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What happened to Warner Bros. this summer? or "The cold streak that just wouldn't end"

What happened to Warner Bros. this summer? or "The cold streak that just wouldn't end"

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Over the past few months, JHM has been paying an awful lot of attention (Some might say too much attention) to how "Cars" and "Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest" have been doing. With numerous articles that discussed in minute detail the box office receipts for these two Walt Disney Pictures releases, which then tried to determine whether these two films were actually as financially successful as the Walt Disney Company claimed that they were.

Me personally? If I were the head of the studio that had released the year's top two grossing films to date, I know that I'd be a pretty darn happy guy. At the very least, I know that I'd be a lot happier than the head of Warner Bros. Studios. That particular studio has had such a cold streak this summer, you'd think that it was based in Alaska. Rather than just down the street from Disney in beautiful downtown Burbank.

I mean, if earlier this year, you'd look at the slate of films that Warner Bros. was going to release during the Summer of 2006 ... Well, you'd have thought that the WB was going to be rolling in dough by the time August rolled around. But here we are, with just three weeks to go 'til Labor Day. And Warner Bros. has yet to come through with a really-for-real hit.

Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.

Okay, sure. Were you to go over to Box Office Mojo, you'll see that this studio does have at least one film in the top ten: Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns." Which is currently the 6th top grossing film for 2006 with domestic ticket sales of $192.9 million while overseas ticket sales currently stand at $155 million.

Which is all well & good. Except that (As Mr. Hill has explained ad nauseum with all of his various "Cars" / "Dead Man's Chest" articles) a film has to earn at least three times its production budget before it can finally turn a profit. And given that "Superman Returns" cost a reported $260 million to produce ... Well, it may be quite a few years now before the Man of Steel can officially fly into the black.

Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.

But trust me, folks. Compared to how some of Warner Bros. other films did this summer, "Superman Returns" was a cinematic titan. Take -- for example -- Wolfgang Petersen's $160 million dollar remake of Irwin Allen's cheesy 1972 disaster flick, "The Poseidon Adventure." "Poseidon" did so poorly at the box office (grossing only $60 million during its stateside run, with an additional $119 million coming from overseas) that the studio is rushing this film out on DVD. So look for "Poseidon" to pop up on store shelves next Tuesday.

Then there was "The Lake House." Which Warner Bros. PR department trumpeted as the long-awaited cinematic reunion of Sandra Bullock & Keanu Reeves. Who'd appeared together in 20th Century Fox's 1994 high speed thriller, "Speed."

Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.

WB's only problem was ... Well, evidently movie-goers weren't all that eager to see Sandra & Keanu reunite. This Alejandro Agresti film (which cost an estimated $70 million to produce) only pulled in $51.6 million during its domestic run. Which is Warners is also hustling "The Lake House" out onto DVD. So look for this space / time continium-bending romance to turn up in Walmart on September 26th.

And then there's "Lady in the Water" ... To be honest, I think that too much has already been written about how this highly anticipated M. Night Shamaylan film sank without a trace at the box office. So there's no sense now in beating a damp narf.

Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.

That said, isn't it kind of ironic that ... Well, here's Warner Bros. -- inside of a span of three months -- releasing three different motion pictures that prominently feature water. And yet this studio has been experiencing one of its worst dry spell at the box office in years. That's gotta mean something.

Anyway ... Bruce Willis took to the streets in “16 Blocks." With a worldwide gross of $53 million plus against a reported budget of $80 million ... It's going to take this Richard Donner film quite a few years to finally recover all of its production costs.

Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.

And then there's “The Ant Bully.” Which a lot of JHM readers have already given me plenty of grief about because I dared to write three stories about this new CG feature from WB [Check the masthead of this website, people. What does it say? "News, reviews, history and commentary about the entertainment industry (But mostly about the Mouse)." Please note that it doesn't say "Exclusively about the Mouse," but -- rather -- "Mostly about the Mouse." So as long as Jim says that it's okay to write about other studio's animated films {My understanding is that Mr. Hill is already at work on a couple of stories about Sony's upcoming animated feature, "Open Season"} ... Well, that's what we're going to do here at JHM].

