Let’s face it…no one was looking forward to the Jem and the Holograms movie which opened silently, deadly, this weekend. We wrote about it a bit here but lost interest when it was clear that it was just microwaved Pitch Perfect about a girl who gets a band and doubts herself and fights with her family along the way…not an OUTRAGEOUS story with some vague SF trappings. Well now it has finally come out and it flopped, died, bombarino, stainkaroonie, as it opened in over 2000 theaters with a mere $1.32 million…or $547 per theater. This was the third worst opening for a film that played in more than 2000 screens EVAR. And everyone is doing an autopsy to find out what killed Jem.
Director Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Step Up 2: The Streets) and producer Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Insidious) chose to re-imagine Jem for the 2010s, moving away from the outrageous sci-fi fantasy of the ’80s cartoon into a (relatively) more grounded, tween-friendly movie about fame in the viral age — including a social media campaign to get fans to share their enthusiasm for Jem.
That creative decision appears to have backfired in the most spectacular fashion imaginable — tweens unfamiliar with the Jem brand were clearly not interested, and neither were millennials and Gen Xers with a fond memory of the ’80s TV series. The movie, it seems, was for no one. It may even struggle to recoup its reported $5 million budget.
Now a couple things to remember…the movie only cost $5 mil, so Universal isn’t out too much. So you may think, hey this awful movie bombing is a good thing for humanity, right?
Well, not so fast, Scott Mendelson at Forbes doubles back and explains that this could reinforce all those negative stereotypes about girl’s movies not selling.
Even with that low budget and minimal advertising, this is an outright disaster.
And the reason for this is painfully simple. While boy-centric properties like Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and G.I. Joe got $125 million+ budgets to work with, Jem and the Holograms, a girl-centric action/musical cartoon got a $5m budget and a feature film adaptation that went out of its way to basically discard the action/adventure/excitement elements from the original show.The film took a source material that is over-the-top colorful and over-the-top exciting, filled with larger-than-life characters and musically-charged action sequences where Jem and her friends had to both be kick-ass rock stars and kick-ass crime fighters at the same time, and made a toned-down, muted, and overly patronizing “young girl gets in over her head due to fame and artistic success and forgets what matters” fable that basically penalized its young heroes for wanting and achieving success and power.
According to Mendelson, Hollywood execs will conclude that “a girl-centric action cartoon from the 1980′s doesn’t deserve or justify even 5% of the resources given without a second thought to boy-centric properties cashing in on 80′s nostalgia.”
While I think he’s likely correct on how some execs will treat this — “See, we told you girls didn’t go to the movies?” — the power of female theater goers this year has been undeniable, and BETTER movies like Pitch Perfect 2 (#8 movie of the year thus far), Cinderella, Spy and Trainwreck have all done well, the Divergent series is a hit, Shades of Grey didn’t flop and Hunger Games wraps up soon. So hopefully Jem is the outlier.
All that said, director Jon Chu originally wanted to make a movie that was based on the cartoon, but studio execs didn’t like that idea and would only approve the meagre $5 mil budget. It’s pretty sad to read his interviews about the movie now:
GN: I read that your original idea was a massive Tokyo-set Jem movie. Tell me a little more about that earlier conception, and do you have any plans to incorporate some of those ideas into a potential sequel?
Chu: In a weird way, this is my backwards door to get in to do that version, for sure. We had to start somewhere. It’s hard to convince a studio to go make that movie when they’ve never heard of Jem before or don’t know why they would be spending all that money for a girl band movie that traditionally don’t do well. For me, it was like let’s start with a story that we can hook people in on, plant the ideas of the science fiction elements and what can come and let’s slow-roll them into it. Of course, Jem and the Holograms is supposed to be truly outrageous. That’s always the intention, and I wouldn’t have just done a one-off — I wouldn’t have left G.I. Joe to go do a one-off movie. To me, there’s a bigger story to be told, and that was always the plan. I think we could have framed it better when we first started to release a trailer to say “This is the beginning of a bigger story” or this is the origin story, the Batman Begins. I think people were taken aback from what they expected from it, and I think if we had just framed it a bit better people would have gone along with the ride a little bit better at the beginning. I hope they give it a chance because I think they’ll see all the elements that they want. My intention is always to just get it there.
The real lesson here that has been learned over and over and over: the closer to the source material the more successful ad adaptation.
It was actually a total crap weekend at the box office and all the new movies flopped, including Steve Jobs. I guess that ship has sailed. There are pretty bad numbers, but the holiday movie crush will soon envelop us.
1. The Martian — $15.9 million
2. Goosebumps — $15.5 million
3. Bridge of Spies — $11.4 million
4. The Last Witch Hunter* — $10.8 million
5. Hotel Transylvania 2 — $9 million
6. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension* — $8.2 million
7. Steve Jobs — $7.3 million
8. Crimson Peak — $5.6 million
9. The Intern — $3.9 million
10. Sicario — $3 million
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.