Most outlets cover Hollywood’s massive performers: “Wonder Woman” made $400 million! “Fate of the Furious” cleared more than $1 billion globally!” Then there is me. I trend towards Hollywood’s low-quality retrograde fare, particularly those titles that failed to deliver the entertainment. Thus, at the end of the blockbuster season I look at the titles that made an impact — in the form of a crater.
Summer is when studios make bank. It is the season when careers are made, budgets are broken, and executives get bonused into buying diamond-encrusted padlocks to affix on the gates of the public access steps to the beach on their Malibu property. Well, most years, anyway.
Summer 2017 overall was a dismal session, with the total box office nearly 16 percent lower than the previous year. To give one example of the futility: this summer broke the record for the worst opening by a movie in 4,000 theaters—three separate times! Studios released tentpole titles week after week, which depleted their success rates as not too many titles had room to flex muscles. The later stages of the calendar were filled with middling titles when a blockbuster would not only rule the theater but draw in audiences, raising the ticket-buying tide.
Numerous factors went into numbering this box-office fail list. Beyond mere performances I used other metrics like overall quality, expectations, budgets, and star power. But for the most part, this is about celebrating general failure. Pop yourself up a box of burnt popcorn, pour a 64-ounce cup of flat soda, and let’s tear into the failures from theaters this summer.
15. ‘Wish Upon’
This widely ignored horror offering failed to find an audience in a summer frame with no fright-filled competition and a rather receptive audience. (The sequel to “Annabelle” did robust business.) Despite that favorable atmosphere, this film lacked atmospherics, as it recycled a familiar horror trope for the teen audience. Expected to open in the double-digit range, it struggled to make half of that mark, debuting as the No. 7 film opening weekend and soon as forgotten as a fever dream.
14. ‘Rough Night’
This was an obvious attempt to come up with a female version of “The Hangover” (that ploy always works!). The story was a bachelorette party that goes sideways, and best you can say was at least it was ambitious. Scarlett Johansson toplined the cast, along with Kate McKinnon offering a horrid Australian accent. The ladies had to deal with a male stripper who died and their night descended into scenes of mayhem. The summer was bad for comedies, and this was emblematic of that hostility, as it suffered a fate worse than its stripper had.
Following the breakout success of “Trainwreck,” Amy Schumer made her next attempt at theatrical dominance, but was dashed on the rocks of the comedy-killing reef in this summer. Critics commented that while she teamed well with Goldie Hawn the material was weak. The issue here? Schumer had written the script. While posturing as a media darling of the Left, critics rewarded Amy with scorn for insensitive portrayals of foreign people. Audiences did not snatch up tickets to this in appreciable amounts.
12. ‘The Circle’
I’m sure most are scratching their heads trying to even remember this title. What if I tell you it starred Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, and released in more than 3,000 theaters? Based on the Dave Eggers novel, this technological thriller went nowhere. It debuted with less than $10 million and deleted audiences along the way, barely earning $20 million at the end. On its opening weekend it finished behind a Latino comedy and an Indian Bollywood sequel, of all things.
11. ‘The House’
Despite saturation advertising, here was another comedy audiences condemned. Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler starred in this romp about a middle-aged couple who chose to pay for their daughter’s college tuition by converting their home into an unlicensed casino. It was trounced by the animated “Despicable Me 3” and the respected action title “Baby Driver.” It was also the lowest debut of Ferrell’s career in a lead role. You can now set the roof on fire—literally.
10. ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’
I know calling a “Transformers” film low-quality is not a risky stance. However, within that robotic universe “Last Knight” is noticeably the worst. These films are infamous for being loud and flashy content-free fare, and audiences have finally tired of them. Falling well short of $200 million in its run, this debuted with a five-day total of less than the four previous releases’ three-day openings. The mitigating factor: overseas this was popular enough to push it to a $600 million global total.
Following the established formula of modern TV adaptations—dispatching traditional elements; snarky variation on the theme; perfunctory cameos—this was yet another comedy that just did not click with anyone. Dwayne Johnson delivered his usual affable performance, but the material did not hold up. It was a constant gag about lifeguards investigating crimes, but the whole enterprise failed to move, like it was swimming through a large patch of seaweed. There was hope European audiences might float the film, but even in Hasselhoff-besotted Germany they stayed out of the water.
