Anatomy of a Flop

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Theatrical Poster

This post comes from my deep nerd side. You have been warned!

There has been a lot of talk about Spider-man in the interwebs lately. Specifically, in the wake of the Sony hack (albeit, interesting, but also frustrating because no studio deserved what happened to them) we got a smattering of news that Peter Parker might show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While that could be fun, I had hopes that the character could be redeemed by Sony on their own without the overpowering help of Disney.

Now, after reading this article, I am led to believe that Sony will do just that – try to give the character another go and attempt to win back audiences. To do this, I believe they need a new director who knows how to stage action sequences, a solid script by people who have adequately read the comic source material that makes good use of the talented actors at their disposal, and a more modest budget that focuses on practical sets, physical photography, and minimal CGI (except the obvious Spider-man character, which would have to be CGI).

What is interesting to me is that all the talk about The Amazing Spider-man 2 being a flop has brought about a large number of people who are confused as to why a film like this can be considered a flop. “Yes, people didn’t seem to really like it,” they say, “but, how can a film that made $700 million around the globe be a flop?”

Well, to lay to rest this topic, since I am always compelled to reply when I scroll through the comments on various entertainment websites, let me do the math for you. It all comes down to money, just as the entire reboot of the franchise was all about the money for the studio.

There are two phases of production for a major event film, or even any film in general. First, there’s principal photography, generally, production. This cost Sony roughly $200 million dollars. This included fees for the actors, director, producers, filming locations and costs, visual effects, and editing. Basically, everything you see on screen was paid for with that production budget. This also included scenes that were paid for and cut from the film, and also the orchestral score by Hans Zimmer.

“$200 million isn’t so bad,” most average movie goers think. “If the movie made $700 million, that means there was a $500 million profit.”

Well, not so fast. That’s not taking into account the marketing budget for this film.

If you noticed (and if you hadn’t, then congratulations!) all the fanfare surrounding TASM2, this was because Sony Pictures threw the movie into your face every chance it could get. On the subway? Here’s a banner. Waiting for the bus? Here is a bus-shelter ad. Watching television? Here’s five or six commercials. Watching the Superbowl? Here’s a minute-long ad, with links to a website to watch a second part. Not to mention there were three theatrical trailers as well as multiple behind-the-scenes featurettes that went to iTunes and other outlets.

All those marketing materials cost a ton of money. Almost as much money as it cost to make the actual film! The marketing budget for TASM2 was roughly $190 million, according to reports. This means that the total to make and market this film was $390 million dollars. That’s a hefty price tag.

So, when we go back and do the math, we take the $700 million that the film grossed while in theaters and subtract the $390 million, and we’re left with $310 million. This means that the film lost about $80 million on investment. It didn’t break even financially, which is why it is considered a financial flop. (This isn’t taking into account the critical reception of the film, which I’ve already addressed in my review of the film.)

It’s true that you have to spend money to make money in any business, but you don’t want to spend more money than you make. That’s just good business. So, in this way, TASM2 was not the hit that Sony expected and needed. It suffered from bad word of mouth and didn’t come close to projections. It could have made $1 billion at the box office had it been properly scripted and edited, but that, of course, didn’t happen. The film felt like one big ad for future installments, and I left the cinema feeling like I’d just been the butt of a horrible joke.

What would I like to see with this character moving forward?

Well, the original Spider-man film in 2002 was my introduction to superheroes and comics in general. It was the film that led me to beg to be brought to Borders so that I could pick up the first trade paperback of Ultimate Spider-man and continue experiencing the stories of Peter Parker, a character I related to. He was an outcast and a nerd, and I think Tobey Maguire embodied this character flawlessly. I cared about his average life and was thrilled to see the other side of it where he could fight Doc Ock on the side of buildings.

The rebooted version of the character felt too cool to me. Yes, he was funny when he was in the suit (and completely computer-generated to-boot) but, it was when he was out of the costume that I felt he fell flat. Where was the nerd that I connected to back in 2002? Where was the part of him that created science experiments in his room, formulating a super-strong webbing and shooter device? What about school? He was barely there. He was more concerned with looking cool and skateboarding than his studies. As far as Gwen Stacy was concerned, she should have been attracted to him because he was a nerd who didn’t care about being mainstream. If he did try to be mainstream, like in the 2002 film, it would have to backfire, like the time he went to the wrestling competition to try to buy a fancy car.

Why did Spidey need Gwen to Google him information on magnets for the film’s finale? Shouldn’t he be able to figure that out on his own? He’s a science nerd!

