Opening in seventh place this weekend with just $5.0 million on 2,043 screens, "Movie 43" marks one of the poorest wide-release openings of Hugh Jackman's career. Or Kate Winslet's. Or Halle Berry's. Or Emma Stone's. Or those of Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Kate Bosworth, Gerard Butler, Josh Duhamel, Anna Faris, Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Greg Kinnear, Johnny Knoxville, Justin Long, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Moretz, Liev Schreiber, Seann William Scott, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, or Naomi Watts.
How does a comedy with so much star power -- more than two dozen big-name celebrities earned top billing, including at least two past Oscar winners and two current nominees -- and still fail to open big?
You can't exactly call "Movie 43" a failure; it reportedly cost just $6 million to make, with all the actors working for union scale and pre-sold deals with entities like Netflix for its ancillary rights. And no one expected the film to perform significantly better than it did. Still, it seems an extravagant waste -- that much talent used to so little effect. Surely a movie with that many stars should have opened a lot bigger, right? Or was this the best the movie could have done?
Here are some lessons for next time, in case someone wants to make "Movie 44."
The title was terrible. There was no indication from the title what the movie was about. Granted, it's hard to come up with a title that tells you a film is an all-star series of unrelated raunchy comedy sketches, but the title the filmmakers came up with is so generic that it feels like a cop-out.
Star Power alone isn't enough. There have been a handful off all-star comedies like this over the years, from the extravagantly expensive ("Around the World in 80 Days," "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World") to the inside-jokey (Robert Altman's "The Player" or "Pret-a-Porter") to the cultish ("The Ten," made by the same folks who gave you "Wet Hot American Summer"). Such movies generally add up to less than the sum of their parts, both at the box office and as moviegoing experiences. (Altman's "Player," which earned several awards and was a modest hit, may be the lone exception of the last three decades or so.) "Movie 43" seemed to fit the pattern in that, aside from the impressive cast, it earned disappointing reviews and weak word-of-mouth.
Haphazard marketing gets haphazard results. The movie wasn't screened for critics (never a good sign), didn't get much advertising (except on MTV, which makes sense), and opened on just 2,043 screens (barely qualifying as a wide release these days). The stars were hardly enlisted to promote it. Current Oscar nominees Hugh Jackman and Naomi Watts are making the talk-show rounds and red-carpet circuit these days, yet you hardly ever hear them mention their newest release. (Of course, if, like Jackman, you were playing a man with testicles dangling from his chin, you might be tight-lipped, too.)
Too many cooks. Besides its two dozen stars, the film boasted a dozen directors and about 18 credited writers. The result was bound to be either comedy by committee or wildly hit-and-miss depending on who worked on what. (According to the critics, the latter turned out to be the case.)
Peter Farrelly may have lost his touch. Farrelly, one of the driving forces behind the project, practically invented the modern gross-out comedy with his brother Bobby on such '90s films as "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary." But those films had heart, and they had premises that extended beyond just one joke. Nothing Farrelly has done in recent years has connected like those early movies did.
The movie opened against two other R-rated films. So it was competing in the marketplace for the same young adults who were targeted to see "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" and "Parker." And there just wasn't enough enthusiasm to pry that group out of their warm living rooms at this cold winter moment. Because...
Late January is a bad time to open anything. Unless you're Liam Neeson, who was absent from the screen this month, but who has scored well in recent Januaries with such films as "The Grey," "Unknown," and "Taken." Maybe the filmmakers should have sprung for his salary.
Earlier on Moviefone:
'Three'(2002)/'Three… Extremes' (2004)
With the "Three" films, audiences everywhere were offered a glimpse inside the cutting-edge, occasionally shocking world of Asian genre cinema. The first "Three" set up the conceptual framework, with a trio of films by Asian directors working at the peak of their respective genres, each from a different country -- "Going Home" from Chinese filmmaker Peter Chan, "The Wheel," directed by Thai filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr and, most wonderfully, the twisty, turny, emotionally resonant "Memories," by South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-Woon. The sequel, released two years later and following a similar format, would push things even further, with pieces by Japan's Takashi Miike, South Korea's Park Chan-wook and, infamously, China's Fruit Chan, whose "Dumplings" imagined a scenario where vainglorious women consume human fetuses to stay young. As typically uneven as most anthology films, the "Three" films do offer curious viewers a good entry point into the weird, wild world of Asian genre cinema, with super-talented directors working at the top of their game.
