Why is COWBOYS & ALIENS not doing better ??

For the record, when the time came, I chose not to go see this movie.  At first that perplexed even me.  I had a good excuse; I had work to do.  I had just published my first book (a Western.)  However, I also knew given the genre that it would be in my best interest to take in this movie, and critique it’s merits or similarities to my own work. 

But something just didn’t feel right — didn’t seem right.  Something about this movie just didn’t interest me.  In fact, I really just did not want to watch it, at all.  Still don’t, actually.  Probably end up watching it on TBS three years from now.  And that’s just fine with me.  And apparently, a whooooole lot of other people felt the same way.  But WHY ?? 

Like many people, I like Sci-Fi, and I like the occasional Western.  This should really appeal to many people, right ?  Best of both worlds.  So what the hell HAPPENED !??  And how does this bode for the Western as a genre ?  I mean apart from the fact that there is too much light clearly coming from the wrong direction in that image above.

There is no definitive, or even perceptible answer to that question.  Although a few who’ve seen Cowboys & Aliens responded positively, “…they didn’t make it too cheesy, as I feared they would,” there are others who simply didn’t want to see it at all, and some who saw it and only gave a mild recommendation to those who hadn’t.

And people have been paying to see shitty movies all summer long, so even if it is bad that still doesn’t explain it’s failure with the public.  It shouldn’t matter.  Bad movies make money in our current culture.  And yet, this film made around $36 Million over the course of its opening weekend.  That’s not a single day total, like many other previous summer blockbusters — that’s the ENTIRE WEEKEND !

So is it worse than bad ?  And are patrons blaming the “western” element, or the “sci-fi” element ?  Well, no, and no.  No one is claiming this to be one of the worst films of the year.  And while the western element seems to be getting the better response, both genre elements seem to be taking the blame, unfortunately.  With the design of the Aliens themselves being cited as a big issue with most audience members.  Again, haven’t seen it, but I hear they look derivative and don’t really scare anyone.  

Warner Bros. did MASSIVE publicity for this thing.  They went to Comic-Con twice; once in 2010, and then again, just a few weeks ago.  They even had the premiere there — they actually screened the movie, with E! Entertainment News and all the major players present — including Producers Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.  Had a red carpet and everything.  Looked like the Golden Globes for crying out loud.  Great publicity.  Whether or not the San Diego Comic-Con is good publicity for a major motion picture, is another subject for argument.  I don’t think it is.  But … many disagree.  And they cite all kinds of additional marketing techniques, etc., that were used to publicize this film wayyyyy in advance of its release.

Harrison Ford even made appearances on TV.  Including a moment wherein earlier this week he seems to respond to the movies lackluster opening weekend by ripping off the head off a large stuffed Smurf.  Cute.


There was also another, earlier appearance on Letterman.  Here Ford, while not n his prime, is nevertheless very appealing.  He gets a good response from the crowd.  There’s is some discussion of the film, and a brief clip is screened.  But it’s a clip which doesn’t inspire much confidence or interest.  There is also some of Ford and Letterman riding horses down Broadway at the end.  Which is a lot more interesting than a clip from Cowboys & Aliens.  I’d call that an ouch moment for the Warner Bros. marketing department.



So will the film’s performance improve ?

There’s not much competition for the rest of the summer.  A few movies will get prominent attention.  But next week is the last of the BIG SUMMER MOVIES for 2011: Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  This would be a great time for Warner Bros. to relaunch, or re-tune their marketing campaign for Cowboys & Aliens.  If it were to work, they would end up with a bonafide sleeper on their hands, rescue themselves from their perilous situation, and remove what is quickly becoming an embarrassing stain on the western genre.  Word-of-mouth can work against you, but it can also work in your favor.

As of right now, the Western genre is a pariah, incarnate.  Every time a western under-performs at the box office, this happens.  And Producers begin having issues getting financing for a large scale film production, if the genre is Western.  In fact, many have changed their genre, just to get their movie made.  And that sometimes daisy-chains across the board.  Books, TV, Comics: all are labeled a bad investment if they’re western related.

