Blood is in the water, folks.
Maybe Hollywood has jumped the gun rather abruptly ever since the pandemic faded last year, but based on the data, the latest push-and-shove of blockbusters is woefully misguided. See, what requires a movie to work is anticipation, the utmost belief that even a trusted brand or a brand new concept will wow folks to venture back to the local theater to watch their favorite actor/actress dazzle onscreen. That doesn’t guarantee a positive reflection from critics’ words, but there can be gratification in producing a motion picture we want to see, perhaps multiple times.
Candidly, we have had some stellar success stories in 2023. The Super Mario Bros. Movie took a nostalgic video game brand and pumped it up with lively animation and a noteworthy cast to put Universal Pictures in the king spot for the year (becoming the highest-grossing video game film ever). Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 restored (some) faith in audiences with the weary nature of the colossal Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing tears to folks’ eyes for our band of misfits. John Wick: Chapter 4 blossomed as a modern epic action film thanks to Keanu Reeves’ dedication. And Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a giddy love letter to graphic design.
Unfortunately, there has been a catalog of films this year that were either too ambitious for their own good or were par for the course to fail due to catastrophically high budgets. Yes, delays and post-COVID measures still exist, but who in their right mind settled on massive costs for merely “another sequel”? As addressed in our weekly box office notes, the shareholder desire from studios is not the same regarding IP is not the same as audience excitement/expectations. So buckle up; here are the year’s biggest flops (thus far).
Honorable Mention: Fast X
We spoke about this recently, but this feels more like a disappointment than an outright bomb. The tenth installment of the Fast series has reached F9‘s territory (around $725 million), but an oversized budget of $340 million is the crippling factor. The latest Infinity War-redux is a cacophony of noisy explosions and unjustified action amidst a scattered story (when it was relatively primitive). Subliminally, many are aware this franchise now prides itself more on ego and cynicism than the roots of a family once Vin Diesel fully throttled his way through to be the man in charge. It’s perturbing to think if the series has enough mileage left for two more films and a spinoff, but if they can drop the budget, then the worrisome sentiments can fade away.
The other prevalent question will be whether fans can stomach another few more years of this. Maybe it is time for the series to whip out time travel or go to Mars.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
This is one of the few films on this list that was admittedly worthwhile and a fun fantasy adventure to invest in. Plus, on any other day, this should’ve succeeded at the box office. But the critical issue was that this video game-adapted work dropped right before the Mario movie, dismantling any chances of keeping the demographics intact. Other nitpickers would also say the slim marketing and boycotting of Hasbro hurt its chances, but it was put in the wrong timeslot. Had this been jotted down for a fall release, we’d have a different perception of the movie. Yet, $208.2 million on a $150 million budget is a downer.
The blunt reality of getting a spinoff television series focused on this world (and no sequel) means it’s in the same boat as DC after The Suicide Squad disappointed during COVID times. Now Paramount hopes its hefty-budgeted Mission Impossible 7 can succeed where this one did not (which could be a tough battle as Cruise’s latest sequel is hammered by the ‘Barbenheimer’ trend).
Magic Mike’s Last Dance
Channing Tatum may be a star any other day in any adventure, but Magic Mike’s third and final installment fatigued under conventional standards ($57 million on a $45 million budget). Notably, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (while not perfect or performing well for an “ordinary” MCU outing) stamped its way to over $100 million on the same weekend. Also, the film didn’t seem to have a beating heart, only riding the motions and for Tatum and Salma Hayek to do their dance routines.
A middling feature with Adam Driver trying to survive dinosaurs would be much more appealing a few years ago. This one would collapse in the face of Scream VI and horror’s way of succeeding. Sorry, Sony, but this is no Jurassic World Dominion when it pulls in a lousy $60.7 million on a $45 million budget. Moving on…
Guy Ritchie’s feature was not too shabby, but a few things could not hold its feet up. A) Jake Gyllenhaal is not a box-office star, and B) this opened during the midst of Mario’s super run while Evil Dead Rise took off on the same weekend, producing substantial numbers for the fifth installment. Lastly, Ritchie may have helmed Sherlock Holmes and Aladdin (2019). Still, he has also limped along with several other box office disappointments in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur, and Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (which was also released this year as well).
