Monday Morning Quarterback Part I

By BOP Staff

July 11, 2005

Betcha he doesn't 'accidentally' give a ring to a Russian president.

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Final Score: Fantastic Four 56, Batman Begins 48

Kim Hollis: According to tracking, Fantastic Four was looking at $35 million, yet here we are on opening weekend with a $56 million debut. How stunned are you by this number, and what do you think caused the unexpectedly big box office?

Les Winan: Given the difference in quality between the two films, clearly it's the unbridled stupidity of the American public. Though I will admit, the advertising for Fantastic Four made it look a lot more fun.

Jared Fields: I would argue Fantastic Four is more fun. Batman Begins is a better movie, but not one I'd really consider fun.

Reagen Sulewski: I am so stunned I can't think of an appropriate simile. There can't be that many people wanting to see Jessica Alba in her underwear, can there?

Tim Briody: All I can figure out is that it was a well-known superhero entity that hadn't been screwed up by Joel Schumacher yet.

Kim Hollis: It was screwed up by Tim Story instead.

David Mumpower: I'm not a comic book fan, yet I did read Fantastic Four growing up. I've since come to learn that there are a lot of people like myself who have more than a passing familiarity with the Fantastic Four. It appears that like Spider-Man and X-Men, this is a linchpin movie franchise. The scary thought is that a film that didn't look as bad as this could have approached X2: X-Men United numbers.

Les Winan: Marvel has to be thrilled. The good thing is that Fantastic Four is a property with such depth and history that even a colossally disasterous script like this and horrible directing and acting couldn't ruin characters like The Human Torch and the relationship between he and The Thing and the good memories that many people have of nearly 40 years of history.

Reagen Sulewski: Response to the later trailers was like a library whenever I saw them. Anyone who was interested in seeing this movie wasn't speaking up.

Tim Briody: Well, maybe they *were* too busy looking at Jessica Alba.

Les Winan: She's wonderful until she opens her mouth.

David Mumpower: The key here is that Fantastic Four appeals to children a lot more than was being credited prior to the opening. That's why you saw that, Reagen, and it's why the tracking data was so screwed up. Current methodology oftentimes struggles with the children's demographic. That $20 million gap between expectations and performance isn't coming exclusively from adult audiences.

Kim Hollis: We had a very large kid contingent in our theater, for sure.

David Mumpower: There is a huge vacuum at the box office this summer. There is not a Pixar release, there is not a Shrek film, and Disney is no longer in the business of traditional animation. What we are seeing here is a group of parents who wouldn't let their kids go see a Lindsay Lohan film disguised as family fare instead choosing the vanilla safety of a comic book film.

Les Winan: Can we discount the possibility that The Incredibles familiarized (or re-familiarized) people with this material, making it fun to see live-action? Not that The Incredibles wasn't a great movie, but it was quite obviously mined from the Fantastic Four.

Jared Fields: I think at the very least this ties in to why so many people took their kids. The Fantastic Four are very much a family. Oddly enough, I think this is most exemplified by Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm, coming off as a big brother/little brother dynamic.

Kim Hollis: And for the most part, it really is harmless fluff, so I can understand the decision to choose this over skanky Lohan.

Reagen Sulewski: Unless you want to protect your children from hammy acting.

Kim Hollis: Hammy? I would put it out there that Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba have *zero* ability to act, let alone ham it up. Though the point is certainly taken with Chris Evans. He's funny, though.

Jared Fields: I don't think Evans could have toned it down any, he had to be kind of over-the-top.

Chris Evans is on fire. Sorry, couldn't resist.

David Mumpower: To Fox's credit, somebody in the marketing department figured this out early and took a chance. They gambled that the best thing about the terrible dailies was the Human Torch. They put two and two together that kids would be swept up by his joyous embracing of his super-powers. If you think about it, he is in direct contrast to Spider-Man and Batman in this way. He doesn't feel cursed and he's not out for vengeance. He thinks it's the coolest thing ever, and that boyish charm is as appealing as it is universal.

Kim Hollis: And for the grown-up mothers, it didn't hurt any that they kept finding ways for him to be wearing nothing but a towel.

David Mumpower: In fact, when Batman Begins released its Friday numbers, this was the first thing I said to Kim. The door was opened for Fantastic Four to beat it. She looked at me like I had grown horns and a tail, but I do think there is something to this. Batman with Jack Nicholson is more wide-reaching than Batman Begins because it's more fun. Fantastic Four has been produced almost as a sitcom and that populist streak gave the marketing department an opportunity. It didn't allow them to hide what a terrible actress Jessica Alba is, and they couldn't disguise the fact that Ioan Gruffudd is one of the worst casting decisions ever. It did, however, allow Chris Evans to shine. His agent's cell phone must be going nuts right now.

