Friday, March 23, 2012

Strange Predictors of Movie Failure

Obviously, to keep this blog going I’m going to have to do more than just film reviews, as I don’t see movies every day (or even every week); it’s just too expensive a habit for an Administrative Assistant and aspiring Librarian to upkeep.  So between reviews I’d like to discuss topics directly related to films and the film industry.  I hope that’s all right with everyone.

For my first “filler,” as I prepare to write my review of John Carter for you all, I wanted to explore a theory I have—or, rather, something I have noticed over the past few years which seems to hold up and represents the development of an hypothesis.

You can tell by the TV spots whether a movie is going to succeed or bomb at the box office.  There’s a patently obvious “tell” that gives it away, which makes me wonder if somehow, these things aren’t predetermined.  I mean, of course you can’t really make up an audience’s mind in advance, but I don’t know. It just seems odd to me.

Here’s how it works.  I’m not sure if anyone has noticed this, but there are two types of trailers shown on TV.  These two types are those that take up the full screen (forgetting letterboxing), and those that have the movie’s name and release date clearly displayed in the letterboxes.  Compare, for example, the trailers for The Hunger Games and the trailers for John Carter.  The trailers for Hunger Games are dynamic, full-screen trailers. They draw you in and look, well, like traditional trailers.

The trailers for John Carter, on the other hand, have pronounced letterboxing, and in the black bars, in large, prominent letters, are the words “JOHN CARTER” and “NOW PLAYING.”

John Carter has been a (surprising) box office flop. Sure, it’s gotten bad reviews from a spate of reviewers apparently too simple or thick to be able to follow a pretty straightforward story (this doesn’t represent all of the film’s bad reviews, incidentally; I just have no patience for these people who claim the story is too complex, convoluted, or incomprehensible—there’s nothing even remotely complicated about the story at all). I have noticed over the past couple of years that no matter how good the film may be, every film that lists the title and release date in the pronounced letterboxes fails at the box office.

I cannot think of a single exception to this rule; can anyone else?  It just seems very odd to me.  Perhaps it’s just an indicator of studios being aware of a lack of buzz around certain films and desperately trying to get their names in front of peoples’ eyes. But it seems to me that a nearly infallible predictor of whether or not a movie will succeed is this: if you can read the name and release date in the black bars throughout the TV spot…it’s probably going to fail.

It’s more than possible that I’m late to the party on this and slow to pick up on it.  Just wondering if anyone else has noticed it, and what your thoughts are?


  1. I hadn't noticed. But, now I will.

  2. I never noticed that. I will have to look for it now.

    I can't wait for your review of the Hunger Games! Enjoy the movie! I forgot it was coming out as the only show I watch at the moment is called "Bubble Guppies" and is for little kids. You'll have to review that... ha ha.

  3. I haven't seen any of these ads (not watching TV and all...) but I've read various discussions about John Carter and how Disney basically gave up on it -- not helped by the fact that the director hadn't scheduled marketing into his plan. All seems a bit of a train wreck behind the scenes.