Mortal Engines Box Office Massacre Reminds us of Creative Mortality

Mortal Engines Box Office Massacre Reminds us of Creative Mortality
The Peter Jackson produced epic has fallen flat on its opening weekend, serving as a chilling reminder of where we are, and where we may be headed. 

Did you drive by a billboard for Mortal Engines and think 'What is that?' 

Maybe you saw this headline and looked at the image and had the same question. Maybe you saw the trailer and wondered as well. 

The answer is it's a would-be blockbuster from Universal based on a series of adventure novels, directed by Peter Jackson's longtime visual effects supervisor and Oscar winner Christian Rivers. 

According to Indiewire, the epic cost Universal a reported 110 million and opened globally to only 42 million. It is, in other words, a pretty big bomb. 

This in and of itself is nothing new or unique to making movies. Big swings often lead to big misses. Not only is it part of the game, but it's part of the plan. Even when movies "make" money, they'd really rather be losing them and so they often find ways to report that. 

This is called Hollywood accounting

A loss as big as the one Mortal Engines is headed for is also a nice place to write off some profit somewhere else. 

But there is another side to the question you might have asked when you saw advertising material for Mortal Engines. Because the loss here may be far bigger than the loss of dollars, which as we've pointed out isn't so rough for any of the parties involved. 

The real loss might be that some serious money was ponied up for some lesser known intellectual property. This wasn't betting on an established brand like Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, or Spiderman. It was betting on something people would see and wonder "what is that?" 

The desire to answer that question simply wasn't strong enough. 

Every time that happens, for whatever reason, it's a blow against the hope for new creative. Because surely we all don't need to be reminded that before Star Wars was Star Wars, it was something some random person might see an ad for and say "What is that?"

We haven't lost the ability to have our collective curiosity lead the way, just look at Game of Thrones. The mainstream has loved learning more about that world, and discovering the "what is that." 

There are many factors at work here, obviously. The IP itself, the crafting of the story, the crafting of the ad campaign. 

But whenever a relatively new seeming concept goes down this way, we are all reminded that it's tough for new ideas to come up and thrive in the world, and even if we aren't super interested in them at first glance, we might be doing all our fellow creators a solid by checking them out just on principle. 

Because the movies are better when we find ourselves asking "What's that?" more often.      

Your Comment

10 Comments

The problem wasn't the concept, that was the best part, unfortunately. The execution does not look good. This flopped because the early trailers especially gave the impression of stock CGI fest with stock characters (as much as I love Hugo Weaving). Not a believable world, no 'stars', same plastic grade I'm sick to death of and no sense of being in the hands of a talented storyteller (based on the early trailers, this latest one is a little better).

December 17, 2018 at 5:36PM, Edited December 17, 5:36PM

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Stu Mannion
writer/dir/dp
1043

Yeah. I agree. I can see what the post is saying. This flop lends credence to the argument in the studio's mind that original ideas are not safe to bet on. But I'd say that (1) that's always been the case. No one expected Star Wars to be successful (that's why they gave George Lucas rights to the merchandise). And (2) the execution here is not great. The marketing leading up to the release was piss poor. I didn't even know the movie was out already but aside from that, the content just seemed kinda', well, stock. Looked like a predictable "rebellion" film with little new or exciting to see. Doesn't mean that's the case but the trailer did little to sell us on the idea that this was going to be something different from anything we'd seen before.

December 18, 2018 at 5:44AM

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What I find puzzling is how they don`t see that the basic structures in a lot of flop "original" movies is anything but innovative. I mean, you said it - just another rebellion movie, but they were sure the CG crapfest (which even in the trailer looks like shit) would cover that up so people would stupidly not notice.

December 19, 2018 at 1:26AM

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DingDong
2050

I must have missed the big marketing campaign?

December 18, 2018 at 6:37AM, Edited December 18, 6:37AM

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Kyle Chattam
Director/Editor
95

It's easy to for me to be a backseat driver when I get to see a completed work, but I will say this: There is a limit to how far people will accept fantasy concepts in movies when they have no pre-exposure or relatable context to the universe. Even as a fantasy fan, I found the few trailers I saw to be conceptually abrupt without a great enough focus on an original human story to give the viewer something to grab on to. I think most general audiences will not be familiar with the original material so, as with any story, I think it's part of the job of the filmmakers to teach them. This trailer doesn't do that.

Its also worth noting this looks like a decent video game, but not enough original story a movie. At least that's what I get from the trailer.

December 18, 2018 at 8:05AM

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Toll
Production Manager / Producer
177

This thing was heavily marketed here in Germany. But when I saw the name Peter Jackson on it I knew this is just another nonsense not worth even taking a look at the trailer...I did it nonetheless because of this article but I was kinda disappointed that I wasn't wrong...Peter Jackson nonsense...

December 18, 2018 at 10:41AM

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DingDong
2050

"In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king..."

December 18, 2018 at 4:01PM

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Joseph Arant
Writer
443

Yeah, that's a quote.

December 21, 2018 at 9:51AM

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Yes, it is.

February 14, 2019 at 4:16AM

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Joseph Arant
Writer
443

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and while the plot was somewhat predictable, there were some great performances, the soundtrack is amazing, the CGI was thrilling, and I was significantly entertained and challenged by the surprising subtexts of the themes and subtext of the story.

December 27, 2018 at 7:09PM

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Jared Adamo
Creative Director / Producer
207