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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The 'Green Zone' debacle: Why it really hurts Universal

March 16, 2010 |  1:48 pm

It's no secret that Universal is going to take a bath on "Green Zone," which cost upwards of $100 million to make -- Time's Richard Corliss has it at $130 million -- and only did $14.3 million in its opening weekend. That's epic flop territory. It's not even fair to blame the mess on the moviegoing public's total lack of interest in all things Iraq, especially since the film earned a mediocre B from CinemaScore and had lackluster reviews. (The film had a 50 rating from Rotten Tomatoes, meaning its reviews were even worse than the forgettable "She's Out Of My League," which got a 51. Movie Review Intelligence, on the other hand, scores the aggregate review much higher).

Green-zone-2 It's also no secret that the conservative blogsphere has been celebrating the movie's demise, with the New York Post's Kyle Smith gleefully dancing on its grave and Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood website jammed full of links to "Green Zone" box-office dud stories. In fact, we haven't seen this much delight in rightist circles since Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" tanked last year.

Even though Universal will take a serious hit in its bottom line, the film's failure would normally be endurable, especially since the production chiefs who made it -- Marc Shmuger and David Linde -- were ousted last year after an earlier string of duds. So no one can blame the new team for the old team's blunder.

But here's the problem: Desperate to find a way to open the picture, Universal marketed the movie -- as anyone who saw the TV spots can attest -- as another installment in its wildly successful "Bourne" series. The trailers (as you can see below) sold the Paul Greengrass film as being "from the director" of "The Bourne Supremacy," complete with action-packed scenes of Matt Damon -- the "Bourne" star -- rocketing around Baghdad with "Bourne"-like abandon, being pursued by bad guys amid hundreds of flying-glass explosions, squealing cars, gun battles, fiery helicopter crashes and epic chase scenes. In other words, the "Green Zone's" marketing pitch had all of the iconograph trappings of a "Bourne" movie.

If the movie had had a strong opening weekend at the box office, this tactic would've paid off. But since the movie did a belly flop, it leaves Universal  having poisoned the well for its most successful action series. After all, you can't go back to "Bourne 4" after you've already sold "Green Zone" as a Bourne sequel -- and it flopped. Audiences will be justifiably wary, having clearly been unsatisfied by the results of this Damon-Greengrass collaboration. It was bad enough that Greengrass had already put some distance between himself and directing another "Bourne" actioner. Now the studio will have to put some distance between this flop and any continuation of the series.

When it comes to a bad movie, the behavior of movie audiences is remarkably consistent: once burned, twice shy. And for the near future, that shyness will extend to any new "Bourne" project. 

Here's one of the "Bourne"-like "Green Zone" trailers:

    

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Why 'Green Zone' failed

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