Fierce Anticipation: June 12-14
a blogumn by Ryan Dixon
IMAGINE THAT or: The Eddie Murphy Code
Hollywood has been trying to crack the secret code to making box office hits since the day the brothers Warner hopped on that train from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles. While that mystery will probably forever remain unsolved, your dear blogumnist has uncovered the heretofore unknown formula to prognosticate the box office fate of none other than the constellation known as Eddie Murphy.
In 1996, after a bleak run of playing vampires, congressman and reprising old roles in lackluster sequels (see, or rather don’t, Vampire in Brooklyn, The Distinguished Gentleman, and Beverly Hills Cop III), Eddie Murphy made a mid-career comeback with The Nutty Professor. At the time of the release, most in the industry attributed the film’s success to Murphy returning to the crazy, “character” comedy style that made him one of the biggest box office stars of the 1980’s.
They were wrong.
The real reason behind The Nutty Professor’s success was that, for those patrons walking past it in a mall or driving under the billboard, the film’s poster hid a number of visual symbols and hieroglyphs that made the film impossible not to go see. Together, they form what I like to call the (Eddie) “Murphy’s Law of Posters”
Like dealing with a Mogwai after midnight, the rules may be simple, but they must be followed fully or certain box office doom will follow:
1. The title must be in red font.
2. A white background is mandatory.
3. Eddie Murphy must share the poster with children, animals, or grotesquely weird and/or fat men, preferably played by him as well.
4. If Eddie Murphy is by himself on the poster, he must appear as a fat man or woman or both.
Those who understand the meaning behind these crypto symbols—Robert Langdon’s of the marketing world each and every one of them—have unlocked their powers, resulting in great success; every subsequent post-Nutty Professor Eddie Murphy movie that has followed the rules above has been a hit*.
Don’t believe me? Here are the posters of the eight of his past fourteen films that followed the law:
The average box office gross for the above films? $104.9 million
And after the jump here are the posters for the seven films released during this same time period that refused to heed the warning of the Fates and paid the ultimate price:
The average box office gross for that cinematic Hall of Shame? $29.6 million.**
The cruelest box office fate was often reserved for those films whose posters may have incorporated one or two, but not all four facets of the law. For example, while the one sheet of Meet Dave included a white background and the title in red font, Eddie Murphy was essentially alone on the poster (the fatal error of Holy Man as well). And, even if you count the mini-Eddie Murphy popping out of the big one’s ear, neither one of these multiple Murphys are a grotesquely weird or fat version of our star.
Of course, Meet Dave was only the second biggest flop of Eddie Murphy’s career. The Titanic — the disaster, not the movie — of his oeuvre was The Adventures of Pluto Nash and one look at the poster will tell you why. It spits in the face of every single aspect of “Murphy’s Law”; Eddie Murphy is standing by himself in front of black starry background, while the title is in orange and purple font. The budget of The Adventures of Pluto Nash: $100 million. The total box office gross of The Adventures of Pluto Nash: $4.4 million.
So, now that we know the rules, let’s take a look at the poster for Eddie Murphy’s new film: Imagine That.
Unfortunately, once again, the marketers at Paramount seemed intent on following the imagistic path to success, only to forget one key component: the red font.
The truth is simple and unforgiving: In the entire history of his career, no Eddie Murphy movie has ever grossed more than $100 million dollars if the some part of the title on the poster wasn’t in red font. In fact, the only movie to which you could make a valid argument against this theory is Coming to America, but even that film’s poster had a thick red background behind the white letters of the title.
So, to all those men and women who spent tireless hours shepherding Imagine That on the tumultuous journey from page to screen, I’m sorry, but the font color has sealed your fate.
*The “Murphy’s Law of Posters” excludes Eddie Murphy’s voice roles in animated films and Dreamgirls, where he played only a supporting role
**It should also be noted that if you remove the $75.8 million that Disney managed to eke out of The Haunted Mansion (the poster is a strange anomaly since it doesn’t feature Eddie Murphy at all) the average box office gross for the six remaining rule breakers descends to a moribund $21.9 million.
