It is a big budget, 3D movie based on a series of comic books, featuring well-known stars in outrageous costumes fighting villains the likes of which would not be possible in our boring, CGI-free world (which the bad guys are trying to destroy via wormhole).
R.I.P.D., which cost $130 million, was a total failure both with audiences and critics, earning just $12.7 million at the box office and a 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. And yet, it fit the formula for modern-day geek-bait movie perfectly; really, it’s just an ultra-bad* version of nearly every other big tent-pole movie that has crowded our screens over the last few summers. As fun as it is to snark about the messy misfire, it doesn’t change the fact that, fundamentally, we bear responsibility for this train wreck.
(*I predict it will be a campy, midnight-showing cult hit within a few years, but it’s not good in the traditional sense).
It’s ironic that R.I.P.D. opened in theaters the same weekend that fans and studios came together for the most important weekend on the geek calendar: San Diego Comic-Con. In theory, this movie – about a police force from the after-life that secretly patrols earth for troublemaking ghosts – would fit right in on the floor of Hall H; you can just imagine a teaser-filled panel conversation featuring director Robert Schwentke and stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds firing quips to cheering, live-tweeting fans.
They might even discuss a potential sequel, telling fans that supporting the first one was paramount to making sure they’d get more undead law enforcement adventures.
It’s important to stress that there is nothing inherently wrong with comic book-based movies or sequels; many are quite awesome (I ate up these details about Avengers 2 like they were scoops of chocolate ice cream). And, no doubt, the enthusiasm of fans at Comic-Con is infectious and helps highlight great genre work that, years ago, would have gone unnoticed. But at the same time, this is the culture that creates the conditions for movies like R.I.P.D., which is on paper a whole lot like those other comics-based movies.
It’s not an original idea, but is anyone really clamoring for that?
Look at Friday night’s Comic-Con lineup: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Game of Thrones, and the Robocop reboot, the last of which is a movie about a guy who almost died and uses a robotic suit to continue to fight crime, a premise that is no less outrageous than R.I.P.D‘s. All of these projects were warmly greeted by screaming audiences, and way before that, they were feverishly covered by fans who craved every morsel of information about their plots, casting, and time frames.
Then, on Saturday, fans were greeted with the news that there would be another Superman movie – this time, with Batman tagging along – and a film about World of Warcraft. The crowds went nuts. Marvel later unveiled footage of all their sequels; more madness.
Big cheers and blog hype don’t necessarily translate into financial success – here’s looking at you, Scott Pilgrim – but this is the world in which movie studios are planting their money, hoping a steady rain of intense interest from core fans will help grow blockbusters and franchises.
The biggest box office earners of the last few years, from The Avengers and Iron Man 3 to Man of Steel and The Dark Knight Rises, were all comic book-based, all sequels, and all incredibly anticipated after the success of previous chapters. In the coming years, there will be more Marvel heroes getting their own movies, more DC characters the subject of would-be franchises, plus more installments in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Hobbit Transformers, and Fast and Furious sagas, among many others.
Can you blame Universal for wanting to cash in on this action?
When people throw shade at R.I.P.D., it’s like inviting someone to a party and then taunting them if they don’t fit in just right. It’s not that we ought to take pity on Universal’s flop – a $130 million budget generally precludes sympathy in an industry of haves and have-nots – but it’s sort of hypocritical to rip on it with any sort of real viciousness, especially without putting it in context.
If we keep demanding more comic book adaptations and more sequels, logic dictates that some are just going to suck. If that’s a price we’re cool with paying in exchange for a steady stream of superheroes on screen, then all is well. But in order to be hypercritical of R.I.P.D., we’ve got to then admit that we had a role in creating it in the first place.
It was a double dose of bad news for Ryan Reynolds, as his animated movie Turbo, about neon racing snails, made just $31 million. It came from Dreamworks Animation, the same people who are behind the Madagascar and Shrek franchises, so it’s not like it didn’t have marketing muscle or a solid name behind it.
In other terrible tent-pole news, Red 2 made just $18.5 million; the first one, which was a slow-burn sleeper hit, made $21 million in its first weekend. The geezers with guns flick, starring Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Bruce Willis and several others who could kick your ass despite being in the Social Security range, was far inferior to the original, and audiences let them know it.
On the other hand, America’s love for cheaply-made horror film continues unabated. The Conjuring, which cost about $20 million, made $41.5 million at the box office. This is great news for everyone who loves Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, which should be everyone. The movie is about real-life paranormal investigators who look into crazy ghost things; maybe they’re the ones responsible for killing R.I.P.D.
Here is your weekend top 10, numbers courtesy of Box Office Mojo.
1. The Conjuring* – $41.5 million
2. Despicable Me 2 – $25 million
3. Turbo* – $31 million (Opened Wednesday; $21.5 million this weekend)
4. Grownups 2 – $20 million
5. Red 2 – $18.5 million
6. Pacific Rim – $16 million
7. R.I.P.D.* – $13.1 million
8. The Heat – $9.4 million
9. World War Z – $5.2 million
10. Monsters University – $5 million