'Twilight Zone: The Movie' (1983)
It seemed like a no-lose scenario -- wrangle four of the hottest genre directors of the '80s and have them each remake one of their favorite episodes of the original "Twilight Zone" series, utilizing technological advancements of the period and a looser sense of creative freedom. And then things went to hell. While filming his segment, entitled "Time Out" and based (somewhat loosely) on an episode called "A Quality of Mercy," John Landis watched in horror as his lead actor Vic Morrow and two young Vietnamese actors were beheaded when a helicopter malfunctioned. Landis was embroiled in lawsuits for years afterwards, and the accident cast a funereal pallor over the rest of the project. (It forced Steven Spielberg to change his section from a scarier episode to the cuddlier, ultimately toothless "Kick the Can," about old folks who gain their childlike youth for a day.) Still, two of the segments are outstanding -- Joe Dante's razor-sharp, deeply unsettling "It's A Good Life" and George Miller's balls-to-the-walls remake of the immortal "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," this time starring a sweaty John Lithgow. And honestly, 50 percent isn't a bad percentage for excellence in an anthology film.
'Fantasia' (1940)/'Fantasia 2000' (2000)
With "Fantasia's" (somewhat forced?) canonization into the realm of "Disney classic," it's easy to forget how groundbreaking and genuinely weird the movie really is and what a mind-blowing experience it must have been to experience the movie when it was originally released. Centered around eight classical musical pieces (conducted by British legend Leopold Stokowski), with a different theme for each, this film ranged from an epic dinosaur battle to a fantastical vision of heaven and hell to Mickey Mouse getting himself into magical trouble. "Fantasia" was also wordless and immersive -- the first film released in what we would later recognize as "surround sound" (but was dubbed, specifically for the release, as "Fantasound"). Not that audiences recognized how visionary it was at the time; it was considered "difficult" by critics and failed to earn a profit, even after multiple releases (although much of this had to do with the war raging in Europe, which muted overseas releases). An honest-to-god sequel (after one was attempted and aborted in the '80s called "Musicana"), made in 2000, didn't feel as fresh or provocative but includes a number of memorable sequences, most notably the "Rhapsody in Blue" number that was supervised by Eric Goldberg and inspired by the drawings and line work of cartoonist Al Hirschfield.
'Boccaccio '70' (1962)
This is certainly the most Italian anthology you'll ever see – a swinging '60s omnibus featuring four truly impressive directors of the time (Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica), inspired by the writings of Boccaccio, a Renaissance writer responsible for the highly influential "Decameron" (which recently inspired Woody Allen's anthology-ish "To Rome With Love"). Initially the movie was a little too Italian, with one of the sections (Monicelli's charming and beautifully photographed "Renzo e Luciana") removed from almost all presentations of the film. Thankfully, since then, the segment has been restored (most recently in an eye-popping Blu-ray release). The most memorable section, unsurprisingly, is Fellini's, about an elderly man who becomes obsessed with Anita Ekberg after seeing her on an outrageous billboard advertising milk. (Can you blame him?) In fact, that's one of the more notable aspects of "Boccaccio '70" -- that each section is anchored by a terrific performance by a ridiculously beautiful woman: Marisa Solinas, Romy Schneider, Ekberg and Sophia Loren. Mama mia!
'Kentucky Fried Movie' (1977) / 'Amazon Women on the Moon' (1987)
Clearly the inspiration behind "Movie 43" and its zany, cobbled-together, anything-goes weirdness, was 1977's "Kentucky Fried Movie," a freewheeling collaboration between director John Landis and future top-ranking lampoonists David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker (who would go on to make "Airplane!" and the "Naked Gun" series). Despite the unevenness typical of the material and some truly dated jokes, the film is still pretty funny. (Much of the movie is based around parodies of film genres prevalent at the time, which is why we get send ups of blaxpoitation movies, kung-fu epics, women-in-prison flicks, and Irwin Allen-style disaster films.) Released a decade later but just as quickly ignored, "Amazon Women on the Moon" employed a similarly gonzo premise, using the collection-of-sketches format, but with five directors (which included Landis, Joe Dante, and "Jaws" writer Carl Gottlieb) instead of just one. It might not have been as innovative but it was often times just as funny.
'Spirits of the Dead' (1968) / 'Fear(s) of the Dark' (2007)
Almost irresistibly delicious, "Spirits of the Dead" is a European horror anthology built around the stories of Edgar Allen Poe (in the US release, it even came accompanied by narration from Vincent Price, who had starred in a series of popular Poe adaptations for American International Pictures) and directed by Federico Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim. Fellini's section is, again, the highlight -- a 37-minute masterpiece centered around one of Terrence Stamp's all-time finest performances as the title character, an alcoholic, suicidal actor haunted by visions of a small girl. It's deeply unsettling, existentially unmoored and occasionally quite scary. Fellini even turns Ray Charles' lovelorn "Ruby" into a haunting bit of otherworldly eeriness. (The other sections are serviceable but a letdown in comparison.) In 2007, "Fears(s) of the Dark," a black-and-white animated anthology, would make a bid for a similar kind of creeping Euro-centric strangeness, utilizing the distinctive styles of various animators and cartoonists (like "Black Hole" creator Charles Burns) to answer the film's central question: what scares you?
