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Why 'Kick-Ass' failed (and did it really?)

April 19, 2010 |  9:32 am


It seems a little wrong for us to evaluate the disappointing $19.8-million take of "Kick-Ass" this weekend when we (and many others) were, prior to its release, touting a possible runaway success.  But quarterbacks wake up on Monday too, and so it seems only right to take a look at what went wrong with Matthew Vaughn's stylishly bloody kid-superhero picture, based on Mark Millar's equally stylish and smart graphic novel. Here are a number of misconceptions held by us (and others) that were disproved this weekend (to go along with our belief that this movie could well pick up a little momentum and perform nicely in the coming weeks).

Many young people in this country are ready to embrace the shocking.
Tolerance for violence in youth-oriented movies has been growing for years, and even movies aimed at young people that land an R rating can become hits ("Borat" comes to mind). So apart from the 16-and-under crowd that couldn't (officially) get in -- and we all knew about that problem before -- the envelope-pushing of "Kick-Ass" wasn't going to deter any film-goers. But it turns out that large swaths of the country may not crave the shock-worthy, at least not the overt kind. Package those shocks in innocuous wrapping -- like a mustachioed Eastern European man and a harmlessly funny title -- and you're fine. But put them front-and-center and you're in trouble. All we needed to know about Middle America's discomfort with the film came when we saw a theater marquee in western North Carolina, where we're writing this; the theater wouldn't even use the second word of the title, preferring dashes instead. That's never a good indicator.

The mainstream is tired of the straight superhero story and wants something that subverts the form.

No matter how some try to categorize it, "Kick-Ass" isn't really a movie about superheroes. The character has as many powers as a house rabbit. The person who saves everyone is an 11-year-old in a purple wig. The characters in the film are, for one of the first time in movie history, just as slyly knowing of the tropes and conventions of superhero films as those watching it. "Kick-Ass" isn't so much a superhero movie as it is a post-superhero movie. In the era of "The Dark Knight" and Robert Downey Jr.'s "Iron Man," this is what we want, right?

Not exactly. Sure, "Dark Knight" raised the levels of darkness and complexity. And Downey in "Iron Man" makes self-effacing jokes about invincibility and freakish powers. But those films are ultimately still superhero movies. They improve the genre; they don't subvert it. And parts of the American audience, for whatever reason, don't want subversion when it comes to superhero movies. The only other big commercial film that really tried this before? "Watchmen." Exactly.

Kickass Controversy will sell tickets.

That's true -- but only if the right people object. They didn't here. Parents groups weren't debating "Kick-Ass" before the film was released-- critics were. And if critics matter less at the box office when recommending a movie, they matter less when objecting to it. That said, Lionsgate should have seized on the unrest. See how the CW turns the protestations over "Gossip Girl" to its marketing advantage by incorporating them into its campaigns? That could have worked nicely here too.

Internet buzz means robust ticket sales.
Actually, this one we believe. Yes, there's always a "Snakes on a Plane" that proves the exception. But that film was largely embraced as a goof, and goofy doesn't sell tickets. On fan sites and on Twitter, the Internet masses sincerely embraced "Kick-Ass." It's just that those masses were only large enough to sell a certain amount of tickets (and we still maintain that the movie will hold rather well in the coming weeks anyway, thanks in part to said buzz).

An abstract marketing campaign is almost foolproof.

If "Paranormal Activity" and other films can become mega-hits with marketers carefully withholding information about a movie's content, this film will too.  But simply throwing up some posters that obscures a movie's plot and themes, as Lionsgate did here, isn't enough. You have to give people a reason to care about what you're not telling them. And the studio didn't sufficiently do that.

Finally, after saying all this, we're not convinced that "Kick-Ass" is indeed a failure. That's not just because to negate that designation is to avoid buying co-workers lunch (or at least eating less crow when we do). There's a genuine success story lurking beneath "Kick-Ass," and not just for Lionsgate, which only bought the movie in August and will earn back its investment. This is a film that no studio wanted to make, one that Vaughn produced, financed and even promoted himself, in a time when it's harder than ever to do those things on your own.

And how did it work out? Last year, "Kick-Ass" became one of the only movies in Comic-con history to generate significant buzz despite the absence of studio backing. And just eight months later it will turn a tidy $40-$50 million at the domestic box office, a number well higher than its production budget. Do that at Sundance and you're a legend. Vaughn may not be that, but he's no slouch either.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Upper photo: Chloe Moretz in "Kick-Ass."  Credit: Lionsgate

Lower photo: A poster for "Kick-Ass." Credit: Lionsgate


Comments () | Archives (34)

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Feh. Kick-ass was awesome. I'm sure it'll pick up speed.

I'm not so sure that we can stick the nail in the coffin on this flick. I loved it and everyone who saw it with me loved it too. Word of mouth could easily keep this film from the proverbial 50% 2nd weekend dropoff.

Saw it this weekend. Told friends about it. They will be seeing it shortly too. I think a movie like this will gather steam and hold steady or even increase as weeks go on. Quality movies can be profitable, even without a huge opening weekend.

Spot on Steve! This movie is not a failure. Between world-wide sales and then DVD sales this movie will do well over $100mil. Made for $28mil by Vaughn....that's not too shabby!

I'm 45 and loved it and so did my wife (who doesn't like these kind of movies at all).

Can't wait for the sequel one to come out in 2012!!!!!!

