Results are in for the box office weekend that was, and there’s a few really interesting things that happened financially over the weekend. The Boss Baby grossed $49 million more than it had any right, proving that America’s love of babies in funny outfits is truly an endless resource. Juggernaut Beauty and the Beast continued to thrive in second place, and is on track to easily make over $500 million domestically. And Power Rangers dropped like a rock in its sophomore frame, especially compared to strong holdovers like Logan, Kong: Skull Island, and (still, amazingly) Get-Out.
But the real talk of the box office this week? It has to go to the performance of Ghost in the Shell, the much buzzed about adaptation of the 1995 anime classic. The film has been put under the microscope in the last few weeks, but apparently all that talk didn’t convert to dollars at the multiplexes. Ranking third for the week and making just $19 million, Ghost in the Shell couldn’t measure up to even the most pessimistic of pre-release tracking. And with such a low opening, the film is going to struggle to even get to $60 million in the U.S. With an estimated cost of $110 million, there’s no other way to phrase it: stateside, at least, Ghost in the Shell is a massive bomb.
And you should’t be surprised by that. Ghost in the Shell has had all the makings of a box office bomb since the first time it was an announced, and the tea leaves of its failure were pretty easy to read. From order of least important factor to most important, here are all the reasons I believe that Ghost in the Shell was destined to bomb.
1) Scarlett Johansson was the only “big” actor — and movie stars can’t sell movies on their own anymore
That has been a rotating phrase peppered through every “why did this movie fail?” analysis in the last few years…but that doesn’t make it any less true. Barring the rare exception, movie stars don’t sell movies anymore, not on the strength of their name alone, at least. Having a movie star will never hurt you, and will often times help you, but it isn’t the only step a film needs to have to turn a profit. Gone are the days where Tom Cruise could be in a movie and that would be enough to get people to see it — his own bombs like Rock of Ages, Edge of Tomorrow, and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back prove that.
But you know what I think CAN sell a movie? A strong ensemble of actors. Because the stock of a single actor is at the lowest its ever been in Hollywood, most films will cram a bunch of them all together in hopes of getting people’s attention. Look at the Fast and Furious series. Look at The Avengers, or Batman v. Superman. Most films need to be occupied by more than ONE notable name, and Ghost in the Shell frankly fails that.
Which isn’t a slight against Johansson, or even the supporting cast. Without Johansson, the film would have opened even lower, and even the most stacked of supporting casts can led to a box office bomb. But all I know is that I often have to sell movies to friends and family by one famous question: “who is in it?” And in the case of Ghost in the Shell, my answer would be “Scarlett Johansson and, um, well…the guy who played Mason Verger in Hannibal. No, not in Season 3, in Season 2…yes, before he fed his face to dogs.” All I’m saying is that even Lucy, a film primarily sold as a Scarlett Johannson vehicle (and rightly so), featured acting icon Morgan Freeman, and was not afraid to use him liberally in the marketing. There is no actor of Freeman’s stature in Ghost in the Shell, and the film probably could have used it to fill out the bench.
Of course, the obvious rebuttal to all this is that the supporting cast is made up pretty much entirely of Asian people, a decision I am honestly pretty mixed about. It’s great that the whole film isn’t entirely white people going on anime adventures, but doesn’t the Asian cast surrounding famous white person Scarlett Johannson stick out like a sore thumb? Doesn’t it make the whitewashing even more obvious? Also, the majority of the supporting cast being Asian would have been fine box-office wise if we had bigger Asian American stars in Hollywood, but that’s a whole other issue for another, less box office focused article. Let’s just say Hollywood has an institutionalized problem that will take some fundamental changes at the core of the system to fix, and leave it at that.
BUT NOT REALLY, because my next point pretty much goes hand in hand with that last part.
2) The whitewashing controversy tainted the film
Yes, this is only number two on this list, simply because most general audiences probably have little idea about the online outrage that has dominated conversation around the movie for us here in the virtual world. I’m not saying it wasn’t a contributing factor to Ghost in the Shell’s failure (it certainly was), but even if the controversy had never existed, and an Asian woman had played the main character instead of Scarlett Johansson, here’s the truth — the film probably wouldn’t have done much better, at least from a box office standpoint. As the other points on this list will address, the film had grander problems in terms of breaking into the mainstream than the race of its main character.