8. ‘Cars 3’
Already regarded as the lesser franchise in the glowing Pixar Studios stable, this unneeded third visit to the racetrack met a lowered audience octane. While it debuted at No. 1 with just over $50 million, it soon sputtered in a crowded field and was lost in traffic. For a Pixar release to fail to reach the $150 million mark is notable, and of all of the Pixar titles only one—“The Good Dinosaur”—has a lower box-office take. But I doubt Disney/Pixar even noticed; the product toy line is a huge money-maker.
7. ‘The Mummy’
Universal kicked off its “Dark Universe,” a series of movies based on the monster characters in its vaults. Tom Cruise headlined this CGI-choked affair that was wildly overshadowed by the excitement over “Wonder Woman.” Universal gave Cruise complete control over the script, editing, post-production, and even power to overrule the director. The result did not ignite theaters in what was meant to be a highly touted franchise launch. The overseas returns, while more vigorous, were not enough to keep the studio from losing near $100 million on this release.
6. ‘The Emoji Movie’
While watching a different cinematic disaster this winter, I was bemusedly exposed to the trailer for this fiasco. The crowning touch of famed British thespian Patrick Stewart lending his voice to anthropomorphic fecal matter sums it all up. This film was scorched by critics (a sceptic 8 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and even audiences graded it low. The only surprise is that somehow it found enough kids to force parents into taking them and earned a higher than expected $70 million. (How?)
5. ‘Alien: Covenant’
The attempt to reboot this franchise has become something of a fraught enterprise for 20th Century Fox. After “Prometheus” was a very qualified success, this follow-up was not regarded at all. Up against paltry competition it still under-delivered, failing to even reach the lowered goal of $40 million on its opening weekend. It suffered a stark 71 percent drop in its second week, and by week three it dropped more than 1,100 screens, failing to even achieve $75 million in total. In theory director Ridley Scott still has two planned follow-up titles in this series, which may now be in question.
4. ‘The Dark Tower’
A long-in-the works project, this Stephen King adaptation bounced around different studios, went through numerous director changes, and had multiple scripts written. Sony ended up with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in a severely cut-down story that should have been fleshed out over multiple films. The fans who long anticipated this arrival stayed away, and even with a modest budget of $60 million the studio lost money on this venture.
3. ‘The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature’
The original “Nut Job” was a modest qualified success, but far from an animated classic to be remembered for generations. Open Road Films had a small budget and earned enough in returns during the dumping-ground release schedule in January to justify a sequel.
Then they severely miscalculated. Sensing a lull in the competition, the distributor felt they had a chance at glory, and rolled out their sequel in a saturation release in late summer, expecting to draw kids with limited viewing options. Instead the title shattered the record for worst performance of a film released in more than 4,000 screens. The opening weekend was a single-digit disaster, barely earning above $8 million.
2. ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’
Guy Ritchie decided to infuse the Arthurian legend with his stylized film-making. Curiously, he elected to topline the effort with American actor Charlie Hunnan. It was a frenetic exercise with obviously computer-generated locales and some contemporary politics mixed in (Brexit commentary for the loss!).
Sporting a massive studio budget of $175 million and a significant marketing spend, the projections for its debut were scaled down to an embarrassing $25 million, and it then managed to miss that mark by $10 million. The plan was for a six-movie franchise of this tale. I’d wager that has been scrapped, as the British director failed to draw profits from the stone.
1. ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’
That obtuse title was only the beginning of the challenges for this epic sci-fi feature that became an epic failure. French Director Luc Besson had long wanted to produce this space opera property after his successful film “The Fifth Element.” That was back in 1997. The source material is both dated and unknown; it is based on a French comic book Besson read while growing up.
Even with dazzling special effects, there was little interest in this sprawling affair, Estimates on the production costs range from $175-200 million. Factoring promotional costs, this needed to gross around $500 million before realizing a profit. Worldwide it made about 35 percent of that stratospheric goal.