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


  1. Those Steve Jobs numbers are a shame. Interestingly enough, it made almost the same amount of money as the Ashton Kutcher Jobs did on its opening weekend (there’s .6 million difference in Steve Jobs’ favor). I’m guessing there’s only so much interest in the subject matter no matter who is involved. The trailers were also uniformly awful.

  2. “The real lesson here that has been learned over and over and over: the closer to the source material the more successful ad adaptation.” Watchmen or X-Men: First Class. Which was closer? Which was more successful?

  3. Rich:

    Sam Raimi Spider-Man or Mark Webb Spider-Man?

    You can find outliers for any theory. The MCU has been very very respectful of the source material, at least in tone if not the details, and guess which franchise is now the most successful of the century.

    Vaughn’s other superhero movie – Hitman – was very close to the source.

  4. It seems that after several biographies, a bad movie with Ashton Kutcher, and DECADES of media coverage, Americans have had their fill of Steve Jobs. They apparently don’t want to hear anything else about him, and they especially don’t want to see a movie about him.

    This year’s really sad box-office flop was THE WALK, an excellent movie that more people should have seen. (I was the only person in the “audience” when I saw it.)

  5. “could reinforce all those negative stereotypes about girl movies not selling”

    More than likely, it will convince producer Jason Blum to stick to what he does best, which is low-budget horror movies.

    Incidentally, the $5M budget for JEM was typical of Blumhouse budgets; the company rarely spends more than that on any movie. As a recent L.A. Weekly profile of Blum pointed out, Blumhouse movies are virtually always shot in 3 or 4 weeks. They apparently didn’t make an exception for JEM. The profile aptly compared Blum to Roger Corman, a comparison he finds flattering.

  6. It seems that “Jem” is this decade’s “Catwoman”.

    So, what else is in development at Hasbro?

    That said, if Universal is going to have some bombs, this is the year to do it.
    Last year, they made money on a lot of mid-range movies which played under the box office radar, but above the budgets.
    This year, they’ve already made $4 Billion worldwide (with three $1 Billion movies).
    They’ve got four more pictures on the schedule, the most expensive costing $30M (Fey & Pohler’s “Sisters”). “Legend” has already made more than it cost (early UK and Europe release). Krampus is low budget ($15M), but also a a cult film from Legendary. And finally, their one Oscar hopeful, “By the Sea”, written and directed by Angelina Jolie, starring her and Brad Pitt, cost $10 Million.
    Low budgets, sure, but the stars are the producers, so they’re making money before the movies screen, and long after.
    Sisters will be the one to watch. It will be the #2 movie when it opens, if it gets decent promotion.
    [Oh. MAN! I’m not the audience they’re aiming for, but I was on the floor by the end of the trailer! “Such a beautiful melody.”]

  7. I’m no JEM connoisseur, but for what it’s worth, I note Jason Blum and his filmmaking model were recently profiled on the Planet Money podcast which was pretty interesting listening. Maintaining the discipline to follow the model–diffuse risk by keeping budgets low so you can make several movies knowing that some will fail but that some won’t–has got to be a challenge.

    The podcast talks about Fast-and-the-Furious director Rob Cohen’s experience directing in the Blum paradigm, and I wonder if maybe John Chu had some challenges there as well. And, heck, I wonder if maybe to do JEM “right” (whatever that means–remember, no connoisseur here!) is just not something that can be done on a micro-budget…

  8. JEM and STEVE JOBS weren’t the only movies to flop last weekend. Every new release bombed, including the Vin Diesel movie, the Bill Murray movie, and the latest (and presumably last) PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie.

    Surveying the wreckage, the studios might conclude that:

    1. Vin Diesel is only a star when he’s driving a car really fast.

    2. Bill Murray is an old man, best relegated to supporting roles in Wes Anderson movies.

    3. Even the most lucrative horror franchises eventually run out of steam.

    PARANORMAL was also hurt by Blumhouse’s plan to release it on V.O.D. after only 3 weeks in theaters. Several theater chains responded by refusing to book it.

  9. Scott Mendelson at Forbes doubles back and explains that this could reinforce all those negative stereotypes about girl’s movies not selling.
    (link don’t seem to work) >> SO does he mean, like, Hunger Games ? — that’s about a girl, right? That did ok, right? — or does he mean “Girl Band” movies .. yeah, those don’t seem to be the cat’s meow lately >> but, I guess Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is still out there making the studio money somewhere.

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