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What Went Wrong?: Vol. 10
August 20, 2012Posted by on
This week’s installment of What Went Wrong? features two recently-released science fiction films that flopped in American theaters. Released in the summer of 2012, these films couldn’t be any more different from each other. One is a remake of an ultraviolent classic, the other a comedy/sci-fi mash-up with an unfortunate marketing issue, but both have become tremendous box office failures.
Total Recall (2012)
In 1990, Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was an enormous hit (Arnold’s largest at the time). The ultra-violent action/thriller film, set on Mars, shocked and amazed audiences to the tune of well over a hundred and nineteen million dollars domestically (or, over five hundred billion adjusted for inflation). Rumors of a remake sprung up around 2009, and a run of remakes dominated theaters throughout the next few years (The Karate Kid, The A-Team, Fright Night, Fame, Footloose, etc). In late summer 2012, Len Wiseman, director of the Underworld movies as well as Die Hard 4, directed a Colin Farrell-starring remake that went exactly nowhere. So, what went wrong?
The remake completely excised the Mars setting, possibly due to the fact that no Mars-set movie since the original Total Recall has done well at the box office. This had the unfortunate distinction of alienating hard-core science fiction fans, who are routinely annoyed by such changes. Additionally, while Colin Farrell is a strong actor, he’s no action super star and not a significant box office draw on his own. Boring marketing, featuring a few snooze-inducing commercials and a lackluster trailer, didn’t seem to excite too many moviegoers, who seemed content to continue checking out The Dark Knight Rises, which had been released a few weeks earlier. The best that could be said about Len Wiseman is that he is a competent studio director with a flair for style over substance that actually works. I personally find Die Hard 4 to be underrated and the Underworld films have their fans. He is no comparison to golden age Paul Verhoeven, however, whose heyday included such films as RoboCop and Starship Troopers. Wiseman may have a personal affinity for the source material (a short story by Philip K. Dick), but audiences would rather remember Verhoeven’s bloody violent good time.
The Watch (2012)
Few comedy/sci-fi match-ups since Ghostbusters have been successful at the American box office, but every once in a while Hollywood cranks one out anyway (apparently no one wants to make money or something). Featuring stars like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill (hot off a recent hit movie and an Oscar nomination – further proof the Oscars are almost completely meaningless), The Watch desperately wanted to be the next Ghostbusters – a big budget, star-powered comedic adventure. With such a likeable cast and an irresistible premise, The Watch could easily have been one of the comedy hits of 2012. So, what went wrong?
In the winter of 2012, a young African American man was gunned down in a controversial scenario by a member of a neighborhood watch association. The flurry of media coverage, national outrage, and racial tensions over the unfortunate shooting led Fox to completely change its marketing for their then-upcoming feature film, including a name change (from Neighborhood Watch to simply The Watch). Fox was in no man’s land where marketing was concerned. Continued promotion for the film may have been seen as insensitive to the victim’s family. So, the company seemed to bury the film, de-emphasize the title, and focus on the comedic hijinks of Stiller, Vaughn, etc. Unfortunately, The Watch opened not long after Seth Macfarlane’s debut film Ted, which saw extremely positive reviews and big box office numbers. The combination of bad press and a stronger product on the market put the final nail in the coffin for the poorly-received The Watch.