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Ryan Reynolds in the box-office disappointment "Green Lantern" (Warner Bros.)
Ryan Reynolds in the box-office disappointment "Green Lantern" (Warner Bros.)

Liam Lacey: Behind the Screens

Don't mess with Mother Nature, and other lessons from this year's box-office flops Add to ...

To date, 2011 box office grosses for the United States and Canada are down about only 4 per cent, which, given some of the movies that have appeared onscreen, seems like a miracle. For every billion-dollar hit such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, there are many dozens of flops. Here are some of Hollywood’s most spectacular miscalculations of 2011, and some of the lessons that can be learned.

Previous columns by Liam Lacey

Mars Needs Moms: This was the 3-D animated film that finally disproved that 3-D animated films were licenses to print money. The film about a nine-year-old boy (Seth Green) who rescues his mom (Joan Cusack) from the Martians grossed $39-million (U.S.) worldwide against a $150-million budget. The obvious culprit was the particularly dark look and creepy motion-capture technique, which seemed not quite human, and not quite animated. After seeing the initial footage a year before the film opened, the wholesome Disney studio closed down its motion-capture technology division and cancelled Robert Zemeckis’s Yellow Submarine. The lesson: An eerie edge may be fine for older kids and adults, as Steven Spielberg’s overseas success with Tintin has proved, but for younger children, almost real is just plain scary.

The Beaver: Mel Gibson’s film about a depressed executive who communicates through a beaver hand-puppet, might have had an uphill battle even if it starred Steve Carell or Jim Carrey – two actors who had been up for the part and didn’t carry Gibson’s personal baggage. The film, directed by Jodie Foster, earned a little over $6-million worldwide on a budget of $21-million. The lesson: Contrary to popular opinion, not all publicity is good publicity, especially when it involves a reputation for anti-Semitism and domestic violence.

Green Lantern: Ryan Reynolds’s shot at superherodom in this half-campy attempt at launching a new franchise earned a weak $219-million against a $200-million budget, not including substantial marketing costs. The lesson: When trying to launch a new comic movie franchise, don’t make jokes about your hero in the green leotard; try to avoid them.

Your Highness: James Franco could do no right earlier this year after the Oscar-hosting debacle, and it didn’t help when he played second banana to charisma-challenged Danny McBride in this R-rated stoner epic, with a script that seemed to have been written on rolling papers. The movie, which also included Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, earned just $25-million on a $50-million budget. The lesson: The Cheech and Chong era has gone up in smoke. Contemporary R-rated movies without chain-smoking monkeys or digestive breakdowns at the bridal shop are a buzz-kill.

Cowboys & Aliens: Based on a graphic novel, the film by Jon Favreau had the catchiest title since Snakes on a Plane, which also bombed. Made on a $163-million budget, the film grossed $174.6-million globally, which doesn’t come close to covering marketing costs. The lessons: Graphic novels, from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to Jonah Hex, rarely work as movies, and westerns that aren’t made by the Coen brothers don’t sell tickets in this century.

The Big Year: With the comic talents of Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin, this should have had box office wings. Instead, it grossed a paltry $7.4-million against a $41-million production budget. This fatally mild birdwatching comedy simply failed to deliver the requisite bird poop and falling-out-of-trees hilarity audiences expected of its stars. The lesson: Don’t mess with Mother Nature. People go to Jack Black movies to laugh, not to preen their feathers and contemplate life.

OPENING NEXT WEEK

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Rooney Mara takes on the role of Lisbeth Salander, the punk superhacker with abuse issues, with Daniel Craig as the disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist who hires her as a researcher in director David Fincher’s adaptation on the bestselling Stieg Larsson thriller.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol After a five-day IMAX theatres run, the fourth film in Tom Cruise’s action franchise opens in regular theatres. This time, the Impossible Mission Force team (Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner) must stop a nuclear holocaust by having Cruise dangle from the side of the world’s tallest building.

The Adventures of Tintin Jamie Bell stars as the boy reporter in Steven Spielberg’s motion-capture adaptation of the classic comic book series from Belgian artist Georges Rémi, under his pen name Hergé.

We Bought a Zoo In Cameron Crowe’s new film, Matt Damon is a widower who says goodbye to the corporate rat race and buys a troubled zoo, which comes with many animals and a sexy zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson).

Carnage Roman Polanski directed this adaptation of Yazmina Reza’s dark comic play, in which two New York couples (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) have a cordial get-together after their sons are involved in a fight. Then things begin to get progressively much less cordial.

Pina Wim Wenders’s 3-D documentary tribute to the acclaimed dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch.

Follow on Twitter: @liamlacey

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