Failure, Defined

I reject your contentions, and now intend to do you harmWhen story runs a story about “Hollywood’s Biggest Flops“, well, how can you resist? Until you actually read the piece, and see the method by which the writer came up with her formula:

To calculate our list we looked at movies that featured big-name stars (like Penn, Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers) but failed to earn back their budgets at the box office. We used numbers from Box Office Mojo and IMDB to get estimated budgets and earnings. We then figured out what percentage of its budget each film failed to earn back. We’re only looking at box office revenue here, not DVD and TV sales, which can often make up for box office shortfalls. But we’re also not including the cost of advertising, which often adds another one-third or more to a film’s budget.

So, production budget minus global box-office. But only for movies with “big-name stars”. Oh, and the budget estimates were taken from the IMDb, which is not always the most reliable source for anything. Indeed, it’s so unreliable that the author herself chooses not to trust it when it comes to Marc Forster’s “Stay”:

IMDB reports the film’s budget at an estimated $50 million, but that seems incredibly high. We gave the producers at News Corp. studio Twentieth Century Fox the benefit of the doubt and estimated the budget at $30 million. Even at that level the film failed to earn back 73% of its budget at the box office.

So what else made the list? “All the King’s Men”, “The Invasion”, “The Express” and a couple of Eddie Murphy comedies. Oh, and “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford”, which earned $15 million on a budget of $30 million — which is actually quite an accomplishment for a three-hour minimalist Western that was barely supported by its studio.
But wait! The landscape isn’t littered with as many bodies as you might think:

One film that surprisingly didn’t make our list was 2007’s Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carell. The Universal Pictures follow-up to the successful 2003 film Bruce Almighty is commonly cited in Hollywood as a huge flop. The film cost an estimated $175 million to produce and earned $173 million at the box office, meaning it missed covering its production budget by only 1%. The film was still a disappointment for the studio, which expected great things from the comedy. But compared to the films on our list, it was a relative hit.

Right. Except that it was a massive bomb. The standard line is that a movie needs to gross three times its budget to break even; “Evan Almighty” didn’t even come close. And is it really appropriate to weigh a failed studio tentpole on the same scale as something like “School for Scoundrels”, which makes the list because people still think Billy Bob Thornton is a big-name star?

“The Golden Compass”, which cost roughly the same amount as “Evan Almighty”, recovered from its domestic face-plant (total North American box-office: $70 million) by grossing $300 million overseas — and even with that considerable take, it was still considered a failure.

And where’s “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li”? $12.7 million worldwide on a budget of $50 million … come on, that totally qualifies. And Michael Clarke Duncan is at least as big a star as Steve Carell.

Stories like this make my head hurt.

One thought on “Failure, Defined”

  1. Article failure is also predicated by the fact that it’s a clickthrough. Regardless of quality, the clickthrough format will degrade the content significantly. Jus’ sayin’ as a media consumer…

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