Wednesday, January 29, 2020

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

God, Bebop and Rocksteady just do not translate into realistic CGI designs
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!

Last year, I did something pretty fun for In Laman's Terms involving me looking at eight box office flops that aired commercials during the Super Bowl. We always think of ads that come on during the Big Game as lucrative pieces of marketing, they always get people talking about Snickers or Dorito's or any given car company. But these box office misfires proved that not all Super Bowl commercials result in success. That piece was such fun to write that I decided why not bring it back this year? For 2020, we'll look at eight other box office duds whose marketing campaigns included pricey Super Bowl commercials.

One quick note before proceeding forward: last year's inaugural installment of this annual column tried embedding the various TV spots into the article itself. That didn't work out so well, twelve months later, the piece is riddled with dead links and empty space. This time around, I'm just dropping hyperlinks to the commercials themselves rather than futilely trying to embed them. My apologies for taking an approach to this piece that's straight out of the internet circa. 1999 but I just want to make sure this article is visually coherent.

Lost in Space

Now most famous for being the movie that dethroned Titanic's from its more than three-month-long reign in the top spot at the domestic box office, the 1998 feature film adaptation of Lost in Space was also a noteworthy title for being one of the earliest examples of a movie advertising itself during the Super Bowl. Independence Day popularized the concept two years prior and now it was time for another science-fiction title to drop a commercial during the biggest television event of the year. The ad itself has been lost to time but it didn't prove to help Lost in Space's box office prospects that much. Will Robinson and company only managed to score $136.2 million worldwide on an $80 million budget. Maybe the money spent on a pricey Super Bowl commercial should have been spent improving the script? Or even just on the CGI used for the space monkey sidekick?

Titan A.E.

Personally, I dig Titan A.E., the last (to date) directorial effort from iconic animation filmmaker Don Bluth. However, it's the kind of ultra-weird science-fiction that's always a tough sell to general audiences. That doesn't mean the films distirbutor, 20th Century Fox, didn't give it the o'l college try when it came to getting moviegoers invested in Titan A.E. Not only did they place a teaser for it on The Phantom Menace thirteen months before its theatrical release, they even plunked down cash for a high-profile Super Bowl TV spot (the commercial itself is not available anywhere online as near as I can tell). All of that extensive marketing couldn't save the film which became one of the first big box office bombs of the 21st-century and resulted in the closure of 20th Century Fox Animation.

Collateral Damage

One of the last leading man vehicles for Arnold Schwarzenegger before he went off to be Governor of California was a post-9/11 revenge fantasy about a man whose family is killed by a Colombian terrorist who travels to Colombia for some vengeance. This box office dud was hampered by marketing that was woefully generic, watching the trailer (the Super Bowl commercial is nowhere to be found only) makes it look interchangeable with any number of other Schwarzenegger vehicles. Collateral Damage has ended up being largely forgotten save for the fact that Bill Hader has shared some amusing stories working as Schwarzenegger's assistant on the films set.

Gods and Generals

Now here's a movie I didn't even know existed prior to penning this piece. I love digging up forgotten box office duds, though, so of course Gods and Generals is going on here. A rare instance of a second-billed role for always-enjoyable character actor Stephen Lang, God and Generals is also apparently some kind of pro-Confederacy movie about the Civil War starring Jeff Daniels as Stonewall Jackson. It also apparently ran for 219 minutes, making it one of the longest 21st-century American films to receive a wide release. This is yet another title where the Super Bowl commercial is nowhere to be seen (here's a trailer for the morbidly curious) but distributor Warner Bros. really was trying to push this drama as a must-see event by giving it a Super Bowl commercial. In the end, such a costly ad couldn't get people interested in a three-and-a-half-hour ode to the Confederacy that received dismal reviews.


Sahara was a costly Indiana Jones knock-off starring Matthew McConaughey that attempted to sell itself as an event movie by shelling out money for an expensive Super Bowl commercial. If the Super Bowl ad was like any of the other TV spots for Sahara that are actually online, it's no wonder it wasn't successful at garnering audience interest. The TV ads for Sahara just made it look like The Mummy Redux without showcasing any of the swagger or laidback charisma that made Matthew McConaughey so beloved in his romantic-comedies. The fact that the action looked like quintessential mid-2000s CGI-heavy spectacle likely also helped Sahara fade into the desert of people's minds.

Terminator: Genisys

I need to use this image more often
Another Schwarzenegger vehicle, this time in the emerging in the form of Terminator: Genisys, the third failed attempt to make Terminator work as a 21st-century film franchise. Watching its Super Bowl spot, one is reminded of how important it is to provide context for these film commercials. In the span of 30 seconds, you can't (and shouldn't) give away the entire plot but it's odd how the ad begins just assuming everyone is aware a new Terminator movie is coming out. There's no real indicators until the midway point, when a grey robot shows up, that what we're watching is connected to the Terminator franchise. The theme music and familiar character names are absent, it's all just blockbuster mayhem that could hail from any franchise. Though Paramount was clearly trying to set up Terminator: Genisys as an event movie worth getting hyped for with this Big Game commercial, the ad itself is a clustered mess that makes it no wonder Genisys ended up flopping domestically five months later.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

The 2014 live-action Ninja Turtles movie became a sleeper box office hit thanks to nostalgia and curiosity as to what a 21st-century feature film based on those reptilian heroes would look like. However, it didn't generate much in the way of positive word-of-mouth and the quickly-greenlit sequel had to work overtime to convince people to show up for another adventure. Part of this effort included a Super Bowl TV spot that included audiences first look at the franchises take on long-time Ninja Turtles foe Krang. That likely pleased some diehard Turtles fan but for the rest of the world, the commercial was a flurry of noise and CGI mayhem. No wonder Out of the Shadows ended up making less than half of its predecessor at the domestic box office.


This Super Bowl TV spot was the first piece of marketing released for the 2018 Dwayne Johnson summertime tentpole Skyscraper. In retrospect, this commercial was the first sign of potential trouble for Skyscraper, which would go on to be a box office non-starter. For one thing, the story conveyed in this ad is woefully generic, there's little in the way of distinct stakes or personality to separate this from the marketing for a hundred other Die Hard knock-off's. It's also oddly serious and lacking in the ridiculous spectacle people associate Dwayne Johnson with. Leaping from a crane to a building feels practically humdrum compared to Dwayne Johnson facing off against a tsunami in San Andreas or any of the madness that went down in Rampage. Worst of all though is that somber cover for Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down, which feels like it comes straight out of the parody of the kind of downbeat song covers you find in movie trailers.

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