Science Fiction Movies In 2013: The Winners And The Losers
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Upside Down (March 15)
$60 million estimated budget; $8.1 million worldwide box office
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 28%
There’s a good chance you saw the title Upside Down and thought, “Never heard of it.” Well, there’s the rub. This was a flick that came and went with nary a ripple last spring, as its paltry worldwide box office will attest. Upside Down was a love story flipped on its head, imagining a pair of lovers from different worlds. Literally — they are each from one of two “twinned” worlds which exist one above the other, nearly close enough to touch. The worlds are close enough to share an atmosphere. That probably made every scientific part of your brain spasm, but it’s clear that Upside Down was more fantasy than science fiction, even if it did have some very specific rules it set forth for its bizarre twinned planets. (The rich folks live on one world, the poor on the other — naturally.) IMDb Pro has the budget estimated at $60 million, which seems high to me, but either way, the worldwide box office total of $8.1 million isn’t likely to have distributor Millennium Entertainment head over heels.
The Host (March 29)
$40 million budget; $48 million worldwide box office
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 8%
Every studio out there is scooping up one young adult book series after another, desperate to find the next Hunger Games, Twilight, or Harry Potter. Inevitably, there are going to be more duds than successes, and you need look no further than The Host for a perfect example. Based on a novel by Twilight writer Stephenie Meyer, The Host offered the same mix of genre storyline and star-crossed lovers, but it failed utterly to recreate the success of its sparkly-vampire successor series. It barely made its budget back, and the critics were even more brutal to it. Of course, the Twilight films themselves are terrible, but whatever hold they had over the teeny-boppers of the world, clearly it didn’t transfer over to The Host. In fact, the most notable achievement of Andrew Niccol’s film is forcing us to specify whether we’re talking about this one or Bong Joon-Ho’s excellent 2006 creature feature. (Pro-tip: we’re almost always going to be talking about the latter.)
After Earth (May 31)
$130 million budget; $244 million worldwide box office
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 11%
And here we have the latest in the long, sad tale of M. Night Shyamalan, once the hottest thing in Hollywood, now cast low by a string of films so bad you’d almost swear he was doing it intentionally as some sort of performance art piece. And honestly, I do feel bad for the guy. The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are genuinely good films, and even Signs features some brilliant mood-building and scares before it deflates under a ludicrous third-act twist. With each new Shyamalan film, I hope that maybe this will be the one where he rallies and manages a honest-to-gosh comeback. Unfortunately, the trailers for After Earth showed all the signs — ahem — of being yet another mess, and the final product didn’t disappoint. Or rather, it didn’t disappoint by not disappointing. Which was disappointing. (I may need to diagram this paragraph.) The truly remarkable thing is that, even with the awful trailers and Shyamalan at the helm, After Earth still somehow managed to pull in $244 million worldwide. That’s still falls short of that twice-the-budget goal, but it does beg the question: who the hell are all the people who paid to see this thing?
Ender’s Game (November 1)
$110 million budget; $88 million worldwide box office
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 61%
Alongside Star Trek Into Darkness, Ender’s Game was probably the most controversial science fiction movie of the year, but for entirely different reasons. The hubbub around the film had little to do with the creative choices made adapting the book, and more to do with the homophobic opinions of the book’s writer, Orson Scott Card. And that’s a shame, because for the most part the film did a fine job bringing Card’s book to the big screen, with solid performances across the board, from Asa Butterfield as Ender to Harrison Ford as Col. Graff. Summit did its level best to de-associate the movie from Card, with his name being downplayed or absent throughout the marketing push. Did the organized boycotts and other backlash against Card have a negative effect on the movie? It’s possible, but honestly I think it was also just a hard movie to sell to people who weren’t already science fiction fans familiar with, or fond of, the source material. Either way, with Ender’s still $20 million shy of making its budget back, hopefully nobody is holding their breath for a sequel.