We all mess up sometimes. That’s life, and no one’s perfect. What’s important is to learn from our mistakes.
Looking back on 2015, Hollywood could do the same. This being the last week of December, there’s no time like the present to survey the year’s most catastrophic misfires and find the teachable moments within “Mortdecai,” “Aloha,” and a handful of other movies no one bothered seeing.
Four years after the HBO series coasted on fumes into its eighth and final season, someone had the bright idea to turn “Entourage” into a movie. After all, it had the key ingredients of supposed surefire success: It was geared towards young men, and the title was a recognizable entity, which is always a safer bet for producers and financiers. The show’s creator, Doug Ellin, even managed to get the whole cast back together for another glimpse of outlandishly narcissistic Queens transplants living large in Hollywood while doing as little as possible.
Alas, recognition and interest turned out to be two very different things. The weekend it came out, “Entourage” wasn’t the box office winner. It wasn’t even the runner-up. The No. 1 movie, the comedy “Spy” starring Melissa McCarthy, brought in nearly three times as much as “Entourage’s” fourth-place debut of $10.3 million.
THE LESSON: Watching a bunch of douche-bros act like repellent, self-centered misogynists isn’t as entertaining as it was in 2006. Also, and this bears repeating until Hollywood catches on: Hello! Women buy movie tickets.
– “Jupiter Ascending”
Hollywood is famously risk-averse (see above), so it was a shame that one of few high-profile original movies ended up tanking so spectacularly. The February release was written and directed by the Wachowskis, who shot to fame with “The Matrix” movies, and “Jupiter Ascending” had a solid cast, including Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum and Eddie Redmayne, who was concurrently lobbying for a best actor Oscar that he went on to win. Remarkably, his terrible performance in “Jupiter” didn’t hurt his chances – probably because of how few people actually saw the sci-fi adventure.
The movie, which reportedly cost $176 million to make, brought in a little more than $47 million domestically. “Jupiter” turned out to be just the latest in a series of underwhelming films the Wachowskis have put out, including “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas.” The siblings are starting to look like one-hit wonders (or at least single-franchise wonders).
THE LESSON: It’s not smart to entrust a big-budget blockbuster to a writer-director team with a shaky history. In fact, it may not be smart to trust anyone outside the Marvel and “Star Wars” universes with that kind of budget.
See also: “Chappie,” the robot movie by Neill Blomkamp, another filmmaker who burst onto the scene in a major way with “District 9,” only to churn out increasingly expensive movies that are also increasingly unwatchable.
– “Steve Jobs”
Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle and Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin teamed up with Oscar-nominated actor Michael Fassbender for this impressionistic interpretation of Walter Isaacson’s biography of the Apple founder. For a moment there, it seemed like the drama might score in a major way. The reviews were rosy and, in a limited release, the movie had an auspicious per-screen average of $130,250. But the wide release proved a lot less fruitful. The movie didn’t even make back its $30 million budget.
THE LESSON: All the hype, positive reviews and heady interviews with Aaron Sorkin in the world will not overcome the fact that a Steve Jobs biopic had just been made. The Ashton Kutcher-starrer “Jobs” may not have had the credentials of the Boyle-Sorkin film but none of that mattered, proving once again that when two similar movies are released in quick succession – think “Capote” and “Infamous” – it pays to be first.
Johnny Depp hammed it up as a mustachioed dandy in this aggressively unfunny farce that had critics predicting it would be the worst movie of 2015 way back in January. (Eleven months later, it’s definitely up there.) The movie cost $60 million to make and brought in less than $8 million domestically; its debut weekend was one of the worst of Depp’s career.
THE LESSON: It’s time for Depp to retire his over-the-top character shtick. He earned praise later in the year for doing a drama – portraying real-life human being James “Whitey” Bulger in “Black Mass.” But even in that movie, he ended up under layers of prosthetics, as if he can’t act without the aid of layer upon layer of make-up.
We could all see the failure of Cameron Crowe’s romantic dramedy coming after the leaked Sony emails hit the Internet with tales of delays, reshoots and a “ridiculous” script (according to Amy Pascal). Pascal was right – the movie was absurd and checked all the boxes for a stereotypical Crowe movie: the broken man who needs to be rescued by an adorable woman, the precocious kid with an encyclopedic knowledge of random minutiae, the rousing musical interlude. Neither Bradley Cooper nor Emma Stone could rescue the mess from flopping entirely.
