Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Autopsy Report: LG’s ‘Conan The Barbarian’

Lionsgate execs today are despondent as they try to figure out what went wrong for Conan The Barbarian to only earn a dismal $10.5M from 3,015 theaters. “It’s one of those weekends that gives me a stomach ache,” one Lionsgate exec told me Friday night. “It’s a headscratcher, but it won’t kill us.” But they also know that with Carl Icahn back breathing down Lionsgate’s mane by buying up company shares, and the annual stockholders meeting scheduled for Sept. 13, this is a really lousy time for this secondary studio to have such a box office bomb. Over the last two weeks, Icahn has acquired 756,840 shares in Lionsgate, growing his ownership to 33.2% from 32.6%, presumably in his so-far-unsuccessful effort to gift his son Brent with a Hollywood studio. Last year, Icahn tried but failed to seize control and, after a brief respite, he’s trying yet again, all the while carping about Lionsgate’s profligate management and moviemaking strategy. Here’s more ammunition for him. First off, being in business with Avi Lerner’s Nu Image/Millennium film company is a dicey proposition at best. Especially when this reboot cost nearly $90M, which makes this weekend’s opening disastrous even if Lionsgate’s exposure was mitigated by the co-production and co-release. Not even spreading the buzz that previous Conan the Barbarian Arnold Schwarzenegger was treated to a private screening and “really liked it” helped box office, which didn’t come near to even Lionsgate’s low-ball expectation of $15M from a wide release.

This R-rated 3D reboot of the 1930s Robert E. Howard original source material, portraying the character as the Cimmerian warrior, was supposed to have a devoted fanbase. And tracking showed strong interest from African-American and Hispanic male moveiegoers. There seemed to be a ton of interest when Deadline’s Mike Fleming broke first news of the remake. That is, until Conan was cast. Even Lionsgate admits that the film absolutely hinged on finding the right Conan, and fanboys reacted horribly to then virtual unknown Jason Momoa even though he has since become a break-out star from his role on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Problem: “There’s so much history with this character and this brand they needed someone who could both really ‘own’ Conan (making him feel relatable for this generation), but also who offered continuity with what fans already know and love. Because there’s no competing with Arnold, Jason’s performance bypasses all of the comparisons, playing the character in a very different way than Arnold did and instead taking inspiration from the written source,” a Lionsgate exec emailed me. I happen to think the studios should have bet on a wrestling The Rock-style star with a ready-made fanbase.

The concensus among Avi Lerner and Joe Drake, who had successfully released The Expendables together, is that Conan The Barbarian didn’t have the “brand equity” they hoped it would. The pair had convinced themselves that the brand was ripe for a reboot and that the fans were ready for it, so they rescued the film from the major development purgatory it had been caught in for so long. The backstory is that Paradox Entertainment bought the rights in 2002 when the brand was hitting rock-bottom, with a bevy of licensed products in the marketplace but also quality and consistency issues at every turn. The duo’s first move was to take everything off the market. Then they connected with select partners to introduce the rehabilitated Conan via just three laser-focused licensed products that appealed to a core demo of young adult males (comics, toys, and a computer game). Marketing generated considerable awareness, with a significant Comic-Con presence (which included: talent appearances, bar invasion promotions, interactive fan experiences at the booth). They targeted Hispanic outreach with Momoa traveling to Miami. They also released an online redband clip to reassure young males fearing this reboot would be sanitized. But it was all for naught. In the end, the execution was just poor, poor, poor. Rotten Tomatoes showed only 26% positive reviews. The director was remake specialist Marcus Nispel (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th) and the credited screenwriters were Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood, and Andrew Lobel.

(Article reposted from Deadline Hollywood)


Lagomorph Rex said...

ahh, so now they are going to hang it around Momoa's neck.

When clearly it was Lionsgate/Nu Image and their stupid scripts and stupider directer who were to blame. Momoa was fantastic as Conan. he looked exactly like I imagine Conan to look when I read the stories, and apart from the lack of blue eyes will likely be my imagined image of Conan for a long time to come.

Dominic said...

"Especially when this reboot cost nearly $90M..."
"the Cimmerian warrior, was supposed to have a devoted fanbase"

The only mystery is that anyone thought that Conan's fanbase was $90M strong. Hardcore devotees Conan fans may be, and rightfully so, but what magic 8 ball did anyone pull that kind of number from?
I enjoyed the film for what it was, but it wasn't $90M good. I'd be willing to be that there's a couple of enterprising directors releasing their work on Youtube that could have done as much for one-tenth the price, and been giddy to do so. This is the kind of bloated budget that makes me wonder if the cast of "The Producers" is behind a film like this.
The shame of it is, of course, that this will probably kill the franchise for another decade or two. Oh well...at least we've still got the Crom blog.