All that being said…the whitewashing debate certainly didn’t help the film along. It was terrible PR, and it made the conversation around the film always skew negative from the get-go. Wired posted an article earlier today claiming that the film never had a chance due to the controversy that surrounded it, and while I think they might give the internet backlash a little too much credit, you also can’t deny that the film was never allowed to be anything BUT a whitewashed anime adaptation. And no matter how many ads Paramount threw at the controversy, they could never outrun it, primarily because…
3) The marketing promised a pretty, but empty experience
Ultimately, I would say the ads for Ghost in the Shell weren’t terrible — they were well edited and memorable enough, with some cool looking shots and effects thrown in for good measure. But what the trailer did so wrong was what so many trailers are guilty of doing nowadays: they don’t actually say what the movie is about. Because, as much as I follow film news and marketing (which is to say a lot), I honestly had no idea what the story of Ghost in the Shell was.
I knew the broad strokes, sure: Scarlett Johansson plays a robot of some sort, and she was investigating…something. Cut to a million shots of slow-mo action scenes, set across a future backdrop. Ghost in the Shell, everyone: as far as the trailers told me, it was a movie about a robot who moves slowly in the future.
It must be a difficult task for trailer creators to strike a good balance between telling too much and not telling enough, but that doesn’t excuse the vagueness that peppered the entirety of GitS’s marketing campaign. Believe it or not, people sometimes need more than promises of pretty visuals to get them into the theater. From the trailers, there was no compelling reason why I NEEDED to see Ghost in the Shell, and if the box office receipts are any indication, the majority of audiences agreed with me.
4) The buzz surrounding the actual film wasn’t strong enough to overwhelm the shortcomings
For a cinephile like myself, this is the deciding faster. I’ll excuse a not very exciting cast for the hope that some unknowns could end up surprising me. I’ll chalk up the vague trailers to marketing not knowing how to sell such a distinct, special film. Hell, I’m even the kind of guy who can power through the taint of a racebending controversy if the finished product itself meets me halfway a little, and convinces me that the whole thing was simply overblown. But Ghost in the Shell, unfortunately, did none of those things.
Yeah, the reviews might not be the worst in the world, but they were still pretty flaccid. And a lot of the film critics and journalists whose opinion I trust pretty much hated the film, leaving me left with the decision that paying $10 to see the movie would be a waste of money and time. And I’m a sci-fi fan who has watched a lot of anime — in theory I’m your target audience here, Paramount, and if the film was actually good, I still would have went to see it, all other niggles be damned. But word-of-mouth said the movie wasn’t good, and that convinced me right way that seeing it in theaters wasn’t worth it. You can bet there are tens of thousands of others that also came to this conclusion.
Yes, bad buzz can kill a film — unless it’s already a well-established, well-liked brand. Which is easily where Ghost in the Shell made the biggest mistake.
5) The Ghost in the Shell franchise isn’t big enough to support a blockbuster franchise (not on its own, at least)
This was the tantamount mistake that happened with the creation of the film: studio executives convinced themselves that there was a large enough “brand awareness” for Ghost in the Shell that they could rely on it solely for success. Like has been the case for video game movies time and time again, Hollywood convinced themselves that they could call upon a niche market, make a movie for said niche market, and suddenly have a massive blockbuster on their hands. It worked for comic book movies, after all, so why not anime?
That’s the kind of hubris that many studios have fallen under in this franchise-heavy cinematic landscape, and one that they will continue to fall for again and again. Paramount was hoping that they could rely on the brand name of Ghost in the Shell to get people to watch the movie, even IF the cast wasn’t that well known, and the whitewashing controversy made people mad, and the trailers didn’t really say what the movie was really about, and the pre-release buzz around the entire project was pretty poor — none of that would matter if the brand brought people in. Once again, just look at the release of last week’s Power Rangers — pretty much everything I just wrote about Ghost in the Shell can be applied to that film as well (minus the whitewashing controversy, I suppose). But that movie opened over double this one, because there’s a huge swath of cultural currency to the Power Rangers brand.