Anywho ... "The Ant Bully" started small at the box office. And -- in spite of the fact that this John A. Davis film was screened in IMAX 3D on large format screens all over the country -- "Ant Bully" 's box office stayed small. To date, this DNA Productions film worldwide has only taken in $27 million. Which -- given that CG feature reportedly cost at least $45 million to produce -- means that it's going to be quite a while before this motion picture turns a profit too.

Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.

So now -- if we were to add this all up -- it's not pretty, people. Six pictures. Total gross so far for the summer? $737 million, give or take a few. Production costs? $637 million and change. So if we apply the old a-film-must-gross-at-least-three-times-its-production-costs-in-order-to-turn-a-profit rule ... Warners Bros. really took it in the shorts this summer. I'm surprised that there aren't production executives lining up on the lot right now. Waiting for their turn to perform ritualistic suicide by diving off of the Warners water tower.

Okay. Maybe it's not as bad as all that. If you factor in what these films will eventually earn through DVD sales, pay-per-view, premium cable, the sale of network broadcast rights & syndication ... Most of these pictures will eventually probably eek out some sort of profit for Warner Bros. Studio.

But -- for now -- most of Hollywood is snickering behind this studio's back. Positively gleeful about Warner Bros. flop-filled summer. And studio execs on the Burbank lot? Well, they're looking for someone to blame for this long string of failures. And right now, the smart money is on Warner Bros. publicity department taking the brunt of the blame for all of these films failing to connect with audiences.

I mean, even movie-goers have begun taking the studio to task for its poor marketing of this year's assortment of movies. At a "Superman Returns" panel at this year's Comic Con in San Diego, one fan stood up during the Q & A and quizzed Bryan Singer about how he thought his movie had been marketed. Singer struggled for a moment, clearly wanting to say something about how disappointed he was with WB's promotional campaign for "Superman Returns." But in the end, given that Bryan still hopes to make a "Superman" sequel for the studio and have it out in theaters by the summer of 2009, Bryan decided to be a diplomat. Opting to say instead that " ... I'm not going to talk about the marketing."

Well, say what you will about the Walt Disney Company. But at least they know how to market their motion pictures. By that I mean: There wasn't a person on the planet this summer who didn't know that "Captain Jack is Back" in "Dead Man's Chest".

Whereas Warner Bros. ... Well, even with a can't-miss title like "Superman Returns," there's no guarantee that that studio is actually going to get a return on its $260 million investment.

So if you were an executive at WB, what would you do to guarantee that your next set of motion pictures actually connected with movie-goers? Besides -- of course -- hiring away Disney's entire promotional team away to come promote your films?

Your thoughts?

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  • Aha!--THERE'S Roger's article about "Why didn't Ant Bully do better?"  We knew that other shoe would drop!  :)

    (Seriously, though:
    Superman - Long, depressing and overserious,
    Poseidon - Goofy,
    Lake House - Chik-flik,
    16 Blocks - -Why- does Bruce Willis try to keep 80's action-thriller on life support?
    Lady in the Water - ...You're right, let's move on.

    And Ant Bully?  Face it, Rog - "Ant" was defeated by crickets....Audience third-party-CGI crickets.   Complain all you like, but we DID try to warn you.
    And don't come crying to us when "Happy Feet" doesn't outgross Pirates 2.  :)
  • Oh, and:
    "{My understanding is that Mr. Hill is already at work on a couple of stories about Sony's upcoming animated feature, "Open Season"} "
    Well, THAT, at least, is site content:
    Seeing as how "Season" was going to be Sony's flagship for their new animation division headed by Roger "Aladdin" Allers and several key storyboard and animation directors from Toy Story....Both of whom had jumped ship during the Troubles, back when both sides reasonably thought there soon wouldn't be a Disney OR a Pixar to come back to.

