The annual Thanksgiving-themed look at the biggest box office “turkeys” of the year is up at Forbes.com, and in order the major flops of 2010 are as follows: “Jonah Hex,” “Extraordinary Measures,” “Repo Men,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Let Me In,” “Splice,” “MacGruber,” “Green Zone,” “Furry Vengeance,” “From Paris With Love,” “Charlie St. Cloud” and “Edge of Darkness.” Interestingly enough, many of these have their own significant followings. “Scott Pilgrim” is the geek favorite of the year. “MacGruber” has been (wrongly in my opinion) deemed a new comedy classic by many. “Let Me In” tops a best of 2010 list compiled by Stephen King, who also includes “Green Zone.” And there are likely a ton of Zac Efron fangirls who will try and argue that his latest is not a turkey.
What’s with that word “turkey” anyway? Especially this time of year we all love that word, so why must it also be linked to failure? Well, according to a great piece in The Boston Globe titled “Why Flops Matter,” written by A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin, even movie turkeys can be quite good for us, as well as good for Hollywood. He recognizes that some careers, such as those of Michael Cimino and Elaine May, can be forever harmed by flops, but there are reasons to stop worrying and love the bomb. A general assessment:
An era’s great flops serve countless functions in pushing the art and industry of filmmaking forward. They introduce technological innovations. They help filmmakers and actors — those that manage to work again, at least — learn how to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. And for the people involved in them, flops are something more than a wake-up call: They can even rescue a career.
Here’s one contemporary example Rabin uses to illustrate how flops have rescued a career:
[Ben] Affleck recommitted himself to being taken seriously as an actor and filmmaker. He eschewed big paychecks for quirky, engaging character turns in offbeat fare like “Hollywoodland” and “Extract.” He proved his Oscar wasn’t entirely a fluke by writing and directing the terrific genre movies “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town.” Without his flops, Affleck might currently be sleepwalking his way through “Daredevil 3” today — great for his bank account, maybe, but a genuine loss for those of us who now actually like his movies.
Also brought up is “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” a film that did so bad it’s barely remembered. As Rabin points out, people later celebrated works like “Sin City” and more recently “Avatar” for being so innovative when really they just improved upon Kerry Conran’s vision by applying (slightly) better stories to brilliant green-screen-enabled worlds. I’ve mentioned “Sky Captain” often, in similar fashion, when geeks get excited for stuff like “Sucker Punch,” which I believe will be on Forbes’ turkey list next year. Of course, “Sky Captain” was still little more than an experiment in expanding upon stuff done with the “Star Wars” prequels and Robert Rodriguez’s “Spy Kids” franchise. Maybe these kinds of movies just need to cater more to kids? (I should note, however, that I likely would have LOVED “Sky Captain” as a kid.)
Relevant to the Forbes list, Rabin also addresses the box office disappointment of “Scott Pilgrim”:
I thought a lot about “Sky Captain” while watching the recent “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.” Like “Sky Captain,” “Pilgrim” had the misfortune to be ahead of its time: Director and quintessential Gen-X pop culture geek Edgar Wright used advances in green-screen technology to create a dazzling virtual world that transformed emo waif Michael Cera into a two-fisted fighting machine out of a Nintendo 16 game. The film scored an indie-sized gross on a blockbuster budget, and is considered a major box office failure. Not a whole lot of people saw “Scott Pilgrim,” but those who did tended to love it — and it’s not hard to imagine that its witty, loving, Gen-X friendly mashup of romantic comedy and stylized action will influence more commercially successful films. It might even point toward a future where the squiggly lines between video games, comic books, movies, and cartoons no long matter.
I’ll say again that I enjoyed “Scott Pilgrim” more than I thought I would, but I’ve never felt it is some ahead-of-its-time masterpiece. It’s just a stylish entertainment that has marginal appeal. There’s nothing wrong with that anymore than there’s anything wrong with other alternative arts and entertainments with niche audiences forever dwelling on the wayside of pop culture. Well, business-wise it could be an issue, but we also see innovative movies made all the time for cheap. “Scott Pilgrim” isn’t that devastating a loss, though. Nobody’s career is over. And it’s not minimal enough a failure to really have an influence on Hollywood films, now or ever. It’s too much of a pop culture pastiche to be given its own homage in 20-30 years. Meanwhile, just as Ang Lee’s comic-page idea for “Hulk” now has an “it’s already been done, and there’s no reason to try again” legacy, so will the comic and video game elements adapted for “Scott Pilgrim” be viewed as something to appreciate yet move on from.