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I love seeing movies break out and do a lot better than they’re supposed to. Hollywood likes to think that they have it all figured out. They’ve got formulas. They’ve got formulas FOR their formulas. They can give you opening weekend numbers for a film six months before they’ve even shot it. As the industry continues to move closer to the way the rest of American businesses are run, a specific understanding of how each product is going to do is vital to their business plan. But every once in awhile, something still surprises them. And it absolutely KILLS them. Because even if a film does ten times better than they think it will, somebody fucked up – why didn’t they know that would happen?

This is why I love trying to figure out why a movie broke out. Obviously, directing and marketing and star power are going to be huge factors in any movie’s success. But it always comes back to the screenplay. Every trailer, every poster, every marketing campaign, every great acting performance – all of those things stem from the screenplay. And when it comes to the screenplay, there are two things determining a film’s success at the box office: The first is concept. You gotta give us an idea that will make us come to see the film. And the second is execution. This will determine if people come back again and if they tell their friends to see it.

Now what surprised me as I looked back at the box office over the last couple of years was that there was no out-of-nowhere mega breakout hit. There was no Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch. No My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Slumdog Millionaire. So maybe the studios ARE getting better at knowing what works and what doesn’t (or maybe it means they’re not taking enough chances). However, there were plenty of movies that over-performed. Here are five of them, and what they can teach us about screenwriting.

The Purge
Projected box office: 20-25 mil
Actual box office: 65 mil
What The Purge teaches us is that the clever high concept idea will never die. If you can come up with a cool exciting premise, somebody will buy your screenplay, it will be turned into a movie, and that movie will do well. The Purge asks the question, “What if for one night every year, there were no laws? You could commit any crime you wanted?” That’s why people went to see this movie, because of its concept. To demonstrate the value of this, consider a near replica film that came out later in the summer, You’re Next. Both films were about a family stuck in a house being hunted by people with masks. But You’re Next didn’t even come close to doing The Purge’s box office, despite being a better movie. Why? Because it didn’t have that catchy concept. It’s why I beg and plead with you guys that before you spend the next 6 months to 2 years writing a screenplay, make sure your concept is something people will be excited to see. Not “want to see.” But BE EXCITED to see.

We’re The Millers
Projected box office: 60 mil
Actual box office: 142 mil
I reviewed this script way back in the day and wasn’t impressed. It felt flat and generic. However, I always thought the idea was good, so I’m not surprised people showed up on opening weekend. But the reason this movie went from a solid opening weekend to nearly 150 million dollars was the script, the script, the script. The script REALLY improved, becoming less about random funny jokes, and more about the relationships and the growth of the characters. When you write a comedy, you want to focus on change. You want all of the characters to grow and become better people by the end of the story. Amateur screenwriters think this is cliché and cheesy and avoid it. Professional screenwriters know it’s the trick to make the movie feel complete, feel like it was worth the ride. If the people we’re watching can change, we think we can change. Which makes us feel good, which makes us talk about the movie fondly afterwards. Which makes our friends want to see it. We’re The Millers buttered itself up in heart. It was about a non-family becoming a real family. It wasn’t just funny. It made you feel good.

The Hunger Games
Projected box office: 125-175 mil
Actual box office: 408 mil
The Hunger Games might seem an odd movie to include on this list, but not in any producer’s wildest dreams did they think this film would hit 400 million.  Many people chalk this up to the YA novel phenomenon (which has only begun to hit us, for better or worse) but don’t fool yourselves. Hopeful YA books-turned-movies Beautiful Creatures and The Host couldn’t crack 30 million. So Hunger Games was by no means a sure thing. To me, there were a couple of key ingredients to the film’s success. First, IRONY. With film, the right ironic angle can be like audience crack. And here, it’s as ironic as irony gets. Kids fighting in a game to kill each other. Kids aren’t supposed to fight to the death, so we’re intrinsically drawn to that idea. But I think a lesser known ingredient to the film’s success was the simplicity of Hunger’s idea. Remember that in this day and age, you gotta be able to sell a movie to an audience within seconds, which is why so much emphasis is put on the logline. If you can’t explain your screenplay in one simple sentence, how are producers and studios going to explain it on a billboard? Or in a 30 second TV spot? All you need to know about The Hunger Games is that a game is being held where kids are trying to kill each other. You immediately understand the film. I must’ve seen that Beautiful Creatures trailer 7-8 times and I STILL can’t tell you what that’s about. It’s too confusing. The Host was a little clearer, but not really. This girl is taken over by an alien host. But why? And what happens then? It doesn’t sell itself easily. Back to the crème de la crème of YA adaptations, Twilight – a girl falls in love with a vampire. Simple and to the point. I’m not saying that every single script you write needs to be boiled down to one easy sentence. I’m saying that if you’re writing the kinds of movies you hope to sell to a mass audience, they do.

