Why The Hell Didn't You See White House Down?

By Katey Rich And Sean O'Connell 2013-07-01 15:40:26discussion comments
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White House Down became a mystifying flop this weekend, making just $25 million and watching The Heat run away with all its buddy cop buzz. But White House Down had two really charismatic stars and a bunch of crazy moments and flippin' Roland Emmerich behind it! What the hell happened?

Katey and Sean-- who have already, full disclosure, declared their love for the movie in front of the actual White House-- try to figure it out below. Do we blame Olympus Has Fallen? The Heat? Is it all Channing Tatum's fault? Help us solve the mystery.

KATEY: Sean, we are both heartbroken today. It is a sad day for America. It is the day that we have to admit that our fellow Americans have failed us. 

SEAN: And completely shocked us. By turning their backs on White House Down, audiences appear to have blasted a gaping hole in the middle of all that I thought I knew about the current popcorn-blockbuster system. Much like the executives at Sony, we're scratching our heads over what we think went wrong with White House Down, and you and I have very different theories.

KATEY: I was basically as baffled as you are at first-- both of us were so confident that this movie would make a bascrillion dollars, because come on. But I noticed a recurring theme in all the reader comments we were getting-- essentially, everyone kept saying it was "too dumb." Now I thought "too dumb" was a hallmark of American blockbusters-- what are the Transformers movies if not that?-- but somehow White House Down crossed that line. And I'm wondering if it's just a style of too dumb that, sadly, no longer works these days. "Gleefully dumb" can be really fun, but it can be weirdly hard to convince people of that.

SEAN: Well, you brought up the franchise that I would have mentioned to counter the idea that "too dumb" isn't profitable, and that's Transformers. Because there isn't an ounce of brain function in Bay's robot movies, and they gross vaults of cash. Plus, the marketing for WHD, I thought, played up the action without giving away some of the admittedly cheesy parts. (I think we both agree that this goes off the rails, even by its own standards, in the last 15-20 minutes.) I have a different theory. One that chills you to the core.

KATEY: Don't say it! DON'T SAY IT!

SEAN: What if Channing Tatum just isn't a big enough movie star to open a summer blockbuster? It might be time for you (OK, for both of us) to accept this as fact.

Look at World War Z. Brad Pitt opened what was sure to be a disaster. The movie is better than advertised, but he got people IN THE DOOR to check it out. Now, Tatum has had hits ... but, when you look back over his resume, Jonah Hill and The Rock helped movie like 21 Jump Street and G.I. Joe. This movie was hung on C-Tate's hook ... and it faltered. What does that tell us?

KATEY: I do not buy that Jonah Hill opened 21 Jump Street any more than Tatum did. And Tatum helped make G.I. Joe happen-- they at least sold it on his name as much as The Rock's. But otherwise, sure, you're right. Tatum is not a Brad Pitt-level star yet. I don't think anyone really thought he was. White House Down was sold on him AND Jamie Foxx, but neither of them are established enough as personalities to help people get over a "this looks dumb" gut reaction. In fact, the two of them together probably helped contribute to the idea that it's dumb. Aside from Magic Mike and Django, both of them are pretty famous for silly stuff-- Foxx was in Law Abiding Citizen, for God's sake.

SEAN: Let's get back into the "too dumb" theory, because commenters are judging that it looks bad from what? Trailers? Commercials? That has to be it. They aren't paying to see it. They are dismissing the movie because the advertising turned them off. Do you think, honestly, that White House Down had a worse campaign than, say, The Heat? That looked far more generic than Down. There wasn't a single sequence in the Heat ads that stands out. Audiences bought into Bullock and McCarthy as a team more than they bought into Tatum and Foxx.

Do you think that Olympus Has Fallen hurt WHD?  Do you think those who bothered to see Olympus just didn't want to sit through a different version of a similar story?

KATEY: Yes, I think Olympus Has Fallen works directly into the "too dumb" theory. It's like they were basically rubbing our noses in the idea that we'll pay to see the same stories over and over again. "This movie looks ridiculous.... AND it just came out a few months ago!" Even though White House Down was clearly the classier option, I think a lot of people saw it as the cheap also-ran... which is totally unfair.

SEAN: It is. Does this change how you think other movies coming out this summer will do? The one movie that truly scares me -- in terms of how it will perform -- is Pacific Rim. Because if you look at how movies are performing this summer, its sequels to recognizable franchises that are packing houses. Iron Man 3, Man of Steel and even Star Trek are doing well. Original films with little star power are having a hard time. At this rate, I could see The Wolverine making bank, and Rim -- with no real star power and a cult-fave director -- falling on its face.

KATEY: I don't want to apply White House Down rules to Pacific Rim, because they're such vastly different movies-- and if both fall apart, it will be for different reasons. But I"m not going to use White House Down as evidence of original films failing-- if anything, I think its problem is that it felt too familiar.

SEAN: OK. But if Smurfs 2 outgrosses the rest of the summer's slate, I'm putting myself on suicide watch.

KATEY: Let's leave on this note: go see White House Down! You will be pleasantly surprised by how fun it is! And if you love America, you owe it to your country to see it this Independence Day week

SEAN: Exactly! Plus, it's better than The Lone Ranger (spoiler alert). It's the good kind of dumb, America! Embrace your inner popcorn lover and give White House Down a try!
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