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.

Here’s the problem: an engineer can look at a blueprint for a building and tell you if it’s going to collapse or not. The blueprint for a movie doesn’t have the same authority. That’s because there are accepted engineering principles about why buildings collapse but in the movie business the accepted principle is that nobody knows anything.

Which is why so many movies start production with a flawed blueprint and why the 2015 Warner Bros slate of movies is such a great object lesson for why movies fail at the box office.

The losses on their bigger budget movies like Jupiter Ascending, Pan, In The Heart of the Sea and The Man from Uncle probably ran to hundreds of millions. The lower budget movies like Run All Night, Our Brand Is Crisis and Black Mass must have also suffered losses and some of the movies they distributed, like Point Break, Hot Pursuit and Entourage, would have contributed to the financial damage as well.

We all make mistakes, but the real issue is this: could the box office failures have been avoided?

The bad news is every single one of the failed movies has exactly the same flaw.  The good news is every single one of the failed movies has exactly the same flaw – and they all could have been fixed.

The flaw in these movies isn’t what reviewers and critics write about.  And it isn’t what development executives and script consultants give notes about either – obviously, otherwise the screenplays would have been fixed before production.

The flaw is about the one thing that’s always there in hit movies, and always missing in movies that fail.

The following articles are a kind of engineering report on five of the failed movies: Jupiter Ascending, Pan, Run All Night, In The Heart of the Sea and Our Brand Is Crisis.  These movies represent five different genres across different budget ranges but they all failed because their blueprint didn’t have the one thing.

The first article looks at how the one thing worked in some hit movies and then we look at each of the five movies in detail.

Next up: Why Movies Fail at the Box Office – The One Thing That Makes All The Difference

This is a multi-part series on why movies fail at the box office:

Part I: Warner Bros 2015

Part II: Creating Hit Movies – The One Thing That Makes All the Difference

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


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