Jonah Hex: An Unmitigated Box-Office Disaster

Posted on 21 June 2010 by Quaid

It’s fun to speculate about why a movie like Avatar makes billions of dollars.  More fun than that, though, is to speculate about why a movie like Jonah Hex bombs…hard.  Really really hard.

Maybe I’m overstating the gravity of this situation for Warner Brothers, but…no.  The movie was made for somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million.  It was to be a big box-office tent-pole, coming out in the middle of June.  This past weekend, it opened up to a whopping $5.1 million.

Ouch.  Assuming the falloff is in the 50% range, this movie really has no chance to make back its production budget much less the cost of prints and ads.

So what happened?  Everyone loves Josh Brolin, right?  Megan Fox is super hot, right?  People love supernatural cowboys stuff, and the filmmakers even worked in some machine guns and far-fetched ‘splosions.  Everything a big blockbuster is supposed to have, Jonah has it.

Exactly.  The movie, based solely on the advertising and terrible terrible trailer, looks like it’s working so hard to fit into the box-office blockbuster mold that it doesn’t have much room to develop its own identity.  The trailer spends most of its time revealing cool weapons or making annoyingly on-the-nose jokes about how hot Megan Fox is.

I remember when the Transformers 2 trailer came out and we got that gratuitous shot of Ms. Fox in trashy cutoff jeans.  The crowd went wild.  The Jonah Hex trailer’s “they sure searched you thoroughly” joke just fell flat.

We get it.  She’s hot.  Moving on.

Does this mean American Audiences have wised up to this schtick?  Well, we can hope so, but I doubt it.  What it does prove–a point that continues to be proven over and over again–is that you can’t make a guaranteed hit just by throwing in the right laundry list of elements.

That’s something you’d think Hollywood would figure out by now, but they haven’t. A group of executives will be sitting in a room this week trying to figure out what happened, and instead of saying “we were trying too hard,” they’ll probably come to the conclusion that they weren’t trying hard enough.  This story didn’t fit closely enough to the Joseph Campbell myth archetype, or they needed a furry sidekick to liven things up.  They’ll come up with an easy answer to explain away this unfettered failure, and they’ll make a mental note to “fix it” next time.

In the end, though, there is one reason their movie failed.  It didn’t look interesting.  It looked standard and stock and easy.  Seen it, moving on.

I guess we can rule out a Jonah Hex 2. A shame.  I was wondering how they’d top themselves in a second outing, making Megan Fox even more period-defyingly scantily clad and writing new technologically baffling ‘splosion machines.

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