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There are a lot of reasons why films flop. Some are ahead of their time, others are under-appreciated until later and many, of course, are just plain bad. Often times, there’s nothing about the movie itself that causes it to tank. Rather, it’s a problem at the marketing level that dooms the film to failure. Let’s take a look at a few of the more notable, recent marketing flops according to the collective genius of the Popdose staff.
Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction classic Solaris is an odd duck, especially among its contemporaries in the genre. It’s more contemplative and human than epic and flashy. At its core, it’s the story of a man haunted by his regrets, literally and figuratively, while faced with the more unfathomable aspects of the cosmos. Andrei Tarkovsky took a crack at adapting it in 1972, resulting in a film that’s as beautiful and opaque as much of his original work. Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 version is also rather slick and affecting, but it crashed and burned when 20th Century Fox misled audiences with a pair of trailers that either made Solaris look like a sci-fi horror movie or a romantic drama in space. The attempt to frame it as a broad-appeal piece cost Fox tens of millions of dollars.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
A movie with no reason to exist beyond the idiotic Zen perfection of its title, Snakes on a Plane likely would have come and gone with little fanfare had the gods of the Internet not beheld its name in production and seen that it was good. Keyboards clacked across the globe with breathless imaginings of what awesomeness such a movie could deliver. The filmmakers took note, retrofitting a PG-13 thriller into a hard R replete with gratuitous nudity and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson doing his best Samuel L. Jackson imitation. Nothing could have lived up to such hype, and Snakes on a Plane ended up being a lot more fun to fantasize about than to watch.
John Carter (2012)
John Carter suffered from many handicaps, the first being it’s studio and director. With Disney as the name above it, and Pixar director Andrew Stanton below as the director (in his first live-action stint, no less), there were certain expectations that could be held for the film — that it would be family-oriented and not as sexy as the original material would have allotted. But who would have known anything about the source material from the advertising? Basically what you knew from it was that beefcake Taylor Kitsch was the star, he played a character called John Carter, there was a desert involved, the commercials had sci-fi-ish desert cruisers hovering around and throwing halos, occasionally creatures would jump up and swing at you and there was a weird looking alien that sounded like Willem Dafoe (because it was voiced by Willem Dafoe). It looked like a mess. And that’s the biggest problem with it all. The film was marketed in such a way that it tried to wrest the audiences of both the drippy, sweaty, sparkly Twilight crowd and the geeky ComicCon set, never honing the message to declare either one or the other into being, only throwing pin-ups onto the screen.
Observe and Report (2009)
You’d think the marketing geniuses at Warner Bros. would’ve known better than to position Observe and Report as basically the exact same movie as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which had come out just three months earlier. For one thing, it wasn’t the exact same movie—instead of a brain-dead Hollywood action comedy a la Mall Cop, starring the terminally inoffensive Kevin James, Observe and Report was a pitch-black satire from Seth Rogan and writer-director Jody Hill, co-creator of HBO’s Eastbound and Down. But sure enough, the trailers arrived with a zippy retro-rock soundtrack and lots of mall-cop hijinks clearly aimed at positioning Rogan’s character as a lovable buffoon, rather than the power-tripping sociopath he portrayed (rather well) in the actual film. Bad word of mouth followed and Observe and Report became the lowest grossing film of Rogan’s career.
Many Films Starring Jason Bateman (ongoing?)
Arrested Development placed Jason Bateman into the group of present-day cool comedy actors, and he’s starred in some solid comedies, such as Paul, Juno, and Horrible Bosses. Two other recent Bateman movies were marketed as riotous comedies, because Jason Bateman was in them, but they were not comedies, in as far as they weren’t particularly funny and dealt with heavy emotional themes in dramatic, even ponderous ways. From the posters and ads for The Switch, you’d be left to think it was a wacky comedy about the hilarious fallout when a guy switches some anonymously donated sperm with his own. It’s really quite a sensitive movie about unrequited love, and how it’s difficult for males, especially sensitive, awkward males, to grow up without dads. The second half of the movie is a basically a love story between Bateman and the awkward kid who is his biological son.
The Change-Up, meanwhile, was presented as the latest wacky body-switch movie, but with dudes, a Freaky Friday for bros, bro! It is not this. Well, it is for a while, as two friends pee in a fountain during an electrical storm and both wish for the other’s life, one sarcastically. It proceeds with the usual body-switch stuff, the waking up and trying to figure out what happened, and awkwardly trying to “pass” and so forth. Then it takes a bizarre turn, when Ryan Reynolds, in Bateman’s body, has to save Bateman’s marriage that has been in deep decline due to workaholism and neglect. Not cool, bro, said everyone.