The Difference Between The Box Office and a Film's Quality
Think about a fantastic film that when you talk about it, it seems no one has seen it. This film was most likely what is referred to as a ‘box office bomb’, meaning that it did not make enough money to be considered profitable. I wanted to discuss this in light of Blade Runner 2049, which made its budget of $150 million back with plus an additional $100 million. Keep in mind this movie was a sequel to a sci-fi classic, had a stellar cast including new addition Ryan Gosling, a strong marketing campaign and a visionary director who hadn’t missed yet. So, what happened?
Other films have had it far worse than 2049. Films such as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) or Nine Lives (2016), which were critically reviled, failed to make a profit after production costs and marketing. It’s not uncommon, however, for extremely notable films to bomb at the box office either. Classics such as the original Blade Runner (1982), with a budget of $28 million, lost money, only making back $27.5 million. The Shawshank Redemption (1994), with a budget of $25 million, only earned $16 million back. Fight Club (1999), boasting a $63 million budget, only received $37 million in return. Perhaps most notable though is The Wizard of Oz (1939), with a high, for that era, budget of $2.7 million and a return of only $3 million. How can this be that films that are considered classics now did so poorly at the box office then? For a movie such as The Wizard of Oz it can be attributed to film being a new concept and the theater going not being the activity it is today.
With other films, however, it boils down to marketing and interest level. Did you notice anything about the first three films and Blade Runner 2049? It’s the MPAA rating of ‘R’ which suggests content is for more mature audiences. Films with PG-13 ratings and lower (such as kids films or Marvel Cinematic Universe films) attract all audiences with their less mature material; while R films have to find an audience to see their movie, like it, and recommend it to the public. Having an R rating doesn’t guarantee failure, as showcased with 2016’s Deadpool and Logan (2017). The difference is that those were based on materials and characters that all ages were interested in and were known by the public. Both films also benefited from long, multi-platform marketing campaigns to spread awareness of their films. A film like Blade Runner 2049 on the other hand, which came out the same year as Logan, was not only a sequel to a film from a far time ago, but it featured trailers with very little action. Which in these times of Transformers and superhero movies, a contemplative sci-fi film that’s a sequel to a classic movie from multiple decades ago is a tough film to market and attract interest from the general movie-going public.
Overall, there’s a lot of factors that go into a good movie failing, such as name recognition, intended audience, audience appeal, and marketing.
If you still love a film that bombed at the box office, there’s an easy way to support it: purchasing it! Purchase a film on Blu-Ray or digital so you can watch it whenever you feel like it and be supporting the film to garner a possible sequel. Many movies, including the before mentioned Blade Runner, Shawshank Redemption and Fight Club, became profitable thanks to VHS/DVD sales and TV syndication deals. Obviously those who haven’t seen the film are less likely to buy it on Blu-Ray and would rather rent it, but that way a film is still finding a new audience.