When a big studio blockbuster opens beneath what it was expected to earn at the box office, there is a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking that goes on in the offices of studio executives. And I imagine that few weeks ago there was much soul searching going on following the less than stellar opening weekend that the Tom Cruise-starring science-fiction action flick Edge Of Tomorrow had. In its first three days in theaters, the film only managed to make $28.7 million at the box office, placing it third behind #1 The Fault In Their Stars, which also opened that weekend, and #2 Maleficent, which was entering the second week of its release.
Late last week, we were contacted by a reader, whom we will be keeping anonymous, who stated that as part of an invite-only survey group they belong to, they had recently completed a questionnaire about the marketing of Edge Of Tomorrow were all the questions were geared to the fact that it was now after the film had opened.
[They asked] what I thought [the film] was about, what genre it belongs in, who I personally thought would be the targeted audience, reasons why I haven’t seen it, as well as giving the possibility of an alternate title (LIVE.DIE.REPEAT.).
We have all heard of film projects and their advertising being test marketed before the film is released. Heck, I even participated in a Disney focus group once where they asked us questions for two hours about possible film projects that eventually became The Alamo and Enchanted. (The moderator was unamused by my statement that I would rather see the film that the director wanted to make rather than one dictated by random people sitting around a conference table in a rented office.)
But this is the first time that I had heard of a studio doing test marketing after a film’s release. And it is something I find troubling.
While still in production, Edge Of Tomorrow had a much different title – All You Need Is Kill. When the name change was first announced, I commented that the replacement title sounded like a 1970s soap opera, a portmanteau of Edge Of Night and Search For Tomorrow. And while Edge Of Tomorrow does make some sense in terms of the film’s time travel elements, it only makes sense if you already have a passing similarity with its Groundhogs Day-like story conceit. But if you’re looking for something that would convey what the film is actually about to a neophyte, it doesn’t do the job. Not that the original title of All You Need Is Kill does a much better job in that respect. When your title sounds like a clunk appropriation of a Beatles song more than anything that hints at the film’s plot, I can see the desire for a title change. And despite Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, the basis for the film, having a small cult following here in the US, it never broke out big enough to make keeping the name a good marketing decision.
But I would like to think that any studio looking to change a name on a film would test market a number of possibilities, going with the strongest of the bunch. Doing marketing research after a film’s release suggests either one of two things – 1.) No alternate names were tested and now Warners is trying to, in a fit of closing the barn door long after the cattle have left, figure out if that is what kept audiences away from the box office or 2.) They did test alternate titles and were told by the results to go with Edge Of Tomorrow and are now scrambling to figure out where their research went wrong. Either alternative is not very encouraging if I were a stockholder.
The questions addressing if the survey-taker was familiar with what the film was about are equally worrying. The advertising for Edge Of Tomorrow should have been tested to ensure that it adequately conveys its high concept storyline to potential ticket buyers. It’s just standard operating procedure for bigger budgeted studio films and Edge Of Tomorrow‘s estimated price tag of $178 million certainly qualifies it for that. And the perils of an advertising campaign that fails to connect with and excite its target audience have been seen time and time again, with it most recently being chronicled in Michael D. Sellers’s John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood.
In the current clime, Edge Of Tomorrow is an outlier in the blockbuster landscape. It is not part of a pre-existing film franchise, nor is it based on a video game, comic book or previous television series. Although based on a novel, its source material is not particularly well known among American audiences. As such, it is relying on its marketing to bring an audience to the theater, and that marketing was built on the cornerstone of Tom Cruise being the film’s star. But we are in an era when it is just not enough to have a star’s name on the marquee. Knight And Day showed us that even Cruse’s monicker, even coupled with Cameron Diaz on the bill, is not necessarily going to guarantee a bonanza at the box office.
As of right now, the film has earned in the neighborhood of $293 million, a respectable number, though not so respectable when you realize that only a quarter of that came from the domestic box office. But that total could have been much higher, and I am sure that the studio brass want to find out why it wasn’t and how may be to blame for that.