C'mon Hollywood: Why do good movies fail?
No doubt many of you have already seen Tom Cruise’s EDGE OF TOMORROW and the majority who have seemed to walk away feeling that it was a solid, fun, and rousing sci-fi flick that hit all the right notes for a successful summer entry. It's not going to win an Academy Award, but it's damn fine entertainment. However, that sentiment doesn’t seem to have trickled out to the masses, which have managed to avoid it at all costs in favor of teen romance, CGI animation, a live-action Disney villainess, and a buddy comedy. That’s not to say that any of those films don’t deserve their success, but it leaves me scratching my head as to why a high-concept sci-fi actioner starring Tom Cruise that has a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes is just barely treading box office water.
Of course, these days box office can mean a few different things (and is a topic worth it’s own column at that). In the past we’ve equated successful numbers with the domestic take, but with overseas box office growing so rapidly and with often greater numbers for many films, that dynamic has changed. EDGE OF TOMORROW has made $181 million overseas so far, compared to a paltry $56 million domestically by comparison. Now, it’s no mystery that Tom Cruise has a huge international following, but even with that taken into consideration the domestic bump is still underwhelming. While not an outright flop by any means, the film is an underperformer (especially with a $178 million price tag) and even with the great word of mouth is unlikely to make a huge leap before its box office tenure is over.
This isn’t the first time a good (or even great) movie has failed at the box office. DREDD, SERENITY, FIGHT CLUB, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, THE IRON GIANT, CINDERELLA MAN, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and anything Mike Judge directs are prime examples. Even classics like THE WIZARD OF OZ, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, and CITIZEN KANE were considered box office duds that later went on to be classics of cinema. All of these films and many more like them received mostly glowing reviews and positive word-of-mouth, but none of that seemed to matter to the movie-going public at the time of release.
As we all know, Hollywood is not in the business of making movies for charity and thereby wants the most return for their product. Fortunately, there are filmmakers out there that are more concerned with simply making a great film, but the commerce will always be a part of the system. However, it becomes harder and harder to think outside the box and take a risk on something original when the money is filtering to a lot of the “canned goods” that come from the “sure thing” wheelhouse. In this case, you can plan on seeing more young adult adaptations and less non-franchised sci-fi fare in the future. When it comes time to greenlight another sci-fi flick, either original or adapted, eyes will look to EDGE OF TOMORROW as a reminder of that risk and cast a large shadow of doubt, both on the genre and its star.
So, why don’t people want to see EDGE OF TOMORROW? Or, more importantly, why are they choosing other films over it? Are people still harboring something against Cruise because he jumped on Oprah’s couch and has a non-traditional religion? Is it the sci-fi genre? Does the plot look that hard to follow? Does it look too cerebral when compared to the competition? Does Emily Blunt look too hot to handle (Oh, she is, I assure you)? It’s near impossible to say for sure, but there’s definitely a factor that’s keeping the masses away from it, just as they stayed away from other well-reviewed, much lauded fare that fizzled from view only to find life and appreciation as time passed. But there’s still that pestering question of WHY hanging in the air. It’s easy to understand why a truly bad movie flops (although, on the other hand it can be just as hard to understand why a bad movie succeeds), but it’s baffling when trying to piece together why folks avoid the good stuff, particularly something as user friendly as EDGE OF TOMORROW.
We love to call general audiences “ignorant” and not adept at comprehending greatness when it stares them in the face, but I think that’s an easy write off (even if true to some degree). Perhaps the experience of going to the movies is to blame, as rowdy or uncomfortable crowds can sour just about any film, not to mention the average moviegoer being more choosy in what they see. Whereas film geeks see almost everything, the average moviegoer generally goes for the “safe” flicks, which usually equate to the known franchises and stars (probably one of the biggest reasons that Sandler still has a career at that). Or maybe it IS Cruise. He’s hovered around the $80 million spot for his last five lead-role films (minus MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, which did a healthy $209.3 million domestic) and EDGE OF TOMORROW looks to be joining that club as well.
We don’t see any of the money these films make, so in that respect it doesn’t matter to us. However, the lack of confidence in new films that are generally considered to be good is disheartening, as we know that poor box office can be the death knell to future films of the same ilk. There’s an ebb and flow to good films performing badly and thankfully most of the deserving ones find a niche as a classic or cult favorite, which can often overshadow a bad stay at the box office, but it doesn’t lessen the blow when we have to endure more and more “standard” fare as a result. Here’s to hoping the good films continue to find their way home (and, y'know, actually get made), even if that’s many years later in your living room or on a host of best of lists across the Internet.