Mike D. said...

My opinion on the matter is this. ( IMHO ) The character has a stigma attached to it. People ( the general public ) don't know CONAN from a hole in the wall except for ARNOLD. They think CONAN they think ARNOLD. So everyone and their mother says the same thing and you can see it all over the media forums and chatrooms and on several blogs. They had no intention of ever seeing the movie because ARNOLD was not in it and had nothing to do with it. CONAN is CURSED.
What would have been a clever bit of casting is if ARNIE played the Dad instead of Pearlman. Then...just on his name alone from being in the cast...the box office tallies would be a severely different number. This film will make it's money back if it stays out in theatres long enough. But that's about it. ME? I don't care I love CONAN and I loved the movie and I could care less what the pessimistic jerkoffs who missed out on a good film have to say. CONAN rocks and CONAN rules all you haters just a bunch o' tools!

The Grey Elf said...

Or it could be that they cared enough to get the character right, but not to put any effort into portraying the WORLD properly aside from pulling a few random names from maps, and mispronouncing half of them.

Seriously, Mamoa was the best thing about that movie--his portrayal of Conan was spot on. Everything about the Hyborian Age they showed us was spot OFF--Zingarans that looked like Turanians, Messantia as a country instead of the capitol of Argos, Messantians that looked like Shemites (at best), Hyrkania (and...Higharcanya...really?) as a somehow sheltered and safe place rather than the mongol-ridden steppes it is...they did no research into the world at all. It also didn't help that most of what they leaked about the movie turned the core audience off before the thing ever hit theaters.

Mike D. said...

could be a combination of both...but we saw it. I don't think there are many people know more about CONANs world than you.
So all the finer points and subtle things would go over 90% of people heads. They were looking for Arnold. Conan don't wink.

The Frothy Friar said...

I saw it and I have to say it was better than I thought it would be, but I thought it would be horrible so that's not saying much. Momoa was fine in the role. It clearly wasn't his fault. I have to blame the director and anyone one that saw Pathfinder and decided he was the right guy to do Conan.

Nothing felt realistic in the movie. Nothing seemed practical at all and that was a major problem for me. In the original (not that it stuck to the Conan mythology at all) at least felt like a real world where people actually existed and lived. This one felt like a location with a bunch of set pieces plopped onto it. The weapons were clearly plastic or rubber and way to big for anyone to swing around if they were actually steel, they cluttered sets with debris and junk to make it look "lived in" but it just looked like debris and junk that people should clean up. The story felt like it jumped around randomly or the editor cut a few seconds off the beginning and ending of scenes so they didn't flow well from one to another. I liked Stephen Lang as the villain, he did a good enough job. I love Ron Pearlman, but he was not right for that role. He looked like a caveman and just didn't seem to fit.

To me, it just felt like Scorpion King or an episode of Hercules.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused by the $90 million figure that's now being quoted. Prior to the film's release, there were articles talking about Avi Lerner's "$70 million Conan gamble", while Variety put the film's budget at $80 million. I guess it doesn't matter at this point, but it seems no one really knows how much was invested here.

I agree this should've never been more than a $50-60 million production. But it's as though no one wants to start small and build their way up anymore. Today the studios skip Mad Max and immediately try to go Beyond Thunderdome.

This project should've been approached and marketed as Jason Momoa playing REH's Conan. Not something that called itself faithful while clearly copying the basic storyline from the original film.

It's a lot easier to sell a reboot today if people are convinced it will be more faithful to the source material. Once you allow your film to be branded a remake, it's suddenly much harder to convince people it was even necessary.

sandySTC said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. But I will say that this is the most (over) reviewed film I've seen in my life time! Yeah, I get it, Howard fans (of which I've been one since I was a kid) are Howard fans. But all of this reviewing the film, reviewing the script, reviewing the director, reviewing the reviews of the film, reviewing the marketing, reviewing the brand, reviewing the reviewers and the constant comparisons is ridiculous. It was a fun film and I Loved it.

sandySTC said...

Oh and I do think Conan would wink!

Mike D. said...


Cromsblood said...


"But I will say that this is the most (over) reviewed film I've seen in my life time!"

Now that you mention it...based on the how poorly it did at the box-office, it could be that every single person that saw this movie has also reviewed it.