“Suburbicon” is One of Paramount’s Biggest Flops of All Time

There are a number of people dancing on the grave of the failed George Clooney produced movie Suburbicon. But everyone deserves a decent burial, so we will look at the underlying reasons the movie was an epic fail by movie and economic standards.

First the basics. The movie cost roughly $35 million to produce and distribute while taking in less than $3 million in box office receipts in its opening week. It opened in more than 2,000 theaters. That’s not an insignificant loss for its distributor, Paramount.

Director Clooney has done 5 previous films, including Good Night, and Good Luck, The Ides of March, Leatherheads, and The Monuments Men. Two of those were decent films, and Clooney is known to experiment as a director. The failure of Suburbicon is less about Clooney’s directing talent if we are going to be fair. That leaves the suspects to be the script or the actors.

When was the last movie that was an unqualified hit for Matt Damon? He was great in Good Will Hunting and probably the only actor who could play Jason Bourne and get the desired effect of the character in the Bourne trilogy. His other efforts have been largely meh, in part because his range of acting abilities is rather limited. One critic of Suburbicon said that Damon came off as rigid and uninspired. Julianne Moore was said to come off as stoic, hardly her acting strong suit. A decent script casting the wrong actors can doom any movie.

The biggest culprit for the epic fail seems to be on the script. The basic genre of the movie is said to be a dark comedy about racism set in the 1950’s. Now I ask you, can the timing of the subject matter get any worse? When you have $35 million invested in a movie, it is understandable you don’t want it sitting on the shelf. But did anybody involved with the movie stop to think that maybe the timing is just wrong, given the current political climate of the country?

Confederate and other statues are being torn down or removed, words such as Nazi and racist are used to describe the character of conservatives and President Trump, and any dialogue about racism has come to a screeching halt. That left the movie with two very bipolar possibilities. It was either going to open up a discussion about racism in the current American culture or it was going to be seen as a lecture on racism both sides would ignore. The latter happened. Some critics thought it tried too hard to walk the fine line of not offending anyone. The problem with that approach is that you usually end up with milquetoast content where people are either confused or bored to tears.

The audience reviews and the celebration of its failure can be fairly understood to be an overreaction. Awful movies cannot be judged solely on box office numbers. Clooney and Damon both have been in the political limelight, upsetting at least one side of the political spectrum. Matt Damon is not a great actor, and stacking up stars with an iffy script may be another indicator that the producers were not certain of the movie’s success. Every actor knows the importance of timing, and even if you overlook its many flaws, this is definitely a film showing in the wrong places at the wrong times.

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