Making it very, very difficult for those of us who work in this genre to prosper.  I can only hope that either A) the film begins to do better, or B) the western sees a better example, and very soon.  Many people have already forgotten True Grit.  Both the entertainment industry and the public have a very, very short memory.


In Addendum: Addition Info:

So who won, Smurfs or Cowboys & Aliens ?  This was the question all weekend.

The situation was clearly so unexpected that many went straight for desperately claiming the “top spot” as the win-win.   It’s truly unbelievable how fast the focus changes when they realize they have a potential bomb on their hands.  Urban jungle time.

Here’s an extensive article at Deadline Hollywood that breaks it down: http://www.deadline.com/2011/07/first-box-office-cowboys-aliens-40m-smurfs-29m-crazy-stupid-love-18m/

Here are also the current numbers for Cowboys & Aliens: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=cowboysandaliens.htm

And The Smurfs:http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=smurfs.htm

UPDATED DATA (8:00 PM CST):http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/box-office-update-smurfs-is-219478


To sum it up, Smurfs did better than expected, and Cowboys & Aliens did much worse than expected.  Analysts even describe C&A as almost “tanking.”  Their box office prediction (which was universally expected to be a low figure,) was $45 Million — and no one’s saying whether that was intended as a one-day gross, or a weekend gross.  In any event, at weekend’s end, Cowboys & Aliens tallied to just the mid 30’s.  With an “unofficial” budget between $163 – $200 Million, and only a few weeks guaranteed in a prime exhibition in theaters, this picture cannot afford that kind of lackluster box office tally.  Therefore, The Smurfs, with a budget significantly less, at $110 Million, is the clear winner.   Both have home video and cable revenues coming their way, but those numbers are also generally commensurate with the box office take.  And they won’t see a dime of foreign theatrical revenue, either.  They never do, the taxes and tariffs are too high.  One of those industry secrets the studios don’t like discussing.  No matter that fantastical “World Wide Box Office Total,” they generally see little more than their share of the domestic (US) box office take.  Behind that, video and cable.  At this point, it has been forecast that Cowboys & Aliens will eventually break even, but not make a profit for a very long time.

And you wanna know the sad part ?  ROFL  The Smurfs has gotten the expected reviews a movie like that always gets.  Critics and Parents don’t like it, small kids inexplicably do.


5 responses

  1. James, I went to see Cowboys and Aliens with my husband on the opening weekend, at the local drive-in theater. I thought it was kind of dull at first, but then husband LOVES westerns and I find them boring. And there wasn’t really any romance. Plus the character played by Harrison Ford was a jerk! And I don’t find Daniel Craig to be sexy either.

    Once the aliens started attacking and the action shifted to the humans fighting the aliens, it got more interesting. I’d say it’s a quirky movie at best. I’d give it maybe a 3+ on a 1-5 scale.

    Hey, at least it wasn’t yet ANOTHER kiddie-cartoon made into a movie, or yet another remake or sequel!

    August 4, 2011 at 11:10 PM

  2. Thanks, Fiona . Your opinion is very valuable.

    August 5, 2011 at 12:50 AM

  3. Haven’t seen the film, and not sure I want to. My preference is for Westerns over Sci-Fi (though there hasn’t been much good in the former in the last decade). But if you want to mix the two genres I’d prefer something more in the vein of Louis L’Amour’s The Haunted Mesa rather than the tired old theme of invaders from outer space.
    Still, I’ve got to agree with Fiona–at least it isn’t another remake or, God forbid, another bloody super hero flick. And, even if it were the worse film ever made, it would still be a far, far better thing than a reality TV show.

    August 5, 2011 at 7:48 AM

  4. Maybe it was easier to hide from the real drama in Washington in a Smurf cartoon than a western/sci-fi movie. Remember what went on in the halls of Congress this past weekend. Talk about strife! Makes Cowboys and Aliens look like a day in grandma’s parlor. That’s just my thoughts. I would like to see the movie myself just to see how plausible the plot is for a Sci-Fi flic,

    August 5, 2011 at 8:57 AM

  5. Pingback: My Summer Box Office, 2011 « Written By James Allder

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