No Summer Lovin'

Big names, big production, big budget.

All this means nothing if you don't draw big crowds.

For a summer season that promised a slew of Hollywood Alisters, eye-popping special effects and high-octane action, the response at the US box office has been lukewarm.

There's your guaranteed hit Iron Man 3, which kicked off the season on April 25 with an impressive US$174 million ($221 million) at the US box office on its opening weekend.

Another comic book favourite, the Superman revival Man Of Steel, took flight with a US$117 million opening.

The foolproof Fast & Furious 6 raced ahead with a US$97 million opening and even Despicable Me 2's animated minions wreaked havoc with US$84 million.

Pacific Rim, the well-reviewed robots vs monsters highconcept movie, opened to a measly US$37 million in the US.

Guillermo Del Toro's latest offering was deemed a flop because of its high price tag of US$190 million. But it has performed well overseas, particularly in China where it took in a recordbreaking US$45 million in five days - and it hasn't even gone to manga-loving Japan yet.

With international box-office takings of US$293 million to date, it's enough for studio Warner Bros to commission a sequel.

On the other end of the spectrum, movies that were thought to be surefire winners bombed.

These are the ones that come with high production costs in excess of US$150 million - and we're not including marketing costs.

They will probably recoup the cost with the help of the international box office and longer theatre runs, but if they don't make a dent during the crucial US opening weekend, they're automatically labelled stinkers.

This year's indisputable flop has to be Johnny Depp's The Lone Ranger. With an oversized budget of US$200 million, the Western flick has made only US$175 million after playing in both overseas and domestic theatres for slightly over a month After Earth, White House Down and R.I.P.D. - which opens here today - make up the other major duds with opening weekends of US$28 million, US$25 million and US$13 million, respectively.

Here's our report card on why they under-performed...

1. TOO MANY EGGS IN THE BASKET

Calling legendary Hollywood director-producer Steven Spielberg a prophet is a stretch, but he actually predicted this crash.

The master of blockbusters said at a University of Southern California event in June - before most of the flicks fell from grace - that there will be "an implosion where three or four, or maybe even a half dozen, megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground".

There were simply too many biggies being released at the same time.

Using Iron Man 3 as the start of the season, we had Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast & Furious 6, After Earth, Man Of Steel, World War Z, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim, R.I.P.D, and The Wolverine - with most of them opening back-to-back.

We've been bombarded with big-budget visual spectacles, and after a while, all the special effects and loud, explosive action sequences start to meld into one big generic movie. Time magazine even coined a term for the condition - "summer blockbuster fatigue".

2. SIZE DOES MATTER

Even a kid can tell you the higher your cost, the more money you need to make to break even.

Hollywood director James Cameron can attest to that. When the "king of the world" was handed a US$200 million budget for Titanic in 1995, everyone baulked.

It was the most expensive movie then. Now it seems like a prerequisite for summer blockbusters to come.

Less expensive - and quieter - movies such as Now You See Me, The Heat, The Conjuring and even Grown Ups 2 ended up being big winners.

Again, this was foreseen by Spielberg, who, in the same speech, said the box-office bombs will cause a change in the paradigm, in which the industry has to rethink its reliance on gargantuan spectacles.

Businessweek recently reported that Walt Disney will probably end up taking a writedown of more than US$100 million on The Lone Ranger. Guess it hasn't learnt its lesson as the company took a US$200 million writedown last year for John Carter, another bigbudget mistake.

3. VAIN ATTEMPTS

Will Smith's name on billboards used to be a crowd-puller. Now, the one-time most bankable actor's image is no longer bulletproof.

After Earth had Smith calling all the shots.

He conceived the vanity project, produced it with wife Jada Pinkett and cast their 15-yearold son Jaden alongside himself as the leads - and this is supposed to be part one of a trilogy.

Was the younger Smith ready to carry a movie? Obviously not, based on the lack of interest.

Of course, its questionable sci-fi plot also contributed to the downfall, but to see Smith spending all that money trying to make his son a star was a bit too narcissistic to stomach.

Yes, the kid may have potential, but he wasn't However, he can be thankful that his star is still shining overseas. After Earth performed well internationally and at US$243 million, it has recouped its production cost of US$130 million .

As for Depp, he had long said that The Lone Ranger was his pet project. He even dressed up as native American character Tonto to convince hotshot producer Jerry Bruckheimer to greenlight it. Depp also roped in his Pirates Of The Caribbean director Gore Verbinski to helm the film.

Depp's The Mad Hatter, Willy Wonka and Captain Jack Sparrow are loved because they make universal icons, but Tonto is too American.

Also, not many people out there are familiar with the 1950s TV series that inspired the movie, which made it all that harder to sell.

However, Depp didn't see it that way.

The 50-year-old has pointed fingers at movie critics, saying that The Lone Ranger never stood a chance because of all the negative press surrounding it.

"I think the reviews were written seven to eight months before we released the film," Depp complained to Variety. "I think the reviews were written when they heard Gore (Verbinski) and Jerry (Bruckheimer) and me were going to do The Lone Ranger.

"They had expectations that it must be a blockbuster. I didn't have any expectations of that. I never do."

4. SEXINESS DOESN'T SELL

Sure, their many shirtless poses for magazines and headline-grabbing love lives sell magazines by the truckloads. We're not rapping their celebrity, but let's face it, they are no Brad Pitt, whose US$190 million zombie flick World War Z sold based on his name alone.

Moviegoers are not your tabloid readers and they are not flocking to the cinemas to see Channing Tatum in a wife-beater going manoa- mano with terrorists in White House Down or Ryan Reynolds take down the undead in R.I.P.D.

So what if they're considered the sexiest men alive by People magazine? Tatum was 2012's winner while Reynolds earned the title in 2010.

Tatum's US$150 million actioner opened way below expectations with a dismal US$24.8 million. Even after five weeks of showing internationally, the Roland Emmerich-directed flick made only US$117 million.

R.I.P.D. is a sadder case.

Opening at only US$13 million, it was D.O.A (dead on arrival) and probably the worst summer performer at the US box office. Made for US$130 million and earning US$49 million globally so far, it's an uphill battle for it to break even, let alone turn a profit.

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