Box Office Round Up – December 10 – 12, 2016

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(l-r) Brett Kelly stars as Thurman Merman and Billy Bob Thornton as Willie Soke in BAD SANTA 2, a Broad Green Pictures release.
Credit: Jan Thijs / Broad Green Pictures

This week, Chris Neumer STILL isn’t done dissecting Thanksgiving weekend. As Neumer does his Christmas shopping, one question continues to haunt him: who stood to benefit from the green lighting of Bad Santa 2? Here he investigates all the suspects and sniffs out the reason that audiences did not respond to the sequel.

by Chris Neumer

Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman’s new comedy, Office Christmas Party, came out last Friday and couldn’t manage to top Disney’s Moana in its third week in theaters. Moana pulled in an estimated $19 million and that was more than enough to relegate Office Christmas Party to second place. So naturally, I want to investigate Thanksgiving weekend’s new releases for a third week in a row.

Thanksgiving weekend was a fascinating one to me. Three new movies were released that weekend, an animated Disney movie, Moana, a movie that had been on the shelf for a while, Rules Don’t Apply (its principal photography began in February of 2014) and a sequel to a movie that came out in 2003, Bad Santa 2. Two of the three new releases failed miserably. I’ll let you guess which one of the aforementioned three did $81 million over the holiday weekend. (It was Moana).

What fascinated me about the selection of new releases was the way that Moana was primed for success—it was an animated Disney feature that received rave reviews—and Rules Don’t Apply and Bad Santa 2 seemed like absolutely horrible ideas from the start.

I wanted to touch on all of this in one timely column, as most entertainment journalists do, but as days flew by, I continued to have thoughts about the three… or, to be accurate, the failing two. I’d be driving down the street and start wondering why it was that directors over the age of 65 didn’t ever really helm box office hits. I investigated that last week (insomuch as one can investigate something and not come up with a conclusion).

This last week, I found myself thinking about Bad Santa 2 again. Two nagging questions kept popping up in my head about it and similarly long-awaited sequels: Why were these movies made? And who were they made for? Since those questions seemed like far more interesting subjects to delve into than Rachel Greene or Michael Bluth’s box office woes or the ability of Disney to produce high-quality children’s fare, I decided to roll with it.

Hollywood is about the money. To quote the wonderful line from Jerry Maguire, “It’s not show friends. It’s show business!” Therefore, just about every decision is made and judged with potential profit in mind. Sure, sometimes it’s about individual profit as opposed to a company’s profit, but it’s all about them dollars.

Whenever studios green light movies, they do so with the hope of significantly bettering their bottom line. If they invest $100 million in making a movie, they hope to have $400 million come back. Therefore, when studios green light movies, they do so not only for themselves, but for the audiences. Whatever they think the audiences will want, they will do. If enough people in the Midwest wanted to see a snuff film, I feel certain that some studio out there would put out feelers to see how this could be done.

That’s what makes Bad Santa 2 (and Dumb and Dumber 2 and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Independence Day 2 and Zoolander 2 and Bridget Jones’s Baby) so bizarre to me: they weren’t made to make money. If they were, they’d have been made years ago, when the brands were at their hottest! Studios despise waiting on surefire money more than anything.

Star Wars is the biggest franchise in Hollywood history; don’t let the James Bond or Harry Potter folks convince you differently. The original Star Wars, the film now referred to as A New Hope, was thought to be an enormous flop up until about five minutes before it opened. Fox was so sure it wouldn’t hit big, they gave George Lucas the merchandising rights to in it return for $350,000 worth of salary. He was to be paid $500,000 for writing, producing and directing the film, but he graciously agreed to do it for just $150,000 in return for the merchandising rights to the film and the rights to the sequels. Star Wars action figures alone pulled in more than $100 million in 1978; money that all went directly into Lucas’ pocket.

With the Star Wars phenomenon going full bore, a sequel was immediately put into production. For Lucas, he had to do this, not simply because he wanted to make a trilogy, but because he knew that the money he’d make from The Empire Strikes Back would allow him to make any movies that he wanted to make going forward. The Empire Strikes Back and, later, Return of the Jedi, were his tickets to a life free from the constraints of studio overlords, script notes and having to make films with plots that make any kind of sense.

Imagine how weird it would have been for Lucas to make Star Wars, hit it incredibly big and then wait 20 years to make a sequel. It’d have been crazy! But that’s what just happened with Independence Day 2.

If these long-awaited sequels weren’t made to make money (read; for the studios) or for the audiences who would spend said money, then who were they made for?

They weren’t made for the directors, because the directors often times weren’t the same as on the original films. Terry Zwigoff directed the original Bad Santa, Mark Waters directed the follow-up and Joel Zwick directed My Big Fat Greek Wedding, while Kirk Jones directed the sequel. (In the interest of fair reporting, it should be pointed out that the directors of Zoolander, Dumb and Dumber and Bridget Jones’ Diary all did return to do their sequels).

The same held true with the producers. The two men credited with producing Bad Santa 2, Andrew Gunn and Geyer Kosinski, had nothing to do with the first film. As a matter of fact, despite the fact that Bad Santa 2 has 11 credited producers, not one of them had anything to do with the original. Gunn’s entire career to date has been in producing children’s movie like Sky High, Race to Witch Mountain, Bedtime Stories, Freaky Friday, The Country Bears and The Haunted Mansion.

It seemed as though there were two sets of people (both with exactly the same kind of idea) who had a good reason to make the long-awaited sequel: 1) The stars, who were paid handsomely, when all else in their careers was failing, and 2) producers/distribution companies that wanted to try and make a splash in the industry.

Jim Carrey famously resisted doing Dumb and Dumber 2 for years. He was so adamantly against it, that New Line—back when New Line actually existed—decided to make a prequel to the hit instead, Dumber and Dumberer… which was every bit as stupid as the title would suggest.

When Carrey’s career began to stall—since 2011, he starred in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Kick-Ass 2, which he later disavowed—he turned back to the one role that would get him a huge payday: Lloyd Christmas.

With Bad Santa 2, while Miramax (minus the Weinsteins) did co-finance the project with Broad Green Pictures, Broad Green was in charge of the film’s distribution.  In short, it was their baby.  As Variety reported earlier this summer, Broad Green was in the process of, “re-positioning itself, moving away from the arthouse and trying to back more mid-budget, commercially-oriented fare.”

       Bad Santa 2 was a seemingly perfect fit with that! It had an affordable star in Billy Bob Thornton, the original had gained a cult following and, if it hit big, would put Broad Green on the map. Sadly for Broad Green, it completely missed.

In one of those statements that seems like it should be so obvious that it borders on insulting to mention, it appears that audiences can sniff out the difference between movies made for them to watch and enjoy and movies made to ostensibly further the commercial reputation of a start-up distribution company.  Who would have guessed?

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