'Edge of Tomorrow': What Went Wrong?

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Warner Bros.

I have mixed feelings about box office results. On one hand, why should I care? Take the recent underwhelming performance of ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ – a movie that I like quite a bit – as long as I found enjoyment while watching the movie, why should I care how much money the film made at the box office? It’s not like I have a financial interest in the movie. I do not own Warner Bros. stock.

On the other hand, I’m starting to believe that human beings are somehow genetically wired to be attracted to lists – a lot like how insects are attracted to the light of a bug zapper. I often wonder what the first list was that a human being enjoyed. Was it in a cave? I suspect it was in a cave. It was probably an illustrated list of the best bones to chew on, or something, and I’m sure it was the hit of the caveman community. And I’m also sure that certain cavemen were not pleased with the rankings of his or her favorite bone, but they still read the list. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the weekly box office lists. How is it different than listening to Casey Kasem count down the top 40 songs of a given week back in the 1980s?

And there’s also the argument that if a movie that you like does well, the people who made that movie that you like might make more movies just like that. On the surface, that would seem to make sense. Though, everyone seemed to like ‘Inception’ – a movie that grossed $825 million worldwide – but it’s been four years since ‘Inception’ came out and we haven’t really seen a plethora of big budget studio movies like it.

On Monday, Warner Bros. sent out an email asking a few members of the media to use social media and help get the word out about ‘Edge of Tomorrow.’ This was remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, this wasn’t a typical press release kind of thing; it read as an impassioned plea. Second, I’ve never really seen anything like this before, especially for a big budget studio movie that has already underperformed. (Put it this way, there were no impassioned emails sent out about 'Blended.') Usually the M.O. in these cases is to sweep the charred remnants of what’s left of the failed movie under the rug, not double down on something that’s already considered a failure. But, as it turns out, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is an odd case study.

The days of a prolonged run at the box office are pretty much all but over. Even ‘Avatar’ – which had a quite amazing run at the box office and is the highest movie moneymaker of all-time  – was only at number one for seven weeks (it was knocked out of the top spot by the Channing Tatum vehicle ‘Dear John,’ which makes more sense now than it did then). Compare this with ‘Titanic,’ which stayed at the top spot for 15 weeks (eventually beaten by ‘Lost in Space,’ which doesn’t make sense now, nor did it then).

Which is to say, the chances of ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ rebounding after an unimpressive first weekend are small, but it is admirable that Warner Bros. is even trying. I mean, usually in these types of situations, a studio is happy that they tricked the amount of people they did to see the swill that they happen to be peddling that week. This is not to say that all studio movies are bad, it’s just that this time of year, it’s usually more about the quick cash grab than it is about quality. But then here comes ‘Edge of Tomorrow’: a big budget sci-fi epic that’s actually good. This movie should have made a lot of money. Which, I suspect, led to a lot of bewildered faces around the Warner Bros. office on Monday morning, which would explain that impassioned email. In other words: What happened?

I’ve seen a lot of theories floating around, most of them about the polarizing effects of this movie’s star, Tom Cruise. I’m sure there’s some validity to that, but controversy didn’t stop people from seeing Bryan Singer’s ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past.’ (Granted, no one had to sit there and stare at Bryan Singer’s face for two hours, but, still…) And there’s the juggernaut box office from the Shailene Woodley-starring cryfest, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – but, there wasn’t much crossover appeal between these two movies. Very few people were standing outside of their local movie theater on Friday night, staring at the two posters for these respective movies, muttering, “I just don’t know.”

I can only speak for myself, but the biggest problem for me when it came to ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is that, for the life of me, I just didn’t understand what it was about until I finally saw the whole movie. And I was at San Diego Comic Con last July and saw an extended preview of the movie, and I still had no clue what the movie was about. When I see an advertisement for ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ my immediate reaction is, “I know what this movie is about.” Sure, the title ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ sure didn’t help, because it sounds like every other movie. If ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ switched titles, would it matter? And I’m not convinced its original title, ‘All You Need is Kill,’ would have made much of a difference – though, it’s certainly snappier and at least would not be an appropriate title for ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’

And the thing is, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ really isn’t all that complicated. It’s certainly less complicated than ‘Inception,’ but perhaps the concept was easier to relay. The new trend in journalism is “explainer journalism,” perhaps with a movie like ‘Edge of Tomorrow,’ the trailer should have taken a cue from explainer journalism and just simply explained the movie instead of highlighting some action scenes. In 2014, for most people, going to the movies is a pain in the ass – and people are not willing to take as many risks.

In the end, I guess, like most people, I like looking at lists sometimes. And in theory, I like the idea of more smart big budget summer studio movies like ‘Edge of Tomorrow.’ But, I certainly understand why Warner Bros. cares more than usual – to have something actually really good and have people react with a blasé “no thanks” (let’s not feel too bad for Warner Bros., who is still rolling around in their ‘Gravity’ eff you money) – has to be inherently frustrating ... but it’s nice to know that they can tell the difference.

Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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