Am I the Only Sane One Here?

And Sucker Punch bombs.

Counting Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder’s last three movies failed to make back their budgets at the U.S. box office.  While Watchmen and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole did add decent worldwide totals to their U.S. box office takes, when you factor in prints and advertising and the cut of the box office given to theaters, they failed to turn a profit.  I smell the same outcome for Sucker Punch.

I didn’t see Sucker Punch, but I knew from the first trailer that I would hate it.  I’m sick of CGI run amok without a story to back it up and justify spending insane amounts of money.  The estimated cost of Sucker Punch was $82 million.  In reality, the budget was probably well over $100 million.  The fact that it’s well on its way to being a financial bust ought to give Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan pause as they prepare to hand over the Superman franchise to Snyder.

But they won’t balk.  They have convinced themselves that Snyder is a visionary director who will propel the franchise into The Dark Knight territory, both creatively and financially.  Snyder very well may turn out a profitable Superman film.  Much like Michael Bay, he has a great eye and is capable of putting together slick action sequences.  But also like Michael Bay, he’s shown a disregard for story or characters and a complete inability to get good work out of his actors.

I don’t have anything against Snyder.  I actually enjoyed Legend of the Guardians and gave him grudging respect for how his remake of Dawn of the Dead turned out.  But as a fan of movies and an observer of a studio system that’s gone insane, green-lighting one bloated action flick after another, it frustrates me to see him throwing away money on crap.  The budget of Sucker Punch could have funded several of last year’s best movies (Winter’s Bone, Rabbit Hole, Monsters, Greenberg, 127 Hours, The Social Network) and given the studio more bang for their buck.  Not to mention, the kind of marketing push that those films (aside from The Social Network) could get from being studio projects that they were unable to get from their indie distributors.

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I believe quality films done on a reasonable budget can be a more profitable formula for the studios than taking a loss on one big-budget, excessive CGI flop after another, while searching for that one blockbuster that turns into a home run.  Sure that one home run brings in a lot of money through not only box office returns, but also ancillary (merchandising, DVDs, cable sales) markets, but the losses that are taken on the seven or eight megaflops balance out those gains.  It seems to me that the more conservative business plan is also the more creatively rewarding one.  Why isn’t this more apparent to the studio heads?

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4 thoughts on “Am I the Only Sane One Here?

  1. My concern is that when Snyder does Superman he won’t be able to make it full of SFX like his other flicks. I’m not sure how he will handle Superman without all the crazy CGI.

    • If you absolutely have to do a Superman movie, I think Snyder’s actually a decent choice to direct. I’m no expert on comics by any stretch of the imagination, but the character of Superman/Clark Kent always seemed kind of thin to me. As a character, I don’t think he can stand up to the kind of brooding, angsty approach that Nolan has used with Batman. But for a fun, superhero movie, I think Superman is fine and I think Snyder, if he has a good script, can make a fun, slick action movie. In that case, I’m fine with his CGI wackiness. In the case of a movie where a character has the powers of Superman, using a ton of CGI is understandable. I just have a problem when a movie like Sucker Punch exists solely as a showcase for gratuitous CGI.

  2. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I believe quality films done on a reasonable budget can be a more profitable formula for the studios than taking a loss on one big-budget, excessive CGI flop after another, while searching for that one blockbuster that turns into a home run. Sure that one home run brings in a lot of money through not only box office returns, but also ancillary (merchandising, DVDs, cable sales) markets, but the losses that are taken on the seven or eight megaflops balance out those gains. It seems to me that the more conservative business plan is also the more creatively rewarding one. Why isn’t this more apparent to the studio heads?

    I’m sure we’ve had this discussion already, so you know I’m 100% in agreement there. It’s much easier for a film to, at the very least, break even on a lower budget. What Hollywood is doing right now is putting all the money on one number (to use a half-assed roulette metaphor) instead of putting a few million on several numbers. You widen the possibility that one of those numbers will hit, instead of having everything riding on one number. I think the prevailing wisdom is, “Yeah, but if my one number hits, then I’m a hero.”

    But the really sad part about this gambling analogy is that it’s less like one desperate guy at a roulette wheel. Most big movies these days are financed through exorbitant bank loans, not what’s in the studio coffers. It’s a lot easier to gamble stupidly when it’s someone else’s money, and you’ll either quit or be fired before the wheel stops spinning.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that they’ll either quit or be fired before the wheel stops spinning. What’s the old cliché? The lifespan for a development executive’s tenure at a studio is about nine months? They know they can take a shot at hitting the game-winning home run (you go with gambling metaphors, I prefer sports) and if they hit, they’re remembered for being the guy who pushed The Matrix over at Warner Bros. and are welcomed with open arms at Paramount. If they miss, well, you can’t be the hero every day, and it’s okay, Sucker Punch only lost $50 million. Whatever happened to a solid line drive in the gap that drives in two runs (okay, I swear I’m done with the sports metaphors)? It’s a sad state of affairs when the people in charge of the money are more afraid of spending “only” $20-$30 million on a film with a good script, solid cast, and capable director, than they are of spending $150 million on a ridiculous “tent-pole” movie that goes into production with half a script, a vacant-eyed action hero, and the hot director of the moment behind the camera.

      I think the fact that these big budget “tent-pole” movies (Sucker Punch, The Tourist, Salt) are starting to bomb left and right is an indication that maybe general audiences are learning to spot the flicks that are all flash and beautiful people trying to cover up the fact that the movie’s a piece of crap. The downside to that trend is the occasional good flick like Knight and Day fails along with the crap. But if we have to crack a few eggs (to use half a cooking metaphor) to get to a point where budgets come down to a reasonable level and good stories are valued over how many explosions can be fit into a two hour running time (don’t get me wrong, sometimes I love a big, empty-headed action flick, but with the exception of Knight and Day and Inception, I can’t think of any recent examples that I’ve enjoyed in the past year), that’s a price I’m more than willing to pay.

      But that’s not going to happen.

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