Argo
Projected box office: 60-70 million
Actual box office: 136 million
Argo is one of wackier studio movies I’ve seen do well. Its success can be broken down into two key categories. First, it’s a combination of two subject matters that aren’t supposed to go together. Making a Hollywood movie meets saving Americans in Iran. Those two worlds don’t mesh. That intrigued people enough to show up. But Argo’s box office came mainly from word-of-mouth. In other words, it succeeded because of its well-executed story. So you might be surprised to know that the film has the most traditional structure of all the films on this list, and maybe even the top 20 films of 2012. Argo is a case study in GSU. You have the goal – go save the Americans in Iran. You have the stakes – if they get caught, they’ll be held hostage or worse. You have the urgency – they only have permission to be in Iran for a few days. So they have to do this fast. I don’t mean to promote my book here or anything, but this is about as clean a setup for a story as there is. GSU, or traditional structure, may have been used by thousands of films throughout history, but THAT’S BECAUSE IT WORKS. It’s the best way to tell a story, hands down.

Silver Linings Playbook
Projected box office: 65 mil
Actual box office: 132 mil
Got to give it to David O. Russel. He took two films with indie premises (The Fighter and Silver Linings) and turned them into big box office hits. That isn’t easy to do. While there’s no doubt Silver Linings Playbook benefited from the casting of two hot actors (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Laurence), that’s not the reason it made so much money. Cooper’s “The Place Beyond The Pines” didn’t make any money. Nor did his “The Words.” And I’m still looking for a single person who saw Jennifer Lawrence’s “House At The End Of The Street.” There’s a lot more at play here. In fact, Silver Linings does a couple of really smart things. First, it takes a genre and flips it on its head. A romantic comedy between two depressed crazy people. This is one of the easiest ways to make your spec stand out, by giving us a new take on a genre. Never forget that. Second, it gives us two really interesting characters. A bi-polar OCD semi-autistic guy with anger issues, and a clinically depressed slutty neurotic girl. We don’t ever get to see those characters on the big screen, and we definitely don’t get to see them going after each other in a romantic comedy. So that was new and exciting. But what I loved about Silver Linings was that it knew it needed boundaries. It knew that crazy doesn’t work without a focused narrative. Cooper’s character’s goal to get his ex-wife back coupled with the dance competition narrative is what allowed these characters to be so nuts without the film running off the rails.

And so there you have it. My belief on why those movies did well. With that said, it’s also important to admit when you don’t know jack shit. And there were a few movies that succeeded over the last couple of years that have straight up baffled me. Like Lincoln. That film made 180 million dollars. I didn’t think it’d break the million dollar mark. The script is all talk talk talk. Zero action. The trailer made me think of something I was forced to watch during History class. I know Spielberg directed it and Daniel Day Lewis acted in it, but the similar-in-tone (and theme) Amistad didn’t do any business, and while Day Lewis is an amazing actor, he’s hardly box office gold. So I have zero idea how that movie did well and am open to suggestions. I’m surprised “42” made 95 million. That film looked really generic (though they did market it well). Didn’t think Ted would get anywhere near 220 million. Uber-generic Safe House’s success still shocks me.  So yeah, I still have questions. But that’s what makes analyzing these movies and their success so fun.

  • jason medley

    Hey Carson! Where would 42 (the Jackie Robinson Story) fall in this list? The prognosticators projected it for $30 million box office total and it did that it’s first weekend. It went on to make just south of $100 million total box office.

  • Lisa Aldin

    Wasn’t Grown-Ups 2 a hit? Now THAT baffles me.

