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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is not a disaster. We won’t look back on it as an epic flop, and it won’t change the way studios do business. It brought in a vaguely respectable fifteen million dollars or so during its opening weekend, and if it’s able to perform strong enough in foreign markets, it could even eventually turn a profit. But let’s just call a Clancy a Clancy here. Those numbers have to be considered a very big disappointment for Paramount, a studio that spared no expense trying to market the film to an audience, any audience really.
Ready for some pretty sobering numbers? More than 1/3rd of Jack Ryan’s ticket sales came from people over fifty. Even worse, only 15% of tickets were purchased by under-twenty-fives. So, in other words, those who showed up were almost exclusively fans of The Hunt For Red October and other prior Jack Ryan adventures, and the drive to bring in new blood was almost a complete failure.
No doubt Paramount executives will spend the next few months desperately trying to spin the disappointment and find justifications for why the movie never ignited, but at least from my perspective, it seems pretty obvious what the hell happened. If the studio would have just looked back on many of the very recent attempts to jump start franchises, they would have noticed some alarming similarities between those disappointments and their own film.
Here are 5 lessons Jack Ryan producers didn’t bother learning from other failed franchises…
Don’t Use A Generic Title, Courtesy Of John CarterI suspect producers thought they were jazzing their entry up by slapping Shadow Recruit onto the end, but I still don’t even have any idea what that means. Seriously, what is a Shadow Recruit? Is it someone who is recruited under the shadiest of circumstances? Is it someone who is supposed to train by himself and out of eyesight of the other recruits? It doesn’t make any sense, and even worse, Jack Ryan is not a household name. Sorry, Paramount. Sorry, Tom Clancy. That name doesn’t mean anything, except to the hardcore fans who were going to turn out anyway. James Bond, yes. Sherlock Holmes, yes. These names have entered the popular culture. Jack Ryan has not.
Let’s just fire out some fake titles that would have brought more people into the theater. Ready? Pattern Recognition. CIA Secret Weapon, The Quotient Of All Fears, Moscow’s Most Wanted, Soviet Hostilities and Financial Foul Play. Okay, maybe some of those aren’t actually any better, but the point is Paramount should have learned from John Carter that going woefully generic is a bad play. A way higher percentage of people than we’d like to talk about really do factor in the title when it comes to choosing what film to say, and this one hurt way more than it helped.
Don’t Assume Young People Are Invested In An Old Property, Courtesy Of Lone RangerJack Ryan might have been a stud in the early 90s when he was getting a film every two years, but between Clear And Present Danger in ’94 and Shadow Recruit in ’14, he only showed up in one movie, 2002’s Sum Of All Fears. And contrary to popular belief, Patriot Games isn’t exactly a film most parents feel is required viewing for their children as they grow up. During the lead-up to Jack Ryan’s release, I asked one of my friends what he knew about the character and he said, "I think he’s like a Jason Bourne type, maybe, but he’s also good with submarines, I think." Nailed it.
There’s an entire generation of kids with only a vague knowledge of who the character is, if they have any knowledge at all. They weren’t raised on Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin, and they probably didn’t make it out to see Ben Affleck give it a shot. If The Lone Ranger proved anything, it’s not everything gets passed down by parents. Sometimes a studio needs to market reboots with an eye toward explaining why teens should fall in love with the character to begin with, not why they should go hang out with the character again.
Don’t Put Your Faith In An Unproven Star, Courtesy Of I Am Number FourParamount would like you to believe Chris Pine is a star. After all, he’s toplined two gigantic event films (Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness), played a primary role in a very successful romantic comedy (This Means War) and gone toe-to-toe with Denzel Washington in a blockbuster (Unstoppable). A very strong case could be made, however, that he hasn’t personally been responsible for getting people into theaters for any of those movies. Star Trek is a long-proven franchise that boasted an acclaimed director with a built-in fanbase, and This Means War and Unstoppable both boasted bigger stars. Pine is talented, for sure, but talented and capable of drawing a crowd are two very different things.
Remember when studios tried to sell the general public on Alex Pettyfer? He was supposed to be the next big thing and then Beastly came and I Am Number Four came and well, he proved he wasn’t really capable of opening a film on his own. Maybe it’s the material here. Maybe it’s Pine’s fault. Either way, the studio should have taken into consideration that maybe his track record wasn’t quite as strong as the numbers themselves would indicate.
Don’t Use A Russian Villain, Courtesy Of Jack ReacherOnce upon a time, using a villain from Russia or USSR was the obvious right answer. They hated us. We hated them. There was a legitimate possibility we might destroy the world via atomic bombs sooner rather than later, but it’s basically been two decades since there was any real, world-altering hostility between Russia and the United States. The biggest back-and-forth we seem to have these days is over gay rights, which is a big deal but not exactly a terrorism level issue.
Let me pick it up from a different perspective: sixteen-year-old kids have never known hostility with the Russians. I’m not saying a kid wouldn’t be willing to buy in for a Red Army bad guy, but it certainly isn’t a draw in the same way Ivan Drago was in Rocky IV. Even with help from Werner Herzog and one of the creepiest backstories ever, Jack Reacher's villain didn’t completely leap off the screen, and with all due respect to Jack Ryan villain Kenneth Branagh, he’s no Herzog.
Don’t Get Too Serious With Marketing, Courtesy Of The Mortal InstrumentsLook at the poster for Shadow Recruit above. Now look at the poster for Body Of Lies or anything else with a dude holding his gun amidst shady, off-color lighting. Intellectual thrillers are hard to sell, as is. Most people want to have fun when they go to the theater, not find themselves in a high stress situation involving a whole lot of thinking. That’s why it’s very imperative to make such films look like fun, and Shadow Recruit doesn’t do that. There’s one Kevin Costner joke in the trailer about marriage counseling. Beyond that, it’s a mess of mostly unexplained violence, and this poster sure as hell isn’t helping things.
Everyone loves a good action sequence, but unless it’s filmed in some unique way, putting quite a few in the trailer really isn’t the best way to sell a larger film that needs to play to all demographics. That’s why smart trailers and posters and other marketing materials typically highlight something other than a sad, lonely gunman. They make the larger movie seem happy and chaotic and sexy and funny and likeable. Shadow Recruit, however, was very content with existing in serious town, and against Ride Along, that just wasn’t appealing to most people.