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2006: Hollywood diagnosis

Reviews, release dates, campaigns (and dull pix) help create a flock of turkeys

Weighing a film’s success is easy. Just add up the box office grosses and DVD sales.

Failure, however, is more complicated to assess. Financial loss is divided between various studios and other equity resources. And international box office receipts can pull a presumed dud out of the water. Finally, as this past year demonstrated, “underperforming” can mean making $133 million domestically — think “Mission: Impossible III.”

Nonetheless, using an admittedly inexact science, herewith are the biggest losers of ’06 as determined by an inhouse Variety poll, as well as theories of what went wrong. There were many more winners over the last 12 months, but how can we close out the year without one last bah humbug?

First and foremost in determining the list was the ratio between a film’s cost and its revenues. Thus smaller-scale pics that stumbled were not considered. (Note: Several of these movies were co-financed, thus the “loss” is not always fully on the back of one studio.)

As for trends, it’s notable that none of the flops were comedy or horror pics, and that very few were mega-budget films. For the most part the films were midrange adult dramas and/or period dramas, as well as a smattering of remakes.

Pics are listed alphabetically.

All the King’s Men

Domestic gross: $7 million

When it comes to winning formulas, “King’s Men” had it all: an all-star cast (Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, Jude Law), an Oscar-winning screenwriter and director (Steve Zaillian) and a Pulitzer Prize-winning property. And the original film version, starring Broderick Crawford, won an Oscar in 1949. Yet the film failed to resonate with a broad aud, perhaps because it felt more like a niche pic dressed up in flashy trimmings. Its opening weekend also was overwhelmed by the success of “Jackass Number Two” with the younger crowd. Negative buzz was stirred by the fact that the pic, which cost about $55 million, was held a year for re-editing.

Basic Instinct 2

Domestic gross: $5 million

Perhaps the biggest buzz killer of all was that Sharon Stone didn’t uncross her legs, a move that helped propel the original 1992 film into some version, anyway, of a classic. Pic also suffered from not starring the original film’s cast (no Michael Douglas sparks) and from being released so many years after the first pic, when there was no real demand for a follow-up. Auds presumably sensed the exploitative strategy. Critics were no kinder: David Edelstein quipped, “They replaced the director’s Viagra with Valium.” Sony, which released the $70 million film (the German film fund IMF3 provided financing), tried to blunt the blow by not screening the films for critics.

Flushed Away

Domestic gross: $61 million

An unfortunately apt title for a pic that could cost DreamWorks Animation $90 million. The DreamWorks-Aardman alliance has historically yielded better reviews than grosses, but that reality was stark with a film with a budget of about $150 million (made more cheaply, pic likely wouldn’t have made this list). The release date also was less than ideal, considering the glut of family films in the market and the unforeseen blitz of “Borat.” And pic was up against an unusually competitive year for animated films, with nearly every major studio unspooling a feature toon.

Flyboys

Domestic gross: $13 million

Despite producer Dean Devlin’s best efforts (he shopped the film to every studio, finally locking distribution with MGM), “Flyboys” failed to take off, confirming Hollywood’s prejudice against WWI films. Today’s auds — particularly teens, who generally swarm out on opening weekend — aren’t wowed by antique, wooden planes, and without a star cast the film dive-bombed. Lucky for Devlin, almost half the cost of the $60 million film was covered by Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison whose son David, one of the top acrobatic pilots in the nation, stars in the film.

The Fountain

Domestic gross: $9 million

Originally intended as a $70 million project with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, pic shut down when Pitt left to film “Troy,” tossing away $18 million in pre-production costs. Resurrected on a smaller budget of $35 million, pic lost some of its star wattage with a new cast of Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. A transcendental love story that spans 100 years, pic proved too complex for auds and crix alike — and was up against crushing competition when it opened Thanksgiving weekend: “Deja Vu” and the still strong-holding “Happy Feet” and “Casino Royale.”

Freedomland

Domestic gross: $12 million

Savvy auds are suspicious of films released in the graveyard month of February, particularly films such as “Freedomland” that are pushed from the awards-heat-seeking month of December. Director Joe Roth had worthy intentions, but the critics were unkind and auds didn’t warm to the grim retelling of Richard Price’s dense novel about a kidnapping that sets off racial strife in New Jersey projects. Despite a top-rate cast — Julianne Moore, Samuel L. Jackson, Edie Falco — the film died a quiet death.

A Good Year

Domestic gross: $7 million

Fox faced a challenge in selling the pairing of director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe in something other than a “Gladiator”-like action pic. Marketing for the film, based on the Peter Mayles novel, conveyed this unease, and the film failed to reach a broad aud. The light-hearted romp, set in the South of France, was not an obvious sell to Crowe’s male fans and failed to capture the females. News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch publicly deemed the pic a “flop,” predicting it would lose $20 million. Film has fared slightly better overseas, where it grossed $19 million.

Lady in the Water

Domestic gross: $42 million

Knives were out for the movie, and director M. Night Shyamalan, before it was released, thanks to a book about the making of the movie in which Shyamalan comes across as whiny and self-important. After Disney passed, Shyamalan took the project to Warner Bros., which put muscle behind the marketing of the $75 million pic but was unable to sell it strongly to auds who may be tiring — or at least too knowing — of Shyamalan’s artistic formula. And though Paul Giamatti has a following, it is more arthouse than big studio. Foreign coin provided a $30 million boost.

Poseidon

Domestic gross: $60 million

Movie posters of an overturned ship presciently forecast the fate of this $160 million remake of a campy 1972 disaster pic. Rather than re-enact the kitsch, director Wolfgang Petersen opted for a serious thriller that was perhaps too reminiscent of another big movie about a sinking ship. As Warner Bros. chief Alan Horn said earlier this year: “I heard a 15-year-old girl say, ‘I’ve seen a luxury liner go down. I saw ‘Titanic.’ ” On a smaller budget the pic would have suffered less disastrously, though overseas grosses came somewhat to the rescue, bringing in $121 million.

The Wicker Man

Domestic gross: $23 million

Fans and even the original film’s director were vocally dismayed by plot tweaks in Neil LaBute’s remake of the 1973 cult horror pic that included swarms of killer bees and that had the film’s lead (Nicolas Cage) turn into a pill-popping madman. As for tapping new auds, the $40 million film faced the dilemma of not fitting neatly into either the horror or thriller genre. And Cage’s mopey face didn’t make for titillating marketing. Warner Bros. tried to protect it by not screening for critics, to no avail.

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