Director Jon Favreau On Why Cowboys & Aliens Failed

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During the summer of 2011, Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens was set to be one of the biggest movies of the season. It was the follow-up to Favreau’s hugely popular Iron Man 2 and played extremely well at that year’s San Diego Comic-Con a few weeks earlier. But despite the all-star cast featuring Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, and Paul Dano, Cowboys & Aliens opened to disappointing box office and a mixed critical response. What went wrong?

In an interview on the WTF podcast with Marc Maron, Jon Favreau says that Cowboys & Aliens should’ve had a lighter and friendlier approach rather than a self-serious one. And after the success of Iron Man and its sequel, the director “had been spoiled” with success. Favreau admits:

With so many [actors] associated with it, it was seen as the big dog and we felt we were underdogs with how obscure the material was …The name that was so interesting made everyone think it was going to be a comedy and maybe it would’ve been better served with a different vision … It’s always a trick of ‘how can you get the big summer movie, with the big budget, where you can play with all the toys yet do something interesting with it… [Looking at Iron Man] part of me felt that it was going to bomb and part of me felt like this is going to be the best movie in the world.

Audiences did not respond well to Cowboys & Aliens mainly because the title suggested a comedy and not a highbrow space western. The film failed because it was a deeply mediocre sci-fi movie. It felt like it wanted to please everyone while not adhering to what would make it an entertaining story.

This movie also suffered from the streak of genre movies that received glowing reviews and excitement from San Diego Comic-Con, but couldn’t replicate that success with general audiences, a phenomenon since dubbed the “Comic-Con Bubble.” The same thing happened in 2010 with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and in 2012 with Dredd 3D.

Cowboys & Aliens grossed $174 million worldwide, compared to the first Iron Man’s $585 million worldwide box office.


  1. It really wasn’t that bad of a film. Not sure why the title “Cowboys and Aliens” made people think it was a comedy?? Maybe that’s why people didnt care for it…they already decided on what to expect before they went. I had no clue and did see much advertisement for it either and when I finally saw it I thought it was pretty good.

  2. Chiara Brown says:

    I liked the movie, I don’t know what everyone is talking about.

  3. Except Dredd 3D is awesome.

  4. David Lennam says:

    Hey, Favreau, how about because the second half of your movie sucked? Could that possibly have something to do with it? People aren’t as dumb as Hollywood bean counters would have you believe. They can spot a turd from a long way off. And the worst part of it was, you let down those who wanted to see a serious film (not the lighthearted, jokey piece of shlock YOU suddenly think you should have made). The first half gave us all that: tone, pacing, plot, great characters, a gravitas that said something important and magical was going to happen in Act II. Then you turned it into the worst thing of all — a typical, cliched Hollywood chase/battle climax that lacked the originality the first half had relied on. Shakespeare summed it up for all of us: “Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

    • Aaron Smith says:

      I enjoyed the film. But I agree, the first half was much stronger than the second half. Iron Man, this was not. But as for what kept people away from the theaters in the first place, I’m pretty sure the title had a big hand in it.

      • I think it may be a staple of Favreau’s work. Ironman for the first half of the film was (possibly) the strongest opening to a comic based movie yet. I would even contend that the first 30 minutes were better than the first 30 of The Dark Knight. The problem is, the hard work he does setting the scene gets undone with a barrage of special effects and action scenes. As for the title, people still went to see the Hurt Locker – and that is a godawful title for a serious film.

  5. I was about to complement GFR for having such good things to say about Titan A.E. earlier. Now they are back to their old nit picky ways. It is sic-fi fans who are killing sic-fi. If we don’t give our stuff a break no one will,

  6. Why doesn’t Favreau have the balls to admit that the movie couldn’t succeed when it was written by industry favourites, Orci and Krutzman? It defies reason why those two hacks get all the best writing jobs in Hollywood. If they are not stopped, they could singlehandedly destroy the American blockbuster.

    • Sleeper99999 says:

      They’re a brand now, unfortunately. They’re going to have to write themselves out of their careers with a few big bombs.

      I hate their movies but FRINGE is pretty great. I don’t think they’re all that involved with it though.

  7. Sleeper99999 says:

    This is dead on. COWBOYS AND ALIENS was the very definition of “neither fish nor fowl.” It kept making half-hearted efforts at comedy, or romance, or grim drama, or sci-fi action, and it wasn’t particularly good at any of it. EVEN OLIVIA WILDE NAKED couldn’t save this movie. That’s gotta say something.

