Robert Downey, Jr.’s first starring vehicle
since ending his tenure as Tony Stark – AKA Iron Man – in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
didn’t quite set the box office on fire. In fact, Dolittle – a new take on that classic
childrens’ character who talks to animals – is shaping up to be one of the biggest bombs
of 2020, and it’s only January. Its opening four-day total came in at just
under $60 million worldwide, and while that’s respectable for a January release, Dolittle
had to do much, much better to have a solid chance of breaking even. The movie was budgeted at an eye-watering
$175 million, and for reasons we’ll get into momentarily, it likely ended up sporting a
much heftier price tag than that. On paper, the film looked like a winner: Downey
in the lead, an all-star cast including the likes of Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, and
Tom Holland voicing all of those adorable animals, and an Oscar-winning writer/director
in Stephen Gaghan. So, why did Dolittle flop so spectacularly
at the box office? “We have no choice but to embark… on this
perilous journey.” The first signs of trouble came when Dolittle,
after its initial test screenings, was found to be in need of heavy reshoots by Universal. In order to better connect with family and
overseas audiences, the studio decreed that the flick was in dire need of more talking
animals, more slapstick comedy, and – if the critics are to be believed – a whole heck
of a lot more fart jokes. “Something smelled wrong – and that’s coming
from a guy who loves the smell of butts.” For undisclosed reasons, Gaghan did not return
for these reshoots. Instead, the studio tapped Chris McKay and
Jonathan Liebesman to shoot the new footage, which almost certainly pushed the movie’s
final budget well north of $200 million. But not only did the reshoots push the flick’s
budget into the stratosphere, they delayed its release by nine months, and foreshadowed
a troubling fact: Universal wasn’t quite sure who it was making this movie for. Now, don’t get us wrong: Gaghan is a fine
writer and director, but the fact that he was hired for Dolittle only serves to illustrate
that this was a film conceived with no clear audience in mind. His previous credits didn’t even approach
the realm of family-friendly; his stock in trade is serious dramas like Havoc, Traffic,
and Syriana. It was Gaghan’s cut of the film that went
over like a lead balloon at those test screenings, and Universal’s attempt to course-correct
by bringing in McKay and Liebesman to ramp up the silliness was obviously the wrong move. The film was all over the place in terms of
tone, described as a “grand adventure for the adults and fart and poop jokes for the
kids.” Ultimately, it failed to win over either audience. To make matters worse, the film debuted in
January, a traditional dumping ground for flicks that studios know nobody is going to
want to see. This, coupled with its troubled production
history, caused critics to view it with suspicion before they even set foot in the theater – and
once they did, those suspicions were confirmed. Poor critical notices aren’t always a determining
factor for tentpole films, but in regards to Dolittle, it’s hard to make the case that
the film’s reviews didn’t punch some cannonball-sized holes in its hull. Critics weren’t just unkind; they were absolutely
brutal, as summed up by the words of NPR’s Scott Tobias. “Dolittle is not a film. Dolittle is a crime scene in need of forensic
analysis. Something happened here. Something terrible. Something inexplicable. […] This one had been stabbed multiple times,
and only a thorough behind-the-scenes examination could sort out whose fingerprints are on what
hilt.” To put things into perspective, consider that,
as of this writing, Dolittle stands at 19% on Rotten Tomatoes; the seemingly universally
reviled Cats, which is swiftly becoming synonymous with “unbelievably ill-conceived fiasco,”
sits at 20%. If Dolittle had opened to no competition whatsoever,
the damage might have at least been mitigated. But compounding the flick’s myriad problems,
it had the distinct misfortune of opening against a franchise movie that had no trouble
generating word of mouth of a much more positive nature. Now it’s time to be good men.” “Who in the hell wanna sing that song? Good men, good men, what you gonna do?” Nobody ever accused the Will Smith/Martin
Lawrence buddy cop pictures Bad Boys and Bad Boys II of being high art, and it had been
nearly 17 years since the former flick’s release. But Bad Boys for Life – which had been in
development for years, and which was made without the involvement of franchise director
Michael Bay – arrived to surprisingly solid reviews, and built a strong pre-release buzz
which resulted in it overperforming wildly. The modestly-budgeted flick has already reeled
in over $100 million [one-hundred-million-dollars, which is the second-best showing in history
for Martin Luther King Day weekend. The surprise smash all but sealed the box
office fortunes of Dolittle, which will now have to put up an unreasonably strong overseas
performance to even come within shouting distance of breaking even. It’s a stunning reversal of fortune for Downey,
who went from starring in the highest-grossing film of all time – last year’s Avengers: Endgame
– to a film that will be remembered as a towering flop, if it’s remembered at all. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Looper videos about your favorite
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