One of the more peculiar, but ultimately enduring, adages in history involves the concept of “less is more” or “addition by subtraction.”
Sure, on its surface, it doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense, but in practice, it’s rather obvious why this oxymoron has lasted as long as it has.
Leaner operations tend to yield more productive (or, at least, cost-effective) results, and a shining example of that can actually be found with… Disney?
Yes, believe it or not, you don’t even have to look back that far to see examples of the House of Mouse stretching its dollar, particularly with its incredibly lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe.
He may be a bona fide movie star these days, but people forget that in 2008, prior to the MCU’s inaugural “Iron Man” film, Robert Downey Jr. was damaged goods as an actor due to a litany of personal issues, and the titular superhero Iron Man was firmly entrenched as a B-tier Marvel property.
And yet, with an actor whose reputation was effectively in the gutter and a superhero that was not quite “Spider-man” or the “X-Men,” Marvel turned those humble beginnings into a genuine cinematic empire.
Marvel would continue to churn out these big hits with lesser-known actors and heroes (Did anyone care about “Thor” or “The Guardians of the Galaxy” before the MCU? Did anyone even know who Chris Hemsworth or Chris Pratt were, apart from the latter being the chubby comic relief of “Parks and Rec”?) and it appeared they had stumbled on a genuinely winning formula.
Well, fast forward all these years (and innumerable Marvel projects) later, and it seems Marvel needs to learn this lesson of doing more with less anew — and it could learn that lesson from a direct rival.
As Deadline notes, the film has a bloated budget of over $200 million ($274 million is the price tag being bandied about by some entertainment sites) and has suffered the second-biggest second-weekend dropoff in the MCU’s history.
The poor box office returns combined with the exorbitant budget virtually ensures that “The Marvels” will be a money sink for Disney.
Now, one would think that similar box office returns for Lionsgate prequel film, “The Hunger Games: Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes,” would mean similar headache-inducing news for that studio.
Well, not quite.
As Deadline notes, the Hunger Games prequel film, which opened this weekend, is projected to bring in about $45 million at the box office — a number not dissimilar from “The Marvels” and its opening weekend box office receipt of $46.1 million.
The difference, however, is that Lionsgate’s film had a much more modest budget of around $100 million — or basically half of what Marvel spent on “The Marvels.”
Between that and some of the other smart financial maneuverings from the studio (including a $20 million tax credit from Germany), “Hunger Games” is already 65 percent of the way to being a profitable film.
(To address the elephant in the room, yes, “The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” stars the imminently unlikable Rachel Zegler, so it may have been a blessing in disguise for Lionsgate that she was unable to speak about the movie due to the recently-ended actors strike.)
Unlike Disney, who seems insistent at either throwing away or burning its money with each new disastrous film it releases, Lionsgate pretty clearly saw the landscape for what it was: $200 million budget blockbusters just don’t work in 2023.
$200 million is the sort of price tag that makes a movie a must-win. To ensure that profitability, studios (namely Disney) will go with increasingly risk-averse strategies until they’re left with a homogeneous gray mass that’s indistinguishable from the next superhero or animated project.
Learning to do more with less is critical, particularly at this juncture in time when “Bidenomics” has everyone’s wallets in a vice grip.
Disney either seems too stubborn or too stupid to learn this lesson.
Will a rival’s modest success of a female-led action film (especially compared to their own) be the impetus for change at the House of Mouse?
The gut instinct is to say “no” given recent history, but if there’s one language Hollywood executives speak, it’s in dollars and cents, so maybe, just maybe, they’ll have the sense to not just throw their dollars away anymore.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.
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