Good films will always find an audience. Bad films will not.

Summertime blues — action pics lack kick
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – In any other summer, “The Island” and “Stealth” might have struck box office gold because they represent the kind of fare that has come to define the lucrative moviegoing season.
DreamWorks’ “The Island” is an explosive, Michael Bay-directed sci-fi adventure, and Sony’s “Stealth” offers sexy young leads in a soaring special effects extravaganza armed with the latest in computer technology.
Nevertheless, both films hit turbulence right out of the gate. “The Island” opened three weekends ago to a disappointing $12.4 million; this weekend it pulled in just $3.1 million for an estimated gross to date of $30.9 million. “Stealth,” which opened last weekend to $13.3 million has pulled in an estimated $24.5 million so far.
Hollywood is wondering just what, precisely, is going wrong — not just with “The Island” and “Stealth” but with the whole high-octane action/adventure/sci-fi genre to which they belong.
“The scariest part (of these past few weeks) is that usually you can rely on there being a hit every week of the summer or at least every week in July,” Sony Pictures Entertainment vice chairman Jeff Blake said. “The biggest concern in the industry is two out of four weeks in our best month, there were no major openings. Clearly ‘Stealth’ did share a lot of the same problems that ‘The Island’ did. It just seemed that both were typical summer action fare that did not seem to resonate at all.”
Bay’s “The Island,” co-produced by DreamWorks and Warner Bros. Pictures, opened to the lowest gross ever for the action-oriented filmmaker behind “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor.” And director Rob Cohen, after hitting it big with “The Fast and the Furious” and “XXX,” failed to get liftoff with “Stealth.”
In addition to their high-profile directors, both films featured state-of-the-art visual effects and splashy marketing campaigns. With budgets for both movies in the $120 million range, little was compromised in an effort to wow audiences. Now, those expensive investments will require costly write-downs for their respective studios.
Both films were based on original screenplays, and, in retrospect, that might have been a handicap because neither was developed from such promotable franchise properties as Warners’ “Batman Begins” and 20th Century Fox’s “Fantastic Four.” And neither boasted a mammoth concept coupled with a global celebrity and star, as was the case with Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks’ “War of the Worlds,” starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg.
Explaining the original concepts behind “The Island” and “Stealth” made for difficult marketing challenges. Critics compared “The Island” to the 1976 sci-fi film “Logan’s Run,” while “Stealth,” which centers on a computer-controlled fighter jet, was measured against “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Top Gun.” And the critics’ comparisons seldom were favorable.
Said one studio marketer: “I think today (a movie) needs to feel original and unique, not just original. Audiences are making a distinction between new and unique, rather than new and still-feels-like-a-rehash.”
With all the focus on special effects, neither movie had a guaranteed star, but instead relied on promising up-and-comers. But that gamble, at least this summer, did not pay off.
Although Sony marketers could publicize co-star Jamie Foxx because “Stealth” was his first film since he won the best actor Oscar for “Ray,” he shared the screen with Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel, and the movie couldn’t be positioned as a pure Foxx vehicle. All three were out in force to market “Stealth,” but Lucas and Biel don’t yet resonate with the public.
DreamWorks also had trouble building interest in its two stars, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. McGregor, who has three “Star Wars” movies to his credit, was appearing onstage in London in the musical “Guys and Dolls” and was absent from most of the studio’s national publicity. And though Johansson showed up for the junket and the premiere, her indie cred did not translate into a box office force.
The studio, therefore, was forced to build its campaign around the marquee appeal of director Bay. But, as one marketing executive put it, “When you are selling a director, the only one that matters is Spielberg.”
Added one high-level manager: “The idea that Michael Bay had a fan base is nuts. It’s one thing to be a successful director, but to be a brand name? I can name four of those directors: Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson and Spielberg. Bay has not risen to the level where he himself draws an audience base.”
The two movies are not the first this summer that have suffered from a lack of star power. Sony and production partner Revolution Studios stumbled in April with the sequel “XXX: State of the Union,” in which Ice Cube took over the lead role from Vin Diesel, who starred in the original. While Ice Cube enjoyed success earlier this year with the kid-friendly “Are We There Yet?” which grossed $83 million domestically, he was unable to expand on his developing fan base with “XXX,” which opened to $12 million on its way to a mere $26 million.
“You can make an Ice Cube movie for $40 million and succeed, but blowing it up to the $120 million level does not guarantee you added box office dollars,” the manager said. “It seems that the new dead zone is the $120 million-$150 million no-star movie.”
Some industry observers predict Hollywood will be less eager to risk movies based on original concepts with unproven stars.
“This is going to become more and more a brand business,” the manager said. “Studios will be looking for a prebuilt audience, whether it’s a book, a video game or a comic book audience.”
Blake and the other executives at Sony, who have had difficulties throughout the summer — the studio’s biggest summer film, “Bewitched,” has grossed just more than $60 million — insist they are not going to alter their development plans drastically, though the idea of a sure thing now seems a bit less sure.
“It does feel that there is going to be a sea change in the business, that there isn’t going to be a hit every week of the summer,” Blake said. “It’s a concern, and the bar for the movies that are going to do well seems to have been raised this summer. I don’t think anyone wants to live in a world where you have to have one of the biggest movie stars, with one of the biggest directors with a giant concept like aliens invading earth, as your criteria for a hit. It’s a pretty high place to put the bar.”