Ghost in the Shell has a following, but it’s not a BLOCKBUSTER following, which meant that most of the audience needed to get the film over $100 million would probably be seeing it as an original thing. And, for the sake of argument, let’s say all of my previous reasons for the film’s failure didn’t exist. Lets say the film had an excellent cast, had no whitewashing controversies to speak of, released a ton of captivating trailers, and received widespread critical acclaim across the board. Would the movie, a crazy hard sci-fi actioneer not based on anything, be able to make $150 million in the current Hollywood climate?
The answer to that last question is so depressing, I don’t think I even want to write it out.
Also published on Medium.
Disney Is Rebooting The Muppets (Yes, Again) And A Whole Bunch of Other Dormant Properties For Their New Streaming Service
Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Father of the Bride, The Parent Trap, the concept of time itself. You know, the usual.
Disney has conquered mainstream Hollywood. That is an undeniable fact, if you ask me — between their Marvel and Star Wars output (not to mention their live action remakes, animated films, and projects from Pixar), Disney seems to be the only big studio thriving in the modern age. But as much as that seems like a compliment to Disney, it’s also something of a dour note for the industry overall — things are rough for theatrical film, for a variety of reasons. But perhaps the most substantial one is competition from the world of cable, Broadcast, and (especially) streaming outlets. When you are routinely getting things of the same (if not better) quality out of TV and streaming, why even go to the theater? The question is baffling to me (because it’s a movie theater, that’s why!), but not for the majority of Americans — ticket sales are the worst they have been in decades, as people would rather get their entertainment fix by staying at home and watching Netflix.
And Disney knows this. They are content with having conquered the ashes of traditional Hollywood, but they aren’t idiots — the media landscape is changing, and they want to be just as viable in the new one as a Netflix or HBO. So they are creating their own streaming service, and taking the battle for entertainment supremacy to Netflix in a big way.
But in building their new streaming outlet, I was rather curious how Disney planned to convince people to subscribe to their service when there were dozens more out there competing for the same eyeballs (and monthly set of dollar bills.) Well, today we got a pretty big hint in how Disney plans to build out their streaming portfolio and, no surprise, it’s taking advantage of their biggest asset: all the well-liked shit they have made and/or acquired over the last century. Brands are king for Disney, and they very much seem to be putting those at the forefront as they dive into this new frontier. Call it a safety blanket if you want (I will: it’s a safety blanket), but it has served Disney well in the last decade, so
…reboot time it is!
Of course, many of Disney’s bigger properties have already been rebooted or remade on the big screen, leading the selections for their streaming stuff to be a bit lower tier. The biggest property announced today for the potential reboot treatment is The Muppets, who Disney acquired from The Jim Henson Company back in 2004, and have since been left scratching their heads at what exactly to do with it. Things seemed great at first when the Jason Segal-led reboot film managed to enliven the love for the franchise, and perform pretty great at the box office to boot. But then Muppets Most Wanted came out and, despite being a whole lotta fun, underwhelmed at the box office. It seemed The Muppets would not be the blockbuster franchise Disney was hoping for.
So they transferred the property back to TV, relaunching a new series simply entitled The Muppets. This series had a promising hook (basically The Muppets meets 30 Rock, through the mockumentary lens of The Office) but it failed to get an audience on ABC and, quite frankly, wasn’t even all that good to begin with. Then a whole controversy broke out when longtime puppeteer/Kermit the Frog voice actor Steve Whitmire was fired from working on the property. He argued that Disney’s plans for the character was against what Henson would have stood for. They argued he was a shitty worker who didn’t play well with others, and everyone else was glad to be rid of him. The truth probably rests somewhere in between the two stances, but that didn’t make the controversy anymore crippling for The Muppet brand. They laid low for a year or so, only popping up to make wacky promotional videos and the like for the franchises’ various social media pages.
But apparently, Disney still thinks they can make this thing work in a big way, as The Hollywood Reporter confirms the Mouse House intends to bring the property to their new streaming service. Which, by the way, could use a name pronto. I’m tiring of just calling it “their new streaming service.” Judging by what they seem to want to put on it, maybe simply “Reboot” will do?
