Predicting a Movie Flop

…because you should know when to save your $14.50 for something better. Like Chipotle.

Summertime usually equates to movie time, with studios looking to release their big budget films in the hopes of making an even bigger return. If you take a look back, you’ll realize that some of your favorite and unforgettable classics were released during the summer of your childhood: “The Lion King,” “E.T.,” “The Goonies”, “Independence Day”, “Toy Story”, and the list goes on!

But just because a movie comes out during the summer doesn’t always mean it’ll do well in theaters. It’s been proven time and again that although summertime equates to movie time, it doesn’t always equate to money time for studios.

For example, Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges recent effort “R.I.P.D.” just flopped epically at the box office, and it’s raised even more concerns about big-budget movie flops. The film was reportedly made on a $130 million budget, but barely brought in $12 million; less than a quarter of what it took to make the film. In what is becoming a steady trend, “R.I.P.D.” joins “White House Down”, “After Earth”, and “The Lone Ranger” as one of the biggest movie flops of this summer season.

Defining “flop”:


When the word flop is brought up in Hollywood, it generally indicates that the movie didn’t perform as well as studio execs thought it would. For instance, the Disney film “John Carter” performed far below what Disney executives thought it would, losing the company over $100 million and leading to the resignation of the head of Walt Disney studios. In this instance, a movie flop would be defined as a film that cost more to make than it actually returned; the same as “R.I.P.D.”

However, there are times when a movie flop isn’t as easy to identify. A movie can actually perform up to par financially with what studios predicted, but get horrible, horrible reviews (Does “The Last Airbender” ring any bells?). There are some small instances in which a movie does amazingly well at the box office, but the negative attention or criticism causes the movie to lose steam extremely fast and be ignored by the public at-large.

And yet another example of a movie flop is when a movie is well-scripted, well-acted, and well-directed but fails to gain any steam at the box office. In this case, an Oscar-worthy film may be considered a flop, simply because the studio lost money on making it. Go over to Rotten Tomatoes and take a look at “Superman Returns.” In all efforts, it was a flop in theaters, but a 75% rating puts the film well above many of today’s blockbusters.

As you see, defining a flop is pretty difficult, which is why you shouldn’t take what I’m about to say as full-fledged proof of the ability to predict one. Based on the above examples as well as examining a list of the 10 biggest movie flops provided by IMDb, there are three basic components to predicting just how well a movie will do. Of course, you could also just go on over to Google (if you trust machines and technology) where they’ve announced that they can accurately predict which movies will flop using an algorithm. Oh Google, you and your algorithms…you get me every time!

1. Bad Marketing:


Today, marketing can make or break not only a film, but any service or product. The way a film is marketed makes a big difference in what initial thoughts on the film are. As they say, “first impressions are everything,” and films, just like humans, only have one shot at getting the impression right. If a film is missing a key component of marketing, say posters or billboard, the entire project could be doomed, causing people to forget the movie was even hitting theaters. If a film is marketed the wrong way, people could get the wrong impression and believe that the film isn’t going to be good based on trailers or previews. If a film is marketed in an unstructured way, a film could seem chaotic with a lack of control over how it wants to appear.

So, if you can track how well a movie is being marketed (i.e. posters, commercials, those silly toys in Happy Meals), you can track if the movie will be a flop or not.

2. Who is the film’s audience?


A film, or any piece of art, has to know who its audience is. This feeds directly into marketing, but must be explored way before marketing takes place. Filmmakers must know who they want to watch their films and be able to incorporate enough relevant elements for the audience to understand. For example, a cartoon film with ponies and wizards probably shouldn’t include inappropriate, explicit, sexual humor. It would just be gross. That’s a pretty blatant example, but there are plenty of films that never got their footing, just because no one could figure out who the movie was meant for.

So, if you can’t figure out who on earth would want to watch a film about cowboys and aliens, umm, like the film “Cowboys & Aliens”, then you should be able to figure out the movie will be a flop.

3. Release date of movie:


Marvel and Disney have scheduled movie releases all the way through 2017 and 2018 respectively. Why? Because picking these dates way ahead of time means smaller chances that other studios will release big films the same weekends. When going up against proven box-office champions like these two, it would be crazy for a smaller studio to bet on success. This speaks to just how important the date of a film plays in how well a film will perform. Obviously, releasing films on a holiday will usually generate big bucks (IF the film has an audience and is marketed correctly), but if a film comes out on a holiday when say “Iron Man 8 1/2” comes out, it’s probably guaranteed to lose. Picking the right date can be the deadly decision of flop or not.

So, if you can compare two movies that come out on the same date and make an educated guess on which one will be the winner, then you can very easily make a guess on which one will be a flop.

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