This week Neil Calloway argues that big name film stars alone are no longer a guarantee of box office return…
This week the least profitable films of the year were announced, with films starring household names such as Chris Hemsworth, Bill Murray and Sean Penn all appearing in movies that made the list.
At first glance, it might seem unusual that such big names would appear in a list of the least profitable films of the year. Really looking at it though, and looking at their respective filmographies, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Bill Murray has the dubious honour of not only starring in Rock The Kasbah, the film that appears at the top (or bottom depending on your point of view) but also appearing in Cameron Crowe’s much derided Aloha, which appears at number 9 in the list. With a budget of $15 million, a box office of $2.9 million represents only a 19% return for Rock The Kasbah. Though he’s claimed by every hipster as their favourite actor, when he’s a leading man rather than a smaller role, his films don’t make that much money; how many of you rushed to see Hyde Park On Hudson when it came out? A quirky character in Wes Anderson films is one thing, being a box office draw in your own film is quite another.
The second least profitable film on the list is The Gunman, starring, co-written and produced by Sean Penn. With a box office of $10.7 million against a $40 million budget, the film made back just over a quarter of its money. Penn is a fine actor and a fantastic director, but he’s hardly an action star, and that’s reflected in the poor return on the money. He’s out of his comfort zone, and the sort of people who might enjoy him in The Tree of Life or Fair Game probably aren’t going to shell out for tickets to see him in a shoot ’em up.
Just above (or below) The Gunman is Michael Mann’s Blackhat, which made $19.4 million, but had a budget of $70 million, so made less than 30% of its money back, making it the first Michael Mann helmed film since 2001’s Ali not to make its budget back at the box office. Blackhat, of course, starred Chris Hemsworth. If anyone in 2015 is guaranteed a hit, then surely it’s someone who has starred in several of the Marvel Comic Universe films, right? Wrong. We might pay to see him play Thor, but not to star in other films.
Big names also making the list were Johnny Depp for Mortdecai, which made less than 80% of its budget back, and Hugh Jackman in Pan, which fared slightly better and made just under $120 million back on a $150 million budget.
For years stars ruled; a big name actor could appear in a low-grade film and it’d be guaranteed to make money, now, as this list proves, that’s no longer the case. You might complain that Hollywood has run out of ideas and all you see is reboots, remakes, comic book franchises, comic book franchise remakes, soft reboots and all female remakes, but the reason these films are made, and are successful, is that studios know they will be; they can save a fortune in marketing because the source material is familiar, often, at least when a franchise is starting out, they don’t star big names; Robert Downey Jr. got $500,000 for the first Iron Man film.
The star is dead; the reason you’re seeing so many films based on other material is because and Hollywood needs a new guarantee of income.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.