  • Fiona Fire

    With so many movies aimed at young, white males, or little kids / families, movies that connect with under-served audiences can do really well. Tyler Perry makes horrible movies but they’re one of the few options for black people who want to see themselves on screen. I think this was part of the success of Hunger Games. How many movies have you seen that are aimed at teenage girls and still accessible to a larger audience? I can’t think of anything besides Twilight.

    • fragglewriter

      Yes and no. I’m black and I’ll be damned if I watch that coonery. I’d rather watch “Neighbors” as I love frat boy (white male) movies LOL

      • kenglo

        I love me some Mr. Brown! “Coca-Cola-oscopy”

        • fragglewriter

          OMG. Even though I love that character on the show, I still have to give it a no LOL

    • Kirk Diggler

      Harry Potter. Mean Girls, Easy A, The Spectacular Now, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, all those films relied on a teenage girl audience but also had crossover appeal, since they were pretty well made.

  • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

    You’re honestly shocked Lincoln made that much money? You didn’t think it would break the ONE million dollar mark? Are you kidding?

    1) It’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN. You can’t even begin to compare that to Amistad, a film about a mutiny on a ship most people probably never even heard of. Once again, it’s Abraham friggin’ Lincoln. That’s selling point #1, which goes directly back to your CONCEPT idea. It’s a film about arguably the most well-known, beloved president in history. OF COURSE people are going to show up in droves to that, especially when…

    2) it’s directed by Steven freakin’ Spielberg starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Steven Spielberg, one of the few directors whose name is recognizable by pretty much anyone. Daniel Day-Lewis, maybe the greatest actor of all time. The trailers were incredible.

    I honestly don’t see how it’s that much of a mystery. I completely expected that film to be a huge blockbuster when I heard it was directed by Spielberg starring Day-Lewis. I knew right then it would make big bucks.

    Worth of mouth and eleven (if I recall correctly) Oscar nominations doesn’t hurt. You really can’t underestimate the effect of the Oscars – take a look back at Michael Clayton, a film that realistically didn’t have a whole lot going for it (a shitty title, a not-so-great concept… the only real draw was Clooney)… it underperformed when released in October… then bam, a shitload of Oscar noms in December, and they released it the following year in January and it ended up grossing $92 mil (against a $25mil budget). Same goes for The King’s Speech, which grossed a whopping $414 million. No way in hell would that film have performed so well without all those accolades.

    • 3waystopsign

      I’m completely on board here. There is a reason there have been hundreds (if not thousands) of books about Lincoln. It’s a time of US history that fascinates many people, and it’s Lincoln. Even those with no interest in history tend to stop and listen when Lincoln is the subject–as long as he isn’t fighting vampires.

    • kenglo

      ABRA-F’IN-HAM LINCOLN!! I couldn’t sit through it. Probably a great film, but man….

    • BSBurton

      Agreed, from the first scene of Lincoln I was hooked and the characters were great.

      • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

        Yeah, I loved it. Loved the dialogue. Along with Django Unchained, it was the best dialogue of last year. Just so much fun to listen to. I, personally, don’t need bullets and bombs in every movie. And DDL was of course riveting.

        • BSBurton

          I really loved Django. It had amazing acting and exceptional dialogue, but the last 35 minutes just weren’t as good as the rest for me. Entertainment Weekly did a funny thing with Django on its bullseye back page. I always hate when a film’s ending doesn’t live up to the rest of it.

          Back to films with “no aciton”, I just saw The Talented Mr. Ripley and really enjoyed it. But every scene (besides some jazz singing and 2 murders) was essentially people sitting around and talking.

    • Panos Tsapanidis

      Actually, I heard Spielberg saying in an interview that “Lincoln” was heading to become a TV movie, because the industry didn’t believe that it would make money.

      • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

        Do you know what period of production that was? Because I know Spielberg had been developing the film for over a decade. Liam Neeson was originally going to play Lincoln, then he dropped out. And DDL originally rejected the first draft of the script he got, but obviously ended up accepting the role.

        All I know is that when it was first announced Spielberg was directing a film about Lincoln with DDL as Lincoln I immediately knew it would make over $100 million. But I understand from a studio perspective, they may be hesitant to bankroll something that would obviously cost a lot of money.

