Box Office: 4 Reasons Adam Sandler’s ‘Pixels’ Failed To Break Out

27 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Did Adam Sandler Accidentally Kill the Boys-Only Summer Blockbuster?.

Pixels was always going to be a boy movie. The latest film in Marvel’s DIS, -0.55% cinematic universe edged out Adam Sandler and his comedic band of gaming heroes in newcomer “Pixels,” from Sony Pictures SNE, -1.61% “Ant-Man” brought in $24.7 million in box office revenue, and “Pixels” opened to $24 million. “Ant-Man” passed the $100 million mark this weekend, accumulating $106.1 million in its two weeks, according to data from media tracking firm Rentrak.So the prospect that Ant-Man, the miniscule Mighty Mouse of Marvel’s stable of powerhouses, might join the brawny big-screen ranks of the Hulk, Thor and the rest has long held some pleasing irony.

And that’s a good thing, with a name like Ant-Man. “This is a guy flying on the back of an ant, this is not the Winter Soldier,” laughed Paul Rudd, referring to the arch-foe of Captain America. “Marvel is well aware of that. This latest headlining film, Pixels, took in just $23 million in North America this past weekend, a disappointing opening for a film that reportedly cost $110 million for Sony to make. But that enticement — oh, if it was something different — went out the helicarrier window when, just weeks before shooting was to commence, Edgar Wright, the British blender of genre and comedy who had worked on the project for eight years, departed over “creative differences” — a sacrifice, seemingly, to the Marvel colossus. You can have fun with all that… and still tell an emotional story,” added the 46-year-old, who had to live on an almond a day to get into six-pack shape for the role.

Universal Pictures’s “Minions” continued an impressive run in its third weekend, adding $22.1 million to snag the third spot at the box office. “Minions” has raked in $261.6 million domestically in three weeks, and $759.4 million world-wide. Along with his daughter (Evangeline Lilly), he’s conspiring to prevent a former apprentice (Corey Stoll) from unlocking the atomic secrets that led to Ant-Man in the first place. The precise source of the dispute is unknown, but it’s clear enough from the final product, pushed forward with the quick insertion of director Peyton Reed (Bring it On, The Break-Up) and a rewrite by Adam McKay and others, that Ant-Man became bedeviled with staying true to its more modest size and idiosyncratic nature, and with the larger, blander demands of being a Marvel movie complete with superhero cameos and (optimistic) sequel set-ups. Known until now for comedies with Judd Apatow like 2007’s Knocked Up and This is 40 (2012), Rudd could follow in the footsteps of fellow Parks and Recreation TV star Chris Pratt.

Except neither girls nor boys wanted in on the Pixels tree house this weekend—the would-be summertime tentpole made just $24 million over the weekend, coming in second to holdover Ant-Man. Playing a superhero has become a Holy Grail needed to enter the club of global Hollywood megastars, because the films are distributed — and lapped up — around the world. There are plenty of reasons for Pixels to underperform, from Sandler’s gradually dimming star power to lingering fear from the movie-theater shooting in Louisiana.

Revenues from the weekend box office were down 3% compared with the same weekend a year ago, though movie box-office receipts have enjoyed a solid year to date, according to Rentrak analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “Ant-Man” perch at the top could be threatened by this week’s new films. He has an ethnically diverse group of petty criminal friends: Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian and Michael Pena, the only actor rightly convinced he’s in a comedy. Actors known for more serious dramatic roles like Mark Ruffalo and Edward Norton (who have both played Marvel’s The Hulk) have taken the path, while Iron Man helped to revive Robert Downey Jr’s career. But in a summer when the best, most successful blockbusters have featured righteous female characters right alongside the men, is it possible that the boys-only vibe of Pixels encouraged everyone to stay home? Lang is trying to right himself for the sake of his young daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), and for paying child support to his ex-wife (Judy Greer, an actress too good to be twice relegated to the domestic sidelines in this summer’s blockbusters).

The movie tells the story of Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas), a science guru who discovers a chemical substance that can shrink someone while increasing their strength. There are token women in Pixels, as there are in nearly every expensive movie, most notably in the largely humorless military character played by Michelle Monaghan, whose reward for being the most competent person in the film is a make out with Sandler. Sandler’s slump presents another woe for Sony SNE -1.61% , which often collaborates with the actor, and worked with Sandler for most of his big box office hits over the years.

But his former gifted student Darren Cross (Corey Stoll of House of Cards fame) manages to replicate his invention and wants to sell it to ruthless arms dealers. The movie is too controlled for Rudd’s goofball charm — best on display when simply standing in front of a mirror (Wanderlust) or animated about music (I Love You, Man) — to break free. Through some strained plot mechanics, Lang is recruited by the original Ant-Man, the scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), to succeed him in the suit. He has to decide if he’s going to do the right thing,” Rudd said of Lang. “It was important to Marvel and they took it very seriously that they don’t want to repeat themselves, they want to try to do different things,” said Reed. The Martha cameo, coming at the very end of the film and part of an implied three-way between Serena Williams and Peter Dinklage’s egomaniacal gamer character, is irritating, but at least short.

It scored a 27 on review aggregator Metacritic, a score that means “generally unfavorable reviews.” The 4.9 user review implied mixed reviews from those that watched the film, which didn’t add much encouragement that word-of-mouth could help the film in subsequent weeks. It’s especially galling, though, coming after a series of truly abysmal scenes, in which Josh Gad—another one of the expert gamers saving the world—battles and eventually wins the heart of a video-game warrior woman come to life. Rudd, who said he was only a modest fan of superhero comics when he was a child, said he understands why the larger-than-life characters fascinate filmgoers, especially “tortured” ones like The Hulk. “When you go back to the comics, smart people wrote these and lots of bright people get into them.

The fact that the version of Lady Lisa that marries Gad is in fact a transformed version of Q*bert (seriously, don’t ask) just adds an extra weird wrinkle on a so-called romance that never should have been put on-screen. During training, while Lang tries to perfect his communication with other underground ants, he sometimes pops out of the ground like a sprouted cabbage. Two more women—Williams, who gets in a good joke or two, and Jane Krakowski, playing President Kevin James’s blankly supportive wife—have virtually no lines but wind up seduced by a male lead anyway.

And again, none of this is exactly surprising—great actresses from Kathy Bates to Salma Hayek have been gracelessly shoved to the side in Sandler vehicles. But it’s rare to see any film, much less a PG-rated one for kids, present a woman as a sex object as blatant as Lady Lisa, a fantasy who falls into a man’s arms without so much as a word; even the girl from Weird Science was allowed to express thoughts and feelings. Recent PG-rated successes Frozen, The Lego Movie, and Inside Out have, perhaps not coincidentally, eroded the traditional divide between “girl movie” and “boy movie”; boys will see movies about princesses and feelings and girls will see movies about blocky toys when they’re actually worth watching.

By rejecting the retrograde sexism of Pixels—whether or not they knew it was there—moviegoers have gone one step further toward dismantling that hoary old divide.

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