Does ‘Pan’s’ Box Office Bomb Spell the End for Origin Stories?

Pan Movie Warner Bros
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Pan” was supposed to provide a fresh spin on the oft-told tale of the boy who could fly, but the pricey epic remained earthbound last weekend, opening to an anemic $15.3 million.

That disastrous start guarantees it will rank alongside other costly misses like “Jupiter Ascending” and “Tomorrowland” as one of the year’s biggest box office disasters. With an $150 million price tag, Warner Bros. could lose tens of millions on a film it hoped would kick off a new fantasy franchise.

When the dust settles and studio executives comb through the wreckage for clues about what doomed the adventure film, it appears that it will suffer from two fatal and seemingly contradictory flaws. “Pan” was both overly formulaic and too wild a deviation from J.M. Barrie’s beloved children’s classic to succeed.

The film’s narrative thrust — its “chosen one” story about a savior meant to liberate a people — keeps popping up in one Hollywood production after another. From “Star Wars” to “The Hunger Games,” the downtrodden are continually bumping into new emancipators, resulting in a stifling sense of deja vu.

Then there’s the origin story angle. Ever since “Batman Begins” was able to breath new life into the Dark Knight saga by taking audiences back to the time before Bruce Wayne donned the cape and cowl, studios have been loath to begin a story in medias res. But what was once a novel device has become generic. In the past decade, we’ve been treated to the early days of James Bond, Robin Hood, Maleficent, Dracula and countless masked avengers. Sometimes, as in the case of Spider-Man, we’ve been treated to two different actors reenacting a fateful spider bite. And coming films promise to fill us in on what makes everyone from Boba Fett to King Arthur tick. It may be time to catch up with a few of these figures in adulthood, or, in the case of Peter Pan, in peak Lost Boy form.

“It’s not to say they can’t be done right, but origin stories for stories people already know well are getting tired,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more movies that start with the characters already established.”

Warner Bros. declined to discuss “Pan’s” box office results on the record.

The movie business has an insatiable thirst for new intellectual property to exploit, and for a time, it appeared that injecting familiar fairy tales with the latest special effects was ripe territory to mine anew. The results have been mixed. While Disney has successfully built a business out of creating live action spin-offs and reboots of its classic animated films like “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty,” other studios have struggled to perfect the formula. Warner Bros. whiffed with “Jack the Giant Slayer,” Relativity offered up the forgettable “Mirror, Mirror,” and Universal achieved middling results with “Snow White and the Huntsman.” The last example did inspire a sequel on the strength of its overseas performance, but its $396.6 million global haul on a $170 million budget, means it likely had slender profit margins.

“Without the Disney seal of approval, audiences are a bit wary of these fairy tale adaptations,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations.

It wasn’t just that “Pan” seemed hackneyed. The film managed the rare feat of also appearing to be too radical a departure from the elements that made earlier Peter Pan stories soar. From Hugh Jackman’s scenery chewing villain to a puzzling use of contemporary pop songs from Nirvana and the Ramones, the picture wasn’t sufficiently slavish to its source material. Meanwhile Joe Wright, a visually gifted director who brought a welcome verve to literary adaptations such as “Atonement,” adapted a Rococo production design that utilized shades of fuchsia and purple that should never be seen outside of a rave. Other film adaptations of Barrie’s work, such as Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” or Disney’s animated version, tweaked the story around the edges, but remained truer to its spirit.

“It veered off the Peter Pan path quite extensively and it was just too far left of center for a generation that grew up with ‘Hook’ and sees that as the definitive account,” said Bock.

The result was something for no one. Critics loathed the picture, handing it a lowly 25% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and families stayed away. A mere 23% of the opening weekend crowd were under voting age, roughly half the number a picture on this scale needs to succeed, while adults over the age of 25 made up 52% of ticketbuyers. Those who saw it liked it better than critics, handing it a B+ CinemaScore rating, but the competition may be too fierce for “Pan” to recover. Next weekend brings the release of “Goosebumps,” a loose adaptation of R.L. Stine’s popular children’s books, and “Hotel Transylvania 2” continues to attract big audiences into its fourth week of release.

With “Pan” poised to drown in an ocean of red ink, it will be a long time before Hollywood returns to Neverland.

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  1. b says:

    It bombed because it sucked and unknown annoying bad lead boy actor

    • M Griffin says:

      Levi Miller was brilliant as Peter! He cant be blamed for the film not doing well. Did you have a similar critique for Christian Bale when he began his career in Empire of the Sun? Why must a leading child actor be an established actor to qualify in your estimation?

  2. Lee Mastroddi says:

    “Pan” is possibly the most overproduced and misguided fantasy picture ever. See the miniseries “Neverland” from just a few years ago.The origin story has already been done very well!

  3. Wendy Diaz says:

    Haha trust me Hollywood it was not because we were’nt used to Hook being portrayed as good, it was because of Tiger Lily becoming white.

  4. Lwam Asfaha says:

    Also people boycotted because of the Rooney Mara casting, but I guess that wasn’t worth mentioning in your article about why the film bombed.

  5. Big Shane says:

    I’d like to see Hollywood do some superhero retirement movies. We get to see Bruce Wayne when he’s retired and has a huge beergut and arthritis. He’s also a bit demented, so he shouts at the TV a lot.

  6. TM says:

    A few decades ago just one flop of the kind some studios now land once or even more in a calendar year would have sunk an entire studio. It is amazing, that the business is so good they can withstand a string of flops of this kind.