  8. Nick says:

    Dredd was an another level to this tripe.

  9. Mark Davis says:

    Most directors are going to have a movie that lets people down a little. This was that for Favreau, while Spielberg had Crystal Skull, Tarantino had Death Proof. Sometimes directors make duds. It happens.

  10. Sargonarhes says:

    It was the title. I can’t take a movie titled Cowboys & Aliens seriously. In serious terms the cowboys would not have a chance, it’s a worse match than Civil War era soldiers vs the soldier of today. Pretty one sided fight.

  11. I’d you go into it expecting a sci-fo western, it is actually a really good film. I remember loads of people telling me not to watch the Truman show as “its not funny”. And that turned out to be the best film from that year.

  12. Peter Stahl says:

    have to agree it was an interesting and entertaining movie. It deserved
    better, and yes it had a title that considering the plot why was the
    movie not called “Cowboys & Indians vs Aliens.” That in itself may
    have guided the production better; they were trying to cram every
    conceivable western plot device into this flick and then may have been
    able par it down into a leaner, more rewarding narrative–and, yes, this is all hindsight.

    Already gears are turning with possibilities of diagnosing the movie
    for what it is, a western “War of The Worlds/Independence Day” story
    where we are forced to overcome our divisiveness in order to defeat an
    alien invasion. So a question for C&A may be since they were able to
    unify their anthropomorphism, are the “cowboys” unable to learn from
    their lesson and steer the country toward a brighter future? When we
    ignore the “alien” in ourselves and choose to annihilate the “alien”
    beyond us, the problem of our destiny will be unresolved.
    That may
    be a way of looking at this movie, with an eye back to “The Wizard of
    Oz”, “It’s A wonderful Life” and “Vertigo” that all were originally
    box-office failures.
    Thank you for your patience.”

  13. Edge Haine says:

    They should of really pushed for Dredd and Scott Pilgrim in the Asia Market, totally wasted over here, as cinema is too expensive now, most men won’t go! Not great!!!

  14. It failed because it was crap.

  15. I loved it. I think this is one that will have a better life on DVD than it did in theaters.

  16. It could have been much better, but Cowboys & Aliens was a fun film.

  17. was a brilliant movie i just think too many people were put off by the title lol

  18. But Dredd 3D is finding an audience now. It’s incredible. It was poorly marketed.

  19. It failed because guys like me went to see it and walked out half-way through. Then told everyone they’ve ever met that they walked out because it was shit.

    Because it was. It reeeeeeally was….

  20. LuAnn says:

    I like this movie.Not everything can be a comedy

  21. Davr says:

    This is one of my favourite movies of late. Just because people slate what they don’t get or like does in no way mean it is bad. And if people think the title suggests a comedy then they are simpletons. In no way did the name or posters for the film did not in any way suggest a comedy. And as for the film itself it may well have had its faults. But it was a dark twist on a western. It was compelling and pure entertainment. Jon should not sell himself short.

  22. LightningJack says:

    Bought the DVD and watched the movie several times, also read the complete novel by Joan D. Vinge, and entire illustrated screen play written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby and Steve Oedekerk.

    I thought that overall… Cowboys and Aliens was a well directed, acted, and produced movie well worthy of a sequel, or at least a syndicated TV series

    IMHO the success of a science fiction Western such as Cowboys and Aliens at the box office lies in the fact that its core theme, conflicts, technical -special effects, and character interactions must be believable. That although fictional, the reality of such events could have possibly occurred in the 1875 New Mexico Territories long forgotten past. There can be a fine line between science fiction and reality, and successful science fiction exploits this paradox.

    Cowboys and Aliens had the potential for a blockbuster project but failed to develop the deeper technological, spiritual and character interactions lost in the second half of the movie.

    Also, the creation of the alien characters was ridiculous and impractical for the technological capabilities and level of intelligence they possessed. Even to a casual observer, it was virtually impossible for a seven foot alien to fit inside one of those flyer’s, not unless he was a midget. Humanoid looking characters would have been more practical and believable.

    The alien preoccupation with gold made no sense because the script never clarified why it was valuable to them technologically, or monetarily to be practical, or believable. Maybe they can fix it all in the sequel!


  23. Julia Reitz says:

    I liked it. It was entertaining and made me think. It was a little too violent IMO. It would have been great if “Indians” was in the title.

    • Julia Reitz says:

      Also as someone else pointed out the aliens would have been better if they were more humanoid.