Last night, it was reported that Universal, despite being in love with what they were seeing from Guillermo Del Toro for his dream project “At The Mountains Of Madness,” were getting gunshy about giving a greenlight the massively budgeted, R-rated horror film. With a $150-million price tag and a visionary scope and scale, not even the potential lead of Tom Cruise could assure suits that the film would be a moneymaker. While nothing was quite certain, another project, “Pacific Rim,” was being readied by Legendary Pictures as a possible next vehicle for Del Toro. But our hopes that somehow Universal and Del Toro might be on the same page have been dashed as the project is now officially tanked.
The Criterion Cast shot off an email to the director to follow up on rumors that circled earlier Monday that ‘Mountains Of Madness’ was gearing up for a June shoot. By the time Del Toro responded, the writing was already on the wall and he got right to the point in his response. Asked if the filming had a go-ahead and a summer start, Del Toro said: “The opposite- Dead. – G”
This is a crushing blow, and a clear indication that Hollywood more than ever is afraid of original ideas— “Inception” be damned– but we also can’t entirely blame Universal for hedging their bets.
Getting an R-rated film to do boffo box office is a hard, hard task not made any easier when you’re selling a niche, R-rated horror film. What do “300,” “Wedding Crashers,” “The Hangover,” “The Matrix” and “The Passion Of The Christ” all have in common? Yes, they are some of the highest grossing R-rated movies of all time, but they were also cheap, the most expensive among them was “300” with a budget of $65 million. Peanuts, compared to ‘Mountains Of Madness’ which would have cost more than double, not to mention the P&A coin that would need to be spent. As Deadline noted yesterday, the film would need to take in $500 million worldwide to break even. It would have to be the most successful R-rated movie of all time (“The Passion Of The Christ” currently has that honor with $370 million worldwide) or do “Lord Of The Rings” or “Pirates Of The Caribbean” sized numbers. And now you begin to understand why the studio had trouble flipping the switch.
And it’s not like Universal hasn’t taken gambles. Looking back at 2010, the studio took a swing and missed on films like “Green Zone,” “The Wolfman,” “Robin Hood” and most notably “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.” And let’s be clear, not one of these films did they let wither on the vine. All received strong support and in the case of the latter, it was probably pushed harder than any of them and it was cheapest of them too. But with a relatively paltry $60 million budget, to date, the film has still only brought in $47 million worldwide and with only a couple more foreign territories to open it looks like it will have to look at the long run in terms of breaking even. So yes, it’s disheartening but also not very surprising.
So what will be next for Del Toro? We kind of hope it isn’t “Pacific Rim” if only because it sounds like the most generic monster movie ever — the story is set in a near future where ‘malevolent creatures’ threaten earth, and humanity must use advanced technology to fight them off [shrug]. But we hope he gets out there, proves himself with a successful movie, and is allowed to come back and make ‘Mountains Of Madness’ the way he always wanted, without compromise.