Fantastic Four may be shaping up to be one of the biggest critical and commercial failures of the year, but it’s a bit of an anomaly.
Fact is, if you’re a sci fi film and you’re a super hero movie, well-known franchise, or based on a YA novel, you’re probably going to be a commercial success.
But if you’re not, you could be in trouble. Which is why all the serious sci fi, particularly literary adaptations, seems to be gravitating towards broadcast TV, cable and streaming services.
“You have remakes, sequels, recycled TV shows, comic books, YA novels that are bestsellers. This is where the action is” theatrically, says Steven Gaydos, executive editor of Variety, the entertainment industry trade publication.
He’s referring to the fact that In recent years, a number of high profile futuristic movies have under-performed at the multiplex, and it doesn’t seem to matter if they were well reviewed (Edge of Tomorrow, Prometheus, Elysium), or not (Oblivion).
This year alone, Ex Machina, Chappie and Self/Less have barely dented the box office. Jupiter Ascending grossed only a quarter of its production cost, and Tomorrowland, also drowned in red ink. Even Mad Max: Fury Road, one of the best reviewed films of the year, which managed to earn a respectable $150 million domestically, still grossed nearly $60 million less than Jurassic World took in on its opening weekend.
“Anytime there is a new movie out, particularly in science fiction and fantasy, you’re investing a truckload of money in it, and you have to become invested in the characters and the situation,” says bestselling sci fi author John Scalzi (Old Man’s War). “Do audiences today want to invest themselves? Or are they more content with another Spiderman movie?”
That’s a no-brainer. The global market, which now represents about 70% of all box office gross, wants the tried and true. Which is why so much hard sci fi is now the province of non-theatrical venues. Current series such as Extant (CBS), Falling Skies (TNT), The 100 (The CW), Orphan Black (BBC America), Humans (AMC) and Sense8 (Netflix) deal with subject matter ranging from cloning and alien invasion to artificial intelligence and psychic powers.
Upcoming are a new HBO series based on the 1973 sci fi film Westworld, about a theme park staffed with androids, and next month Fox will debut Minority Report, based on the 2002 Steven Spielberg film about ‘pre-cogs’ who can sense murders before they happen. And Amazon Prime will be streaming The Man In the High Castle, based on the Philip K. Dick classic…