"Paris, Je T'aime" (2006)/ "Tokyo" (2008)
Few anthologies are ambitious or as wildly sprawling as "Paris, Je T'aime," which is centered around the city of love and features 18 segments (each based around a different area or neighborhood in Paris) directed by twenty-two distinct filmmakers. Not all of them are winners, but the ones that shine are pretty phenomenal -- a Coen brothers entry where Steve Buscemi plays a hapless tourist; Tom Tykwer ruminating on fate with Natalie Portman; "Splice'"s Vincenzo Natali's involves vampires; a gay love story from Gus Van Sant; and, most affectingly, an Alexander Payne entry about a sad middle-aged woman who visits Paris for the first time. The rest of the stories are cute or fun or restlessly experimental but Payne's is deeply, profoundly moving and elevates the entire project into something much more than the sum of its parts. For a while, after "Paris Je T'aime" it seemed like every major city would get its own omnibus (the less said about "New York, I Love You," the better), the best of which was "Tokyo," which was more structurally streamlined (it only had three sections, each by a non-Japanese director) and was generally quite brilliant. Leos Carax's entry introduced us to the Merde character that would be more fully explored in last year's "Holy Motors," and Bong Joon-ho's "Shaking Tokyo" did what the Payne entry did for "Paris Je T'aime": gave the entire anthology emotional life.
'How the West Was Won'
Sometimes anthology films can act as giant-sized tech demonstrations (this was sort of the case with "Fantasia"); the most famous (and biggest) was "How the West Was Won," a western anthology built around the Cinerama technology that would literally wrap around an audience as they watched. The sensation was accomplished by filming the action with three cameras that approximated the focal length of the human eye. These three images were then exhibited using three perfectly synced-up projectors on three separate screens, which gave the sensation of being totally immersed in the action. Its five sections, each used to dramatize the westward expansion of American development, were directed by three filmmakers, the most famous of which was John Ford, who helmed the "Civil War" section. Famously, Ford was unimpressed with the Cinerama technology and hated not being able to get closer to the actors (since the field of vision on the Cinerama cameras was so wide, it was hard to hide from it), although his sequence is arguably the most impressive in the star-studded movie. In many ways "How the West Was Won" was the last of the old fashioned, earnest big-screen westerns, before moral ambiguity, surrealist visual flourishes and explosive violence would come to define the genre in the coming years.
'Four Rooms' (1995)
If someone decided to make a time capsule for the freewheeling, hedonistic days of nineties independent film, then they should definitely include a copy of "Four Rooms," an anthology of films made up of a who's-who of Miramax-era superstars: Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Unsurprisingly, the two filmmakers who have continued to have vital careers (Tarantino and Rodriguez) turn in the most inspired entries here, while Alexandre Rockwell (who made a splash with 1992's "In the Soup" before drifting into obscurity) and Allison Anders (who after a strong series of debut films now directs episodes of "Southland") are mere doodles. The whole enterprise reeks of a studio trying to sell the mainstream on its niche material, although the Rodriguez entry (about a couple of kids who find a dead prostitute shoved into the mattress of their bed) and Tarantino's bit (where Tim Roth's bellhop is involved in a bizarre game of chance) are genuinely fun to watch. Despite the movie's commercial failure, Rodriguez and Tarantino returned to the anthology genre (sort of) with 2007's brillant, wholly underrated horror movie double feature "Grindhouse" (connected by phony movie trailers by Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth). Despite being totally brilliant, it also bombed.
'New York Stories' (1989)
Overlong and underdeveloped, "New York Stories" is a trio of stories centered around New York City (way before and way better than "New York, I Love You") and directed by the city's most iconic directors: Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen. (Apparently, Spike Lee was busy or ininterested.) Scorsese's segment is probably the best. Loosely based on a Dostoevsky short story and written by Richard Price, it stars Nick Nolte as an alcoholic painter obsessed by his live-in protégé played by Roseanna Arquette. It feels full and dramatically developed, unlike the Coppola section, co-written by his daughter Sofia, that comes across like some halfhearted attempt at a modern fairy tale and plays incredibly limply. Far better is Woody Allen's "Oedipus Wrecks," which condenses a number of Allen obsessions -- mommy issues, magic, psychics, neurotic relationships -- into a niftily compact and frequently hilarious package. With so many greats associated with the project, you'd think it'd be a lot greater than it ends up being. Oh well. Such is New York.