Warner Bros 2015 Movie Slate

Object Lessons in Box Office Failure

Part I of a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office

Financial data sourced from publicly available information

Movies fail because the story doesn’t work. 

For our purposes, a story works if the movie succeeds at the box office.

Critical acclaim and winning awards is great but if people aren’t lining up at the box office then something’s wrong with the story.

Having wonderful characters, distinctive dialogue and a meaningful theme might get your movie into film festivals but it’s not enough to get you an audience.

Since story is everything, the screenplay should be everything. After all, the screenplay is the blueprint for the movie isn’t it?

Not quite.

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Why Movies Fail at the Box Office

The One Thing That Makes All the Difference

Part II of a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office

Financial data sourced from publicly available information

A movie’s financial success or failure depends on a single thing that happens to the main character in the first act. That one thing determines whether the story that follows will attract audiences or not, and it determines whether the movie will succeed at the box office or not.

That’s a pretty outrageous claim, isn’t it?  We all know there are many factors that influence a movie’s success, not just something that happens to the main character.  For a start, the star and the director are far more important, right?

No, that is definitely not right.

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Jupiter Ascending

Why It Didn’t Work

Part III of a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office 

Financial data sourced from publicly available information

Movies that don’t follow the Story Pattern lose money.

The Story Pattern has a number of elements. The most important is the 1st act plot point because it creates a problem for the main character and sets off a series of obstacles, conflict & jeopardy the character must confront to solve the problem.

To launch the Story Pattern effectively the problem has to come packaged with an antagonist, a physical goal and an emotional or character goal.

We saw how the 1st act plot points in The Terminator and Alien generated a Story Pattern with solid box office results but in Gladiator the 1st act plot point was misused

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Pan

Why It Didn’t Work

Part IV of a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office

Financial data sourced from publicly available information

In Pan, an ill-conceived attempt at a 1st act plot point is when Peter is kidnapped and then locked away in a prison.

It’s not a viable 1st act plot point because being kidnapped and put in prison doesn’t create a problem for him.

The logical physical goal when someone is imprisoned is to escape and return home. But this isn’t what Peter wants to do.  Of course not.  Why would he want to go back to the orphanage? To another prison?

Instead, he suddenly decides to find his mother.

So rather than creating a problem for him, the kidnapping frees him to go

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Run All Night

Why It Didn’t Work

Part V of a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office

Financial data sourced from publicly available information

Reviews of Run All Night claim the film is better than Unknown and Non-Stop, two earlier thrillers made by the same director and also starring Liam Neeson.

Audiences didn’t agree: Unknown achieved a CBR of 4.4, and Non-Stop 4.5. Both films were profitable. Run All Night has a CBR of 1.4 and lost money.

Like Jupiter Ascending and Pan, the flaw is the 1st act plot point: the event that creates a problem for the main character.

But who is the main character? Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) or his son, Michael?

One character has the problem but it’s the other character who tries to solve it. That

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In the Heart of the Sea

Why It Didn’t Work

Part VI of a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office

Financial data sourced from publicly available information

Creating a Story Pattern for a movie seems simple enough: create a problem for the main character with an inbuilt antagonist, then give the character a physical goal that might solve the problem and have the antagonist create obstacles.

The clash between the character and antagonist will generate enough dramatic conflict to keep audiences engaged until the problem is solved in a thrilling climax.

Seems simple but In The Heart of the Sea couldn’t pull it off.

The movie cost $100M, took only $94M at the box office and has a CBR of .94.

If those figures are anywhere near accurate

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Our Brand Is Crisis

Why It Didn’t Work

Part VII of a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office

Financial data sourced from publicly available information

Our Brand Is Crisis cost $28M, took $8.5M at the box office and has a CBR of only 0.30.

The flaw with the movie is that the 1st act plot point happened off-screen and six years before the movie started.

Jane Bodine is a political strategist whose career bombed when in the midst of a mayoral political campaign she was wrongly blamed for planting a false story about the opposing candidate’s daughter being a drug addict. The daughter committed suicide and Jane hasn’t been the same since.

Six years and four lost elections later, Jane is hiding away in

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