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What Went Wrong?: Vol. 51 – Macho Sequel Edition
August 24, 2014Posted by on
In 2010, The Expendables, a team-up of all-star 80s, 90s, and 2000s action heroes debuted at number one in the box office and ultimately grossed over 100 million dollars in the domestic box office alone. The sequel took a domestic dip, but ended up over 300 million in grosses worldwide (the sequel was also a far superior film that was a lot more fun). The recently released Expendables 3, however, tanked upon it’s domestic debut. After two weekends in theaters, the film hasn’t even earned what the second film did in its first weekend at the box office. The three-quel will ultimately earn less than half of either film in grosses and will rely heavily on overseas dollars to become profitable. I can’t imagine a theatrically released Expendables 4 will happen any time soon. So, what exactly went wrong?
Piracy is at least partially to blame. When I saw a news item about how a DVD-quality leak of Expendables 3 became widely available on the Internet weeks before the film’s theatrical release, I knew the project was doomed to box office mediocrity (it was downloaded over two million times in just a few short weeks). But other factors played into the film’s failure as well. Expendables 3 was already a sequel to a sequel to a film designed to capture a wave of fleeting 80s nostalgia. The ploy worked well once and fairly well a second time, but it was never going to last. Ultimately, you just can’t expect success doing the same thing over and over again – something needs to be fresh about the experience.
Arguably, the casting of Ronda Rousey as well as the other, younger Expendables team (including Kellen Lutz, who I like but who has not done a great job picking roles thus far outside of lucking into the Twilight franchise) was designed to bring in a younger audience. Additionally, the PG-13 nature of the film meant that younger teenagers could see the movie without needing a parent to buy them a ticket (it is the first PG-13 rated film in the franchise). Unfortunately, Expendables 3 happened to open one week after the successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film reboot and just two weeks after the mega-successful Guardians of the Galaxy. Ronda Rousey or not, the project just wasn’t going to go toe-to-toe with those two films.
The high quality leaked torrent of the film coupled with an unfortunate PG-13 rating coupled with audience disinterest coupled with intense competition at the box office just killed Expendables 3 and it’s chances of a healthy domestic gross. The film will likely make up ground overseas, but I don’t think there’s much of a chance we’ll see an Expendables 4 any time soon – unless Sylvester Stallone and company can keep the budget to a more manageable 50 million or so. There just won’t be much money to be made in the film franchise unless that happens. Additionally, Stallone will have to really strive to freshen up the concept, because the experience is greatly in danger of growing stale.
Another sequel to a macho film was released this past weekend, but it failed under a different set of circumstances. In 2005, when the comic book to film adaptation was still somewhat novel, Dimension Films’ Sin City opened to a surprising 29 million dollar debut and solid reviews. The film, captured in striking black-and-white, featured an ensemble cast led by Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, and Mickey Rourke. The fresh film concept, based on the popular comic book series by Frank Miller, was one of the most faithful comic-to-film adaptations of its day and made plenty of fans. A sequel film, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, flopped over this past weekend, grossing a scant six million dollars for the Friday to Sunday frame. So, what went wrong?
Production on A Dame to Kill For began in October 2012, with a theatrical release date set for October 2013. The sequel, once again produced by Dimension Films, was delayed almost an entire year to ostensibly take advantage of a late summer release, as well as the fact that director Robert Rodriguez’s film project Machete Kills was to be released in October 2013. The summer release date, however, ended up helping to bury A Dame to Kill For, as it’s late summer date essentially killed it off. Even though this August has been busy at the box office, late August is still the dregs of the summer release schedule. There was little chance of this breaking out on such a weekend.
The comic book adaptation landscape has changed as well. The original Sin City film was released in 2005, a time when only three or four high profile comic book films are released each year. The past few years have seen roughly 900 comic book movies released into theaters, each one vying for precious moviegoer’s dollars. This summer alone has seen Captain America 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Transformers 4, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Something was going to have to give, and a lower profile film like A Dame to Kill For was the likely suspect here. There was just too much comic book competition this summer.
A Dame to Kill For will ultimately close with less than 20 million dollars, or far less than the first film opened with – in 2005, no less. Though the film is packed with recognizable faces (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Evan Green), it just wasn’t ever going to have the same impact at the box office that the surprise hit first film had almost ten years ago. The profile for both director Robert Rodriguez and writer Frank Miller have taken a hit in recent years, with both men suffering film flops (The Spirit in 2008 for Miller, Machete Kills last year for Rodriguez). I don’t think it’s likely the two will reunite for a third installment, especially as the budget for A Dame to Kill For allegedly hovered around 70 million dollars, or almost twice that of the first film. The sequel will go down as an out and out disaster for Dimension.