Kidding aside, The Muppets isn’t the only reboot Disney plans to anchor the service with. Also in the mix according to THR is film properties like Honey I Shrunk the Kids (you, know the Rick Moranis movie about shrinking kids), Father of the Bride (you know, the Steve Martin movie about being the father of the bride), and The Parent Trap (you know, the Lindsay Lohan movie about trapping parents.) This is in addition to previously announced reboot fodder like High School Musical and The Mighty Ducks which, yeah, were all certainly things at one point in time. They have name value, and that’s all that matters to the house that Micky Mouse built! At least there will be some top shelve franchise extinctions from brands like Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. And, who knows, maybe an original property might sneak its way in there!
…But no promises.
Also published on Medium.
Let’s Speculate Wildly: Is Marvel Laying The Groundwork For A Thor Crossover In Black Panther 2?
The endings of Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther could open up quite the intriguing storyline for Black Panther 2…if the studio chooses to explore it.
***This post contains spoilers for the end of both Thor: Ragnarok AND Black Panther. Don’t read this if you haven’t watched either film. You have been warned.***
I had a lot of thoughts floating through my head as I watched Black Panther this weekend. First and foremost was awe — Marvel pulled off another great movie, which is increasingly becoming the norm for that company. Secondly was tremendous respect for Ryan Coogler, who managed to not only deliver an incredibly fun superhero movie, but a blockbuster with something important and fascinating to say. Third was a simple wish to have Letitia Wright as my new best friend which, c’mon, shouldn’t be that hard, right?!
But one thought that was in the back of my mind throughout most of Black Panther was, admittedly, a rather geeky one. And the kind of geeky thought that stems from nothing more than the rather childish instincts of having all my favorite toys playing together. Sure, that is a major part of the fun that the Marvel Cinematic Universe represents, but it doesn’t make the instinct of “oh, what if these two met and became BEST FRIENDS?!” any less of a reductive thought. All that being said…wouldn’t it be super awesome if Thor: Ragnarok’s Valkyrie met the Wakandians?! I mean, she would LOVE it there, right? A warrior culture of advanced lifeforms who are primarily protected by a troop of badass, all-female fighters? She would have SO MUCH fun! And since she was the undeniable MVP of Thor: Ragnarok (next to Korg, at least), it would be a lot of great to see her hang out with the great ensemble that was built up in Black Panther.
…Which got me thinking.
The way Thor: Ragnarok ended left a huge question mark in that particular area of the MCU. Choosing to literally destroy all of Asgard, leaving its occupants in flight and in search of a new home, was kind of a ballsy choice for the sequel. And then when Thor suggested immigrating to Earth in the final line of the film, I couldn’t help but stifle a chuckle. The world can barely handle the people it has — Thor is in for a rude awakening if he thinks that they will just invite a whole crop of alien refugees to share their resources. In a post Brexit, Syrian refugee crisis world, the idea of the Asgardians just coming to Earth and being welcomed with open arms is (sadly) laughable.
But, regardless, the question still remained: what would become of the Asgardians as they made their way to Earth? Clearly, Marvel has a plan here, as it would be very unlike them to set up this plot point without ever addressing it again in the future. If they had no plan for the ship full of Asgardians, why even save them? Well, I have a theory: they were saved because they will serve an important purpose in a future MCU installment. Namely? Black Panther 2. Or whatever it will end up being called. Marvel doesn’t like numbers anymore.
But that’s beside the point. Let’s now shift focus to the aforementioned Black Panther, which concluded with King T’Challa finally realizing (through the inactions of his ancestors) that Wakanda could no longer be a nation of isolationist. That, in the modern world, Wakanda could just not turn its back on people who need aid. He spoke to the UN about creating “bridges” rather than barriers to outside countries, which made for a rather rousing and uplifting message for the film to conclude on.
But what made Black Panther a great movie is how it didn’t rely on moral absolutism, even for things that seemed obvious (i.e you should help those that need it.) Killmonger was one of Marvel’s best villains because he had a point, and was correct in many of his stances towards how Wakanda was doing a disservice to the world. But opening the doors to the outside world has its fair share of potential issues and problems too, which the film briefly addresses as light rebuttals to Killmonger’s main points. If Wakanda shared its advance knowledge with the world, how much of it would be used for ill? What responsibility does Wakanda even have towards the world at large? Should it take precedence over their well being as a singular culture? The film wisely doesn’t provide clear-cut answers for these issues and, though what T’Challa does is ultimately the “right” thing, the right thing can often lead to consequences of their very own.
