Speed Racer's Box Office Flop Explained

The final numbers aren’t in yet, but it doesn’t matter. Speed Racer is officially a tremendous flop. Early estimates indicate that it only made $20 million opening weekend, and even that as it turns out, may be generous. By way of comparison, Iron Man made $100 million its opening weekend, and $50 million this weekend. Those are the kinds of numbers you expect from a summer blockbuster people actually want to see.

Over the next days and weeks as Speed Racer quietly slips out of theaters, there’s going to be a lot of talk as experts point fingers and try to figure out what the hell went wrong. However to me, the answer seems obvious.

Speed Racer is first and foremost a kids’ movie. That should have worked for it. It’s been months since we’ve had an even halfway exciting kids’ movie, and usually when that happens the next one to show up in theaters makes a mint. Speed Racer had the jump on all the other summer children’s films. It was the first. It should have been sold out with Mom’s dragging hordes of pre-teens in to see the Wachowski brothers’ brightly colored racing movie.

Except whoops. They forgot to tell parents that this was a kids’ movie.

Sure the trailers had a lot of bright colors and vroom vroom noises, but it was never entirely clear that this was a movie for kids. Most of the ads touted that it was the latest from the creators of The Matrix, a series of films known for being R-rated and violent. Others were attached to corporate sponsorships for boring, adult things like insurance. Few of the most heavily used advertisements were clearly geared towards youngsters. Instead, nearly all of the trailers and TV spots seemed to be struggling to strike a confused middle ground, in a weird attempt to appeal to everyone, while all they really accomplished was to appeal to absolutely no one.

Warner Brothers never quite caught on to the fact that adults were not going to be interested in this thing, no matter how they advertised it. Maybe their researchers spent too much time on fanboy sites like the increasingly out of touch AICN, allowing the niche audience there to convince them that there was this huge fanbase for Speed Racer, when in fact it’s a crappy cartoon which most people barely remember, and of those that do few think of it all that fondly. Note to Warner Brothers: Harry Knowles likes a lot of crap. He doesn’t really represent the mainstream, he doesn’t even represent the mainstream geek crowd, he represents a tiny subset of people which apparently, are worth about $20 million at the box office. That’s who you got into the theater this past weekend. The very small crowd that comprises Speed Racer fans, and a few stragglers who weren’t already totally disillusioned by the way the Wachowskis' ruined The Matrix.

Speed Racer blew it in marketing. They needed to sell this thing solely to pre-teens, and they didn’t. The result was a movie which adults had no interest in and parents were never quite sure was meant for their kids. Welcome to flop city Speed Racer. You had it coming.

Josh Tyler