While box-office has always been vastly unpredictable, it does play a role in deciding a movie’s place in cinema history. And the biggest flops are almost always films which have failed the audience’s expectations. 2019, especially, witnessed some major A-listers starring in films which failed quite spectacularly. From unsuccessful attempts at classic reboots, money-minded animated outings, to poorly scripted superhero flicks and female-led films which just did not do enough, the last year of the last decade was not kind to Hollywood.
Of course, there are films which did not do well commercially, in spite of striking a chord with its audiences. But in this list we are focusing on films which failed critics and fans alike and turned out to be box office duds; while films like Captain Marvel and Endgame’s collections made for a chunk of box office’s profits last year, 2019 was not a year for the blockbuster. Besides Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Us, It: Chapter 2, Joker and of course, the MCU outings, the year was dominated by Netflix.
Good, solid films like Bombshell and Rocketman did not qualify to blockbuster status. Good and almost aggressive marketing was the code to breaking the box office code of success, especially if the film didn’t have any Oscar cred. But then again Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey had a particularly rough year with two releases both of which are in this list, and looks like his streak continues into the new year with Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen getting not-so-glowing reviews.
Here are the films which were aimed for box office gold but failed last year.
When Stranger Things star David Harbour was announced as the new Hellboy, the fandom was quite overjoyed. In spite of the fact that the director’s mantle was no longer being held by Hollywood’s monster man Guillermo del Toro, audiences expected quite a lot from the reboot; but after its release fans unanimously agreed that though Harbour’s hard work was quite visible, he could not match up to the effortless grisliness and the macabre angst of Ron Perlman’s Hellboy.
The film also felt like director Neil Marshall’s way of living up to Del Toro’s ease with the genre but the dramatised horror seemed quite forced in some parts of the film. Milla Jovovich’s stint as the Blood Queen was well-received. In spite of the impressive CGI detailing and critically praised set design, the film at its core lacked imagination, and is sadly a one-time watch, which is not the case with the earlier instalments. Andrew Cosby’s screenplay lacks the kind of new-age ingenuity and much-needed perspective which any monster movie made in 2019 obviously needs, to be taken seriously.
Harbour plays Hellboy, a half-demon who is a supernatural sleuth slash monster hunter; the film is decidedly gorier than its predecessors, but the R-rated movie seems to forget that the Hellboy comic is still largely aimed at children. Consequentially, underage viewers make up a huge fraction of the film’s demographic, making a film that’s not for them, seems like a dumb move. Moreover, the film does not seem to have the sustained tenor of an adult fantasy watch and it simply cannot afford to alienate its under-18 viewers. The film only made $44.6 million worldwide, on a production budget of $50 million, and the underwhelming box office response was blamed on the new-age viewer’s disinterest to the franchise.
9. Doctor Sleep
Easily one of the biggest disappointments of 2019, Doctor Sleep contributed nothing to its canon, especially as it muddled up the narrative quite a bit, making things worse. The film, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, is technically the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But the film fails to make the most of the already-existing cult status that the universe has; director Mike Flanagan tried hard to pacify both the fandoms (King and Kubrick) and the movie evolved into a people-pleasing outing.
The story takes off after the events of The Shining so naturally it had an incredible potential to be the next ‘It’ or even bigger. With any cinematic adaptation there’s always room for originality, but Flanagan’s screenplay fails to engage the audiences, be it as a worthy sequel or even as a standalone adaptation of a terrific dark fantasy horror novel. It shapes up like an origin story for Danny Torrance post the events of the Overlook Hotel, but it is important to note that the character of Danny was never of any crucial interest to the viewers even in The Shining and Flanagan fails to do justice to Danny’s trauma. Moreover, his past and his battle with addiction could clearly have been handled better in the movie.
The Ewan McGregor-starrer also failed to connect successfully with the biggest target demographic of any supernatural/horror flick – the youth. Critics agree that the makers may have misjudged the connect which millennials and Gen-Z share with The Shining or even with Stephen King’s repertoire .