Which is what I imagine the potential sequel will tackle. Just like how Iron Man 2 delt with the fallout of Tony revealing his identity to the world, and how Captain America: Winter Soldier dealt with the fallout of Steve Rogers being a man out of time, Black Panther 2 will absolutely have to tackle how the massive change in status quo for Wakanda impacts its people and their king. And what better way to do that then by actually showing Wakanda literally opening its doors to another people? Say another people with an equally strong sense of culture and traditions, who are currently floating through space without a home of their own? If my theory is even slightly correct, than Wakanda would be the perfect place for the Asgardians refuges to settle…and Black Panther 2 would be a perfect place to give such a move its due.
After all, such a migration would lend a Black Panther sequel a ton of interesting, relevant themes to dwell upon, themes that can build upon those of the first Black Panther, and can be just as politically relevant and insightful. What kind of conflicts arises when two ancient, powerful cultures are forced to share the same living space? What becomes of the nation of Wakanda when it actually puts its money where its mouth is and adopts a more multi-cultural approach to its civilization? Would doing so risk diluting the culture of Wakanda as it stands, erasing the identity of the people with it? And how would the Asgardians, previously a nation of conquerors and “protectors” over all others, move into a more submissive position in which they have to rely on another people for support? And how would the two kings caught in the middle (Thor and T’Challa) deal with such a cultural clash? Now normally I wouldn’t predict a superhero blockbuster to so strongly address a real-world issue (in this case, the Syrian refugee crisis), but I sure as hell didn’t expect Black Panther to address the themes it did either. So if any modern blockbuster series would, it would be this one. The themes are already baked into its DNA, after all, and the way the way the overall story is moving in the MCU itself would seem to lead to such a plot turn.
And while I can see certainly see a bit of cynicism to the concept of Black Panther 2 so heavily absorbing another branch of the MCU (“What, does Marvel not think Black Panther is a strong enough series to support itself without a big crossover?), I think the potential of the story outweighs the fear of this becoming a paint-by-numbers superhero team-up film. And recent Marvel history not only shows how open and willing they are to play with their characters in this way, but also gives them the benefit of the doubt to do it. Even if this hypothetical Black Panther includes Thor and his brood of supporting characters (who at this point are only Valkyrie and Heimdall, really — technically Loki is with him too but, let’s be honest, that dude is TOAST come Infinity War), I trust the people at Marvel can find a way to add these characters into the world while still allowing the movie to be a Black Panther sequel. Throwing in Hulk for Thor: Ragnarok never made that one feel like less of a Thor movie. And, despite what could have happened, Spider-Man: Homecoming remained a Spider-Man film, and didn’t ever become “Iron Man and His Amazing Web-Swinging Friend” as initially feared. Hell, Captain America: Civil War included nearly all the Avengers in substantial roles, and I still feel like the center of the story was on Steve Rogers and his overall arc. I see no reason why bringing in Thor, Valkyrie, Heimdall (and, of course, Korg) would take away from the focus of the story being on T’Challa, Shuri, Nakia, Okoye, W’Kabi, M’Baku, et al. And the dramatic potential this story could have on the Black Panther AND Thor characters far outweighs the potential negatives, in my mind.
Of course, I have to end all this blatant fan theorizing by stating the obvious: I have no idea whatsoever what will happen in future Black Panther installments, or the rest of the MCU for that matter. Everything I am writing here is pure conjecture, based on nothing, and I very well could be wrong about where this entire thing is heading. After all, Avengers: Infinity War is going to come and blow all my MCU theories out of the water anyways. What the shape of this universe will be post-Infinity War/Avengers 4 is anyone’s guess. For all I know, Infinity War might go full Alien 3, and begin with Thanos killing off every Asgardian aside from Thor. But, like I said, I have more faith in Marvel’s storytelling abilities than that.
And even if Black Panther 2 doesn’t have anything to do with the universe of Thor and its characters…I have to imagine there will be a grander purpose for the Asguardian refugees. And with the movie directly after Thor: Ragnarok concluding with a separate, powerful group deciding to open their borders and help those in need (including by taking in refugees, as directly stated by Nakia earlier in the film)…well? All I can do as a viewer is try to connect the dots.