Kim Hollis: "Chris, we want to offer you the Aquaman role. James Cameron is directing!"

Les Winan: It's still a shame they didn't get a real script and then pay George Clooney to play Mr. Fantastic.

David Mumpower: The more I think about it, the more I appreciate Evans' performance. The fact that The Human Torch loves his newfound powers is unique in recent comic book adaptations. Think about Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Punisher, Daredevil, Hulk. All of them have that commonality that they personally suffer because of their new power. The Torch is using it to pick up women. That's a very clever attempt at flying in the face of convention.

Cheap Joss Whedon plug within.

Reagen Sulewski: I wonder if we all haven't bought into box office deflation more than we ought to have. Nineteen weeks is a strong trend, but in the end, it's all about the movie.

Jared Fields: I'm inclined to agree with this. I've found myself looking forward to fewer movies this year than in previous years, and the same is true for most people I know.

David Mumpower: I still think the movie exhibition business is going to continue to struggle for the next couple of years. We might see a return to strength somewhere down the line but the evolving home market's fight for surplus income will continue to succeed in the short-term.

Kim Hollis: But John Hamann is absolutely right in his column. Why *this* movie? It's garbage, really.

Tim Briody: It's the last immediately recognizable comic book that hadn't had a big budget adaptation least until Superman Returns.

Reagen Sulewski: I would argue that the Flash should be included in there but point taken.

David Mumpower: I also think Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman is up there. It is equal parts comic book and 1970s show TV adaptation. It should either have the best of both worlds or be a special sort of train wreck.

Kim Hollis: Much like The Hulk.

The Fantastic Four Trailer Channel is now available on DirecTV

Reagen Sulewski: I would also throw a bone to the volume of advertising, which approached saturation. You were damn well going to be aware this movie existed.

Jim Van Nest: This is one of those situations where I have to wonder if beating the living crap out of us with advertising actually worked. I mean, I was about ready to send them a $20 check begging them to stop the commercials. I've never really put much stock in just overwhelming TV audiences with movie commercials, but maybe that's exactly what happened here. Hell, my kids wanted to see it and I practically had to tie them down to get them to watch X-Men.

David Mumpower: I completely agree that the commercials were ubiquitous. This is the Sword of Damocles of the situation. Now producers are going to go back to thinking that they can fix a lot of quality concerns simply by throwing advertising money at the problems.

Kim Hollis: Yes, David, that's the big question. Are we going to see terrible movies marketed out the wazoo because studios figure that it will be an easy fix?

Reagen Sulewski: I would say it's not a particularly new phenomenon. It just rarely happens to work.

David Mumpower: I agree but the important note here is that when this column debuted, we mentioned that Fantastic Four and War of the Worlds were being marketed more than Batman Begins had been. Is it coincidental or is it causality that those are two of the three biggest openers of the year?

Kim Hollis: Well, the philosophy in the advertising "biz" (you know, since I've been in that business for several years now), is that frequency is paramount to a successful campaign. It puts your product at the top of the consumer's mind.

David Mumpower: I'm reminded of that John Mahoney guest appearance on Cheers where he played a lousy advertising salesman who made a career out of ear-worm jingles.

Reagen Sulewski: It was odd that Frasier Crane didn't notice his father in the bar. But I digress.

David Mumpower: Does this mean that a Fanta Girls movie would open to $56 million, too? Wanna Fanta? Doncha wanna?

Kim Hollis: I would certainly argue that War of the Worlds and Fantastic Four followed that precept specifically.

Jim Van Nest: Don't forget, War of the Worlds also had the benefit of Tom Cruise having a breakdown during the promotion of the film. People can bash him all they want for his beliefs or for Katie, or Brooke or whatever. But the fact remains, everytime Cruise was on TV or in a magazine...every single time he was quoted as saying something absolutely moronic, the show, article or whatever always finished up by mentioning that his new movie was coming soon to a theater near you. And with the Cruise hysterics, it makes Fantastic Four that much more of a mystery to me.

David Mumpower: And how much was Episode III helped by the fact that there was a much more aggressive advertising campaign for it than for the first two prequels? Lucas even guest-starred on The OC, for God's sake.

Kim Hollis: Meanwhile, movies like Batman Begins and much of the June stuff seemed less out there, especially with regards to television and trailers.