THE LESSON: Crowe needs to try a new direction. We’ve changed as a society, but the writer-director of “Say Anything,” “Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire” keeps going back to the same well. The Lloyd Dobbler routine simply isn’t working in 2015.
– “Fantastic Four”
Superhero movies are usually a sure thing, but studios may think twice before unleashing just any old comic onto the big screen after the failure of this reboot. There’s bad and then there’s bad – as in when the director of a movie takes to social media to warn people about how awful it’s going to be. That’s what Josh Trank did when he whine-tweeted: “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
There had been rumblings of difficulties on the set, not to mention gossip about Trank being relieved of his duties during the home stretch of reshoots and editing. Whoever deserves the blame, there’s plenty to go around. The movie made back a little more than half of its $120 million production budget domestically. And that $56 million take pales next to the $155 million domestic draw ($188 million with inflation) of the much-derided 2005 version of “Fantastic Four” with a bleach blonde Jessica Alba.
THE LESSON: An unhappy set makes for titillating gossip but very bad movies. More importantly, superheroes are not infallible.
Disney has had a very good year, what with the latest “Star Wars” installment, Pixar’s “Inside Out” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” from subsidiary Marvel Studios.
But tentpole “Tomorrowland” fell way short of expectations. It had the right ingredients: George Clooney in a starring role opposite next-big-thing Britt Robertson; Brad Bird, the man behind “Ratatouille” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” directing; “Lost” showrunner Damon Lindelof on script duty. But none of it was enough to elevate a visually arresting movie to anything more than eye candy. The story was dull and meandering. And the failure was serious: Domestically, the movie pulled in less than half of its $190 million budget. The movie did better overseas, but not nearly enough to break even.
THE LESSON: George Clooney’s star power goes far on the red carpet but not at the box office. Not that Clooney is to blame, really. The truth is that big-name actors just simply aren’t enough to get people to theaters anymore.
See also: A slew of bombs featuring A-listers, including “Burnt,” “By the Sea,” “Hot Pursuit,” “Our Brand Is Crisis” and “Secret in Their Eyes.”
Ahead of its release, the Peter Pan origin story got the most buzz for its casting of white actress Rooney Mara in the role of Native American princess Tiger Lily, but that was hardly the only reason the movie brought in only $15 million its opening weekend – a tenth of its production budget.
The biggest issue may have been that it didn’t really look like a childrens’s movie. Only 23 percent of the audience that went to see it in the theater was under 18, according to Hollywood Reporter. You can see why. It was a very dark take on Wonderland, with Hugh Jackman’s villainous Blackbeard enslaving and murdering children, having them mine for pixie dust then walk the plank off his floating ship and into a deep gorge. Family friendly movies don’t generally have people shooting each other, either. Sure, the victims were transformed into clouds of colorful dust, but it was still pretty disturbing.
THE LESSON: Trying to cater to too many different groups rarely pays off. Pick a niche and stick with it. In other words, there’s no good reason to have a massive group of pirates singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” even if it will momentarily delight some kid’s grunge-loving dad.
See also: “In the Heart of the Sea,” the Ron Howard-directed drama that could have been a serious “Revenant”-style survival tale, but instead tried to reel in a younger demographic with Chris Hemsworth and over-the-top computer-generated action. It didn’t work.
– “Rock the Kasbah”
Everyone’s favorite wacky uncle, Bill Murray, starred in this comedy about a has-been music manager trying to score big with a new pop star while touring in Afghanistan. The movie, which looked more like an arthouse release, nevertheless opened wide in more than 2,000 theaters. That was a mistake. It made an appalling $731 per screen. “Kasbah” was the 13th most lucrative movie the week it opened and earned less than the second-week earnings of “Woodlawn,” a movie you’ve probably never heard of that starred C. Thomas Howell and Sean Astin.
THE LESSON: Everyone loves real-life Bill Murray – the one who photobombs couple’s engagement shoots and plays kickball with random strangers. But his antics are less exciting on the big screen.
– “Jem and the Holograms”
If you thought “Rock the Kasbah” did horribly, at least it performed better than this teen-centric throwback that debuted the same week and brought in an even more dismal per-screen average of $570. The movie was based on the cartoon television series from the 1980s but had little resemblance to the original, transforming a story about a music executive who moonlights as a pop star into the tale of a young singer who alienates her friends after hitting it big.
THE LESSON: There are limits to our love for nostalgia, and any studio rebooting a beloved cartoon should consider staying true to more than just the title.