‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ to flop by Marvel standards
A movie about an unknown superhero group that features a talking raccoon and a tree that is sort of a person won’t be a box office hit no matter how many Marvel fans watch its strip- online ad. As movies like “Scott Pilgrim Against the World”, “Kick-Ass” and “Watchmen” have proven, being as big as a comic book or graphic novel doesn’t guarantee box office success.
Buzz can be good for a movie. But as we learned from the box office bombshell “Snakes on a Plane,” high levels of pre-release internet chatter don’t always result in actual expense to see the movie. With “Guardians of the Galaxy”, Marvel has the classic ingredients of a flop – maybe not huge, but a failure compared to the superhero movies the company has released since falling for it. Disney (NYSE: DIS) banner.
It’s not ‘Iron Man’
In any argument as to whether a lesser-known comic book character is going to break through and become a blockbuster movie franchise, you have to turn to Iron Man. This character was not as well known as Spiderman or Wolverine outside of the comic book world, and the film became a success generating a sequel.
Iron Man was less well known to non-comic book fans, but he’s not the complete stranger to the various Guardians. Additionally, a rich guy in a robot costume is much more accessible than a talking tree voiced by Vin Diesel (whose speaking skills aren’t great in the first place) or Rocket the Raccoon, a character actor Bradley Cooper has. described to MTV as “He’s the kind of Joe Pesci in ‘Goodfellas’ guy. You need Henry Hill.”
It can be argued that apart from “Goodfellas”, “My Cousin Vinny” and maybe “Casino” (where he plays the same role as in “Goodfellas”), no one wants to watch a movie with the real Joe Pesci, let only a talking raccoon version of him.
Unknown comics tend to be minor successes at best
From “Scott Pilgrim”, “Kick-Ass” and “Watchmen”, you can’t really say that “Kick-Ass” was an economic success. The film was a light (very light) success with just over $ 96 million at the global box office, according to Box Office Mojo. With a budget of $ 30 million, according to IMDB estimates, the film could have been a success (as evidenced by Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF-A) make a sequel) but it was by no means a blockbuster (remember the marketing costs and theaters taking about half the gross). “Scott Pilgrim” had a budget of $ 60 million and domestic gross of $ 30 million, according to IMDB – a flop despite its heavy buzz.
“Watchmen,” which cost $ 130 million to manufacture and grossed $ 107 million at the US box office, might be the best direct comparison to “Guardians”. It was based on an extremely popular graphic novel (more popular than the Guardians comics) but was largely unknown outside of the comic book universe. It wasn’t a massive flop like “John Carter” ($ 250 million budget, $ 73 million domestic gross), but it was a failure that cost its backers money.
Marvel can’t hurt
Under the Disney banner, Marvel hasn’t had a movie that didn’t become a major hit. Every movie in the Iron Man / Avengers universe – in which “Guardians” is based – have been massive successes. Much like sister studio Pixar, the Marvel brand carries weight and a certain portion of the public will see anything with the Marvel stamp.
“Guardians” does not, however, have the integrated audience of children that Pixar has. Yes, Pixar has a reputation for producing quality films, but that’s not the only reason its films are successful. Put the Pixar brand on a movie and you’re basically telling parents they can take their kids out and kill two hours watching a movie they probably won’t hate.
“Guardians”, with its PG-13 rating, will not be taken for granted by parents. It also won’t be a movie that kids ask to be taken to because unlike “Spiderman” or “Iron Man,” Guardians don’t have a cartoon and kids don’t know who they are.
Marvel is really confident
The studio is so confident that audiences will flock to see a bunch of unknown and somewhat unattractive characters that there are already rumors of a planned sequel. It sounds very ambitious for a film that poses a giant risk to the studio, to say the least.
“Guardians” releases August 1 at the height of the busy summer film season. That release date can lead to huge successes or – if the film fails to connect with audiences – it can quickly fade away. It’s fanboy sacrilege to say that Marvel will fail with anything, but “Guardians” has too many things going against it.
As well as featuring unknown superheroes, it also features its most beloved actor (Cooper) solely as a voice. The rest of the live-action cast includes Chris Pratt (who has never made a movie), virtual stranger Karen Gillan and professional wrestler Dave Bautista. Only Zoe Saldana from “Star Trek” and “Avatar” is a true movie star, and she was hardly the reason either of those two films succeeded.
The big mistake, however, is that Marvel has had every opportunity to introduce these characters to their audiences.
“Marvel must have lost their minds to release an independent film outside of the ‘Avengers’ that may or may not fit their already flourishing franchise,” Ryan Nicholas Glenn wrote on WhatCulture.
This is where the error lies. Marvel could have ditched a Guardians shortly before one of its recent films – something that introduced the characters and told audiences why they should care. A trailer is aimed at people who are already interested in the product. A short film would have forced an audience to learn something about the characters in a way that commercials can’t.
Even if Marvel had given the Guardians cameos in their other films or released a short TV series, it might have helped. The studio didn’t and it ends up with an internet-buzzed movie that won’t translate into box office success. After the underperformance of “Guardians,” if the galaxy is to be saved, we’ll likely need Iron Man or Thor to step in and save the day.
And now for an opposing take on why this prediction completely misses the mark.
This article represents the opinion of the author, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a premium Motley Fool consulting service. We are heterogeneous! Challenging an investment thesis – even one of our own – helps us all to think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.