Jim Van Nest: The Batman stuff really heated up the week of release, but I just think Batman was too dark looking to attract the broad audience. Fantastic Four looked like it could have been something Robert Rodriguez did while trying to figure out how all that promise and potential turned into a crappy kids movie director.

Flame on or flame out?

David Mumpower: We are hitting Batman Begins pretty hard for a film which has demonstrated tremendous staying power and is only $5 million out of second place on the year now. It's an entirely different sort of film.

Reagen Sulewski: Yes, it's becoming apparent that Warner Bros. knew they had a tough sell and were banking on word-of-mouth helping them out.

Kim Hollis: Right. In fact, I would predict that it will still out-gross Fantastic Four despite the disparity in their openings.

Tim Briody: And I expect Fantastic Four to fall off like a rock from here.

David Mumpower: Agreed, Tim. It will be interesting to see if this winds up with even $150 million total.

Fantastic Four 2: Second Story?

David Mumpower: The other interesting question is whether director Tim Story gets invited back. The film has secured a sequel. I'm sure we all agree on that. Does the box office justify his return or do they fire him for releasing such a terrible movie?

Jared Fields: I think they realize that outside of a select few, directors are not a draw. They could replace him, and the vast
majority of people wouldn't know. I could even see using any subsequent movies to try out directors they want to work with.

Kim Hollis: It's going to be interesting to see what wins out: word-of-mouth from critics (hugely negative) or word-of-mouth from everyday movie-goers (it seems to be pretty well-liked).

Tim Briody: Yeah, Fox shouldn't greenlight the sequel tomorrow morning.

David Mumpower: I swear to God that there was applause at the end of the movie at my theater. I was wondering who those people were.

Kim Hollis: By the same token, he's shown that he can make money on a big-blockbuster type film on what is currently considered a shoestring budget.

Reagen Sulewski: More troubling would be that they're stuck with the majority of the cast.

David Mumpower: They have options on the cast but that doesn't mean they have to use them, Reagen. Then again, X-Men keeps bringing James Marsden back and nobody can figure out why.

Kim Hollis: Because Cyclops is boring and Marsden is also boring...and cheap.

Reagen Sulewski: It'd be a shame to waste an actor with charisma on a character with none.

David Mumpower: Whichever casting person at Fox hired Ioan Gruffudd should be run out of Hollywood on the Uwe Boll Express.

Reagen Sulewski: I can't even remember him from King Arthur, and he was playing one of the most storied mythical characters in fiction.

Jared Fields: You should consider yourself lucky for being able to forget any part of King Arthur.

The downside of dipping your pen in company ink

David Mumpower: I just can't believe that the director who showed so much promise with Barbershop butchered a movie this completely. Then again, with Alba and Gruffudd as his principal leads, he was hamstrung from the start.

Kim Hollis: Also, we can't forget that he directed Taxi.

David Mumpower: He got stuck with Jimmy Fallon there. I'm going to speculate that his ex-girlfriend works in casting. And that he cheated on her. A lot.

Kim Hollis: Probably with the hot criminal chicks who were featured so heavily in Taxi's trailer.

David Mumpower: So, what's your best guess? Does Story get invited back or not?

Kim Hollis: I say he does. For the money reasons I mentioned above.

Reagen Sulewski: I think no, based on the precedent of The Bourne Identity.

David Mumpower: Controlling the budget is a huge plus, but I can't shake the notion that Fox is giving all of the credit to Chris Evans and the marketing department. I think Story will be forcefully asked behind the scenes to politely state publicly that he wants to do other projects now.

Tim Briody: Nope, it'll go to another up-and-comer, though I'm still not convinced the sequel is definite since I expect the legs to be beyond awful.

Kim Hollis: The legs don't have to be good at this point, Tim, as long as they're not Village-esque. I think there's definitely a sequel.

David Mumpower: Tim, I'm not sure you're right about that because again, the film skews very young. Eight- to 12-year-olds are going to tell their friends how cool the Human Torch is when he flies.

Jared Fields: This is a big part of why I think the DVD will sell well, which will be what really determines if there is another movie.

Tim Briody: I'm thinking Hulk-esque legs (which opened to $62 million and finished with $132 million) thus no immediate sequel, but we'll see.

David Mumpower: It's not as bad as The Hulk, though. That was a film that was too dark for kids and too atrocious for adults. Fantastic Four has good aspects thrown in with the garbage. Some people will like it and like it a lot at that.

Reagen Sulewski: If you can open a crappy Fantastic Four movie to $55 million, think how much a good one can do.

David Mumpower: I am right there with you, Reagen. This seems like it has the potential to have that X-Men to X2 bump in opening weekend numbers.

Check back tomorrow for Part Two.



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