We’re barely five months into 2018 and it seems that we have already seen the two biggest movies of the year. With Avengers: Infinity War set to make all the money, and February release Black Panther currently reigning supreme as the highest grossing picture of the season so far, it feels doubtful that any film can topple the giants of Marvel. By and large, the past decade of blockbusters has been easy enough to predict: Franchises dominate, never bet against an animated family movie, look for what sells in China, and so on.
Yet last year offered a few surprise cards to the deck, and while it’s a bit much to say the game was changed, it was certainly a less safe bet than it used to be. Remember, 2017 was the year when neither the Transformers nor Pirates of the Caribbean franchises cracked the top 10 highest grossing films of the year. It was the year when the 7th biggest movie was a thinly veiled piece of Chinese propaganda dressed up as an action movie. A Jumanji movie made more than Spider-Man. Two of the most profitable films of 2017 were horror films, neither of which cost more than $40m to make. Justice League didn’t make the top ten highest grossing films of the year! Hell, that film lost money for Warner Bros! Did anyone ever predict that a freaking Justice League movie would fail to pass $700m, regardless of its quality?
On top of this whirlwind of change, blockbuster cinema has essentially become too big to fail. It’s not enough for a film to make $500m, a number that would have been an undisputed success for any blockbuster only a decade ago: Now, they need to make upwards of $750m, just to keep the lights on. Stories of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and its ballooning budget plagued the production and promotion of that supposedly easy hit (on top of the Depp elephant in the room). Whether you believe the official budget of $230m for that film, or the reported rumours of $320m+, the notion that such films even have to cost that much these days seems like a disaster in the making. Just look at Justice League: Do you believe for one moment that film ‘only’ cost $300m to make?
Every studio wants its own franchise now, having tasted the fruits of Marvel and Disney’s labours and thought, ‘Hey, we can do that too.’ As we saw from the premature investment in the disastrous Dark Universe, courtesy of Universal, it’s easier said than done. Yet the formula remains in place, because if you pull it off, it essentially becomes a money printing machine. So, they keep at it: big budgets, recognizable intellectual properties, the promise of an intertwining saga of cinema, and just enough pandering to keep international markets pleased.
Right now, the list of highest-grossing hits of 2018 includes three major blockbusters from China, two that were ostensibly made for Chinese audiences, a bad kids film, two films ending trilogies that failed to live up to financial expectations, a movie where The Rock has a giant gorilla BFF, and an afrofuturist epic with a majority black cast that’s an addition to a major franchise. That’s all about to change soon, of course, but by how much?
There doesn’t seem to be that many obvious flops this year, particularly when compared to the feast of failures 2017 offered: There’s no Monster Trucks, no Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, no King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (which I didn’t think was all that bad), and no The Mummy. Still, there are a few flops in waiting that have caught my eye. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong, but when the market is as crowded as it is these days, and Disney rule all, it seems foolish to bet against the house.
People keep trying to make reboots of Robin Hood happen. It’s easy to see why: An instantly recognizable character and world with its roots firmly in classic Hollywood, one that’s in the public domain and can be fiddled around with as much as a studio desires. The latest stab at depicting everyone’s third or fourth favourite archer comes courtesy of Leonardo DiCaprio, who is producing this, for some reason. Taron Egerton plays the eponymous Robin, Jamie Foxx is Little John, and Ben Mendelsohn once again cashes in his ‘celebrated character actor slumming it as a baddie’ card as the Sheriff of Nottingham (Jamie Dornan is in it too, but do you really care?) The warning signs for this project came once its release date was pushed back from March to September, and then once again to November.
I put this on the list because I have yet to see someone claim they’re even the tiniest bit excited for this film. Most responses I’ve heard have been somewhere between ‘oh, that’s a movie?’ and ‘Eh’. I question whether this is a property that audiences are hungry for. I’m that one person who liked guy Ritchie’s mess of a King Arthur movie, and even I thought it was unnecessary. This effort’s also getting an IMAX release, which has the faint scent of desperation around it. Perhaps it’ll end up being big with the critics, although early word at CinemaCon wasn’t especially thrilling.
Oh bless, poor Andy Serkis. This one’s been on the books for a while, having started principal photography in March 2015. Originally, it was set for an October 2016 release, but it was shifted to the following year to allow time for more effects work. And then Disney released their latest version of The Jungle Book, and so Mowgli - originally named Jungle Book: Origins was delayed yet again.
Trying to keep up with Disney is no mean feat: Both are working from pre-existing material, but one of them has decades of history and a familiar, toe-tapping cartoon adaptation under its belt. Serkis has promised that his version will be darker in tone and more in line with some of Rudyard Kipling’s surprisingly bleak stories. The question is, do audiences want that? The cast is impressive - Christian Bale, Tom Hollander, Cate Blanchett, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan - and Serkis knows his way around some intense effects work. This could be a case of a film being good but struggling to overcome the timing and competition.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Never before has a title seemed so defeated by its own movie. The exclamation point isn’t fooling anyone. This is the film I’m the least sure about. In theory, it should be a hit since the first film was such a success, and who doesn’t like ABBA?
Yet, it’s hard to get over how damn unnecessary the whole thing feels. I also can’t get over the sheer gall of having a female-centred film, written and directed by women, become a worldwide smash and then handing the sequel reins over to a man. I call this Hardwicking, after Catherine Hardwicke.
The story is a prequel that follows Meryl Streep’s character as a young woman when she gets her freak on for three different dudes that results in pregnancy. It’s said that some of the biggest ABBA songs will be featured - ones we already heard in Mamma Mia - along with some of the lesser-known ones. It’s a Catch-22 situation: Do you just rehash the last film’s songs and end up repeating yourself, or do you dig deeper into the back-catalogue for more obscure hits and risk alienating those fans of the musical?
I love Cher, I’m excited to hear her sing ABBA songs, but I’m not sure I crave a whole film of this. Anyway, what’s the point in Stellan Skarsgård having hundreds of sons who act if he can’t get one of them to play young him in an ABBA musical prequel?
One hundred and fifty million dollars.
That’s the budget for a film wherein Jason Statham fights a giant shark.
In a dream world, this would be a guaranteed hit, and they’re clearly leaning hard into the Chinese box office appeal on this one, but that premise may not be enough to support a 9-figure budget. Look, I want to see Jason Statham punch a giant shark as much as the rest of you, but $150m?! Prove me wrong, Jason!
Let us know what 2018 movies you think are flops in waiting.