The Biggest Box Office Duds of 2019 (and what went wrong)

The Biggest Box Office Duds of 2019 (and what went wrong)

The Biggest Box Office Duds of 2019 (and what went wrong)

This year has seen a new box office champion crowned. After ten years of dominance by James Cameron’s Avatar (and another decade before that with James Cameron’s previous champ, Titanic), a new victor takes the cake. Avengers: Endgame will be talked about for years regarding its ten-year set-up, its multi-film agenda, and its time-bending, genre-defying storyline.

Add to Endgame the huge success stories of films like The Lion King, Frozen II, and of course, Joker, and you’ve got a box office year with plenty to ruminate on for weeks to come. They can’t all be success stories, however. There were a handful of ignominious films that released either to great hype or moderate expectations and instead crashed and burned.

These are the biggest box office duds of 2019!

Dr. Sleep

The Biggest Box Office Duds of 2019 (and what went wrong)

Perhaps the most frustrating entry on the list, Dr. Sleep, unlike every other movie in this article, is a really good movie. It’s not perfect, of course, but the acting is strong, the storyline is well-told, the editing is tight, and—for a horror movie—the tension is consistent. Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is the way it bridged the very wide chasm between Stephen King’s The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. King famously swore off the Kubrick adaptation of his book, but this movie (which enjoyed a good amount of King participation behind and in front of the cameras) treats both with great respect.

Too bad it grossed only 70mm worldwide.

Granted, that’s almost twice its budget but when you factor in advertising (which was extensive) and overseas distribution fees, the movie ended up a money-loser. Was it as big a loser as others on this list? No, but there’s more to it than that. Box office numbers aren’t just about bean-counting, they’re about meeting expectations. A small-budgeted movie might make 100mm but if the studio was expecting 250mm out of it, they will see it as a failure, having expected to spend the excess profit on various other productions. Stephen King’s name is supposed to be a hot commodity in the wake of IT’s big box office hauls. There’s no way to spin Dr. Sleep as a positive for Warner Bros.

Terminator: Dark Fate

The Biggest Box Office Duds of 2019 (and what went wrong)

Haven’t we said all that needed to be said with Terminator 1-2? Must we go topical? I think the one thing that bothered me the most about this movie was the way it tried to pander to appeal to its would-be audience. I don’t need to be told that this movie features strong, empowered women, but that’s fine. What’s not fine is being told this is the first Terminator that shows how women can be bad-asses. I don’t appreciate that because I remember Terminator 2, which made that very point almost thirty years ago.

I’m not saying the movie failed because it concerned its advertising with demographics. That would be silly. Every movie needs to be mindful of the demographics its hoping to appeal to. The way the ads went about promoting the movie was more a failure of execution than idea (I just happen to find the idea tiresome). No, the movie didn’t fail because of bad advertising. The movie failed because the movie sucked.

And so did the one before it.

These movies don’t need to keep being made and they really don’t need to keep being remade. The worst thing to happen to Terminator was the flawless sequel. Terminator 2 retold the story of the first with just enough twists and subverted expectations to keep it fresh. Once it was done so was the series because every movie that followed would have to reduce itself to the same (now tired) plot: hero goes back in time to stop terminator from killing important target.  The only movie to buck the trend was Terminator Salvation but it failed to make any money because people don’t want anything new; they want the old standbys…and they want to complain that the old standbys aren’t new.

Anyway, Terminator: Dark Fate is the latest film in the series to try and cater to such fans, though this one at least boasted James Cameron himself as a producer. It didn’t make a difference to ticket-buyers though. On a 200mm budget the movie made 200mm, breaking even in one column and burning money in others.


The Biggest Box Office Duds of 2019 (and what went wrong)

“It’s a shame more people didn’t turn out to see Del Toro’s Hellboy 2; it was really good.” The preceding statement was the default position on the Hellboy rights in Hollywood. The movie was good but no one cared; don’t make another one.

Then a few rated-R movies started making as much money as PG-13 films and Hollywood—ever the city of copycats—decided to try and cash-in. Hellboy, a reboot staring David Harbour, released with a meager 50mm budget behind it. No doubt Lionsgate did not want to risk being left on the hook for a hundred million dollar failure.

Instead it was only 6mm dollar failure.  By that I mean it made 44mm on a 50mm budget, not counting advertising. With as much trouble as the movie had during production, the fact that it almost made its budget back is remarkable, even if we’re only talking about 44mm.

The fact that it was made despite no one really asking for it, and the fact that it bombed as it did, is not so remarkable, however.

