What Separates A Successful Movie From One That Isn’t

Honestly, I have no clue.  Sure, I have ideas (and who doesn’t?) though you have to keep in mind that when I wrote that I thought that Robert Stromberg’s Maleficent was doomed to failure a few months ago that my reasoning was, for the most part, based on logic.  The “for the most part” is that I don’t think Angelina Jolie is a particularly good role model for young women.  Sure, she’s involved with all the right charities, but she also appears almost skeletal in pictures.

That’s not a good thing when, I assume, many of her fans are women of various ages, some of which happen to suffer from body-image issues.

And back on the logic side, there’s the fact that the production was troubled to such a degree that another director was brought in to help with reshoots.  And while that’s not necessarily a guarantee that a production is doomed, it’s not a good sign.  For example, the last time I recall it happening was when Oliver Hirshbiegel‘s 2007 movie The Invasion had reshoots done by the Wachowski’s.

And we all know how well that turned out.

More often than not, I don’t think much of movie studio executives.  From what I know of them, they appear to be a somewhat pampered, self-important lot that more often than not interfere more than they help any particular project.

In fact, if I were a studio executive and someone had brought me the screenplay–Hell, if Jolie handed it to me herself–I would have respected her enough to listen (though I don’t know how attentively) to the pitch before I wished her ‘Good day.’

And that’s even before a $180 million price tag would even had been mentioned.

This type of behavior of judging a project by what are little more than assumptions is a human one, but not always productive.  For instance, there was the time that Sherry Lansing, a former head of 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures, said that despite 1987’s Fatal Attraction was the highest grossing film that year, it was rejected by several studios before it finally arrived on her desk.  To add insult to injury, it was turned down by 27 directors before Adrian Lyne took on the project.

In fact, some films that you may think of as slam-dunks, were initially anything but.  For instance, George Lucas’ Star Wars.  In 1973 he directed American Graffiti, which was a huge success.  He soon came up with a proposal for Star Wars, which was rejected by Universal and United Artists.

It was eventually taken by Alan Horn, whom at the time was head of 20th Century Fox.  Interestingly, it seemed that Horn didn’t quite understand what it is that Lucas was trying to do with the film, but apparently was willing to invest in George Lucas more than the project itself.

Raiders Of Lost Ark was originally rejected by every studio in Hollywood before Paramount took on the project.  The reticence of the studios was mainly because they thought that it was too expensive to produce, despite the fact that it was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by George Lucas and Phillip Kaufman, with a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan.

Though the problems didn’t end there.  Spielberg had recently directed 1941, which failed at the box office.  It was a period piece, as was Raiders, and Paramount was reluctant to see him work on another.  At the end of the day they allowed him to work on it despite their doubts, though he had to take measures to keep costs down.

When you consider that American Graffiti, Star Wars and Raiders Of The Lost Ark were almost rejected because studio executives didn’t understand them, then I don’t feel too bad about misreading the public appetite for Maleficent.

3 thoughts on “What Separates A Successful Movie From One That Isn’t

  1. Talking purely monetary. Its a real tricky business. Even predicting a films opening weekend numbers are difficult. Imagine being a risk assessor at Disney or Warner Bros. they must be pulling their hair out each day. Not a job i’d envy 😀

    1. The thing is, monetarily is the most reliable gauge there is.

      There are many instances of films that failed at the box office initially, such as Tron, getting sequels, but that’s a particularly dangerous game because you don’t know if anyone beyond the audience for the original film is even interested in seeing it.

      And you can’t necessarily go by how the fanboy and girl contingent feels because, while they may like your presentation at whatever-con, it doesn’t necessarily translate directly to box-office receipts.

      The best example to illustrate that would be Pacific Rim (which was a movie I love, by the way). Fanboy reaction to the presentation at Comic-con implied huge domestic box office.

      Which vanished somewhere between the Con and when the film was released. Luckily, international performance was so strong (three-fourths of its profits were made internationally) that it made a sequel likely.

      1. Its the only quantifiable way of measuring a films success. Except maybe awards but that’s too vague.

        Fanboys and girls represent 1% of the cinema going audience. You really need to hook everyone else.

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