As fantastic as Nicolas Cage is, this ain’t no Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Blade. The horror-comedy element of this one gets very monotonous in a heartbeat (unless someone is there to chew it out), and its story is atrocious. Putting $65 million into this one was a considerable risk, and it did not pay off when you’re battling Mario, John Wick 4, or another horror picture. Less than $30 million worldwide doesn’t spell any success for Universal.
We’ve said this before: if you teach your audience to watch a specific brand at home, then that’s what they shall do. It’s the same for the Pixar releases that came during COVID and Lightyear, which also collapsed. Granted, Elemental is a fine film and has been doing much better and consistent in legs since its poor debut weekend (in modern Pixar history). It may have enough to leg out where it’s not a “bomb,” but it’s still another slap in the face for what was once Disney’s crown jewel in dropping animated, gripping films in the local cinema.
Currently, the feature has passed $350 million on a $200 million budget, so maybe not all hope is lost. However, it could’ve been a more intriguing discussion if it didn’t have to challenge Across the Spider-Verse and battle Disney’s latest demons.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
Indubitably, a vastly inferior sequel compared to its predecessor and another subtle reminder that making the generic doesn’t bode well for superheroes in these fatiguing times. It bombed in its opening weekend (43% less than its predecessor) in North America and a wimpy $4.4 million in China (and ended up with $133.8 million on a $125 million budget). Maybe it isn’t the audiences’ fault necessarily because they weren’t set up for another DC sequel when the universe is undergoing another major overhaul (again).
Ripping out the heart and sense of fun for this one feels like an insult, and most of the cast spends time mailing in their performances for a heavy payday. And John Wick: Chapter 4 benefited from its misery the following weekend, so all hope was lost. And, the reported issues of Dwayne Johnson screwing up the proposed finale/post-credits also did not help publicity concerns. So, DC whimpered with another collapsed project amidst the news of another reboot. Gladly, that didn’t come back to bite them for the other titles this year thus far.
I take it back; we have officially hit rock bottom with the largest superhero box office bomb in Ezra Miller’s solo feature. Middling reviews, competition from Across the Spider-Verse, and Miller’s recent allegations all took their turns dismantling its possibilities. Warner Brothers desperately tried so much to convince everyone it’s “one of the greatest superhero films of all time,” and if your assessments don’t live up to the hype, then audiences will not care. And if a significant multiverse scheme that pulls in Michael Keaton to reprise the role of Batman three decades also doesn’t lure in folks, then it signifies again that DC is not the place to be.
Remember, we got a show for free for a decade on the speedster while Miller bounced around on several DCEU projects before getting his own. Even then, it’s simply lacking in both storytelling and general excitement. Even Sasha Calle’s Supergirl is grossly underwritten, only appearing later to serve the story when she could be telling hers. Also, that chaotic, egregious CGI final act is more of the “same old.”
Everyone deserves better than this for a movie that lost up to $200 million for the company.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
This is a pristine example that your hefty budget should’ve been cut off at a certain point. Harrison Ford’s last ride as Indiana Jones is a good outing; the problem is that no one takes great leisure in witnessing it enough, and with over $335 million (on a $300 million budget), it’s sitting in a pool of red.
We’d be more optimistic if it were closer to $200 million, yet here we are. Much like Fast X, The Flash, and Mission Impossible 7, high budgets should be warranted if audiences desire to see the feature and its impressive camerawork. Yet, no one was keen on seeing another Indiana Jones movie, and Disney seems to care less about what the viewer wants when it throttles itself with promoting its streaming service and underserves its theatrical counterpart. This is the 2016-redux, where franchise revamps are collapsing in the face of solid IP connections and anticipated sequels.
Who knows what else will join the list once the year concludes, but one thing is sure: know what your audience wants, not what the studio wants.