        Unrelated fact: Slumdog Millionaire was originally going to be direct-to-dvd. And I don’t mean in pre-production. I mean after the film had been made, it was going to go straight to DVD. Pretty funny.

    • Linkthis83

      Well said, Matty. I saw this movie in the theater because it was about LINCOLN. My father went as well (who is in his mid-sixties). Us attending this film isn’t all that surprising. During the film I realized we were sitting next to two mid-late teenage girls. That kind of shocked me that they would attend this film but it just goes to show how wide of a demographic this movie reached. What made me realize they were there was hearing them laugh during one of the funny moments of the movie.

      • BSBurton

        A heartwarming story! They should quote you on the damn DVD case lol!

    • lisap

      I think that would probably be the case for Les Miserables as well. I don’t know what it was projected to do, but the Oscar buzz got a lot of people to see it that probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

    • Zadora

      I didn’t get the film’s success either. I went with my husband who’s a history buff. He loved it. I’m from Sweden and I was bored stiff…

  • https://twitter.com/deanmaxbrooks deanb

    Don’t overlook the Insidious series. Chapter 2: 5 mil budget, approaching 100 mil domestic. Then you have a crop of other low budget horror flicks that minted gold bars, The Conjuring, The Devil Inside.

  • fragglewriter

    I haven’t watched any of the five box office surprises, but appreciate the analysis and can offer an opinion as to why they did so well, based on the information provided.

    1) The Purge – Who wouldn’t want just one day to kill the person who gets on your nerves. LOL “You’re Next” seems borderline interesting.

    2) We’re the Millers – I love comedies and Jason Sudekis playing a cornball drug dealer is funny. Jennifer Anniston naked will attract both sexes. How they pull it off sets-up plenty of tension and comedy.

    3) The Hunger Games – 1 percenters. People are fixated on this disproportionate income, and to place it in the future with kids is the twist. “Snow Piercer” and “Divergent” same concept, but doubt it will perform as well as The Hunger Games.

    4) Argo – Who wouldn’t love a pro American film in a terrorist driven society. Just kidding, but including “based on a true story” sure didn’t hinder it from performance. Unlike “”Pearl Harbor” story was a factor and not special effects.

    5) Silver Linings Playbook – A quasi indie film with the right major players. It shouldn’t have performed this well, but over-the-top restrained mental conditions work well on film, for example “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

    I’m surprised about Lincoln, Ted (same jokes from Family Guy), 42 and Safe House (I’ve seen this storyline too many times). I think this proves that significant historical person (s), events, comedies filled with one-liners and CIA/FBI/Operative films will sell no matter what.

    • NajlaAnn

      Argo is a good, well made movie. I recommend it.

      • fragglewriter

        I DVR’d it last week. I just haven’t had time to watch it. Maybe this weekend.

  • http://www.mzp-tv.co.uk/forum/ JT Vaughn

    *puts hand up* I saw House At The End Of The Street. It was not good.

    • http://www.jorgeosvaldo.com/ Jorge Osvaldo

      I saw it, too.

      Although the movie wasn’t good, I thought the concept was clever. The problem was that giving away the concept to sell the movie would spoil the ending, which would then discourage people from going to see it. It’s a catch-22.

      Perhaps that’s why you need to pack an additional killer concept to go with a clever ending. The Sixth Sense was sold on the premise that a little boy could see dead people when no one else could; this allowed M. Night to conceal the bigger surprise and floor us with the ending.

  • http://www.jorgeosvaldo.com/ Jorge Osvaldo

    I would chalk up Lincoln and 42′s success to their marketing.

    I remember thinking Lincoln’s TV ads were so stirring that it made it seem un-American not to go see this movie.

    And 42 was marketed heavily at the start of the baseball season and right before the NBA playoffs; the 30-second spots were soundtracked by a Jay Z song–instead of a reverential instrumental score–and they focused on Robinson’s athletic gifts and overall strength in the face of the racist people that didn’t want him in MLB. They sold it young, and they sold it to sports fans. It worked.

    Safe House baffles me. It must have been the Vuvuzelas the soccer fans were blaring during the soccer stadium chase scene.

