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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I can’t believe we’ve run through so many of these What Went Wrong? segments already. I also can’t believe Hollywood still isn’t somehow broke. The industry has continually relied on ancillary revenue over the years, and it seems so far that no one in the business has been able to adequately find new revenue streams to take advantage of. So as DVD sales continue to fall, it feels like Hollywood is increasingly relying on “safe” projects to make them a quick buck. With that in mind, it makes sense that the mega-successful Twilight films would be re-appropriated and outfitted with new characters and slightly different stories for a quick cash grab.
At first I didn’t think there were too many Twilight knock-offs out there roaming the multiplexes. But upon investigation, I found that there are actually a lot, with quite a few more yet still in production or nearly finished (The Host comes out later this month, for example). The updated fairy-tale adaptation Red Riding Hood, coincidentally directed by Twilight helmer Catherine Hardwicke, may be the most successful one, and even that probably didn’t make anyone too much money. The recently-released Warm Bodies has been referred to as a Twilight-inspired tale, but I have seen it as well as all of the Twilight movies, and I’m not seeing the comparisons all that much outside of some coincidental story beats. For argument’s sake, however, I will allow it. Like Red Riding Hood, Warm Bodies has been a mild success story (and will probably ultimately out-gross Hood worldwide). All of these films have one thing in common: They were all released by Summit Entertainment, a company which basically exists today due to the success of the Twilight (and now also The Hunger Games) franchises.
Looking for some of that sweet, sweet Summit money, Warner Bros. recently released Twilight wannabe Beautiful Creatures. Based on a young adult romantic fantasy novel (ring any bells?), Beautiful Creatures is the Richard LaGravanese-directed story of Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a young man who discovers that a girl he has been dreaming about is actually real, and also a new student in his high school. The student, Lena (Alice Englert), is actually secretly a “Caster,” a person who can conjure spells like a witch or wizard. The story is essentially Twilight in reverse, with the female being the mythical creature and the male being the love-struck protagonist. The plot obviously stands in the way of the two being together, and such star-struck love nonsense has made for lucrative films in the past. Beautiful Creatures, however, bombed in its release and has grossed less than 20 million dollars against a budget of 60 million. So, what exactly went wrong?
I think that, first and foremost, Beautiful Creatures’ problem was decidedly not in its marketing. So often in this feature, marketing is the key problem behind many film failures. Creatures seemed to be marketed well, with big Warner Bros. muscle behind it. I saw prominent TV spots for the film, and the trailer played before a lot of big films I saw in theaters over the past 4 or 5 months. Creatures also opened in a desolate February, where it had the opportunity to be an oasis in the desert-dwelling winter months of cinema. That just didn’t come to fruition, however. Sometimes even a well-marketed film that looks like it is going to break out just doesn’t. It wasn’t any help for the movie that critics shrugged their shoulders, with aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes scoring Creatures at an underwhelming 45%. Movies like this are usually critic-proof, but without a big brand name like Twilight or Hunger Games, better reviews probably would have helped the film out immensely.
The next big box office stumbling block for Beautiful Creatures was that, although it debuted in the dead of winter, it also opened up a week after Warm Bodies and a few weeks after Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, two similarly-themed films that, while not box office juggernauts, have grossed respectable amounts since their debuts. Too many similar movies at the box office isn’t good, and audiences responded by not showing up to see Creatures. Beautiful Creatures opened over Valentine’s Day weekend, and its failure to bring in the date crowd is also telling. Other, more positively-received by audiences, movies that opened during this time frame include the mega-hit Identity Thief, which while not well-reviewed, connected with audiences on a more fundamental level than Beautiful Creatures probably could have.
My own personal perspective on why Beautiful Creatures has failed is both different from what I’ve written above and somewhat anecdotal. Creatures is, as noted earlier, essentially the opposite of Twilight. Alden Ehrenreich plays the Kristen Stewart role, and Alice Englert plays the Robert Pattinson role. This might work if the film had been targeted toward males and had generally been more male-oriented, but Beautiful Creatures is obviously designed with female audiences in mind. The problem here is that the film should be romantic wish-fulfillment for women. I don’t mean this in a sexist way whatsoever. One of the reasons why the Twilight franchise was so successful is that many female fans saw Edward and Jacob as being powerful protectors – men who could provide romance, love, and affection for them as well as protection from the forces of evil. The primary female protagonist in Beautiful Creatures is the one with the supernatural power. In the Twilight franchise, the primary female protagonist has no real powers until the final film. In Beautiful Creatures, the lens of the film goes through the eyes of a male character, which I can only assume female filmgoers had little or no interest in.
Beautiful Creatures will not be the last Twilight rip-off to bomb in the theaters. After the gigantic financial success of the Twilight film franchise, I’m sure studios are going to continually mine similar territory for whatever scrap they can get. Even the Open Road Films production of the Stephanie Meyer-penned The Host, opening this month, looks to catch some of the success of her earlier novels, but probably won’t be nearly as successful (although with a slight 44 million dollar budget, I can’t see it being too big of a flop). I can understand why Warner Bros. would commission a film version of Beautiful Creatures, but fundamental flaws in its story-telling, coupled with bad reviews and unfortunate competitions at the box office, have combined to make it a massive money loser for all involved.