For the record, I saw and enjoyed Elizabeth Banks’ Charlie’s Angels, starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska, prior to release. And judging by the B+ Cinemascore grade, along with (for what it’s worth) the 81% Rotten Tomatoes verified user score, those who showed up did too. But when you’re dealing with a $48 million action flick that opened with just $8.6 million on opening weekend, the problem isn’t word-of-mouth or gender-specific stereotypes but rather pre-debut interest. For the record, an $8.6 million debut means that both men and women failed to show up this weekend, and (especially with a budget of under $50 million) the success or failure of Charlie’s Angels didn’t remotely depend on convincing dudes to show up. Sex and the City: The Movie, Ocean’s 8, Twilight, Mamma Mia! and Fifty Shades of Grey are proof of that. So, what went wrong?
The reviews were merely okay.
If audiences were interested in the idea of a Charlie’s Angels revamp, old-school star power still applied and/or the marketing offered something beyond “Hey, it’s a Charlie’s Angels movie,” the mixed reviews (60% and 5.75/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) wouldn’t have been a deal breaker. But in 2019, when folks don’t go to the movies just to go to the movies, the “meh” reviews were a problem. They signified that A) the film was okay at best, B) it was indeed a smaller-scale and less blockbuster-y action movie and C) it had little to offer for folks not already interested in another Charlie’s Angels movie. And in 2019, when audiences can just rent or stream the various TV versions of Charlie’s Angels as well as the two previous McG movies, both of which are currently on Netflix, at the touch of a button, this new version becomes distinctly inessential.
Kristen Stewart isn’t a “star,” while Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska are mostly unknowns.
Charlie’s Angels, like The Girl in the Spider’s Web and Men in Black: International, were essentially reruns with a new cast. They were, quality notwithstanding, the exact same formula and exact same stories as the previous films, but without the marquee movie stars. You can make the case that the success of Men in Black was as much about the combo of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as it was about the (based on a cult comic book) high concept. Ditto Charlie’s Angels, for which the two McG films remain well-liked (generationally speaking) more because of the cast (Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz) and their specific campy/kinky pleasures as because of the IP. Talent aside, Kristen Stewart isn’t a butts-in-the-seats draw anymore and her co-stars were relative unknowns. Scott’s appearance in Aladdin was no more helpful here than was Will Smith’s turn for Gemini Man.
The marketing emphasized IP and concept over character.
There wasn’t anything aggressively wrong with the marketing. The two previews were okay, even if the teaser was pulpier than the trailer, and the poster art, while generic, laid out the pitch pretty succinctly. But the overriding notion of the trailers and commercials were more about the idea of a new Charlie’s Angels movie versus whatever character-specific charms the film had to offer. This is where the perils of using a useless IP comes into play. Not only are audiences not interested in Charlie’s Angels, but the use of that IP forces the marketing to spend its time both setting up the known status quo and justifying it and/or (in this case) showing how this version is different from the others. Had this just been a rip-off of Charlie’s Angels, then the marketing could have spent more time showing off the various charms of its core heroic trio.
It counted on interest in an IP that didn’t exist.
As a general rule, if your sequel or revamp exists because the studio wants to will it into existence or because the filmmakers want another go at bat, you’re starting at a disadvantage. This isn’t the 1990’s or the 2000’s, where the mere idea of a big budget version of a previously known TV show, video game or comic book is in itself a big deal. Sadly, theatrical moviegoing has lost that place atop the tower, and the equation has changed. Once a property like Charlie’s Angels proved itself to be a big deal because it was made into a movie, but now Charlie’s Angels exists as a movie because it was once a big deal. Moreover, IP that was concept-driven (as opposed to character-specific) is arguably about as risky as an outright original. A mere rip-off of Charlie’s Angels wouldn’t have begun at a “justify this” disadvantage.
It was just another Charlie’s Angels movie.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Jurassic World showed that you could get audiences excited about a revamp of a long-gestating property with the right formula. In those two cases, the formula was “make this movie interesting even for folks who don’t care about the IP.” Welcome to the Jungle was an inversion of the 1995 movie (the kids get sucked into the game, as opposed to the game’s elements popping up in the real world), with kid-friendly movie stars (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black) and the use of video game tropes to give the news a “new” edge. Jurassic World had a kid-friendly star in Chris Pratt and a terrific hook, namely that, 20 years after Jurassic Park, the theme park was now a functioning reality. All due respect, Charlie’s Angels offered nothing for folks who didn’t care about Charlie’s Angels.
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