  • kenglo

    The Purge was a bad movie. It made most of its 65 on the first weekend, and the producer kept it running for like ever! I wouldn’t be surprised if it was ‘technically’ a loss in the books.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      The Purge would have been more interesting and likely more chilling as a found footage movie. Now, I’m not a huge fan of that style of filmmaking, but I think it would have worked well for this premise of a night every year were there is no law and order. It would have likely then been a horrific bolt of a film from the perspective of the lawless invaders and not another typical home invasion thriller with a nice high concept grafted on.

      This perspective makes sense from a thematic and dramatic angle, especially a few days now after that biker rally thing that turned into a high speed chase and assault in NYC. Some of those dudes on the motorcycles were filming themselves chasing down a family in an SUV. Seems like the type of thing that lawless folks would do if there were such a thing as The Purge in real life.

    • filmklassik

      “and the producer kept it running for like ever!”

      Producers have no control over how long movies stay in theaters.

  • shewrites

    I thought “Lincoln” was fantastic. Yes, it was all dialogue but how the script distilled the drama was phenomenal considering we obviously knew how it ended.
    The performances were amazing as well. I told all my friends to go see it. So on top on the boost from the Oscar nominations and the a-list director and actor, I imagine there was a lot of word of mouth. I am not surprised at all that it did well.
    I still think, Carson, that you make a good point about A-list actors not being a guarantee for a successful box office which I think is good news for us writers. They still need good material to attract crowds to theaters except when their movies are targeted to the less discriminating 14-24 audience.

  • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

    Lincoln–

    Because Americans LOVE watching movies that glorify everything they love about America.

    Because Daniel-Day Lewis’ performance encapsulated an American institution in a way that had never been done before.

    Because the marketing team knew who their audience was, and they focused their marketing brilliantly on where that audience would be found — 24 hour news channels, theater bills, The History Channel, The New Yorker etc.

    Because that audience would care Tony Kushner wrote it.

    Because it wasn’t a biography. It was a story about the passing of thirteenth amendment. And there was drama there. There was GSU there. Goal- pass the thirteenth amendment. Stakes- the freedom of black men and Lincoln’s legacy depended on it. Urgency – it had to be done before the Confederate leaders made it to Washington, revealing they were willing to negotiate peace so long as there was no thirteenth amendment.

    And mostly because, while no it wasn’t action packed, it was one of the best windows ever onto the life and times of a true American hero.

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      Well said, sir.

      • CRAYONSEED

        “Because Americans LOVE watching movies that glorify everything they love about America.”

        And I believe that’s why Amistad didn’t do as well under similar circumstances.

    • filmklassik

      “Because Americans LOVE watching movies that glorify everything they love about America.”

      Would that that were still true. It’s not. Otherwise we’d be seeing a D-Day size WAVE of WWII movies and they’d all be cleaning up.

      • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

        You’re taking one of the components and using at as the end all be all… that HELPED Lincoln, wasn’t the sole reason for its success.

        Pearl Harbor glorified America and was about World War II… it was horrible (though can’t remember if it was a box office success…). That said, I’ve seen Pearl Harbor about three times, because it glorifies Americans resolve in the response to that attack. Horrible movie, but still gets the patriotic juices flowing … WWII movies also tend to be ridiculously expensive. And rarely can you get a playwrite to write them because you’ll need more than great dialogue and characters.

        • filmklassik

          I too love a good World War II movie but PEARL HARBOR was so irredeemably awful that I think I may’ve walked out 45 minutes before the end.

          For me it was worse than the actual invasion (kidding — shock humor).

          But when the hell are we going to see another WWII adventure movie in the vein of WHERE EAGLES DARE, THE DIRTY DOZEN and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE?

          And no, INGLORIOUS BASTARDS wasn’t quite it. It was fun (in places) and while it was certainly INSPIRED by those three movies it ultimately felt more like Quentin Tarantino than Alistair MacLean.

  • jlugozjr

    Dumb and Dumber is one of my favorites. How do Harry and Lloyd change?

    And I think Looper should of been included in this article despite Carson’s dislike for that script. Look at the box office results. It killed it. And as far as structure, one of the main characters (the boy) wasn’t introduced until about page 40.

    I still think it’s a gamble as opposed to a formula.

