Why big-budget movies bombed this year

By Rafer Guzman

Newsday (MCT)

The return of Arnold Schwarzenegger! A teen romance from the creator of “Twilight”! Will and Jaden Smith in a massive sci-fi spectacle! As movie concepts go, these must have sounded like surefire ways to start printing money.

So ... what happened?

The year is only half over, and already we’ve seen a string of major duds. “Gangster Squad,” a costume drama starring Sean Penn and Emma Stone, had an almost Oscar-like glow but wound up freezing in January. Jennifer Lopez and Jason Statham courted the action/romance crowd with “Parker,” but shot themselves in the foot. And while we were still marveling at the implosion of “After Earth,” along came the belly-flop of “The Lone Ranger.”

Who or what is to blame for these major letdowns? We asked a handful of movie-industry observers to help us do a postmortem on a few of this year’s most high-profile duds. The recurring problems were unoriginal stories and underwhelming stars, but the larger issue seems to be a combination of increasingly inflated production budgets and a mercilessly crowded marketplace.

“Movies are having a hard time holding,” says Todd Cunningham, news editor at TheWrap.com. “There’s just blockbuster after blockbuster. If you don’t connect with your audience on your first go-round, you’re not going to.”

“The Last Stand” (Jan. 18)

The pitch: Schwarzenegger tackles his first starring role in a decade as a small-town sheriff battling an international drug lord.

What happened: Despite a sizable fan base for “The Expendables” movies, audiences barely noticed this dead-of-winter release.

Who’s hurting: All vintage action stars, says Phil Contrino, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “What they’re finding out is that they can’t transition from doing a franchise movie and then doing an original movie.”

Bottom line: $37.1 million (all are recent worldwide figures according to reporting service BoxOfficeMojo.com)

“Parker” (Jan. 25)

The pitch: Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez team up as a thief and a real- estate agent in this action romcom.

What happened: Statham’s violent antihero and Lopez’s bubbly office girl made for a weirdly noxious mix.

Who’s hurting: Statham. “He’s always stuck in this range of between $10-$15-million openings,” says Contrino, “and ‘Parker’ did less than that.”

Bottom line: $17.6 million

“Beautiful Creatures” (Feb. 14)

The pitch: In a small Southern town, an average teenage boy falls for the witchy new girl in school.

What happened: This adaptation didn’t come with the built-in fan base of “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games,” says Andrew Stewart, box-office reporter at Variety.

Who’s hurting: Other young-adult franchises with less than rabid followings.

Bottom line: $60 million

“Jack the Giant Slayer” (March 1)

The pitch: The old fairy tale gets the “Lord of the Rings” treatment with an action-fantasy vibe and elaborate CGI.

What happened: It wasn’t an ultraviolent twist or a pure kids movie, and “Jack” never found its audience. An A-list lead actor might have helped.

Who’s hurting: Budgeted at $195 million, “Jack” has made some money. But it’s a slight ding for director Bryan Singer.

Bottom line: $197 million

’The Incredible Burt Wonderstone“ (March 15)

The pitch: Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi don campy costumes and kooky wigs as old-school Las Vegas magicians, while Jim Carrey plays their crazed nemesis.

What happened: “Competition, crummy marketing, bad reviews — you could check a couple of boxes,” says Cunningham. “And none of this addresses the idea that it was a really bad movie.”

Who’s hurting: Carrey, especially given the pre-release damage he’s done to his upcoming film “Kick-Ass 2” by publicly disavowing it.

Bottom line: $22.5 mil-lion

“The Host” (March 29)

The pitch: While battling an alien invasion, one human girl (Saoirse Ronan) must choose between two suitors (Max Irons and Jake Abel). Based on a novel by “Twilight” sensation Stephenie Meyer.

What happened: A serious case of supernatural-teen-love-triangle fatigue.

Who’s hurting: “Stephenie Meyer is not Stephen King,” says Contrino.

Bottom line: $48 million

“After Earth” (May 31)

The pitch: Box-office megastar Will Smith plays father to real-life son Jaden in a sci-fi adventure set on an abandoned Earth.

What happened: Produced by Will Smith and based on his story idea, “After Earth” ended up looking like a vanity project for Jaden, who proved unable to carry a $130-million movie. Whiffs of Scientology — Will has been a donor, and the movie features a possibly Hubbardian volcano — didn’t help.

Who’s hurting: Director M. Night Shyamalan (“The Last Airbender”), whose name is becoming synonymous with “bomb.”

Bottom line: $199 million, but only $59 million in the United States.

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