I'm glad it's not a big hit. Believe it or not, there are many parents who are sick and tired of the increase in obscene titles of movies. The MPAA should start rating movie titles. The old saying about TV, "if you don't like something, change the station" doesn't apply with newspapers, TV stations, and billboards screaming the title of this movie. For those of us who don't desire censorship but do desire good taste, it is difficult rearing children these days with the bombardment of trash that is out there.

I want a job reviewing movies.

It's an R rated movie, therefore i'm not suprise to see a movie like this not get over $20 million. That's why the Bond movies and other movies (Batman, comes to mind) might want to be edgier, but know that they won't make the big $$$if they go R. That's why they leave it at PG 13.

As far as Kick Ass, it really was true to its name. The movie was awesome, maybe a couple of scenes might have been cut, but overall this movie is rock solid. It will make a lot of money and word of mouth will spread. Trust me this movie will grow.

Kick-ass kicked ass! One of the best movies I've seen. For those expecting more "McLovin'" you'll be seriously disappointed. An emotional roller coaster that had me laughing, crying, hating, trembling, cheering, and sighing. Cage's ode to the Adam West Batman was too cool.

Id say its 50/50...not giving anything away, the movie failed to keep key plot points. Insted, went a different direction. Which is understandable...made for a fun movie over all. Im not knocking it. But like all of us fan-boys, would have been nice to stick to the comic more then not.

Well, concerned parent, your kids will be seeing this film next week, if they already haven't. All they have to do is what I saw this weekend. They buy tickets to one movies and go to this one.

Kick Ass will not only pick up speed, it will become a classic. I saw it last night and it was brilliant. Everyone with me loved it too. As a previous poster pointed out, word of mouth will be this movie's best friend.

I predict that this film will not only pick up in current sales, in the next few years, it will become the sold-out-midnight-cult-classic-show in art house theaters everywhere.

I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in Southern California there were too many competing activities for the target audience: the TCM Classic Film Festival, the Anaheim Comic-Con, and Coachella, to name three. It was just one of those weekends where everything converged. I'm sure Kick-Ass will do just fine when all is said and done.

I agree with the concerned parent on this one. I wouldn't see this one just based on the title. And I LOVE superhero movies.

to concerned parent get over it ass is not that bad of a word theyve said it on nickeloden so get over yourself its not like the f word or anything and really the only reason these words are "bad" is cause someone else tells us they are there just another word in our vocabulary and the sooner we stop looking at them as bad(unless used towards someone but theres alot of words we dont concider bad and can be used to put someone down) well the sooner everones gotten one step smarter there words they have meaning they can be used for emphasis there only bad cause you say they are

Kick ass is a awesome movie. I loved it and so did all my friends. So what who cares about the title. I mean if your worried about what your kids hear and say and see. don't send them to school the amount of violence and swearing that goes on there. is bad. Kick ass is a movie and if you don't want your kids to see don't let them. I personally live in vegas so this sorta swearing is nothing new..

@Concerned Parent, I'm trying to respect your opinion but lol it's kinda hard when your pissed off about the movie's TITLE instead of the 11-year-old girl slaughtering multiple people at a time on screen. I liked the movie and I think if you want to know how good it really is go see it for yourself because you can't really listen to anyone for everyone's opinion is biased in some way or another.

There's little doubt that a movie like this will have a life well beyond the opening weekend. Being number one on the opening weekend certainly helps that afterlife, but it would be heartening to believe that a truly enjoyable, smart and, dare I say it, brave outing such as this - remember, seven major studios turned this down at the script stage, forcing Vaughn to turn to his old Snatch mucker Brad Pitt and others for the $50m budget - will find its audience through good word-of-mouth. As opposed to relentless marketing and the novelty that is 3D...

Concerned parents everywhere should storm the theaters, take every single print of Kick-Ass, throw it into towering piles, throw on the gasoline and burn it all up. We have to protect our children against this vile filth. The MPAA should send out agents to stand next to the box office and face-taser every single deviant who buys a ticket for this movie.

This was a base movie and a terrible example for anyone child or adult. We were very disappointed as we thought it was a comic book type comedy.

If it was a better film, maybe more people would go. Remember Mystery Men anyone? And that movie was broader and actually attempted to craft a film people would like. But post modern super hero tales appeal only to a small portion of movie goers.

Given how much distracting discussion and visible negativity there has been over the title, one can imagine the powers behind the film wondering how it might have opened had it been graced with a different moniker.

Kick-Ass is generating a buzz now after it has been released, mostly by people hyping the movie. Maybe, Kick-ass will scrape in some big bucks in its second week also.

Next to that, this is a movie that will find an audience on DVD/Blu-ray eventually. Movies with even lesser box-office impact did like Mallrats. Kick-Ass will do just fine. It will continue to make money and turn out a good profit.

Showgirls eventually did pretty well also.

It was such a fun movie. It will be gangbusters on DVD.

ok first of all no duh kick-ass isn't a good example for children or it wouldn't be rated R. 2nd, whoever said the movies should all be burned and called people who want to see it "deviants" is way out of line: if you don't wanna see the movie fine then don't see the frickin movie and leave the rest of us alone.

overall, kick-ass was a great movie for those of appropriate age to understand that it is just a movie and not to do any of these things in real life

The bottom line is this is a better movie than most of the movies put out by the big Hollywood studios. It is creative, original in vision, and most of all not a remake of something else.

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