  • DD

    We’re the Millers really surprised me. The marketing was pretty bad. The movie just looked flat. I think this is a case of word of mouth too. I saw it about a month before it came out and it was FUNNY. It wasn’t perfect, but it WAS making me laugh and it was memorable. Good movies sometimes aren’t memorable. This one was. Good scripting leads to good execution leads to good word of mouth leads to $$$. How it should be!

  • Poe_Serling

    This is totally off-topic, but still kinda fun with the Halloween season fast approaching. Here’s writer-director Guillermo Del Toro’s two minute and forty-five second opening that he created for this year’s Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons.

    http://insidetv.ew.com/2013/10/03/the-simpsons-guillermo-del-toro-treehouse-of-horror/

  • andyjaxfl

    Lincoln, Argo, and 42 are the types of movies that get the 40 million Americans aged fifty and older into the theater. They aren’t interested in The Purge or the horrible We’re the Millers. They might go see The Hunger Games or an Avatar because of the unavoidable cultural moment those movies built up.

    The Butler is another example. I don’t know anyone under the age of 50 who saw The Butler, but all of my aunts, uncles, and parents went to see it.

    • J. Lawrence Head

      I saw the butler and liked it. Aged far less than 40

    • filmklassik

      What’s interesting is that each of the movies you just mentioned — LINCOLN, ARGO, 42 and THE BUTLER — are all well made but socially-conscious true stories that all scream Self Importance.

      And I hope Americans aged 50 and older have an appetite for more than just THAT when they go to the movies. That genre’s fine but it’s extremely limited (and limit-ING).

      I like to think they’d be just as interested in movies that are equally “adult” but less Self Important if they were released today, like CHINATOWN, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, IN THE LINE OF FIRE, PRESUMED INNOCENT and ROSEMARY’S BABY.

      • andyjaxfl

        I agree and hope they have an appetite for more than the socially conscious movie. I look at the movie-going habits of my parents (both are 65) and they typically only see adult-themed movies (i.e. the theater is unlikely to have more than a handful of teens/college kids) in a theater. The other movies you mentioned would still get them into a theater if they were released today.

  • klmn

    I’m struck by how closely the poster for The Purge resembles that of the 1928 film THE MAN WHO LAUGHS based on, of course, the classic Victor Hugo novel.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0019130/?ref_=sr_1

    And it looks like there is a 2012 French version as well.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1946289/?ref_=sr_2

    Maybe Carson should put that on his list for the next French week.

    Incidentally, DePalma’s The Black Dahlia made extensive reference to the 1928 film.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387877/?ref_=sr_1

  • GoIrish

    I’ll throw Identity Thief out there as another surprise hit.

    Actual domestic gross – $134 million
    Expected domestic gross – give me my money back

  • ripleyy

    I urge anyone to give “The Words” a chance, even if the ending is a little baffling, the story was really great and powerful.

    “The Purge” has a fantastic, “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” idea but the execution was so piss-poor that I was embarrassed by it. It was executed really, really badly. But I am glad it’s getting a sequel.

    “Hunger Games” isn’t a no-brainer, it’s based on a bestseller YA novel. THAT is why it made the money that it did. Producers know that with YA, there is potential. You crack that baby open and money will pour from it. The film may not be good, but the fact it has:

    a) a fanbase that already exists

    b) has a trilogy or series already set-up and finished

    is why they succeed.

    I seen “Beautiful Creatures” and I loved it. The dialogue was great, it was witty and the story was surprisingly good. It wasn’t given a chance but I do think it’s underrated.

    My advice? Write YA. Write YA, adapt it into a screenplay and sell it as a spec.

    • brenkilco

      I don’t think the writers of The Purge thought of their why didn’t I think of that idea either. They lifted it from an old, original Star Trek episode called Return of the Arkons. You know, Festival! festival! You don’t? Well, check it out on Netflix.

    • FilmingEJ

      I actually really, really hated “The Words”. It had a good start and a compelling premise, but the film just went on and on and on. The movie got extremely and unbearably dry, and all of its potential was thrown out the window in favor of ham-fisted melodrama.

      • filmklassik

        I’ve heard THE WORDS is terrible.

  • brenkilco

    So a lousy horror movie with an exploitable gimmick can succeed. A crass comedy with likable actors and a hug it out ending can succeed. An uninspired adaptation of a literary phenomenon with a built in audience can succeed. A compelling story well told can succeed. And an interesting character piece with unusual dramatic situations can succeed.
    Oh, and a literate but extremely talky picture about political sausage making in the nineteenth century can succeed provided one of the characters is named Lincoln.

