Predicting success

Her’s the trailer for this week’s US number one movie:

Yes, it looks kind of shit, but it’s taken a very impressive and somewhat surprising $44m in its first weekend in North America.

When I watch a trailer like that I think, ‘Oh, a crappy retread of Limitless with hints of Transcendence, both somewhat crappy floppish attempts at the brain-tech genre. This one’s destined for a fairly quick trip to the bargain bin section of Netflix’.

So I’d have been wrong, but I often wonder what the people involved think when they’re preparing or making a movie like that. Do they believe they’re destined for Oscars/massive box-office, or are they aware they’re taking a bit of a punt that might turn out well? Perhaps they even think they’re creating a pile of old toss but are self aware and greedy enough not to mind.

Back to Lucy: it’s directed by Luc Besson, who has had very few substantial hits (the exception is Taken, whose success, as a fuckbrained sort of retread of Frantic, surprised me even more), so what ingredients of this movie would have made those who took part think it would be any good? By all accounts it isn’t actually any good at all (it’s rated a very low C+ by those who saw it), but Joe Public don’t seem to care. It’s beaten the odds of its provenance and quality to become a massive hit. Whodathunkit?

On the flipside, when I see posters for movies like this…


…I think that the people involved must have been wetting themselves at the potential awards, prestige etc. (really weirdly I chose this example somewhat at random, only to find it was also directed by Luc Besson, illustrating my point quite brilliantly. Thanks, luck). If you wrote it and your agent said it would be made with that cast, and Scorsese as exec producer you’d be pretty tempted to start working on your Oscar acceptance speech. But no: it was a giant flop, millions of miles from the quality that would have landed it anything like an Academy Award.

But De Niro, Pfeiffer, the studio, Scorsese etc. would surely not have got involved if they hadn’t thought it was going to work out well. De Niro was just coming off another Oscar nomination and is starting to become David O. Russell’s go-to older guy (like Michael Caine for Christopher Nolan), so he has no need to plumb the Rocky and Bullwinkle depths of the turn of the millennium, and he’s surely not short of a bob or two (pun unintended).

Many clever, experienced film biz people have bet on black and watched it come up red, while the drunken punt on number 23 that Lucy appears to have been has come up trumps. I know William Goldman said (referring to the film industry) that ‘nobody knows anything’, but really, my cat might as well be predicting the hits coming out of Hollywood, and she has barely any knowledge of Ozu, Fassbender or Hawks.

The same applies to most art forms: albums, books and ads can become massive flops, even if they’ve been put together with just the right team of massive hotness. And great work can fail while shit sweeps the board. Nobody really does know anything, but that’s part of the fear and the fun.

If it were as predictable as numbers on a spread sheet we’d have stopped giving a shit years ago. As it is, the randomness is a juicy old joy.

Long may it continue.