…AND fanboy out about my favorite characters meeting some of my other favorite characters. Valkyrie and Okoye need to swap war stories about protecting kings. And share fighting tips. And just be awesome, in general. And since the MCU is built specifically to facilitate such team-ups, I argue: why the hell not? We might end up getting something pretty damn interesting out of it along the way.
Also published on Medium.
Thanks For The New Incredibles 2 Sneak Peek, Disney, But…Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?
Or just move the release date to tomorrow. You know, whatever works.
Fourteen years. Fourteen goddamn years. That’s how long we’ve all been waiting for a follow-up to Pixar’s The Incredibles, and I quite frankly can’t wait another second longer. Unfortunately, the film isn’t coming out until this summer, so I’m left waiting many million seconds more. Approximately 10,398,000 of them, in fact. But, ha ha, who’s counting?!
Yes, the wait has been rough but, at this point, we’ve already waited nearly a decade and half…what’s another three months? That’s what I am telling myself, at least. And unlike in the previous years, we’re actually getting to see something from the film, and receiving concrete proof that yes, this sequel is real and coming soon. And though the initial teaser trailer and posters only gave us a quick hint at what was to come for the film, this new “sneak peek” aired last night during the Winter Olympics gives us by far our biggest glimpse yet of the superhero sequel.
Why is it referred to as a “sneak peek,” you ask? Honestly, it beats the hell out of me. At a minute and a half, this more than qualifies as a teaser trailer, even more so than the 55-second one released in November. And this trailer actually delves into the plot of the film, which is once again more than you can say for the first teaser trailer. But, for Disney, this is nothing but a mere “sneak peek.” Let’s just hope the semantics are only to serve the release of a full-length trailer in the not to distant future (maybe with Wrinkle in Time in March? With a final trailer in front of Avengers: Infinity War in May? I certainly hope so!)
But labeling of marketing material aside, let’s talk what actually happens in this “sneak peek.” The footage opens right from where the first one ended (with the attack of the Underminer), which is a nice little bit of continuity between the two films. But though the original Incredibles ended with the promise of the superpowered family being able to fight crime as public heroes, this footage quickly establishes that it wouldn’t be so easy. And considering the impressive world that was built in the first, that’s not too much of a shocker — the golden age of heroes making a comeback seemed like it would be an uphill struggle, and Mr. Incredible makes that quite clear in the opening of this footage.
Of course, it doesn’t take long before the superhero shenanigans commence once more, this time around led by Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible, and bankrolled by new character Winston Deavor, very clearly (and delightfully) voiced by Bob Odenkirk. Of course Deavor will probably turn out to have interior motives in trying to restore the world of super-heroics (and working with Elastigirl to do it.) For now though, Elastigirl gets to have a cool motorcycle and cool grey outfit, which is enough for this sneak peek.
Other than that though, the brunt of the new footage rests with Mr. Incredible in stay at home Dad mode, first teased in the last trailer. As funny as some of this looks to be (I particularly laughed at Mr. Incredible’s rant about how math is different, both very much in character for him AND performer Craig T. Nelson), I will admit, this plotline runs the danger of being somewhat hokey. While I’m all for Elastigirl taking the lead (and essentially upending the status quo of the last film), I do think this story runs the risk of being the standard “ha ha, Dad’s can’t parent, what a buffoon!” storyline we’ve seen time and time again. I mean, do we really need Mr. Mom with superheroes? Eh, maybe. If anyone could make it work, it would be Pixar.
And, besides, fuck reservations — I’m supposed to be excited for this one, and this sneak peek mostly made me plenty. I mean, look, it’s Frozone! And Edna Mode! And the Demon form of Jack-Jack! Come on now, my excitement remains through the roof. And if I’ve learned anything from long in development sequels like The Phantom Menace, Ghostbusters, The Hobbit, and Tron Legacy, it’s that being unreasonably excited for something is a recipe for being completely, 100% satisfied. Always!
Incredibles 2 (no “The,” it’s cleaner) hits theaters June 15.
Also published on Medium.
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