The month of August is generally considered the summer doldrums at the box office. The big blockbusters expected to gross in the hundreds of millions of dollars are usually released during June and July to take advantage of vacationing teenagers and the long Fourth of July weekend. This leaves movies released in August batting box-office cleanup, attempting to pull in the last remaining summer dollars before school begins again. Unfortunately, in a summer filled with financial failures, August has its own share of movie flops, including the biggest one of the month-“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.”
“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” wasn’t expected to open big in its release week of August 23. Fortunately, since it had a production budget of only $60 million, a big opening wasn’t necessary to see the film eventually make its way into the black. Even so, the opening weekend was far softer than expected, with a total intake of just over $9 million despite a wide release in 3,118 theaters. By the end of the month, it was clear that this young-adult thriller was no “Twilight,” and the overall box-office reports were proof of another miss at recapturing that highly coveted audience. The total domestic intake was just short of $24 million for the month, and foreign earnings totaled only $9 million.
Though it’s still early to dissect the box-office returns and assess blame, indicators are already pointing to a few things that may have gone wrong with the film’s production and release. “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is just one in a growing line of young-adult supernatural franchises on the market garnering Hollywood attention. The movie is based on a bestselling book series by writer Cassandra Clare about young demon hunters. Clare’s books have managed to gather a large following of loyal readers, and the filmmakers were determined to present a film that matched the book series as closely as possible. According to critics, they were successful in doing so. Unfortunately, according to many of those same critics, that successful adherence to the book has been one of the largest problems with the movie.
One lesson that Hollywood has learned well is that adapting a book into a movie often requires drastic changes. Book plots are often altered and characters are removed, added, or merged in order to fit the shorter form of the film. By remaining loyal to Clare’s fans and presenting a movie that so closely fits the book series, director Harald Zwart has managed to present a film that’s high in melodrama but low in satisfaction. The book may leave readers anxiously awaiting the next one in the series, but the movie leaves many filmgoers wishing for just a bit more to give some sense of completion to go along with the anticipation. It’s not a bad film, but it seems to demand that you be a fan of the books and know what comes next in order to enjoy the open ending.
The lack of earnings can’t be blamed on the plotline alone. The series has plenty of fans, both at home and abroad, and these fans may just give the film the viewership it needs to turn a profit and snag a sequel. Once a sequel is released, many of those pesky open plotlines may be closed, and the first film may see a large boost in the home market. Until then, however, the summer of flops has taught Hollywood a few tough lessons that directly affect the way “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” has been received.
The largest flops this season were primarily original ideas or the first installments of new series. “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is a prime example of this, with producers attempting to start an entirely new franchise complete with obvious sequel room. Other large summer 2013 flops such as “The Lone Ranger” and “R.I.P.D.” further demonstrate the difficulties behind presenting new ideas to audiences. The big hits of the summer were generally sequels, from “Star Trek Into Darkness” to “Iron Man 3.” Another lesson learned seems to be a change in the best summer release dates. Earlier releases appear to be best, as the highest-grossing movies were put out during the months of May and June. By the time July and August rolled around, moviegoers were suffering from theater fatigue, opting to stay at home for their entertainment rather than brave the movie houses. Under this new schedule, films like “The Mortal Instruments” have even less chance of being a hit.
Despite a summer filled with failed expectations, the overall box-office picture was a good one. The summer of 2013 may very well beat the record $4.15 billion box-office intake seen domestically in 2011. Although the record earnings are largely due to earlier blockbusters, “Mortal Instruments” still has a bit of a run left. Though it may not become a hit, a sequel may yet still find its way into the theaters if the foreign profits are high.