Hollywood folk will tell anyone who will listen that they usually have no idea whether a movie they just made will be a hit.
History is littered with “can’t miss” movies that cratered at the box office.
There is no fool-proof genre – one that, no matter the professional input or source – will be a guaranteed success.
That goes for thrillers, too.
ABOUT THE FILM
In no other genre can a “micro-budget” movie become a monster hit than in thrillers/horror.
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999) was made for almost nothing and became a gigantic success. It remains the micro-budget champion at $248 million while costing just $22,500 to make.
All the recent “Paranormal Activity” movies have all been made on the cheap. (A fifth one could be proof that the end is near; the movie – already delayed once – has been bumped to 2016.)
The Movie Man was a big fan of the original (2007, an 8) but not so much of the sequels. That first one was created for just $15,000 and raked in $108 million in the U.S.
“Insidious” (2010), “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974), the 1978 original “Halloween” and the hot-for-while-there “Open Water” (2003, a 3) all brought back huge returns on teeny budgets.
The flip side of moviemaking is spending a bajillion dollars and the film tanking. Some of these sorts of movies are considered “horrible” when they are not; time is proving that maybe they weren’t the dogs they were deemed to be originally.
“Heaven’s Gate” is an example. The “art-house western” was made for the unheard of cost of $44 million in 1980; it took in only $3.4 million. (Adjusted for inflation, it lost over $114 million.)
Other movies you might not even remember failed financially even more: “The 13th Warrior” (1999) ended up $135.5 million in the red (again, adjusted for inflation); “Mars Needs Moms” (2011, $138.8 million [no problem for Disney]); “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” (2002, the famous Eddie Murphy misfire that lost $144 million); and, the Movie Man is sad to say, “The Alamo” (a 4), that 2004 stinker that will never see the $145 million it’s behind.
The biggest box office disaster of all-time remains “Cutthroat Island” (1995), the Geena Davis pirate saga directed by her husband Renny Harlin; it lost $145.4 million and dashed both their careers.
It came eight years before the pirate rage hit with Johnny Depp and “Pirates of the Caribbean” (2003, a 7), but “Cutthroat” was so bad most folks avoided it.
In 1995, the film’s budget was $98 million and another $17 million was spent promoting it. “Cutthroat” took in just $10 million during its Christmastime release. Its total adjusted loss is a whopping $146 million and it killed its studio, Carolco Pictures.
This week’s movie, “The Purge: Anarchy” is a sequel to “The Purge,” (a 6) last year’s modest hit that was micro-budgeted at a measly $3 million and raked in over $64 million.
“Anarchy,” following a summer release like the original, opened well with $28 million – on just a $9 million budget.
So why doesn’t everybody make inexpensive movies? Because most micro-budget movies are not good at all. While the exceptions impress, most cheapo movies are just that.
THE PLOT (SPOILERS)
It’s time for the annual Purge – the U.S. sanctioned 12-hour period where any crime is permitted against anyone. Such violence has resulted in a dramatic drop in criminal activity the rest of the year, and society has improved.
But an underground revolution is brewing against the Purge, led by African-American Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) who believes the event is used to rid America of minorities.
One man, Sergeant (Frank Grillo), is an unlikely purger, but he ventures out onto the streets with a personal vendetta. There, he comes upon two women, a mother and daughter, being assaulted. Against his better judgment, he saves them.
Two others join the trio – a young couple arguing about whether to remain together. When the mother, Eva (Carmen Ejogo) says she can get Grillo a car, he leads them across a city under attack.
Aside from the original criminals that roughed up the mother and daughter, another group is seeking the second couple. The quintet bob and weave through the town, avoiding a variety of deadly incidents.
However, they eventually get captured then rescued by an unlikely source, freeing Grillo to complete his own personal purge as time runs out.
The plot is stupid, of course, but it sets up an endless supply of sequels.
Grillo scowls through his part like a B-movie Clint Eastwood. It’s a classic second-tier role and he’s just right in it.
One group of pursuers is creepy enough, masked or painted brutes whose visages strike even more fear into humanity.
A late scene after the quintet is captured ends up with them in a queer, “Hunger Games”-esque survival situation. That was a nice twist.
The fleeing group gets caught by the masked/painted killers and tossed into the back of a van. Why weren’t the quintet simply killed immediately like everyone else? One purger unmasks, and it looks like the bad guys are actually the good guys. But wait
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Naturally you don’t expect Oscar-caliber acting in a micro-budget movie, but “Anarchy” is worse than usual.
There’s a ton of things messed up with the movie’s concept. Sometimes, the streets are crowded with savage groups. Then at other times, the city is wide open with no mayhem visible anywhere. Why would you take a machete into the streets when everyone else is armed with machine guns?
There’s a social message here – the have-nots kill the (often tuxedoed) elitist haves because the latter are using the Purge to eradicate societal undesirables. But it’s so heavy-handed that it’s laughable. It’s like “Occupy Wall Street” found a camera and made a crappy movie.
“Anarchy” is a hard R for violence and a ton of language.
The Movie Man liked the first “Purge” better. Taking “Anarchy” out into the streets wasn’t a bad idea, but, while the movie is directed just fine, the total package doesn’t fulfill the concept.
A toughie: The 3-D “Hercules” with The Rock looks goofy enough to be fun. But a cool director, Luc Besson, has made a sci-fi movie with Scarlett Johansson, “Lucy.” Both have potential.