    Naturally, former doom-pessimism has changed a bit in 2006, now that the studios have been re-Lassetered, Pixar has a full slate, and "Old-school" is back in school again--
    Which should make an interesting Real-JHM article about whether Disney/Pixar's valuable prodigal animators will ever be hired back with open arms--or whether there's irreconcilable differences--and whether "Open Season" and "Surf's Up" [yes, more penguins, only ugly ones, this time] will be Sony's first -and- last forays into the CGI Bust/Boom...
    But as for the movie itself?--Look at the trailer again, and you tell US if we're interested.  -_-
  • Geez Derek! Give the guy a break.

    This is a good look at another company that didn't get the act together to promote the products. Keep up the line, Rog!

    Say what you will, Ant Bully is a good family movie. Did you even bother to see it or is that too low for you to stoop?

    Ignorance may be bliss, but why flaunt it?
  • Again, a film only has to gross TWICE its budget to return a profit, not three times. Ask at any box office website & this is what they'll tell you.

    Other than that though, I agree that WB is not having a good year. If they didn't have the HP franchise, I don't know what they'd be doing right now. Now I haven't (and won't) see Superman Returns, but the marketing was horrible. It was built entirely on Nostalgia....nostalgia that doesn't exist. They have to learn that people aren't going to see a Superman movie just because it's a Superman movie. And you know what? They are pulling the same bad marketing with next year's Ninja Turtles.
  • CapnSkip said:
    This is a good look at another company that didn't get the act together to promote the products. Keep up the line, Rog!
    That's the part I'm trying to figure out:  How could -marketing- have been the problem for "Superman" and "Lady in the Water", when both movies had teasers and trailers for almost an entire YEAR?
    Superman alone set a new record with, what, two teasers and five full trailers, and every conceivable product tie-in, and even back in December, I was already screaming-fed-up with that Italian-opera "Water" teaser, given that our theater showed it at every single movie...And that was before Shamalyan's book came out.
    Ant Bully had teasers out for almost as long, and the requisite "Polar Express" amount of bookstore-marketing, while Poseidon thought it could sell itself with a word and a summer date, and the other two opened in obscurity.

    Superman and Lady were the two most hyped movies of the summer--the other two being You-Know-Who--and yet one flopped, one opened big and dropped fast, and the other two were the #1 & 2 hit movies of the year, despite analysts trying to persuade us that one of them wasn't...
    If the proof ISN'T "in the popcorn", what are we meant to assume it is?
  • "How could -marketing- have been the problem for "Superman" and "Lady in the Water", when both movies had teasers and trailers for almost an entire YEAR? "
    It's not about quantity but rather about quality. With Pirates, Disney actually showed content in their trailers and not just a picture of Captain Jack. WB on the otherhand merely showed clips of Superman just standing still for most of the trailers. And also, there is a major difference between "Captain Jack is Back" and "Superman is back." For one thing, most people just don't care a lot about Superman. To most people, it's just another superhero movie. Captain Jack on the other hand is entirely different. Besides the fact that the franchise is new and fresh in people's minds, can you really say DMC is just another pirate movie? After all, how many other pirate movies are there?

    Same problem with Ant Bully. Yes there were a lot of trailers, but no good ones. In fact 90% of the trailer had nothing to do with Ant Bully and in fact just tried to parody other things (rappers, harry potter, etc). The result was forced humor that simply wasn't funny. And the other 10% of the trailer was a clip of the boy stepping on the ants.

    As for LitW, I'd say that's Shyamalan's fault. WB built it as an "M. Night Shyamalan" film. A few years ago that would have been enough, but with The Village still sour in people's mouths, that just simply wasn't enough.
  • askmike wrote:
    And also, there is a major difference between "Captain Jack is Back" and "Superman is back." For one thing, most people just don't care a lot about Superman.
    "Returns" had one thing going for it, and that's what Warner sold in the ads:
    As far as fans were concerned, and Warner -wanted- them to be concerned, this was going to be the movie that officially wiped Superman 3 and 4 out of history and start over, coming on the heels of "Batman Begins" starting its Warner/DC franchises from the beginning--As more than one movie fan put it when the first trailers came out, all they had to do was play that John Williams "Krypton" theme, and you were there.
    As to whether fans actually GOT the Return of Richard Donner (and not that Bryan Singer didn't throw his back out trying), that's another matter.

