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Chin Up, Fanboys! America Hates Lots of Great Movies. Not Just Yours.

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | August 16, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | August 16, 2010 |

It seems like every time a critically adored movie with a strong, but small fanbase suffers a box-office disappointment, those who championed the movie the most are quickest to say, “Box office doesn’t matter.” Fuck you. Does it affect the quality of the film, or does it affect your enjoyment of it? Absolutely not. But when you build expectations, when you make an emotional investment in a movie, and when you support a film, it smarts when you aren’t validated by mainstream America, even if mainstream America is full of mouth breathers. To say that box-office doesn’t matter is tantamount to a die-hard, obsessed Patriots fan who invested countless hours in a season-long campaign only to see them come up short in the playoffs and say, “Well, it’s only a game.” It’s dismissive of the efforts of the filmmakers and actors who put so much effort into making and promoting the movie in the hopes that it would be successful.

Own your disappointment. If you’re invested enough in a movie to want it to succeed, then it’s OK to concede that you’re bummed it didn’t do well, even if it doesn’t lessen your enjoyment of a film. You can blame it on the refs, or on fucknut mainstream America, but don’t distance yourself from the financial performance of a movie, especially if the opposite result would’ve elicited a fist-pump or two. Tuck that tail between your legs, and hold your head up high.

You know what I like to do after a tough loss? I like to commiserate. I like to know that there are other similarly situated people or movies out there that can empathize. So, on this Monday morning after Scott Pilgrim vs. the World turned in an underwhelming box-office performance, maybe those Pilgrim and Edgar Wright enthusiasts who are licking their wounds can take some heart in the fact that Scott Pilgrim wasn’t the first critically successful film that opened well below expectations. And it won’t be the last. It’ll happen every few months as long as movies continue to be made, I suspect. But that shouldn’t stop you from investing yourself in the outcome. The more times you get burned, the sweeter the sense of victory will be.

For today’s seriously random list, I looked back at the last four years of releases, and listed 14 other films, like Scott Pilgrim, that were adored by critics, but were box-office disappointments. I weeded out the smaller, independent films, where box-office expectations were not as high, and limited the list to those that had wide releases, which means that there was likely a lot of promotion and effort put into them. They all, also, had at least a 70 percent Tomatometer reading.

The bad news for Scott Pilgrim fans hoping that word of mouth would help boost its box-office in subsequent weeks is that there’s no strong precedent in the films below to suggest as much. By and large, they all hover around the 2.5 multiplier for opening weekends and overall total. The good news, however, is that many of these films have done very well on DVD and have developed a nice cult following. So, there can be redemption. It just might take a year or two.

  • Where the Wild Things Are (Rotten Tomatoes: 73 percent). Opening: $32 million. Total: $77 million.

    What went wrong? A $77 million box-office gross is nothing to scoff at, except that studio-driven family films with $100 million budgets usually do significantly better. WtWTA didn’t, mostly because it was too dark, too mature, and perhaps too thoughtful for its target audience, who are used to seeing flatulating animals voiced by Chris Rock or David Schwimmer.

  • Drag Me to Hell (Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent). Opening: $15 million. Total: $42 million.

    What went wrong? I don’t really know. No major stars? Bad marketing? A niche horror audience? I thought the PG-13 would at least open it up to a broader audience, but it seems that horror-movie goers would prefer to see remakes of 80s horror films. For Sam Raimi fans, it still stung.

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox (Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent). Opening: $7 million. Total: $21 million.

    What went wrong? Hiring Wes Anderson to make a film for family audiences is probably what went wrong. Great movie, but a very limited appeal, and most kids were probably not entranced by the throwback animation style.

  • State of Play (Rotten Tomatoes: 84 percent). Opening Weekend: $14 million. Total: $37 million.

    What went wrong? A lot of folks blamed it on diminishing older, adult audiences who don’t get out to the movies very often anymore. It could’ve been that, but I think it was more likely the presence of Russell Crowe, who audiences aren’t particularly fond of. Plus, it was smart, and mainstream audiences don’t like smart movies.

  • Kick-Ass: (Rotten Tomatoes: 76 percent). Opening Weekend: $19 million. $48 million.

    What went wrong? After Scott Pilgrim, the performance of Kick-Ass almost feels like a big win. Like Pigrim, however, Kick-Ass had no major stars, and only a limited niche appeal to begin with. Fortunately, that niche audience likes to by DVDS — it debuted at number on on DVD and Blu-Ray sales, and was the top downloaded movie on iTunes the week it was released. Expect a similar result for Scott Pilgrim.

  • The Crazies (Rotten Tomatoes: 71 percent). Opening Weekend: $16 million. Total: $39 million.

    What went wrong? Poor marketing, no bankable movie star (sorry, Timothy Olyphant), and maybe even a little zombie fatigue. Plus, though it was a remake, it wasn’t a remake of a recognizable title, and George Romero doesn’t carry a lot of weight with contemporary audiences.

  • Splice: (Rotten Tomatoes: 74 percent). Opening Weekend: $7 million. Overall: $17 million.

    What went wrong? Very poor marketing, no big movie stars, and subject material with limited appeal. Plus, it was totally fucked up, man.

  • Adventureland (Rotten Tomatoes: 88 percent). Opening Weekend: $6 million. Total: $16 million.

    What went wrong? Beats the hell out of me. Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Jessie Eisenberg, and a great soundtrack. I guess today’s teenagers don’t want to see a thoughtful coming-of-age film set 20 years in the past, even if Bella Swan is in it. This one, for me, was a real head-scratcher, and I definitely felt the sting.

  • Whip It (Rotten Tomatoes: 84 percent). Opening Weekend: $4 million. Total: $13 million.

  • What went wrong? I thought that Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page could’ve sold this better. It’s a lot better than the marketing portended. But I think that audiences just weren’t that interested in a movie about roller derby. Plus, movies featuring men in tight pants just don’t sell. America hates hipsters as much as they hate comic-book geeks.

  • 28 Weeks Later (Rotten Tomatoes: 71 percent). Opening Weekend: $10 million. Total: $28 million.

    What went wrong? I really don’t know. People hate good zombie flicks?

  • Grindhouse (Rotten Tomatoes: 82 percent). Opening Weekend: $11 million. Total: $25 million.

    What went wrong? Another one of those films with limited appeal, plus a lengthy running time, and maybe some marketing oversaturation backlash. I think studio expected blockbuster numbers for a novelty film because of the presence of Tarantino and Rodriguez and they were disappointed when they only got novelty film numbers.

  • Stranger than Fiction (Rotten Tomatoes: 72 percent). Opening Weekend: $10 million; Total: $40 million.

    What went wrong? People didn’t want to see Will Ferrell do something challenging or thoughtful. They just wanted to see him spout gibberish really loudly.

  • United 93 (Rottentomatoes: 91 percent). Opening: $11 million. Total: $33 million.

    What went wrong? I think this one is fairly self-evident: As good as United 93 was, most moviegoers weren’t in the mood to relive 9/11 again, and probably won’t be for another few years.

  • Descent (Rottentomatoes: 84 percent). Opening: $8 million. Total: $26 million.

    What went wrong? No major stars. The storyline wasn’t spelled out in the trailers, and a lack of promotion.

    Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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