Wednesday, January 30, 2019

In Laman's Terms: Eight Box Office Duds That Got Super Bowl Commercials

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

With Super Bowl XXX, Super Bowl advertising changed forever. That's when 20th Century Fox dropped an ad for the then-upcoming action blockbuster Independence Day that sent peoples excitement for the film to new heights. Ever since then, movies have constantly tried to replicate the success of Independence Day by making a Super Bowl TV spot a cornerstone of their marketing campaign. There have been many blockbusters that have gotten a lot of mileage out a Super Bowl commercial but not every film that advertises during the Super Bowl can be a gargantuan blockbuster. In fact, plenty of box office duds have advertised during the Super Bowl and I've decided to look at eight such films here today.

Two quick notes before we proceed: the first is that I cannot find the Super Bowl ads for the first two films on this list, I have just put a general TV Spot to accompany those films instead. The second thing to clarify is that the Super Bowl ads for the third and fourth movies on this list could only be found on Ad Land, which does not allow for its videos to be embedded. Pre-2005 movie ads are hard to come by on the internet, likely because YouTube and its video archival abilities were not around until 2005. With all that being said, here are eight box office duds that got advertised during the Super Bowl.

Sphere (1998)
I'll be honest, I had never even heard of this movie before writing up this edition of In Laman's Terms, but Sphere is indeed a movie that exists, one that stars Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson. One of a number of adaptations of Michael Crichton's works made in the wake of a film adaptation of Chrichton's book Jurassic Park becoming a game-changing box office juggernaut, Sphere tried to sell itself as the next big event movie based on one of the authors works by airing a commercial during Super Bowl XXXII just nineteen days before its release. Unfortunately, such high-profile advertising didn't manage to positively impact the movie's release given that it ended up grossing only $50.1 million worldwide. I can't even find the actual Super Bowl commercial for Sphere online (I've embedded one of only two TV spots of any kind I could find for Sphere above) and the online scarcity of crucial marketing materials for its original theatrical release may be one reason I had been so in the dark on Sphere up to this point.
Wild Wild West (1999)
Yet another movie whose Super Bowl TV spot I cannot find on the internet (the TV spot I've embedded here seems to have come from late May 1999 if the last two seconds publicizing the impending series finale of Mad About You are any indication), but Wild Wild West did indeed advertise during the Super Bowl back in the pre-2007 era when Warner Bros. actually advertised its movies during the Super Bowl. No wonder Wild Wild West got a Super Bowl commercial given that it was a Will Smith vehicle, Independence Day, that kicked off the idea of movies getting advertised in the Super Bowl in the first place, but it didn't help the movie out at the box office where it became one of Will Smith's rare pre-2013 box office flops. Maybe this Super Bowl ad would have been more effective at drumming up excitement for Wild Wild West if it had managed to find room for an Orc cop?
Swordfish (2001)
The TV spot for Swordfish, a John Travolta/Hugh Jackman hacker thriller, feels very much like a product of the early 2000s in every respect, particularly in the rapid-fire editing and the fact that Travolta gets billed above Hugh Jackman. It looks thoroughly generic in 2019 and it seems like even 2001 audiences weren't all that interested in what they were seeing if the eventual box office figures for Swordfish were any indication. Though it fared better than some of the outright box office disasters in this list, Swordfish's $69.7 million haul was underwhelming for a movie that cost $102 million to make and it fell far short of past John Travolta blockbusters.
The Alamo (2004)
Remember The Alamo? No? I don't blame you. This historical drama about the famous Battle of the Alamo was a massive box office disaster for Disney as it grossed only $25.8 million worldwide ($22.4 million of that came from domestic gross) on a $107 million budget. That's an astonishingly bad box office performance that occurred despite Disney putting some major marketing muscle behind the title that included a Super Bowl TV spot promoting the film as a thrilling action movie. That's an odd choice in numerous respects, but is especially puzzling given that the movie starred actors like Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton who weren't well-known as action stars. No wonder The Alamo became one of the biggest box office bombs ever up to that point.

Land of the Lost (2009)
The marketing campaign for the 2009 comedy Land of the Lost actually kicked off with this 45-second-commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLIII. Unlike the other Super Bowl movie ads up to this point, the one for Land of the Lost isn't half-bad as it shows off some decent humorous moments mixed together with heightened fantasy elements like dinosaurs and Sleestaks. Such a high-profile kick-off to its marketing campaign couldn't secure financial success for Land of the Lost, which would end up becoming a box office disaster when it bowed in theaters on June 5, 2009 against a little movie called The Hangover. A pity, since I have a soft spot for this flawed but charmingly goofy movie whose intense animosity against Matt Lauer has aged well in the last decade.

Mars Needs Moms (2011)
During I think the very last commercial break of Super Bowl XLV, what should drop but a Super Bowl TV spot for Mars Needs Moms. This colossal box office misfire managed to get advertised during the biggest television broadcast of the year with a TV spot that, like all of the other marketing for Mars Needs Moms, only confuses the viewer instead of entices them to see the movie. There's really not much to say about this one beyond how, eight years after this thing came out, I still don't know why they had Seth Green do the motion-capture for a little kid and then proceed to design the child to look like him, it just makes the CGI character look like an Uncanny Valley monstrosity. The Berkeley Breathed book this movie was based on had such good illustrations too, just use those as inspirations instead!
Seventh Son (2015)
Chances are, you've all forgotten about Seventh Son, I'm sure even Jeff Bridges has wiped it from his memory so that he can have more room to think about oil tankers. But this movie did indeed get released and just five days before its release, a TV spot for it aired during Super Bowl XLIX. A last-ditch attempt to drum up interest for the long-delayed motion picture, this Super Bowl commercial did Seventh Son no favors as it just piled on generic fantasy imagery, lots of poor-looking CGI and a text screen that tried to appeal to fans of, of all possible Legendary Pictures movies, 300: Rise of an Empire. I'm pretty sure Universal and Legendary Pictures both knew this movies domestic box office chances were sunk at this point so it's so peculiar that they shelled out big bucks not just for a Seventh Son Super Bowl ad but such a paint-by-numbers ad at that.

A Cure For Wellness (2017)
20th Century Fox spent more money buying airtime for this Super Bowl Ad than the eventual opening weekend gross of A Cure For Wellness. Clearly, this commercial did not succeed in increasing interest in this Gore Verbinski horror film like it was supposed to, but credit where credit is due, this is easily the best and most creative Super Bowl ad on this list. A commercial for The Cure that plays out like a normal pharmaceutical product (complete with stock footage of people happily running on a beach) depicts footage from A Cure for Wellness as it lists off the side effects of The Cure. As the side effects become more and more deranged, so does the accompanying footage until it finishes on a shot of some drops of liquid falling into a blue bottle. I'd handily say this is one of the best Super Bowl movie commercials in recent years and shows some real innovation on the part of the people who came up with it. A Cure for Wellness may have came up short at the box office but it certainly didn't get the short thrift when it came to Super Bowl advertising.

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