Jon Favreau’s Said His Worst Sci-Fi Movie Failed For One Reason

By Rudie Obias | Published

Jon Favreau Marvel

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?

A while ago, in an interview on the WTF podcast with Marc Maron, Jon Favreau said 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.

Cowboys & Aliens

Jon Favreau admitted, “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.”

He went on to say about Cowboys & Aliens, “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. Jon Favreau and company took the thing a bit too seriously, and viewers weren’t, in any way, prepared for that going in. When you think about cowboys fighting aliens, well, any rational mind is going to have it come off on the comedic side. But that wasn’t the case.

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens also 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.

Attempting to blend Westerns with the sci-fi genre was a pretty ambitious idea, but it was obvious that the alien elements clashed with and overshadowed the more interesting western aspects of the story and characters. Instead of playing off each other, they were at odds in the worst possible ways.

This movie also suffered, at the time, 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.