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 self-imposed seclusion, disillusioned and depressed.
When she’s approached to come on board as strategist for a candidate in the Bolivian presidential elections she’s not at all interested until she learns that Pat Candy is the strategist working for the opposing candidate.
That’s the thing that gets the story going: Pat Candy is the one who planted the story all those years ago and blamed her. He was working for the other candidate and when the story broke, he won and she lost. Candy plays real dirty.
The movie is 100 minutes long. We don’t learn about that thing that happened until 55 minutes into the movie. We don’t see it and we don’t feel it because it’s told to us in a throwaway lone of dialogue.
Nevertheless, it’s the event that drives the story. It’s why Jane took the job in Bolivia: to get even with Pat Candy by beating him at his own game. He plays dirty and she’s going to play even dirtier.
The thing – Pat Candy planting the story and blaming her – is what the movie uses as a 1st act plot point. It’s the event that changed her life and six years later she has an opportunity to do something about it.
That approach to telling the story is very cumbersome and is one reason the movie failed, but putting that aside, is it a viable 1st act plot point now? Six years later?
It did create a problem for Jane: she lost the next four elections to Candy and then gave up on her career. But what’s her physical goal now, six years later? What is she going to do to solve her problem?
Well, she’s going to get even with Candy. He’s her antagonist. She’s going to try to beat him in the upcoming elections. That’s her physical goal.
Okay, but what are the severe consequences if she loses? What’s at stake? What’s the jeopardy? Where’s the dramatic conflict?
Actually, nothing and nowhere. She’ll simply be back where she started because all the severe consequences have already happened to her.
She got depressed, started drinking, spent six months in a psychiatric clinic and then she gave up, lived in the mountains making pottery. All the jeopardy has already happened.
That’s the flaw with the movie: The 1st act plot point is no longer viable. If the story was about a woman who was blamed for something she didn’t do and when her career bombs she suffers a nervous breakdown, has problems with alcohol and then struggles to get her life back with all the accompanying obstacles and conflict, that might have worked.
But that’s not this movie.
In this movie, Jane has a physical goal, certainly: she wants to win the election for her client; she has an antagonist: Pat Candy; and she has an emotional goal: she wants revenge.
But she doesn’t have a problem with severe consequences if she doesn’t win the election – so there’s no dramatic conflict.
While there’s some mildly amusing moments as Jane and Pat Candy battle each other with who can come up with the dirtiest campaign trick, there’s nothing really at stake for Jane except her already battered ego.
Which is why Sandra Bullock fans got the word out fast and audiences stayed away in droves.
Jupiter Ascending, Pan, Run All Night, In the Heart of the Sea and Our Brand Is Crisis all tried to have a 1st act plot point in some way or another.
In most cases, the 1st act plot point wasn’t viable. In other cases it wasn’t used properly to develop a Story Pattern based on the problem created by the 1st act plot point, but in all cases the movies failed because the real function of the 1st act plot point was not understood and not properly implemented.
The flaw in movies that fail always trace back to the event that’s used as the 1st act plot point. If the 1st act plot point isn’t viable, the story won’t work. Audiences instinctively know if a story works or not and their instinct is expressed at the box office.
This is a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office:
Part I: Warner Bros 2015
Part III: Jupiter Ascending
Part IV: Pan
Part V: Run All Night
Part VI: In the Heart of the Sea
Part VII: Our Brand Is Crisis