    Like William Goldman said, Nobody knows anything.

    • MWire

      There you go. I think you’ve got it.

  • drifting in space

    Probably going to get tore a new one here, but oh well. Are these “successes” that are entirely front loaded by a huge weekend when nothing is out really that great? They usually taper off hard after that first weekend. Somewhat of a tangent of the topic, whatever.

    #1. The Purge: When I first saw this trailer for this and read the concept, I was hooked. “Why hadn’t I thought of that?” obviously. Then word of mouth got out and drove it into the ground. I never saw this because people were so inherently turned off by it that it fell off my radar. I’ll see it for $1 someday. You’re Next didn’t do as well because the script wasn’t really better and that idea is so old. Rich family in the woods, oh shit, now they’re dying. Twist? One of them is bad ass. Ho-hum. No originality.

    #2. We’re the Millers: I originally wanted to see this. As the commercials went on, I began to feel this would be one of those “all the best parts are in the trailer” movies. Then they started showing Jennifer Aniston stripping. At that point, I figured it was just another slapstick comedy pieced together by outlandish jokes and gags. Our society is kind of stupid so that’s why it made money. Grown Ups 2 anyone? Jesus, I feel bad for anyone that wants to create art. Just write some dick jokes and sell a spec. Do they hug in the end? They sure didn’t show that part between running over a drug baby and seeing Aniston strip wearing mom clothes.

    #3. The Hunger Games: I will defend this to the death. Call me a fanboy, whatevs. This did well because it’s a POPULAR BOOK AND HAD A HUGE MARKETING BUDGET. I mean seriously, you don’t think they weren’t counting on over $100mil? It’s the fucking Hunger Games, bro. While the movie wasn’t as amazing as the books (even if they are a rip-off of some obscure thing no one has seen or cares about, what isn’t these days? UGH the Hangover is such a copy of the classic 1830′s french masterpiece le Drunke LOL, just kidding, ranting), it was expected to make money. The second one is coming out soon and they are pushing it hard. Baffled why this surprised you.

    #4. Argo: Read the screenplay, haven’t seen the movie. I’m not surprised it made money. It was marketed as one of “those” movies you “have to see.” It made about as much as I figured it would with who was attached.

    #5. Silver Linings Playbook: Read the screenplay and watched the movie. Both are great. Great acting, great story, great everything. And I loves me some J-Law (going back to her being miscast in Hunger Games but pulling it off). Word of mouth, award noms… Yeah, this sounds about right.

    Extra Credit: Lincoln. I was surprised this made a lot of money. After hearing the struggles they went through to get it made, I figured it would win awards but make no money. I understand it’s Steven Spielberg and DDL, but I mean, honestly… those two don’t draw in crowds by the hundreds. This was a self indulgent movie that I assumed only old people would see. Call it ignorance, whatever, but it was the only movie on this list that ACTUALLY surprised me.

    If Hollywood had formulas, they’d use them and replace all of us aspiring writers along with the pros. But they don’t. Almost everything is a crap shoot. After Earth? Dear goodness, what a piece of shit. I’m sure they were banking on it. John Carter, The Lone Ranger? Pacific Rim to an extent? I know it made money but I really think they were counting on more, especially domestically. I loved it but it was a big budget taking a chance on a relatively unknown writer. If you’ve read the screenplay, it’s very different from what is on screen.

    In the end. It’s all random. Focus on honing your skill and don’t try to predict what the public wants. I saw the promo for Ted and thought to myself, “What the fuck is this?” and it made a trillion dollars. Go figure.

    Sorry for the rant. I’m hopped up on flu meds. It’s all bullshit above.

    • filmklassik

      William Goldman once said that the best comedy writing in America can be found in the “Life” section of USA Today each and every Monday morning, when Hollywood “pundits” bloviate about the box office winners and losers of the previous weekend and explain with GREAT ASSURANCE why it was inevitable that such-and-such a movie would do well and a foregone conclusion why the losers would not.

      Because of course, as Goldman ALSO once famously stated: Nobody knows anything.