Maybe it’s the casting or maybe it’s the messed up script which doesn’t do justice to either King or Kubrick’s vision, but the film failed to leave a mark and the 2 ½ runtime did not help the screenplay, making it somewhat sloppy. It reportedly only grossed $71.9 million worldwide.
8. Terminator: Dark Fate
Tim Miller’s Dark Fate makes for a really good comeback movie but doesn’t have reason enough to substantiate why it felt the need to actually come back. We mean if you’re going to bring make a new Terminator film you need a reason almost as strong as Sarah Connor’s delts; a reunion movie with Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger needs a bigger, more plausible excuse than another android assassin. Also, Arnold unceremonious death within the first 10 minutes is just poor decision-making. There’s also Mackenzie Davis as Grace, a soldier from 2042, groomed by Resistance commander Daniella Ramos as a teenager, who was converted into a cyborg after she was fatally stabbed.
The plot formula for this one is very familiar to people who watched any other movies from the franchise. There’s no new or real perspective here other than the fight-or-die sentiment which the Terminator universe has been all about. For a franchise that aims at exploring the relationship between human and artificial intelligence in an era where AI is so obviously paving the future, it seemed oddly directionless. The movie’s poor box office response put a lid on the cinematic future for the Terminator series.
7. The Beach Bum
No one quite knows why this stoner comedy got a green light, unless the plan was to let Matthew McConaughey explore his inner life as a middle-aged Florida Keys beach poet. Director Harmony Korine and Conaughey do understand each other’s brand and Korine’s screenplay never takes the higher moral ground, and it never judges, which gives this movie a lot of heart.
It’s pretty hard to be mad at this pacifist watch, but no amount of bongo snakes (literally a slithering snake on a bongo which McConaughey plays, also an ode to actor’s infamous 1999 arrest prompted by some naked bongo playing) and fiery Florida tour host shirts could really make up for the fact that the film exhausts McConaughey’s charm and doesn’t have a narrative strong enough to justify its 95-minute run time; which is funny, because that means the film wouldn’t have worked even as a prestige TV short.
Moondog (obviously McConaughey) is genius, beach-y yacht-cap toting version of Big Lebowski, quoting Baudelaire at random gatherings; he wants to write the Great American Novel someday, possibly when he stops having so much fun. But is compelled to finish the alleged masterpiece after his very wealthy wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) dies and Moondog’s half of her estate is frozen until he can finish his novel.
Yes, the trope is hackneyed, but the film owns up to its sentimentality. But all of this is just not enough to call a movie a hit in Hollywood today. The Beach Bum reportedly saw the career-worst box office debut for McCaonaughey, only scoring $1.8 million on its opening day weekend; it also drives home the point that if you want the brilliant, uncharted talent of Matthew McConaughey in your movie, you better have a script to justify your move.
6. The Goldfinch
There are literary names, much more celebrated than Donna Tartt who have been failed by Hollywood; the rich, convoluted century-long history of failed book-to-screen adaptations should really have warned director John Crowley (who made the exceptional 2015 drama Brooklyn) against making a film on Tartt’s book. The deeply Dickensian narrative follows a young boy who loses his mother in an explosion at the Met and is adopted by a wealthy family; he clings on to a Fabritius painting which he rescued from the blast. The story grow murkier, of course, as Theo (Ansel Elgort) is led into a world of crime.
Here’s the thing, Tartt’s 800-page novel is astonishing in every sense, the plot is deeply-woven and unravels immaculately with a striking loyalty to aesthetic gratification. But anyone who has read the book (except of course, people involved with the film) would tell you that a novel this involute can never stand up for itself in the age of Twitter, especially with hurried treatment. Moreover, the novel itself is not flawless and features several characters that are not well fleshed out, for which Tartt has received critical flak.
Academy Award winning cinematographer Roger Alexander Deakins’ (who has worked on films like The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, A Beautiful Mind and has 15 Oscar nominations!) cinematography is perhaps the most rewarding things in the movie. The movie flattens out the complexities which were so deftly unraveled in the book; the film only made around $9 million worldwide on a production budget of $45 million.