Saturday, July 3, 2010

Digging yourself a hole you can't climb out of

I've been down on The Last Airbender ever since I first heard of it. It just seemed rather pointless. And while I don't root for movies to fail, I'm not exactly weeping over the reviews I've read.

With an 8% positive on Rotten Tomatoes and horrible word of mouth from the awful afterthought 3D I wouldn't hold my breath for them to make two more of these films. Especially when you look how much money is on the line.

The Last Airbender reportedly cost $280 million to make. Even the other Avatar "only" cost $237 million. What did they spend it on? They obviously didn't have any big money actors (unless the guy from Slumdog Millionaire and the guy from The Daily Show both cost $20 million a piece) so I'm guessing it was spent on massive amount of CGI and location shooting.

I can't fathom spending that much money on a film, no matter how good it is, just for the sheer amount of risk you're taking just to break even.

When you see all those weekend tallies of how much money a movie made, not all of that money goes to the studios. It's usually a 50/50 split with the theaters. The exception is opening weekend where the studios usually take in about 80% of the money, which is why they advertise so much. It's worth more money to get you in the theater those first few days.

Speaking of advertising, with summer blockbusters these days often being marketed a year before they even come out, the astronomical cost of selling these films often doesn't get mentioned, even though it can run upwards of $100 million.

I'd guess that in the case of The Last Airbender the marketing cost along with the budget would push the overall cost of the film up to about $400 million. That means even if they made $100 million this weekend, (which only 16 movies have ever done) they'd need to gross about $750 million overall just to break even. Given I doubt they'll make anything resembling that much this weekend they'll probably need closer to $800 million, which means unless The Last Airbender becomes one of the top 25 highest grossing films of all times it'll likely lose money.

Obviously I'm playing this a little over dramatic. The overseas box office (which these days usually makes up about 2/3 of a film's total gross) will likely be a bit kinder to this film and all the tie-in merchandise, DVD releases, etc... will pull in a lot of money for Nickelodeon/Paramount, but this movie is a prime example of the spending with wild abandon that plagues summer blockbusters.

If for every dollar you spend you have to make two just to break even should you really be tossing money around this freely? At these stakes can you really hope to make a movie that's more than a cookie cutter story loaded with special effects and other gimmicks without the risk of not pulling down the insane amount of money needed to even turn a dollar's worth of profit?

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