not be an easy task as audiences no longer seem to flock to theaters to see films simply because of the name "Ridley Scott" is attached as they once did. Scott's last four offerings (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor, Prometheus, Robin Hood) all struggled to connect financially with the domestic audience, relying heavily on foreign markets to edge them barely into the black. Scott is still widely considered to be a fantastic sci-fi movie director, - thanks in large part Blade Runner and Alien - something the studio is no doubt banking on heavily to push The Martian to the top of the box office charts this fall.
There's little doubt that 2015 will offer some excellent movie choices, and hopefully all of them are winners critically and financially. Realistically, that will most likely not happen and some of the films on this list could ultimately struggle to be financially productive for their respective studios.
As we've done for the past three years, we'll take a look back at our predictions in December to see which films were worth the investment risk and which ones weren't worth it. For now, tell us in the comment section which films you think are the Riskiest Box Office Bets of 2015.
Be sure to also check out our other 2015 previews as well:
- 25 Most Anticipated Movies of 2015
- Winter 2015 TV Preview - January and February
- 10 Most Anticipated Horror Films of 2015
Follow me on Twitter - @MoviePaul.