Gemini Man

Gemini Man

When was the last Will Smith film project to succeed largely on the strength of Smith’s name? Hancock? Gemini Man is the latest Ang Lee film and it felt like it too. No amount of slick trailers or thumping commercials could hide the oddball quirkiness that comes with every Ang Lee movie. Perhaps it was that which turned audiences off of the movie and not the fact that Will Smith’s reputation as a box office draw has been dead for a decade at least.

Gemini Man nevertheless has a few things going for it. For one, it was not a big budget production, as it only cost 140mm to make. That, plus whatever could be milked out of Will Smith’s name and a high concept sci-fi premise that, if not easily digestible is at least able to be visualized well enough in a trailer (guy fights his younger clone) should have helped it limp over the finish line of profitability.

Despite being in development hell for many years with several actors attached to the project, Smith was the right one for the role since he’s one of the few who were believable for the part while also having plenty of reference material to use for a digital double from his days on Fresh Prince. In the end, however, the movie was too convoluted to work and it failed to break through the hedge that Joker put around the October box office, grossing less than 175mm.

MiB: International

The Biggest Box Office Duds of 2019 (and what went wrong)

It’s pretty remarkable to think about how big of a failure this movie is considering how much it was tee’d up for success. You have a recognizable IP with a history of crowd-pleasing films, a cast that includes Thor and Valkyrie (as the casual moviegoer knows them), and what should have been a week of unchallenged box office dominance to rack up money before dropping to second place against the might of Toy Story 4.

Instead the movie was the top box officer earner for a grand total of three days. Support for the movie started cold and still dropped like a rock after opening weekend. By the next weekend, it fell not to second but all the way to fourth and was instantly a forgotten film.

What happened? Probably word got out that the movie was dumb, stilted, and unfunny. Basically it was everything the initial trailers warned us it would be. Once the movie released and word of mouth confirmed everyone’s gloomy suspicions, people found better things to do with their time.

And that’s how a movie that Sony had hoped would be a tentpole for them this year ended up making 250mm on a 110mm budget.

Curiously, while some are quick to praise Sony for releasing the movie with a relatively small budget, the fact is the movie only made a little over twice its production cost. The much more expensive MiB3, however, made three-times its 250mm budget. MiB2 also managed to convert its 140mm budget into a box office haul exceeding 400mm. MiBI might’ve been the cheapest to make but it also made nothing for the studio.

Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix

The last of the Fox-produced X-Men movies is, to put it bluntly, a disaster of a movie. Simon Kinberg, a key producer of the series for the past several years stepped into the writer/director’s chair and released this total amateur-hour movie.

There are great actors to be found in the film but none of them seem to know what they are supposed to be doing with the very superficial and thin screenplay. There are good ideas to be found in the story, but they’re lost amidst a plot that doesn’t know how to develop those ideas or the characters at the heart of them.

Dark Phoenix felt like a movie that had a checklist of things to accomplish, accomplished them, and then the credits rolled leaving the audience feeling unfulfilled. The movie felt like exactly what it was: A producer became the director, looked over his checklist, and then started ticking things off, one by one, without any of the intangible stuff that good directors bring to a shoot, and without any of the flair or clever moments of inspiration that lifts a movie from something mundane to something with life. This movie was just there, and judging by its box office performance no one bothered to care that it was there, either.

There was an palpable “that’s it?” feeling among those who even bothered to see it…and there weren’t many of us. The film grossed 250mm worldwide (only 65mm of which was domestic) which might be okay if the budget was 90mm or so. Instead this stinking turd of a movie, which barely had any remarkable special effects sequences or difficult on-location shoots, cost a whopping 200mm to produce, not counting advertising. The movie needed to make something like 500mm worldwide just to break even.

It made half that.

Can there be a bigger bomb this year?

Arctic Dogs

The Biggest Box Office Duds of 2019 (and what went wrong)

Raise your hands if you have even heard of this movie.

Put your hand down, liar.

This film has an all-star cast…and that’s about it. The production company is a no-name. The director is a nobody. The writer is no one you’ve heard of. The plot is mundane. There is nothing worth commenting on. The movie came out in November. November! It just came out and you’ve never heard of it. And it’s not like it got some small-time release window, 500 screens, that sort of thing. No. This was had a major release window and it grossed 8mm. Eight. Not eighty. Not even eighteen. It made eight million dollars.

But, as with Dark Phoenix, the real issue is what did it cost. If it only cost a couple million then it certainly made a profit since there clearly wasn’t any advertising.

Nope: It cost fifty million dollars!

The Biggest Box Office Duds of 2019 (and what went wrong)

Maybe next time don’t spend so much on a movie loaded with expensive voice actors if no one is going to even know your movie exists.

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