      Nobody drawing breath on planet Earth knows jack shit about what is going to make money and what isn’t.

  • drifting in space

    I was supremely let down by that movie. Insidious was a better film IMO. The Conjuring was ho-hum. My wife didn’t even like it and she’s a scaredy cat.

  • Malibo Jackk

    THE PURGE
    Concept/Thriller/Budget
    WE’RE THE MILLERS
    Concept/Comedy/Budget
    THE HUNGER GAMES
    Concept/Book/Budget
    ARGO
    Concept/Political Thriller
    SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
    Screenplay/Budget

    Seem to demonstrate the relative importance of a great screenplay.

    • drifting in space

      I agree. It surprises me why they churn out so much of the SAME when new concept/low budget movies do so well. Now, even GREAT writers are just being hired to write the tent pole super hero movies.

      I think the public would like more fresh ideas than being saturated with the same thing over and over. I know I’m wrong, obviously, or they wouldn’t make 800 super hero movies.

      I’d rather see 10 movies that make around $100mil with fresh ideas than 2-3 $500mil+ movies that are just carbon-copies of the one before it.

  • blueiis0112

    I love films made from a real story. I want to know what really happened because I don’t get much of the truth from the papers. So, I was curious about “Argo”. I learned that Hollywood is so hungry for business and the next great thing, they are willing to do rather audacious to totally obnoxious things. But even better, I learned that Iran is just as gullible for Hollywood as the rest of us are. So much for us being “The Great Satan”. The “concept” of the story was “let’s make a fake movie”. Only the cost of failure wasn’t having the finances withdrawn, it was being hanged in the public square.

    • filmklassik

      “I want to know what really happened because I don’t get much of the truth from the papers.”

      Wait a minute. You think Hollywood’s a more reliable source of truth and verisimilitude than the Washington Post and the NY Times?

      Oh, dear.

      I’m not saying those two newspapers aren’t biased in any way because they are — my God almost ALL media outlets are — but… come ON, we’re talking the NY Times vs. Hollywood, for cryin’ out loud.

      Take my word for it: ARGO takes some liberties with the facts…but that’s nothing compared to the lie-fests that were JFK and A BEAUTIFUL MIND, for example.

      Truth, while never easy to come by, is nearly impossible to find at your local multiplex.

  • Ken

    Well before Battle Royale and The Long Walk/Running Man there was Rollerball, Death Race 2000 and also The 10th Victim. Death game movies have been around for a long time. Nobody’s claiming Hunger Games is original, but it obviously hit a nerve with audiences.

    • kenglo

      Yeah, AMERICANS who live under a rock. I don’t really compare Rollerball and Deathrace to Battle Royale and Hunger Games. The biggest difference being the fact that they are children. I read a review of Battle Royale way back then that stated, “We are not going to see this film on American shores for a while with all of the graphic killing scenes depicting young children.” If they really wanted to shock people with Hunger Games, they would have had the little girl RUE dust some folks off…and LIKING IT! Like the kids in FUDOH, 5-yr old assassins!

      • Ken

        Hunger Games lets the main characters off the hook in the combat scenes: the protagonists only ever have to kill the ‘bad’ opponents, none of the ‘nice’ ones.

    • Dr_Eric_Vornoff

      The granddaddy of all these is Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game (published in 1924), which has been adapted, both officially and unofficially, countless times (the best version is still the first from 1932). The Hunger Games is far, far from original, which isn’t a big deal if it’s good (wouldn’t know, haven’t read or seen it) but it is amusing how defensive some of its fans get when you point out it’s many, many predecessors.

      • Ken

        Yes – the Most Dangerous Game is great and looks fabulous.

  • carsonreeves1

    I actually did look at D9 way back in the day. I just need to search for the article and link it.

  • MaliboJackk

    Not sure if you’re asking — why audiences wanted to see the movies
    or why the were good movies. (Two different questions.)

    But both were movies that audiences wanted to see.
    Concepts draw audiences in.

  • carsonreeves1

    Need to brush up on my doctoral degree. #nodisrespecttobradleycooperalldisrespecttoJimmyKimmel

  • filmklassik

    Re: THE CONJURING.

    Well like many successful movies, the story itself may be “nothing new”, it was just done to a turn, as they say. I really enjoyed it.

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