The dismal performance of Johnny Depp’s starrer Transcendence at the U.S. box office
over the weekend heralded the 4th flop in a row for the Hollywood superstar. The $100 million production opened with just $11 million. The actor’s other movies that failed to deliver in the box office were: The Rum Diary (2011), Dark Shadows (2012) and
The Lone Ranger (2013).
Directed by Wally Pfister, who shot Christopher Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight Trilogy, Transcendence explores pressing technological issues from a moralistic perspective. Which is perhaps what drew Depp, particularly since the project was supervised by Christopher Nolan, Hollywood’s master of “high concept” movies. So why weren’t audiences equally enthused?
It has often been stated that since the late nineties, film stars don’t necessarily open movies anymore. Last year alone, we witnessed massive star-studded flops, even the king of summer blockbusters, Will Smith failed to save After Earth from crashing, and Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx couldn’t save White House Down from drowning. And one of the biggest box-office disappointments was delivered by none other than Depp himself in the shape of The Lone Ranger.
No one is immune from the perils of a fickle blockbuster box office, including such seemingly proven fantasy directors as Guillermo del Toro. Last year Pacific Rim which boasted some of the biggest giant robots swinging battleships to date, sank into an ocean of oblivion like its defeated alien monsters. Evidently dazzling effects on their own are no longer enough for increasingly sophisticated audiences who demand more than just light and thunder.
On the other hand kids obviously care about their favorite characters. The Marvel Comic-based thriller Captain America: The Winter Soldier has amassed a worldwide total of $585.6 million in the last three weeks. Other such sequels and prequels featuring familiar characters made similar splashes in the box office last year too. Most notably Iron Man 3 which grossed a whopping $1.2 billion worldwide.
In fact, sequels and reboots seldom lose any money, if at all, albeit they often don’t feature big stars and if they do, they masquerade them in elaborate costumes and suits. Henry Cavill wasn’t well known let alone a star, but his playing Superman last year did not hurt the box office for the Man of Steel which grossed $668 million globally.
Having witnessed the slaughter of many of their original blockbusters last year, Hollywood studios are once again gearing up to deluge the market with a flood of sequels and reboots this season, starting with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 this month, followed by X-Men: Days of Future Past, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Godzilla, Transformers: Edge of Extinction, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Planes: Fires and Rescue and Expendables 3.
It’s hard to blame Hollywood for embracing familiarity and eschewing originality. After all, Hollywood is a business, and it can’t survive without producing a profit. This year, Sony pictures has relented to the pressure of its investors and cut its production slate from 25 to 18 movies, due to costly flops last year, such as White House Down, Elysium and After Earth. In this kind of environment, Warner Bros deserves some credit for taking the risk in releasing Transcendence and for offering another highly-anticipated original, Interstellar, later in the year from director Christopher Nolan. After all, no one can predict the success of a movie from the outset, and hence throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at one should not be taken lightly.
As for Depp, the announced sequel of Pirates of the Caribbean will most likely resurrect his fortune and re-ignite his illusive star power in the box office.