    OTOH, as noted, Ant Bully gave us all the warning we needed:
    The teasers showed us character designs that looked like "Antz", and we assumed it was made by either the same people, or those who liked it--Either way, 'nuff said.
  • Working 'in movies,' I've often gauged audience reaction (I've stood in the back of theaters sometimes, to listen), and  I was somewhat amazed last year when both 'Superman Returns' and 'Lady in the Water's' previews emerged attached to 'Harry Potter.'

    With Superman, there was almost no reaction when the giant 'S' logo appeared.  but when the trailers turned to lLady in the Water, the audience became curious, because they had no idea what the film was about.  But when the name M Night Shyamalan appeared, there was this 'excited whisper' that could be heard throughout the theater.

    Other then that, personally, there was nothing from WB that really made me want to see any of their lineups (the only film I was dying to see was PIXAR's 'Cars')-I'm sure I was in a large number of camps of those who felt a 'Poseidon Adventure' remake was unnecesarry.

    Though I also think that WB has a problem with really stupid taglines, such as 'Posiedon's MayDay' tagline, and Ant Bully's 'The Battle for the Lawn, is On.'  but then, we weren't spared rhyming tags from other studios ('Captain Jack is Back,' for one).

    I remember last year, thinking WB was finally getting their act back together, and then 2006 comes along and just-well, Roger said enough about that.
  • The closer Superman Returns got to release, the more curious I heard people getting, but once the film came out there seemed to be a general consensus that the movie was good, but far too long without enough action.  To be honest, I've been a huge Superman fan for nearly 40 years and have been waiting for years to see a new film but I fell asleep in the theater during the big, "action-packed" climax.  It's such a shame that WB didn't go with Kevin Smith's script all those years ago as it was the best of the bunch, starting completely over but still with Superman already an established hero in the first act.  I can't say that I'm a fan of the films Smith has directed, but he writes a great comic book and he needs to have more shots at writing comic films.
  • Again, it depends if you're talking about American or Ameican/Foreign and how that company structures its foreign distribution.  If it's American, then, yes, about twice, depending on which weeks the film makes its money.  If it's American/Foreign it's probably closer to three times.
  • The problem with Superman was this, as far as I'm concerned: other superhero chains--such as Batman and Xmen--have slowly developed a film style that at times seems influenced noir and gritty realism.  On the other hand, Superman still has Jimmy Olsen and flat supervillians (such as the current incarnation of Lex Luthor) and his equally flat girlfriend.  The threat in the most recent Batman was the type of activity that spoke to a contemporary audience--that is, a post-9/11 audience.  The threat in Superman was just lame.  What was Lex Luthor doing?  Oh yeah, he was making his own landmass using magic crystals and a bomb.  Isn't this the type of science-gone-mad plot that better related to a 1950s sense of unknown military science?  

    The problem with this superhero chain is that it is unsuccessful in applying the superman myth to a contemporary environment.  Like much science fiction, good superhero stories are almost always an interesting commentary on the contemporary cultural and political climate.  Aside from the question of paternity, the new superman simply flat out fails.
  • I believe the other reason why Ant Bully failed was because people have already seen ant movies...twice. With Pixar still the leader in CGI films, people still remember A Bug's Life, even if it's not the studio's BEST film. And those who see DreamWorks' movies might also remember Antz. The over-reliance on an all-star cast might've hurt it, too. Sorry, but if you keep plagarizing other films, people are going to catch on eventually.

