By Christopher Campbell
Can the San Diego Comic-Con really make or break a movie? That’s a yearly question asked in the days leading up to the annual geekfest, and few experts ever provide a definite answer. Most people point to weak Con receptions of footage from ultimately failed films like The Spirit and Catwoman as proof of the event’s influence. Meanwhile, there’s the corresponding recognition that positive buzz at the Con for certain niche titles like Twilight and 300 led those films to boffo box office.
But despite the few times Con attendees have been on the same wavelength with the rest of the moviegoing public, it’s important to remember the many movies that had geeks excited in San Diego but which couldn’t garner much interest from mainstream audiences in theatrical release. After the jump, we take a look at ten such movies that buzzed well at Comic-Con only to fizzle at the box office.
Year at SDCC: 2001
Sample buzz: “Looks amazing…genuinely haunting.” (TNMC)
These days Johnny Depp can apparently save a movie, critically and financially. At least, that’s how the hype behind Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland makes it seem. But less than a decade ago, Depp couldn’t help make this graphic novel adaptation popular, even with positive buzz coming out of the 2001 Con, where the film’s trailer debuted. Ultimately, even some of the original comic’s fans were disappointed, due to all the liberties taken with the source material (typical for films of Alan Moore’s work), while general audiences found it dull, confusing, and too gratuitously violent.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Year at SDCC: 2004
Sample buzz: “Conran has created movie magic here… It’s like the 1970’s again, and a young Spielberg is just starting out.” (JoBlo.com)
Comparing visionary director Kerry Conran to Spielberg and, in other places, George Lucas probably did more to ruin Sky Captain than help it, because that’s some very lofty praise. Sure, the pulp and serial influences made us think of those filmmakers already, but they didn’t raise our expectations too much. Following the Con hype, though, those of us going in hoping for a new Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars were completely disappointed by the artificial visuals and flat story. In some ways, even the Star Wars prequels were more enjoyable, and therefore we have no sympathy for how badly this movie performed.
Year at SDCC: 2004
Sample buzz: “NOTHING matched this level of excitement. Seriously. Firefly fans are INSANE. I’d say this movie is bound to succeed even if only hardcore fans go, because there seem to be a lot of them, and they’ll go repeatedly. The place was packed. Joss got a standing O.” (CHUD.com forum)
Just like Twilight last year, it was expected that fans would go crazy for something they’re already into. Yet unlike Twilight, Joss Whedon’s big-screen continuation of Firefly didn’t hit with the non-fans and Serenity was deemed a bomb. It’s funny that people thought enough Browncoats (hardcore Firefly fans) could make this a success on their own. Maybe it seemed like there were a lot of them at Comic-Con in 2004, but seriously those 4000 people attending the Serenity panel may actually have been all of them.
Year at SDCC: 2005
Sample buzz: “It seemed to wow the crowd…” (IGN)
Okay, so IGN’s praise isn’t that positive, especially since they go on to compare the noise over Aeon Flux to the previous year’s excitement over Sky Captain. And really, many other film sites rattled off more negative commentary than positive. Yet this is an example of the seemed hype within the halls of the Con that fools studios into thinking they’ve been a hit with the geeks. Really, though, fanboys were just wowed by the appearance of the very hot Charlize Theron, as well as by the clips of her from the film. When the actual movie hit later that year, however, neither fans nor regular folk paid the cartoon adaptation any favors, possibly because attractive actresses in sexy outfits aren’t enough to sell a dull plot.
Year at SDCC: 2005
Sample buzz: “We cannot wait for this one… The 5500 or so people in the auditorium became absolutely hushed during the sequence, as if they knew they were watching something special.” (IGN)
Much of the buzz coming out of the 2005 Con regarding Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain focused on how confusing the film looked. But most people agreed that it was going to captivate audiences similar to the way 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact do. The thing is, though, 2001 was not a huge hit or critical darling when it was first released and Contact just barely made money. The Fountain may be a huge deal in 20 years, just as 2001 is now, but as far as initial box office is concerned, it was a huge flop when it hit theaters about 16 months after its Con presentation.
Year at SDCC: 2006
Sample buzz: “It is sure to make its young star Edward Speleers an international superstar.” (Monsters and Critics)
Based on the best-selling children’s novels, Eragon was expected to be the next big fantasy franchise, and some buzz coming out of the 2006 Con claimed it even looked more Lord of the Rings than Chronicles of Narnia due to its dark tone. But by December of that year, critics and viewers were thinking differently. Not only was it one of the worst reviewed films of the year, it performed just badly enough at the box office to turn Fox off from moving ahead with sequels.
Shoot ‘Em Up
Year at SDCC: 2007
Sample buzz: “Shoot ‘Em Up brings down the house at Comic-Con…the crowd erupted in huge laughter, cheers, and applause, drowning out the sound completely.” (Rotten Tomatoes)
It’s understandable that Shoot ‘Em Up was popular with the Con crowd, seeing as it’s a funny and action-packed movie geared towards fans of cartoons and video games. However, it’s brand of humor and violence doesn’t resonate so much with mainstream moviegoers, and it not surprisingly bombed when it opened in theaters a few months later. The fact that it didn’t sit well with critics, including A.O. Scott, who called it a “worthless piece of garbage,” wasn’t helpful, either.
Year at SDCC: 2007 and 2008
Sample buzz: “THE PLACE EXPLODES IN LAUGHTER…goddamn this movie is funny.” (Latino Review)
To think Fanboys would be a box office smash because it buzzed well at Comic-Con is like thinking Brian Moore had a shot at the Presidency in 2008 because he received a standing ovation at a socialism rally. Still, the movie deserved better than the paltry limited release it received this year, following the thousand or so delays (we count six release date changes over two years) and minimal support from distributor The Weinstein Co. The fact that it was a flop is more Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein’s fault than moviegoers’, but there’s still an obvious divide here between the Con crowd and the rest of the nation. Even on 4,000 screens Fanboys would probably have done only so-so.
Year at SDCC: 2008
Sample buzz: “Footage one more time! Looked absolutely AMAZING! If you thought the trailer was breathtaking, this was even MORE incredible than that.” ( First Showing)
Hey remember when Watchmen was the most anticipated film of all time? And then the footage came out and all the fanboys were stunned with excitement? And how once again people finally saw the finished film in its entirety and discovered it’s a big piece of crap? Watchmen is probably the least qualifiable as being a flop, but it has certainly been a major disappointment financially. And considering it was supposed to be a worthy follower of The Dark Knight, moviegoers were totally underwhelmed, too.
Alice in Wonderland
Year at SDCC: 2009
Sample buzz: “The thing just looks bloody brilliant.” (Cinematical)
Okay, this is a prophecy, and somewhat a hope, but if we were doing this list next year instead of now, we’re certain that Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland would be on it. Or, maybe it’s Kick-Ass that will be the prematurely over-hyped flop? Or District 9? Or Avatar? Okay, definitely not Avatar. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see how things turned out in a year…