Hollywood: safe-bet cinema for austere times
13 March 2012
Things are very tight at the moment, more so than ever in the entertainment industry. In the wake of MGM going bankrupt in 2010, Hollywood studios are keen to make sure they're the ones behind the last big hit and not the last big flop. Right now, Hollywood execs are less willing to gamble on original ideas that don't carry as much stock as something audiences have an affinity with, like the remake of Robocop. One of my favourite films, it's an incredibly unsettling dark blend of sci-fi, horror, black comedy and satire on globalisation and privatisation of public services… topical? Towards the end there're scenes of looting and riots while the police are on strike. I'll admit I was far too young to see or understand it when it first came out, but on repeated viewings I've become a massive fan. That's because, beneath the violent surface, there's a lot of depth to it and it's now being remade to cash in on the nostalgia buck, which is a big buck. How big? Even though it's in pre-production, this remake has a reported budget of $100,000,000.
To get some perspective, in 2010, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was released - a faithful adaptation of a little known, original independent comic book with a big geek following. With massive marketing support and an $85,000,000 budget, Universal was expecting big returns on this. Sadly it made just over half its budget back in worldwide profit. It was beaten at the box office by The Expendables, a generic, 'safe bet', this shallow and dull action blockbuster made with a similar $80,000,000 budget, went on to take over $270,000,000 worldwide. In the previous year Universal released Fast and Furious 4. It was such a money-spinner for the studio that Fast Five and Expendables 2 were both green-lit, while a planned sequel to Scott Pilgrim was canned.
Meanwhile, despite being the same story told a different way each time, the Transformers movies have profited massively from licensing deals, toy lines, comics and the, "I don't go to see movies much, but I'll go to see that," demographic. Because of this, Hollywood producers have been rapidly green lighting any project they can that's based on a brand name, toy or game the audience already has an affinity with and will pay to see a movie of, which is why this summer we're getting a $200,000,000 budget movie take on the board game 'Battleship'. The marketing for it isn't saying "Starring Liam Neeson" despite him being really popular right now after Taken and The Grey, or "Directed by Peter Berg, director of Hancock". No, it's being unashamedly marketed as "From the toy company that bought you Transformers" because it's a Hasbro game and they feel that tagline, combined with flashy expensive special effects and explosions, will draw a large box office. The sad thing is, they're right. It will.
This year Columbia Pictures will be releasing a $200,000,000 remake of Schwarzenegger classic Total Recall and Men in Black 3. Ten years after the poor but profitable Men in Black 2 (budget $140,000,000, Box Office $441,800,000) the studio has decided it's time to bring back that cash cow. The silly lengths this has gone to has led to the green light of a movie version of 'Candy Land', another Hasbro Board game in pre-production, with Adam Sandler attached to star; and a Bill and Ted 3 script is currently doing the rounds.
The numbers speak for themselves, with these and other projects being talked about right now (as highbrow as I like to think I am, I'm particularly looking forward to the delayed Mad Max reboot). Hollywood has showed its hand, it's not getting stale and there's never a serious lack of new, original ideas out there to make into films. With money being tight, the big film studios are reluctant to back anything that's not got a 100% solid gold guaranteed great return out of the gate, and the fact is that remakes / reboots / threequels and product tie-in's defiantly sell tickets now. I just hope they don't drop the more meaningful, absurdly dark comic points Robocop had, in favour of pandering to a wider audience.