Back before JJ Abrams felt his disturbance in the Force and Lucasfilm were still looking for somebody to helm the upcoming new Star Wars: Episode VII (as it was still called then), Brad Bird was right at the top of their list. A lifelong Star Wars fan himself and coming off the hugely awesome 4th Mission: Impossible flick, Bird seemed like the perfect fit, and Lucasfilm thought so too, offering him the gig. But after hemming and hawing a bit, Bird surprisingly turned them down. As much as he loved Star Wars, he was already neck deep in a passion project, a brand new original movie that he and Damon Lindelof had cooked up and felt very strongly about. The movie was Tomorrowland. He should have stuck to Star Wars.
Despite Bird’s nearly flawless track record (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), an A-list headliner in George Clooney, and a Disneyland sanctioned original hook that ties into one of its most famous attractions, Tomorrowland has been a failure. Critics drubbed it for looking pretty but not offering much of anything else, and audiences seemingly felt the same way as people just didn’t pitch up to go see it (even locally).
Since its opening a few weeks ago, it’s been scraping together some dollars for a current worldwide gross just shy of $170 million. Now, that’s no small chunk of change, but unfortunately still nowhere near enough. According to a report from THR, the film had a production budget of $180 million with an estimated additional $150 million going to marketing. Even granting it an additional $20 million income from a couple of smaller international markets where it has yet to open, Disney are looking at a massive $140 million shortfall. Ouch.
This stings twice as hard since a few years back we saw another Pixar alum in Andrew Stanton costing Disney approximately $200 million when his John Carter failed to do good business at the box office as well. As THR points out, at least the $1.35 billion from Avengers: Age of Ultron, the unexpected $532 million from Cinderella (which only cost $59 million) and the potential big earnings from the upcoming Inside Out, Ant-Man and sure-to-be-successful-no-matter-what Star Wars: The Force Awakens will help those Disney execs to sleep easier at night this time.
But despite Disney’s ability to absorb this loss financially, there’s no denying the impact a high profile failure like this will have. Already the internet is littered with editorials either about how audiences don’t want original, risky films anymore or that they want it, but Hollywood will now stop trying to make them and stick to the sequels and remakes that proliferate the market currently.
Personally, I don’t think either argument is correct. If you make a good movie – the “good” part is rather important – tell people about it, and try your best to ensure that it doesn’t have a stupidly inflated budget, it will (almost always) do well. Medium-budget movies are almost a rarity in Hollywood nowadays, where everything is either a tentpole or a low-budget indie, but highly successful movies like Melissa McCarthy’s Spy are proving the viability of the model. Hell, producer extroardinaire Jason Blum’s entire hugely successful Blumhouse Productions filmography is predicated on the approach of relatively tiny investments equating to relatively huge returns.
One of the reasons John Carter ended up being a box office dud was Disney allowing Stanton, who had never done a live-action feature film before and was used to the approach of constantly reworking scenes on animated movies like Wall-E and Finding Nemo, to rack up costly reshoot bills that bloated the film’s budget so much that nothing short of total box office domination was ever going to be good enough. That all or nothing approach has to change, but good luck telling that to a Hollywood that is still very much stuck in their old boy ways.
Last Updated: June 12, 2015