Now in Theaters
KINDA WANNA WATCH AGAIN
Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal
The dual Blu-ray release of director Adrian Lyne’s two decade zeitgeist tapping erotic twin hits Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal, begs the question: Where’s this decade’s Jaws of the bedroom? A movie that not only graces the top of the box office charts, but also the covers of magazines and newspapers (remember them?).
Perhaps, yet again, the poster did it. In this case the movie I’m referring to is Unfaithful, the 2002 film directed again by Mr. Lyne. Maybe Lyne, in his attempt score a three-decade erotic thriller hat-trick, should have lobbied the 20th Century Fox marketing department a little harder to put the “ ripped paper slash” down the middle of that film’s poster, like Paramount did for both Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal. (“Lyne’s Law of Posters”, anyone?)
Unfortunately, without that “ripped paper slash” Unfaithful’s $52.7 million gross paled in comparison to the $156.6 million and $106.6 million respective box office totals of Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal.
But what if the real reason for the lack of a touchstone erotic thriller in the Oughts is more cultural and less graphical?
Both Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal predicted the epic, true-life tabloid tales that so obsessed us in the 1990’s. These trailer park Greek tragedies revolving around the likes of Amy Fisher, John Wayne Bobbitt and of course, O.J. Simpson (the Oedipus of this crowd) were the main reason that, for the decade between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, our national attention span was focused away from real-world dangers of, say, Osama bin Laden plotting our imminent destruction in a cave in Tora Bora and more to the evils of Jerry Springer and Ice-T’s “Cop Killer”.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and Götterdämmerung arrived when our 42nd president decided to have his own fatal attraction. But, instead of watching hot Manhattan meatpacking district loft fucking, with a never-to-look-better-again Glenn Close, we were forced to read articles about moist cigars being thrust in between a pair of feminine hips that had all the muscular consistency of Play Doh. What looked like a sex scandal for the ages–a coital Oedipus at Colonous — turned out to be a farce that barely reached the level of Married with Children, let alone Sophocles. To top it all off, our Commander-in-chief never even inserted.
If Bubba’s bedroom bungles weren’t enough, the final death blow for the traditional domestic erotic thriller arrived when the internet stopped being an e-basement for nerdy teens playing WoW and redecorated itself as a sun room for soccer moms.
Both Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal exploited the fear of the evil outsider praying on the (false) idyll of the domestic world. But now we live in a world where, thanks to sites like Adult Friend Finder and Craigslist* one can pleasantly carry on with anonymous, adulterous affairs without the threat of finding a bunny boiling in your crock pot or the fear that a one night stand with a mysterious millionaire will force you into a higher tax bracket.
*Why hasn’t Hollywood jumped on a Craig’s List Killer movie yet? Now that could be the Fatal Attraction for the 00’s.
Now Available on Blu-ray and DVD
WOULDN’T RENT IT IF YOU PAID ME
Poor Harrison Ford (in the artistic, not financial sense). In 2000 he turned down the role that Michael Douglas eventually played in Traffic. If Ford, and not the already Oscar-owning Douglas, had taken on the role of Drug Czar Robert Wakefield in Steven Soderbergh’s film, I would have bet the house that he would have won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
But, he didn’t. And, after starring in dead-end gigs like Hollywood Homicide and Firewall during the years after Traffic’s release, you knew his agents weren’t going to turn down the next multi-character, socially important drama that came across their desk. Unfortunately, that movie was Crossing Over, a film whose heavy handed, “take your medicine” dramaturgy makes Crash look like a Best Picture winner. (Oh, wait. What’s that you say? Crash was a Best Picture winner? Oh, god, I think I just threw up in my mouth.)
For many of us whose adolescence was spent in the 80’s and early 90’s, Harrison ford’s appeal was — aside from starring in the two most popular film franchises of all time –reliant on the fact that of all the movie stars of that era, he seemed the most like the idealized version our own fathers– funny, charming, sometimes cranky, but always making sure to do the right thing at the right time.
And now, as many of us are now being confronted by the encroachment of ill health and death upon those fathers, so to is it hard to cope with the fact that Harrison Ford hasn’t had a truly great role in over a decade*. Yet, I have not given up the hope that, like the 46-year-old “over-the-hill” Jack Nicklaus shocking the world with his all-time classic win at the 1986 Masters, Harrison Ford will surprise us with yet one more movie for the ages.