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How Charlie’s Angels Failed Is Something Hollywood Should Be Studying

promotional still courtesy Sony Pictures
promotional still courtesy Sony Pictures

The dismal bomb of a performance carries many lessons for studios, if they choose to notice.

This weekend saw the release of the rebooted effort ‘’Charlie’s Angels’’ flame out in theaters. The failure made for yet another by many in the past couple of months when notably bad performances were seen in theaters from expected hit titles. That does not mean movies, in general, are doing poorly. A number of hits have come out in the same time frame, so it can be said there is an issue with the product, not the audience.

There was a time when Hollywood could almost bank on sure things. Put out a specific product, at the correct release date, and the success was all but guaranteed. In the past year that formula has changed, as we have seen an actual shift taking place in the marketplace where those assured hits are no longer something studios can depend on for their bottom line.

The 2019 marketplace has reflected an audience that no longer shows up automatically to franchise fare. If it is not a Marvel superhero release then the film’s prospects are not exactly as assured, something Marvel parent company Disney has even experienced. One of that studio’s formulas has been producing what are dubbed ‘’Vault Classics’’, live-action remakes of famed animated titles from its library. While this summer saw the hit ‘’Aladdin’’, followed by the global smash ‘’The Lion King’’, the House of Mouse also had some duds in this category. Currently, the sequel to ‘’Maleficent’’ is struggling, and earlier this year Tim Burton’s ‘’Dumbo’’ failed to electrify audiences.

This latest flame-out happened when we saw Kristen Stewart appearing in a refreshed take on ‘’Charlie’s Angels, and audiences spurned that attempt. After expectations had been scaled back industry experts predicted a return of around $12 million, and the film failed even that truncated estimate, finishing with an embarrassing $8 million. Upon study there are a number of factors leading to this failure, some benign but others more revelatory.

The first issue is whether there was even a call for this reboot. While deemed successful the two films prior, released in 2000 and 2003, were not blockbusters that had fans clamoring for more. Those were forced, campy affairs with a reliance upon frivolity and cartoonish action. It had been over 15 years since Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu had karate-chopped with hyper-active editing, and there was not exactly a groundswell calling out for additional films.

The initial trailers were met with tepid reactions, a sign of trouble that never seemed to be repaired. One of the main takeaways from those who saw the clips was that wigs seemed to have a prominent role in the film.

The studio Sony seemingly is becoming intoxicated with the idea of franchises. At Christmas 2017 the studio released ‘’Jumanji-Into The Jungle’’, and for months the film garnered serious attention, going on to earn a surprising $400 million in North America and nearly $1 billion worldwide. This led the studio to go on a green-light tear with properties that could generate ongoing ventures.

As a result, Sony has moved forward with other franchises. They were only encouraged further when its entry into comic lore, ‘’Venom’’ became another surprise hit. ‘’Zombieland 2-Doubletap’’ is currently in release to mild interest. The next ‘’Jumanji’’ lands next month, and after that ‘’Bad Boys 3’’, with Will Smith and a bloated Martin Lawrence opens in January.

So it seems they went ahead with a ‘’Charlie’s Angels’’ to add to the promise of success. One issue may have been they gave full control over to actress/director Elizabeth Banks. She writes, produces, directs, and stars in this romp, and by all appearances could have used some additional feedback. For one the script had reworked numerous times over, and what they ended up with was a far cry from the ‘’Angels’’ concept.

There was a notable lack of action sequences for one thing. Also, she elected to make the Townsend Agency — that patriarchal oversee-er of the gals — a global enterprise, with various teams of angels across the globe. This manages to water down the core group, as they become just another trio of once-special angels. Another change was the alteration of the character of Bosley. No longer was this a standalone figure but ‘’Bosley’’, according to Banks, would be changed to a title in the organization. Thus, there are numerous Bosleys, with Banks even portraying one.

The script problems also meant that a number of top-tier actresses eased away from the project. What they end up with is Stewart as the top line name, who has been mostly in arthouse dramas since her ‘’Twilight’’ fame burst open years ago. Honestly, she would have been better suited in a group with actresses with more gravity, say like a Margot Robbie. Stewart taking the helm was not enough to float the two other Angels, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinksa, who are hardly household names to attract a crowd. But instead of forming a better property to draw bigger talent Sony forged ahead with this.

An additional issue was the overreliance on making this a ‘’girl-power’’ film. Banks was insistent in the pre-release promotions to sell the concept of female empowerment. The problem here is that ‘’Charlie’s Angels’’ already has that built into its DNA. The basis is this is a group of females who can operate on an action level normally occupied by males. By turning this already empowered property into more of a woke message film they repelled a potential market.

As a result, instead of giving, say, the young male crowd a reason to show up, they provided them with all the reason to stay away. The exit polls on the film reveal this was a major flaw. Instead of appealing to all demographics this weekend, ‘’Angels’’ had an audience that was 66% female. That is a massive imbalance and shows how males avoided this film outright.

Hollywood has plenty to learn, and not just from this feature. Recently ‘’Terminator-Dark Horizons’’ bombed significantly, and even a reliable Will Smith had a disaster in ‘’Gemini Man’’ last month. One notable difference is that these are the kind of misfires that have been routinely bailed out in the foreign box office, however they are failing overseas as well. This shows a stark bit of evidence that your product needs to possess the quality to be accepted.

Rushing out sequels with an avoidance of script quality is a key mistake. Just look at the success stories we have seen over the same time period. Films like ‘’Joker’’, ‘’Hustlers’’, and this weekend’s hit ‘’Ford V. Ferrari’’ are original stories that drew a crowd with involving storylines. It turns out that if studios work on producing art, rather than just grinding out product, they can actually be rewarded.