But, those are just my gripes. This is a character who is near and dear to my heart, and I expect no less from any other fan of a literary work when it comes to screen adaptations. Did I take it easy on Harry Potter? Not a chance, but then those films were true to the source material as much as they could be.

I will keep my fingers crossed that Sony can put together a team that can treat Spider-man with the same respect that other majorly successful franchises have shown their properties. I just want to be transported by a story that keeps the storytelling at the forefront and the financial and creative manipulations behind the curtains. Whatever happens, it’s clear that we have a lot more Spidey headed our way soon. I just hope that this time the joke won’t be on me.

3 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Flop

  1. The last three Harry Potter movies were awful. They showed no understanding for the themes of the book and sacrificed a layered story to flashy effects.

    The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t need a new director…or a new Spider-man. They need a good writer and Sony has to quit their meddling. Because if you take out all the sinister six stuff out of TAS2, you have a really great and gutsy movie about two characters I absolutely adore.

    I think if Webb’s version had been the first one and Raimi’s the second one, it would be the other way around. What makes Raimi’s version so much “better” in the eyes of some people is not the quality, it’s nostalgia. It’s too bad that a really good and grounded version of Spider-man gets no chance because of this.

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    1. I will admit that the first three Harry Potter films are my favorites. I do love The Half-Blood Prince as well. The fourth was butchered, and the last one stretched where it didn’t really need to be, much like a lot of books that are being split into two separate films. Overall I do love that series.

      As far as the Raimi trilogy, I have gone back and watched them critically. I think that those films were paced really well and built up not only the hero, Spidey, but the villain as well. Those were both important things. I felt like I knew who Doc Ock was, and even Norman Osborne. I won’t mention Spider-man 3 since that one was not as good as the first two because the plot was crammed with things, mainly villains.

      Webb is a good director when it comes to the relationship aspect of the Spider-man story. He also directed one of my favorite romances in years – 500 Days of Summer. I was in tears during certain parts of his two Spidey films, and I was also deeply moved by Peter and Gwen’s interactions a lot of the time. I’m not gonna lie, I cried at the climax of TASM2. This couple carried the film as far as it got. I just didn’t buy that these were actual people living in a real world for most of the second half of the film. There were never any scenes of them just sitting down for dinner together, or even doing anything normal at all. The only grounded parts involved Gwen and Peter just going for a walk, which was the closest the movie ever came to letting the characters appear to have lives outside of racing from one plot point to the next. The completely CGI finale didn’t help to make them more three-dimensional. It’s partially my opinion, but the film was so breakneck. I did watch it three times, once in the cinema, twice at home when it was on DVD. It can be entertaining, but there was too much focus on setting up other plot threads for The Sinister Six (which I would definitely see, if it ever happens) where those hints should have been a lot more subtle. I already knew what they were trying to do.

      I honestly was heartbroken that Gwen made her exit in this film. If they brought her back for the clone saga, I wouldn’t complain! That would be some interesting drama for Peter. They also could have used more realistic villains. Why was Oscorp just developing these strange suits? The Goblin suit was explained…in a deleted scene. But, why would they create the Rhino suit? What is the purpose behind it? Raimi would have devoted a scene or even two in order to make sure the audience was briefed on the realities of the villain’s tech. We got an entire scene for both Norman and Otto showcasing the glider and the mechanical arms. I was also very confused as to what Electro’s limits were. How did he figure out that he could dissolve into energy and move through space? That would have been an integral scene to include.

      Like I said, I am still looking forward to another Spidey film. I just hope that they got the whole set-up out of the way and focus on a good story that feels like it exists in a physically real New York. I wouldn’t mind it if they actually kept Mary Jane in this one too, heh heh.

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      1. The problem with the original Spider-man trilogy is that it is three times the same movie. The characters never develop. Instead they find a reason to hit the reset button again and again. I was one of the few people who didn’t look forward to a third Spider-man movie despite agreeing with everyone else that the second was the best one, because when it comes down to it, the second one is just an improved version of the first one, and I knew the third one would just be the same story yet again.
        TAS allows the main character to develop. The first movie was all about showing how horrible the consequences can be if he misuses his knowledge or power. The second one was all about showing that even if he is trying to do the right thing there is no guarantee that he will get a happy end. Fate isn’t so kind that good deeds get automatically revealed.
        Despite all the problems the second movie had, I really, really want to see how he develops further, even if I will miss Gwen.

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