When you’ve been working in the film business for a while, you develop a kind of radar – it’s not always easy to detect a hit, but more often than not you can sense a flop coming from a mile away.
Sure, there are sleeper hits and movies which unexpectedly bomb, but follow these nine sure-fire signs of an incoming movie flop and you too will have earned the right to be all smug.
1. Bad buzz
Unfortunately, ‘buzz’ is one of the hardest things to obtain in production of a movie – it’s an invaluable resource if you happen to stumble upon it, but it’s unquantifiable and almost impossible to obtain falsely. Good buzz can make a movie but bad buzz can sink a film, such as ‘Battleship’ or ‘The Lone Ranger’, before it’s even launched – and now, in our enlightened age of technology, inquisitive users can find out what the consensus is on a movie with a simple tweet.
It’s vastly unfair, of course, as the opinions of the few can snowball and subsequently cause an avalanche of poisonous bad buzz, but hey – Hollywood ain’t fair.
First, we must learn the difference between 'reshoots’ and 'pick-ups’. Pick-ups require select cast members to return to the set after shooting has locked to film brief inserts – perhaps snippets of exposition, or long shots to give a scene a sense of geography. Nothing essential, basically. Reshoots, on the other hand, generally require cast and crew get back on the horse to film entirely new scenes, usually to replace existing ones. It’s short-hand for 'We didn’t think this through’. See ’47 Ronin’, ‘Exorcist: The Beginning’ and most recently 2015 mega-flop ‘Fantastic Four’ (above) - which saw almost the entire second half re-shot. ‘World War Z’ is a rare exception.
3. It stars Olivia Wilde or Ryan Reynolds
We’re not quibbling the respective acting talents of Ms Wilde or Mr Reynolds – in fact, we’re fans of both. But even they can’t deny they have terrible luck when choosing projects. Reynolds appeared in not one but two flops in one weekend in 2013 – 'R.I.P.D.’ didn’t even make back 10% of its total budget in its opening weekend, while 'Turbo’ didn’t open nearly as large as expected. And Olivia Wilde? Until 'Rush’, she had never been in a profitable movie. 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’? Flopped. 'In Time’? Flopped. 'Cowboys & Aliens’? Flopped. 'Tron: Legacy’? Juuust broke even. The fact is, strikingly handsome though they may be, Wilde and Reynolds are box-office poison. Reynolds will hope he can buck the trend with the upcoming ‘Deadpooll’.
4. January release date
If a blockbuster with a great cast and a huge budget is released in January or even worse, has it’s release date moved to January, then chances are the studios are burying it. It’s even termed “dump month” by Hollywood - the time of the year when they assume the public visit the cinema less and don’t have as much disposable income. January releases are also usually too late for Oscar consideration. Recent examples include 'The Gambler’ and the terrible Johnny Depp film ‘Mortdecai’. September (because it follows the lucrative ‘summer movie season’) is also a “dump month".
5. Cast members mysteriously unavailable for press
Here’s a cast iron clue that a movie is a stinker – even the actors who made it don’t want anything to do with it. Generally, if the principle cast members don’t make themselves available to appear on the press circuit, then there’s a fair to good chance they just did it for the payday. No actors really like doing press, but if it’s a movie they believe in, they’ll happily bite the bullet and make with the soundbites. There’s a reason you didn’t see Harrison Ford or Gary Oldman singing the praises of 'Paranoia’ in 2014.
6. It’s a cheap knock-off of an existing, successful movie
Fortune favours the brave and history remembers the trailblazers: no one likes a copycat. So when supernatural teen fantasy 'The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones’ just happened to go into production when 'Twilight’ started making coin, it was obvious it was piggybacking the success of Bella and Edward. Which is fine, except fans can sense a knock-off months in advance. Unsurprisingly 'Mortal Instruments 2′ was scrapped when the first film didn’t make it’s budget back.
7. The trailer gives away far too much
If a studio knows it has a film that’s not likely to make too much of a splash, they’re more likely to leave it all on the floor when it comes to the marketing campaign. This means packing the trailers full of action sequences and juicy titbits in the hope that potential viewers will be suitably tantalised – even if it means they’ll be disappointed when they realise they’ve already seen all the good bits. A recent example is the trailer for ‘Terminator: Genisys’ - which was even criticsed by it’s director for revealing too much.
8. There are no press screenings
It’s a trick favoured by makers of low-budget horror films and hashed out sequels: refuse to screen the movie for critics in the hope that they won’t bother seeing the film at all, saving the studio from a review that’s likely to be scathing. This routine has been rumbled by many critics, so often distributors will arrange one solitary screening – but at a godless hour on a Monday morning. Conversely, some studios go the opposite direction and coddle the critics in the hope they’ll go easy – so if you read tweets from a critic raving about the free pizza at their screening, don’t get your hopes up for the movie.
9. Quotes and star ratings attributed to… no one
It’s the desperate calling card of the movie no one loves – the final plea of a film that’ll do anything to get your attention. “Five stars – a masterpiece!” broadcasts the quote on the poster, except… it doesn’t tell you who said it. Possibly because no one actually did. The DVD cover for famous Danny Dyer flop 'Run For Your Wife’ had two sets of four stars placed conveniently next to the title that were presumably just decoration, while a glowing poster quote was attributed not to The Guardian or Sight & Sound but a mysterious “Media Journalist”, who understandably asked to be left anonymous.