As this summer racks up a long casualty list of failed big budget movies, some are beginning to wonder if Hollywood’s addiction to expensive, tent pole franchises has begun to undermine the movie business as a whole.
Traditionally, 20% of a studio’s output generates 100% of its profits. And when a film hits big, its studio feels more confident in green-lighting riskier properties; those with the potential to be break out hits, snag awards or attract the crowd less interested in comic book heroes or teen heartthrobs.
And taking more creative chances usually means the traditional hell of development and the career impact of not being part of a film that was supposed to be a blockbuster are less punishing.
Buoyed by fat profit margins and healthy stock options, the film executives riding herd on what comes next are less rigid in forcing square pegs into the round holes that worked last time.
They’re also more forgiving of the talent that didn’t bring home a pocketful of cash.
All the people aboard “Battleship”, “John Carter”, “Rock of Ages”, “Dark Shadows” and “Total Recall” are just as gifted and worked just as hard at making a good film as those on “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Hunger Games”.
But now their names are almost toxic in the executive suites where memos reminding all “What Worked Before” are not academic ruminations but clear marching orders.
If you thought development has been hell in the past or all the sequels and reboots this year were a sign of the Apocalypse, just you wait. There will be a lot of people both inside the dream machine as well as the multiplex looking for a way out.
Watching the one-two punch of “John Carter” and “Battleship” that was supposed to cement Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch as Hollywood’s new action hero turn into a couple of mean uppercuts from Mike Tyson, reminded me of just how much a big budget flop can punish everybody involved.
Back in 2004, Marvel Studios released a film based on their iconic comic character, “The Punisher”. It was expected to be a Summer blockbuster creating a new franchise to follow “Spiderman”, “Blade” and “The Hulk”. And it would launch American actor Thomas Jane as an action hero.
I went to see it on its opening weekend, not because I was a fan of the comics, but because I was familiar with Jane’s abilities and had a great respect for his fellow cast member, Will Patton.
But the movie was awful. Horrifically bad, revealing all the faults of studio development that copycat past films and fail to understand the transition of a comic book world to film.
I felt particularly bad for Jane, who was hammered and vilified the way Kitsch is being mistreated now as the Hollywood machine directed the blame at him instead of where it truly belonged.
Somewhere during the intervening years, Thomas Jane either tired of taking the rap for “The Punisher” or decided that if you want something done right, you do it yourself. So, he concocted a ten minute film he calls a “love letter” to the character.
Others might call it “fan fiction”. And then there are guys like me who take it as proof that you don’t need a studio or the prolonged ride through development hell to create something a lot of people want to see.
Indeed, in less than a month, Jane’s film has probably been seen by as many people as saw the 2004 version on its over-hyped opening weekend.
So while those who track the ups and downs of the studios may bemoan the loss of films which may no longer get made, many of us are realizing they will still be made and made better by people who aren’t forced to think inside some corporate spreadsheet or creative box.
The Punishment may be over.
Enjoy Your Sunday.