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Green Lantern Bombs: Questionable Marketing and Planning

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The Green Lantern movie is estimated to have done a very disappointing $52.7 million at the box office for its opening weekend.  You might not think that sounds disappointing, but the film is rumored to have cost $300 million after advertising and it was initially expected to gross $60-70 million for the weekend.  (Not that $70 million wouldn’t be a little disappointing on that budget.)

As such, there’s much blamestorming going on and paranoids and haters are decrying this as the death knell for superhero movies.  And that’s a load of crap.

Let’s be clear on something.  Green Lantern was not a good movie.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find a lot of supporters who haven’t read a lot of Green Lantern comics over the years and are geeked to see it on the big screen.  When a film drops 22% from its opening Friday to its opening Saturday, like Green Lantern did, that’s a pretty good sign for horrible word of mouth.  Accept that the film was a dud and move on.

What we are talking about here is a bad movie not meeting box office expectations.  That it is a superhero movie is beside the point.  Superhero movies are dead when people stop going to see good ones or the studios start kicking out 5 bad ones in a row.  Now the latter could happen and DC/Warners isn’t exactly riding a hot streak with Jonah Hex and Green Lantern.  Fortunately, Marvel’s Thor was diverting and Fox’s X-Men: First Class was excellent.  With a bit of luck, Captain America is a good flick that’s well received and we don’t hear any more of this for awhile.  Enough with the shrill, sky is falling rhetoric.  When a bad movie has the fingerprints of heavy studio notes and editing upon, the last thing you wish it is the financial success to encourage that sort of behavior.

On the positive side, between opening night and the midnight preview, Green Lantern grossed $21.6 million for one of the worst reviewed films of recent memory.  There ABSOLUTELY was an audience waiting for this.  They just didn’t get something they could tell their friends was great.

With that out of the way, what went wrong with Green Lantern?  If we take the actual film out of the equation, we’re left with expectations, marketing and source material.

Expectations

The expectations coming out of Warners were pretty clearly to replicate an Iron Man level franchise.  The rationale seemingly was “if Marvel can do this with a B-character, so can we.”  And they dumped a rumored $100 million into making this into a megahit.  The first question might be “at what point did this project look like it was gelling enough to warrant that kind of marketing,” so we may just have out of control expectations driving the project before the first script was written.

Marketing

Even Warners will admit their initial trailers for Green Lantern were awful and counter-productive.  Since this seems to be a case of the longstanding “anything you can do, I can do better” that’s gone on between DC and Marvel for decades, and DC did seem to be following the Marvel formula, let’s see how well they did it.

Marvel tends to get a director with indie cred (frequently on their first action movie, letting that story write itself for instant publicity), one bankable star in the lead and one Hollywood legend in a supporting role.

For directors, Marvel had Jon Favreau for Iron Man and Kenneth Branagh for Thor.  Favreau’s big film had been Elf and Branagh was best known for art house films and Shakespeare adaptations.  DC tapped Martin Campbell for Green Lantern.  You would think this is a very promotable director, Campbell having revived James Bond and Zorro, but for all the trailers, I didn’t realize Martin Campbell was involved until shortly before the premiere.  You’d think “from the director of Casino Royale” might be a tagline you’d want to push heavier.  Hiring formula was followed, hype formula was not.

For the bankable star in the lead, Iron Man had Robert Downey, Jr. and Thor had Natalie Portman.  Green Lantern had Ryan Reynolds.  Can’t argue the box office power for this and Reynolds was certainly promoted.

For the Hollywood legends category, Iron Man had Jeff Bridges as the villain, Gwyneth Paltrow (and her collection of awards) as the romantic interest, and Terrance Howard (while not necessarily a legend, he was coming off an Oscar nomination for Hustle and Flow) as the sidekick.   Thor had Anthony Hopkins as Odin.  Green Lantern had Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett in supporting roles.  Of course, you didn’t know this until you saw the film.  They certainly weren’t advertised and their roles were lesser than Bridges or Hopkins.  Even romantic lead Blake Lively, who has some name recognition was de-emphasized in the trailers.

So if you look at the Marvel formula, which DC seemed to be at least attempting to follow in the casting stages, they botched the promotional aspects for director and supporting cast.  It was highly unrealistic to think Green Lantern was going to pull Iron Man numbers when you look at the star power.  Green Lantern could compete with Thor on star power, particularly when Thor’s Chris Hemsworth was an unknown in the lead.  Of course, that would require you to actually market your star power.

Trailer with zero Martin Campbell mention and “miss it and blink” cameos by Robbins and Bassett. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oazFv302DIM

Trailer with zero Martin Campbell mention, no Robbins, no Bassett and if you blink you’ll miss about 1 second of co-star Blake Lively. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul4A6cPojGo&feature=relmfu

They weren’t even trying to leverage their assets with this marketing campaign.

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3 Comments

  1. the problem with green lantern is that almost every role was miscast, the script was horrible,the score was bland, the suit was horrible… to shorten the list, about all they got right was the title.

    no amount of marketing can save a bad product. the one thing hollywood needs to learn is to not greenlight a project unless they have a rock solid script, that’s where a good movie starts.

    green lantern cost 300 million….. for 300 million i expect perfection.

    think about it, if you go to a five star restaurant and pay 100 dollars for a steak and they bring out a macdonalds hamburger patty would you be satisfied? no.

    so why do people say it’s ok for super expensive movies to make no sense, have huge plot holes, and bad writing… because it’s just a dumb summer blockbuster?

    as budjets rise so should your expectations.

  2. Agreed; very good points!!!! I am really sick of movies like Green Lantern, a movie which wages it’s eventual success on hype and hopes that people will pile into theaters because of movie trailers and promos on fast food soft drink cups. ENOUGH! It can’t be all that hard to make a good superhero movie, there are plenty of them out there to take examples from. As you mentioned, if studios are piling dollar after dollar into these films WHERES THE BEEF?! Stop giving us 50 cent lollipops.

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