  7. “it appears that it will suffer from two fatal and seemingly contradictory flaws. “Pan” was both overly formulaic and too wild a deviation from J.M. Barrie’s beloved children’s classic to succeed.” I totally disagree. The movie suffered from the fatal flaw that in 2015 nobody gives a crap about Peter Pan and there is zero interest from the public about seeing Peter Pan. It didn’t matter how formulaic and how much it deviated from the original. Nobody was going to see it regardless of the script because nobody age 5 to 45 gives a shit about Peter Pan. Its just like the Lone Ranger. This thing was a bomb the moment they decided to reboot a 100 year old story that has been retold so many times nobody gives a shit anymore. I’m sure we’ll see a new Pinocchio movie someday and it will bomb too. Enough with the 50’s disney crap that has no originality and tells stories nobody cares about.

  8. francis says:

    what a waste of the money and the talented actor/actress…

  9. Mr. Average says:

    Yet, they’re making a prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman.

  10. Jacques Strappe says:

    Origin films are not endangered, just bad ones and ones about one of the most overexposed children’s stories, Peter Pan. Two strikes against this film which is a bloated CGI mess meant to appeal to children and adults with severe attention deficit disorder. No one cares to see anything about Peter Pan, origin or not. Serious studio heads should roll over this fiasco.

    As far as the anemic box office for The Walk, most film goers are not familiar with the story…and to be honest, it probably holds little appeal for younger viewers since it does not contain comic book super heroes, dinosaurs, monsters or car chases and explosions. It has NOTHING to do with 9-11 and the collapse of the World Trade Towers and EVERYTHING to do with the subject matter, in spite of being an awe inspiring film starring the popular Joseph Gordon Levitt.

    • TM says:

      Good points. With Variety opening articles to comments we shall see the same thing that happened at major newspapers: readers writing the better articles than the paid journos.

  11. Rosie says:

    To the author of this article, there is no “Chosen One” arc in “Hunger Games”. K. Everdeen is only a propaganda tool.

  12. Paulina says:

    “Pan” failed due to the rising social justice as it relates to Native Americans, at least partially. I know a huge part of he populations ages 12-30 was boycotting it because the role of Tiger Lily was not made available to any Native American actresses (even though it portrays a Native American character) and was instead given to Rooney Mara.

  13. Al Swearengen says:

    Pan failed because it looked awful. Joe Wright hasn’t really impressed me either, I wasn’t a fan of Hanna and Anna Karina bored me to tears.

  14. Cath says:

    It failed because it was about Peter Pan. Period. Who is enamored by this story? Where was the potential audience for this? Jackman’s “look” didn’t help either. He looked like some fake theatrical character. We all knew it was in trouble when it’s opening was postponed.

  15. Nanny Mo says:

    Hollywood is SO black and white. This will only “end” origin stories until a good one comes along. This one sucked, so it bombed. Plus think about it, who cares? Pan, again. Didn’t we do this sorta with Hook? Hasn’t there been a Pan movie every 7 years or so? Get a new idea, we’re bored.

  16. Jack says:

    Also, Peter Pan isn’t human. More like a creature of pagan myth, erratic, impulsive, crossed with the Victorian belief in the civilizing effect of motherhood.

  17. Bill B. says:

    Maybe when the world is tired of all of these franchises and/or attempts to create one, Hollywood will go back to making good and original movies once again. It is very true that all of these boys and girls save the world movies have run their course and then some. Hopefully, the same will occur soon with super hero movies. More are on their way. Gotta admit that one coming out does interest me, but I really hope they all start to fail at the box office. Enough!

  18. Dan says:

    Pan is significantly better than the indicated by the critical opinion. It is not perfect, but is not a bad movie at all, I found it pretty entertaining, and enjoyed the fresh take. I would much rather watch it than the repeated super hero Marvel sequel fare.

  19. C.M. Brandt says:

    Name recognition properties will always be milked to death in as many incarnations as possible. And as toxic as the Peter Pan property is at the moment, never underestimate a widely known property that’s in the public domain, for another reboot down the line.

  20. Mjkbk says:

    Slow news day?

    An analysis of ALL future origin stories, only one weekend into the failure of ONE? Especially when THIS particular version was ill-advised from the get-go?

    Families are staying away from “edgy Peter Pan”, and younger viewers are avoiding “kiddie flick” material. What does that leave? Art film lovers?

    Nowhere NEAR enough to sustain a $150 million film…..THERE’S your failure analysis.

  21. Ivan says:

    If they wanted to do this, then why not an adaptation of “Peter and the Starcatcher”?

    It has a built in audience and would have made use of Hugh Jackman’s musical abilities.

  22. John says:

    The recent, horrible “Peter Pan” live TV “event” broadcast on NBC starring Brian Williams’ daughter (who can’t act) was also probably a factor in why audiences aren’t interested in “Peter Pan” right now. I’m sure that abomination killed “Peter Pan” for an entirely new generation of youngsters.

    • TM says:

      Interesting. Maybe that was originally hoped for (if not supported) as an interest builder by Warner only to backfire further.

  23. orionsaint says:

    Hopefully it means the end of the Peter Pan franchise. No one likes Peter Pan and never will. Take a hint Hollywood! The only person who liked it is no longer with us. Michael Jackson.

    • PG says:

      That’s rather sweeping. Plenty of people are interested in Peter Pan. Just not enough were/are interested in THIS one – I see the article completely avoids commenting on the criticism this received because of the casting choices. Could negative publicity have impacted the box office takings?

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