We'd like to think good movies are successful movies. That box office isn't about commercial appeal or marketing, but merit. That only bad movies flop. But time and time again, that proves to be untrue. The latest unfair failure is the action-thriller Edge of Tomorrow.
It has Tom Cruise as its leading man. Director Doug Liman has The Bourne Identity to his credit. Edge of Tomorrow has a cool premise, a major star, a respected director, and loads of action and special effects, plus Emily Blunt as an epic badass. It was even showered in critical praise for its inventive use of video game concepts, dark humor, and Cruise's performance. Yet it was crushed at the box office by The Fault In Our Stars and Maleficent. How did this happen?
Personally, I am proud to have my review quoted in Edge of Tomorrow's ads, as I found it to be a fast-paced and wildly fun summer movie. But apparently the enthusiastic praise of me and my colleagues wasn't enough to lure American audiences in. (The $178 million movie has only made $29 mil domestic in its opening weekend, though overseas its already amassed $111 million.) This has left me wondering where Edge of Tomorrow went wrong in its debut? And I've come up with three unfortunate mistakes.
That Lame Title ChangeBased on a Hiroshi Sakurazaka novel, Edge of Tomorrow was originally named for its inspiration, All You Need Is Kill. That would have been a bit of an awkward title, sure, but at least it gave a sense of war and even edgy humor. However, Warner Bros. got spooked about this title, and so swapped for "Edge of Tomorrow" last summer, just ahead of Comic Con. The problem is, Edge of Tomorrow is not evocative. It doesn't sell the concept better than the name All You Need Is Kill would have. It's only apparent advantage is that it sells the sci-fi angle a bit more.
Ultimately the title Edge of Tomorrow meant nothing to moviegoers, and despite a barrage of movie posters, trailers, and TV spots, the title couldn't cut through the white noise of summer movie season. When I'd go to early summer BBQs or cocktail parties, again and again I was asked what was coming up that people should see. I'd tell them eagerly, "Edge of Tomorrow!" And again and again, the response I got was a blank stare. About half the time, this stare would be shaken off with a, "Oh…is that the Tom Cruise one?" Yes, it is. But apparently one that hasn’t made much of an impression.
One-Note MarketingFrom the tagline "LIVE. DIE. REPEAT." to a string of trailers detailing its time-loop narrative, Warner Bros. worked hard to make sure moviegoers understood the unconventional premise of Edge of Tomorrow. The rest of the screentime in trailers and TV spots went to showing off its star, Tom Cruise, along with the scads of praise Edge of Tomorrow was pulling in. Many critics, myself included, were pleasantly surprised that Cruise had followed a lackluster sci-fi adventure (Oblivion) with a clever and downright hilarious one. It seemed a great move for WB to play up our excitement, but apparently our enthusiasm was not contagious.
Setting aside what I know about Edge of Tomorrow, I watched the trailer again to try to see what the public did. Maybe it just looked too much like so much other sci-fi with its cool tones, teeth-gritted heroes and high stakes. The trailers aimed to emphasize our excitement over the film's originality and thrills, but sidestepped our love of the movie's macabre sense of humor, which sets it apart from recent sci-fi offerings like Prometheus or World War Z. Admittedly, that's a tricky thing to sell in a 30-second spot. But I can't help but wonder if WB had shown a little less of the movie's explosions and a little more of its distinctive comedy, would it have made more of an impression?
Underestimating The Competition... And WomenThrough movies like Bridesmaids, Frozen and The Hunger Games, there's been a shift in Hollywood. Female-fronted movies are being seen less and less as movies meant only for the "niche" female audience. Women outnumber men in theaters, and so it should be less of a surprise that two movies that were marketed intensely to women beat Edge of Tomorrow at the box office.
Despite being scorned by critics, Maleficent has already proved itself a hit in its second week, an event that might be best credited to Angelina Jolie's still strong star power. Perhaps Oblivion soured Cruise's rep more than WB expected. But it seems Edge of Tomorrow shouldn't have dared face off against the box office force that is The Fault In Our Stars. The teen-centered tearjerker has been building momentum for months, tantalizing its massive and fervent fanbase as well as that of its beloved author John Green. Combine this with the popularity of YA adaptations at the box office, and Cruise and Edge of Tomorrow were doomed on their debut.
Basically, even though Edge of Tomorrow was the best-reviewed movie of the week, it's being called a box office loser, admittedly prematurely. Regardless of ungrateful American audiences, the film is thriving overseas, and could pick up Stateside if word of mouth takes off. But considering two movies fronted by females are at the top of the box office, perhaps Edge of Tomorrow should rush to put Emily Blunt and her Full Metal Bitch at the front of their second week promotions.