This week, Neil Calloway looks at how public perceptions can affect how a movie is thought of…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past ten days, you’ll know about the fallout from the Fantastic Four movie, which bombed at the box office during its opening weekend, and was on the receiving end of near universal bad reviews. The film has been out for a matter of days and its fate has been sealed. It’ll become shorthand for the failure of a film, mentioned forever more alongside the likes of Heaven’s Gate, Waterworld and John Carter. Fantastic Four will be a meme; a punchline, the cast and crew having to spend the next few years sheepishly defending their participation in it. Give it 18 months and you’ll see Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan in interviews for their latest movies saying “well, it did really well in Europe, and on DVD…” and they won’t be lying.
On the other hand, Fantastic Four had opening weekend takings of $25 million, it debuted at number one at the UK box office, and has made more than $70 million worldwide already. Given the fate of most films; a few festival screenings, a tiny cinema release and then finally appearing on Blu-ray and DVD, it’s not bad. It’ll probably make its money back worldwide, eventually, just as Waterworld and John Carter did when you throw in home video sales and TV rights.
Fantastic Four was kept off the top spot of the US box office by Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and a clue to how public perception of films came from that film’s writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, talking about his previous collaboration with Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow. That film debuted at number 3 at the US box office, with a $28 million dollar opening weekend in the US; figures that aren’t all that different to Fantastic Four‘s numbers, but it was seen as a surprising success, because it had a difficult production and gestation, including re-shoots and a name change (from the original comic book’s All You Need Is Kill to Edge of Tomorrow to some weird hybrid where the Blu-ray and DVD package pushed the “Live. Die. Repeat” tagline to the forefront.) McQuarrie pointed out that “If people are talking about your movie on social media the weekend it opens and telling each other to see the movie you’re already fucked. You need to be building your social-media campaign a year before the movie comes out.” He’s right; the reputation of a movie is set before it opens, after that the best you can hope to have audiences say “oh, it’s better than I expected” but in the public consciousness that will be too late. Just as Fantastic Four had a bad reputation, Edge of Tomorrow had no reputation, and managed to turn that into a “surprising” hit.
McQuarrie pointed out that Spectre, the next Bond film, is already getting audiences excited some time before its release. Marvel films are good at this, and the Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad movies have all but guaranteed great opening weekends with their pre-release campaigns. Fantastic Four didn’t have any of that; maybe the studio weren’t happy with the film, maybe the director wasn’t happy with what the studio did to his film, maybe – after four films in just over twenty years, the Fantastic Four aren’t cut out for the big screen treatment, but looking back on it in ten years, after the next reboot of the series, saying “actually, it wasn’t that bad” won’t help. Once a flop, always a flop, even if it does make its money back. Despite what Cruise and McQuarrie are saying now, I doubt there will be a All You Need Is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow/Live Die Repeat sequel; not least because the studio won’t know what to call it, but mainly because it has a reputation as a “oh, it’s better than I expected, it wasn’t that bad” movie.
In the tremendously entertaining 1992 hacking/heist/caper film Sneakers a character says that the world operates not on reality, but the perception of reality. People perceive Fantastic Four to be a flop, therefore they don’t go to see it and it becomes one. Edge of Tomorrow – an action packed science fiction film starring Tom Cruise that cost $180 million and directed by the guy who did The Bourne Identity – could never be described as a surprising hit (it’d be a surprise if it didn’t make money) but that’s how it is perceived. If Fantastic Four was just another movie – not based on a huge comic series – then it wouldn’t be thought of as a flop, but now, and forever more, it will be.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.