From ‘John Carter’ to ‘Terra Nova,’ Five Things Hollywood Should Learn From Their Most Recent Flops

The Los Angeles Times has a piece up looking at the panic in Hollywood over the failures of John Carter, Terra Nova, Luck, and Hugo, all projects with extremely well-connected talent attached that none the less failed to find the audiences that would make them successes — and would make them profitable. Writer Patrick Goldstein blames a lack of relatable heroes at the center of each project, and interviews blog favorite Gavin Polone, who suggests that studios just don’t have any idea what audiences like anymore. Here are five ideas for what they might learn from these particular projects:

1. Bland doesn’t mean broadly appealing: I admire Taylor Kitsch’s abs, but if you haven’t seen Friday Night Lights (and many people haven’t), it’s not clear what his hook is other than his extreme handsomeness. Is he self-deprecating-but-not-really like George Clooney? Does he have a gift for physical comedy like the one Channing Tatum surprised people with in 21 Jump Street? Similarly, Jason O’Mara on Terra Nova was perhaps the epitome of the flavorless hunks Hollywood’s tried to peddle us over the last decade. There’s just nothing to him, but they’re convinced we’ll like him anyway. Being inoffensive is not the same time as being appealing to a broad swath of viewers, and it’s time for Hollywood to stop treating leading men that way.

2. Concepts matter: I’ve beat this horse on Terra Nova a lot, but it’s really not enough to throw robot dinosaurs at us and be assured we’ll be entertained and engaged. If anything, John Carter had the opposite problem. There are a ton of good concepts to draw on there, and there simply wasn’t enough time to explore them all. The movie might have been better if it could give us a sense of the nature of the conflict between Mars’ humans, or sharped the relationship between those societies and the Tharks. Instead, it had to rush through everything. So two rules: 1) Make sure your concept is well-developed and good, and 2) Make sure it’s a match for your form.

3. Your private interests are not inherently fascinating: There are horse-racing fans who share David Milch’s intensity for the sport, but there are not many of them — it’s why the sport is in trouble. And while there are more people who care about movie history, they’re still not the majority of the movie-going audience. Hugo’s $73 million in domestic box office may be worse considering what it cost to make, but it’s not like The Artist has lit the world on fire, either. Even after its Best Picture win, it’s only taken in $42 million. Fascinating things may emerge from creators’ private passions, but just because they feel strongly about something doesn’t mean it’s inherently going to pull in an audience to match.


4. The 3D jig is up: It may jack up ticket costs, but it’s not like we don’t notice. And it’s particularly irritating when 3D doesn’t add a single thing to a movie and gives viewers a headache along with it. 3D may be an attractive way to get your movie to the Chinese market, which is allowing more 3D and Imax American movies into its theaters, but that doesn’t mean it can replace storytelling, characterization or acting here.

5. The hero doesn’t always have to be a dude: I tend to think that Hugo’s hero should remain who it is, though Chloe Moretz’s Isabelle was delightful. But Dejah Thoris is vastly more interesting than John Carter; anyone would have been more interesting than O’Mara in the lead in Terra Nova; and watching a woman try to break into top-flight jockeying might have been more interested than David Milch’s latest foray into Dudeland.