What went wrong with Knight and Day?
It’s a fun flick, but audiences aren’t having it.
When a film as seemingly marketable as Knight and Day teams two of the world’s biggest stars and boasts a reported production budget of over $100 million, you can’t help but wonder what went wrong when it only manages to muster around $20 million in its opening weekend. In the few days that have become the aftermath of this apparent misfire, fingers have been aimed in all directions from internet speculators. The bulk of the blame, however, has been targeted toward the film’s star, with many questioning the drawing power of Tom Cruise given his public image issues in recent years.
A recent article from the L.A. Times has Tony Sella, Fox’s co-president of marketing, taking much of the onus off the star. He claims that the marketing, not Cruise, is to blame for the subpar opening. The article cites a confusing trailer that began airing in front of Avatar, an off-putting title and even the fact that the poster features mere silhouettes rather than the faces of its two stars as possible reasons for the film’s failure to connect with audiences. Sella wanted to sell the film as a fun and sophisticated movie for adults, which I totally bought into. Unfortunately, that’s not so good for business in a teen-dominated season for movies. “I guess that if I’m guilty of anything, it’s that I always believed an adult movie could work, even in the summer,” Sella told The Times.
His accountability is commendable and all, but I’m not so sure I agree with him. For one, I found the trailers to be funny and energetic. Not to mention, they featured an infectiously catchy track from a hot rock band (Muse’s “Uprising”). Anyone who rolled out from underneath their rock in their past few months would have known that Cruise and Diaz were starring in the movie. Moreover, for all the silly reasons I’ve heard from people about not wanting to see a movie, “I didn’t like the title” has never registered. Sorry, I’m just not buying it.
Then again, I’m a Tom Cruise fan and this movie delivered just the Cruise I’ve been wanting to see for the past few years. Cruise’s last film, the seemingly less marketable Valkyrie, opened to similar results against stiff competition (Marley and Me, Bedtime Stories, Benjamin Button) on Christmas of 2008. I don’t recall anything over the past 18 months that could have further limited his appeal. His recent performance on the MTV Movie Awards surely didn’t cause any harm. In actuality, all signs pointed to the Cruiser becoming “cool” again.
Could it be that it was just a case of poor placement. I used the word “sophisticated” above in reference to Knight and Day, so I have a hard time believing the fart jokes and public breast feedings of Grown Ups presented any sort of demographic competition. I do, however, believe that Fox may have underestimated the appeal of Toy Story 3 with teens and young adults. These are the people who grew up with the franchise and were excited to see how it ended. These are also the people who power the box-office totals. It seems that adults never make it to the theaters anymore unless it is for one of these 3D event films they can take their kids to (see: Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, etc.).
At a recent family reunion, I struck up a conversation with an uncle of mine and naturally we started talking about the movies that are currently playing in theaters. He mentioned to me how baffled he was that there were two movies out that look almost exactly the same, referring of course to Killers and Knight and Day. You know what baffles me? The fact that the film with the names Cruise and Diaz on the poster is barely outperforming the version starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl.
I bring that little anecdote up because it seems like my uncle really has a point here. Ever since Mr. and Mrs. Smith broke out in the summer of 2005 to the tune of $478 million worldwide, Hollywood has flooded the market with imitations. But was that film’s success really a sign of a winning formula, or was it more a product of the curiosity surrounding the relationship between its stars? I tend to lean to the side of the latter.
Either way, the fact of the matter is that this whole genre of the action romantic comedy with a twist of espionage has been run into the ground with like-minded movies such as Duplicity, The Bounty Hunter, Date Night and the aforementioned Killers. The underperformance of Knight and Day isn’t so much an isolated case as it is an adverse reaction to an entire wave of films. With the exception of Smith, it’s a genre that has never been overly profitable to begin with.
The problem with these films is that they demand such a large budget. It’s almost mandatory to have two highly paid stars in the leads, and the costs for special effects go above and beyond what you spend in a more traditional comedy. People don’t go see a comedy for its fiery explosions or spectacular effects, they buy the ticket based on a fun premise and the expectation of laughing. Look no further than last summer for proof. Two of the year’s biggest hits were The Proposal and The Hangover, both modestly budgeted at around $40 million. I mean, haven’t we learned anything from Evan Almighty?
Whether it is his fault or not, much of the blame for Knight and Day’s failures will inevitably fall onto its star. So what’s next for Cruise? There’s the Mission: Impossible 4 movie that has already been announced, but how will the lack of buzz generated by Knight and Day effect that film’s release? Deadline’s Mike Fleming has reported that Paramount might “beef up the subplot that introduces a new and younger agent who becomes Hunt’s protege.” There’s also the possibility that the project could be downsized or scrapped all-together.
If M:I4 doesn’t deliver, is there a way the franchise could carry on with a revolving door of lead actors and evolve into a new James Bond sort of franchise? I see that being a distinct possibility, especially since the real Bond franchise has created an opening in the market by drifting closer to the Bourne style of action/thrillers.
No matter the case, I still think there is money to be made off the Tom Cruise name. It might just happen that this money isn’t going to be domestic dollars. From his biggest hits (War of the Worlds, Mission: Impossible) to his biggest flops (Lions for Lambs), almost all them have done better internationally than they have domestically. He’s still a huge star elsewhere. Unfortunately, the films he has lined up after M:I4 (the Les Grossman feature and The Hardy Men with Ben Stiller) are comedies, which do not travel as well as action blockbusters. A great action sequence is awesome in any language, but a lot of humor gets lost in translation. Studios should keep this in mind going forward.
Did you see Knight and Day? If not, what turned you off to it? The trailer? Star? Tired genre? Or otherwise?
Perhaps a better question is would you be excited to see a Top Gun sequel? That’s what Cruise really needs to reinvigorate his career, and mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer has even hinted at the possibility. I know I would be first in line to see it, but I don’t know how they could make it work without making Maverick the boring older mentor type. We’ve already seen that movie a ton of times, most recently with Kevin Costner in that exact role.