What to avoid if you want to see something good at the theater
"White House Down" landed in theaters this past weekend with a thud.
Blowing up much of the Beltway cost $150 million, but the film only eked out a $25.7 million opening despite the triple threat of Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx and "Independence Day" director Roland Emmerich.
And this week sees the debut of "The Lone Ranger," which rides into theaters on a flurry of bad reviews and damaging reports about a bursting budget and production snafus. Of course, like "World War Z," another film that was plagued by trouble-on-the set stories, "The Lone Ranger" could overcome the bad buzz to be a solid box officer earner.
Not every film is so lucky. Just ask Will and Jaden Smith's whose father-son adventure "After Earth" crash landed with audiences and critics or poor Taylor Kitsch, who had the ignominious distinction of starring in not one, but two back-to-back bombs with "Battleship" and "John Carter."
Nearly every preview for would-be blockbusters these days promises moviegoers a non-stop thrill ride guaranteed to leave them flattened, floored and gasping at the sheer wonder of all that CGI and star power. Look closer, however, and there are certain tell-tale signs that a studio knows it may have a turkey on its hands.
Every studio wants a movie to be a hit. Here are 8 signals that it won't be:
1. Critics Can't Review the Film Until After it Opens
Sometimes a film is so unsalvageable that studios won't let critics get their talons into it until after a film debuts. So if your local paper carries a notice that such and such a film can't be reviewed because there were no advance screenings, cancel the babysitter and call off plans to hit the multiplex. That kind of treatment is reserved for movies that are so bad,studios know the reviews will only add fuel to the fire.
Think of the much-panned "Movie 43," or the Ashton Kutcher-Katherine Heigl dud "Killers," or the Daniel Craig horror film "Dream House," which was frightening for all the wrong reasons. None of those films got reviewed until after opening day. Get the drift?
2. The Only Good Critical Blurbs Come From Shawn Edwards or Jeffrey Lyons
Some "critics" are such quote-whores that they essentially write press releases for studios. They always find something positive to say about even the most awful movies. So how do you know which reviewers fall short of objective status?
eFilmCritics's Erik Childress has a helpful column that keeps tabs on the reviewers most likely to lavish hyperbole on otherwise poorly-rated box office bombs. Edwards and Lyons are often at the top of his list, so if you see one of their names on a movie's promo poster raving about how a film is "a cinematic gem" or advising you to "wear a diaper, it's that good!," it's probably best to add it to the must-miss pile.
3. The Ever-Shifting Release Date
When a studio plans to release a movie during blockbuster or awards season only to change course and reschedule for, say, early spring or mid-fall, that usually signals big problems. It either means a movie isn't good enough to snag an Oscar or lacks what it takes to compete with the other popcorn movies. Either way, it's rarely an endorsement.
Exceptions: "The Great Gatsby" which had many Hollywood watchers smelling a bomb when it was punted out of Oscar season and into this summer. Yes, critics hated it, but audiences embraced it to the tune of more than $300 million at the worldwide box office.
A similar strategy reaped dividends for "World War Z," which brought in the "Lost" team of Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard after filming had wrapped to craft a new ending. The costly bet required a move from winter 2012 to the summer of 2013, but the filmmakers were rewarded with a box office gross of $260 million worldwide and counting.
Some things are worth the wait.
4. It's Green
"Green Hornet" and "Green Lantern" both came out in 2011, both cost a lot of money, and both bombed. Add to the list, 2010's "Green Zone," a big-budget Iraq War action movie that discovered that — shock of shocks — audiences go to the movies to escape real world problems. Still don't see a pattern? Try 2003's "Hulk" and 2008's "The Incredible Hulk." Green is great for the environment. At the box office, it's toxic.
Exception: "The Avengers," which did feature a big green monster but widely avoided the color in its title.
5. Eddie Murphy is in it
Yeah, he was a comic genius — back in the time of Iran Contra and acid wash jeans. But too many dumb kiddie movies have made Eddie Murphy box office poison. With a résumé stocked with flops like "Meet Dave," "A Thousand Words" and, drum roll please, "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," it's a wonder the former-funnyman continues to get work.
"Shrek" and "Dreamgirls" sure feel like a long time ago.
6. Katherine Heigl is in it
Poor Izzie. If only you'd never left Seattle Grace Hospital. That's because losing the medical scrubs has been nothing short of a disaster for the once-promising Heigl. Don't believe us? Why don't you rent "Killers" or "One for the Money"…and don't worry, there won't be a wait on Netflix for either one.
7. It's a Big Budget Passion Project
Throwing a lot of money at a talented auteur or actor usually results in one of two outcomes: the studio doesn't trust its creative team enough and over-interferes, creating an unsalvageable mishmash of the filmmaker's unique vision and the studio's desperate desire to make it appeal to the widest possible audience (see: "The Fountain"), or a creative genius has too much clout and gets all the cash and freedom to do what they want (see: "Cloud Atlas," "Battlefield Earth" and everything M. Night Shyamalan has done since 2006).
Exception: Anything James Cameron touches. Just write the check Hollywood and leave him in peace.
See photos: The Evolution of the Female Comedies
8. Poster or Trailer Proclaims "From the Producer of…"
Ask yourself: do you even know what a producer does? They might as well say from the craft services team behind "Twilight" or the grip who helped light "The Phantom Menace."
For the record: A previous version of this post said "Green Hornet" was released in summer 2011, but it was actually released on Jan 24, 2011.
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