    As for WB's other films, I saw Poseidon and The Lake House. I enjoyed The Lake House, only as a somber love tale, but you couldn't pay me to see Poseidon again. The next time I feel like seeing a million people die at sea, I'll just watch Titanic.
  • I see a lot of comments about how bad the marketing was.  I really don't think that was the problem.  

    The problem is that WB just made bad movies that had very bad word of mouth.  No one had anything good to say about Lady In The Lake, The Lake House or Poisiden that actually went and saw it.  Would you pay $10 + to see a movie that people are saying is bad?

    And Superman would have done better if it had repeat business, but no one wanted to see it again because it wasn't that good of a story.  They blew it by not starting the story fresh and the whole Superman's kid thing was stupid and really detracted from the rest of the movie.

    Ant Bully failed because there is a glut of computer animated movies on the market and many of them are bad.  The story sounded very uninteresting to me personally and I'm sure it did to many others, therefore it was not succsessful in pulling in audiences.

    So in my opinion, it wasn't marketing that failed, but WB just put out bad movies that people did not want to spend their hard earned cash on.
  • It’s impossible to understand why any film bombs. You can blame marketing, release date, quality, buzz…you’ll go nuts (and bore fans of this site). There’s no single reason why Warner Brothers is having a bad summer, but I have some theories.

    The most important aspect that’s missing from this article is the MAJOR FACT that most of these films were partially financed by outside sources. WB won’t be losing the truckloads of coin the unwashed seemed to think they will.

    16 BLOCKS was a negative pickup by WB. And if you think this film was budgeted at 80 mil, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. I’ve heard the DVD alone pulled in 60+ million. It will be profitable for everyone involved.

    POSEIDON just couldn’t find a place in the world series of May blockbusters. Every year something must fail. It just has to be that way. This year, it was POSEIDON. The DVD should do spectacular business.

    LAKE HOUSE, if you go to any movie site or know anyone in the industry, cost 45 million bucks to produce. Colton, where are you getting that 70 mil number??? HOUSE played pretty well during the summer, but couldn’t rack up bigger numbers even with impressive weekly percentages at the box office. Again, here’s a DVD that will sell very well. This film will see an easy profit.

    SUPERMAN RETURNS is going to be the flick that drove the internet crazy. First of all, the budget was 204 mil – that’s been settled long ago. You can’t factor in the development costs for the other incarnations. WB had long ago written those costs off.

    SUPERMAN disappointed many expecting a SPIDER-MAN style of adventure. What they got was a loving, beautifully realized, perfectly pitched superhero film. PIRATES 2 is candy; sweet and immediately appealing to the senses. But I feel SUPERMAN is going to age like fine wine. It will find a huge fanbase on DVD (a majority of audiences that took the time to see it loved it), and I could see over 250 mil in total ancillary revenue. Dear lord, how anyone could say this film will lose money doesn’t understand HOW movies make money.

    Remember how the press is constantly reminding the public that they “hate critics?” Well, chalk up the failure of LADY IN THE WATER to the critics. They got the word out that the film was junk, and the audiences on that opening Friday agreed. It’s a terrible film that rightfully sunk to the bottom of the pool. Viva film critics!

    ANT BULLY is the best CG film of the year with the worst release date. Families didn’t give it a chance because they had spent their bucks already for the month. It’s criminal how soundly this film was ignored. It was a true gem. I hope the DVD sales are kind to it.  
  • Thank you soo much for doing something that Jim has yet to do Roger and that is criticise something except Disney for once.I don't think anyone had a problem with you writing the Ant Bully articles what the problem was in my opinion was seeing Jim bash Pirates & Cars while keeping tight lipped when other movies like The Ant Bully and Over the Hedge under performed.I just found it very bias reporting not soo much on your part but more on Jim Hill's and its a shame that you feel the need to follow up on another studios failiure while Jim keeps quiet.

    Also Warner blaming its marketing dept is rubish the real reason for all these flops is because the CGI market place is just too big,CGI has lost its apeal.
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