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Why Did “Killing” Die and “Rise” Fall?

December 3, 2012

Thanksgiving came twice for Hollywood this year, as a pair of box-office turkeys failed to gobble up their expected share of the late-November market: the holiday cartoon Rise of the Guardians and the Brad Pitt Mob movie Killing Them Softly have both performed, well, softly. What went wrong? Let’s examine the carcasses.

1. Bad titles. Rise of the Guardians sounds like a sequel to 2010’s cartoon flop Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, and nobody wants a second helping of that turkey. It doesn’t sound like a fanciful story about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost and Co., that’s for sure. And while Killing Them Softly echoes a popular Roberta Flack song of many years ago, nobody in the movie’s target demographic remembers that tune, and who wants to see an organized-crime movie with the word “Soft” in the title? They didn’t call it SoftFellas for a reason!

2. Even worse marketing. The trailer for Rise of the Guardians emphasizes the movie’s dark visuals and creepy characterizations—in other words, it’s beginning to not look a lot like Christmas! Killing Them Softly, meanwhile, was sold as a Brad Pitt star vehicle and a straight-up gangster movie, when in fact it’s an ensemble dramedy with a great cast including heavyweights Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini—Pitt doesn’t even appear until 20 minutes into the flick, to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “When the Man Comes Around.” Which, come to think of it, would be a better title than Killing Them Softly. And the film is as much of a political satire as it is a Mob thriller: It’s set in late 2008, as George W. Bush is bailing out of the Oval Office, and the nation’s economy—including the criminal underworld—is facing recession fears. But you’d never know that from the trailer, which looks like a generic shoot-’em-up.

images3. Horrible timing. The holidays would seem like an ideal time for a movie about Old Saint Nick, although having him voiced by Alec “Thoughtless Little Pig” Baldwin and portrayed as a tattooed badass wasn’t the most heartwarming choice. Perhaps DreamWorks (whose stock has tumbled as a result of Guardians‘ anemic showing) didn’t anticipate the strength of Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, which has destroyed Rise at the box office. Killing Them Softly, meanwhile, might’ve fared better in its original October release date, but the Weinstein Co. blinked when The Master was scheduled for the same date, although Paul Thomas Anderson’s head-scratcher petered out after a potent limited release. Putting it out the week after Thanksgiving seems unappetizing, given the film’s bursts of brutal violence. Ray Liotta takes a beating that’s one of the most disturbingly graphic scenes he’s ever shot—and that includes when Anthony Hopkins forced him to eat his own brains in Hannibal. Killing should’ve been this year’s Drive, but it stalled at the starting gate, thanks to TWC’s mishandling.

Still, Killing Them Softly or Rise of the Guardians may not stand for long as the 2012 holiday season’s biggest stinker. Not when Gerard “Bombs Away” Butler’s got another dud coming down the pike: Playing for Keeps. After his surfer pic Chasing Mavericks washed out in theaters over Hurricane Sandy weekend, this soccer-themed rom-com (now there’s a combo platter bound to turn off both genders!) should be the final nail in Butler’s career coffin. And no Guardian can prevent that Killing.

Why did Rise of the Guardians and Killing Them Softly tank? Post a comment!

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