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Why Did Kick-Ass Disappoint At The Box Office?

The final numbers are in, and Kick-Ass did take the #1 spot at the US box office after all – by $200,000. It’s a win, but a very, very close one… so what happened?

Despite some interesting theories to the contrary, there’s little denying that Kick-Ass seriously underperformed this weekend; initial projections had the movie making somewhere in the region of $30 million, but as early as Saturday, studio execs were saying that the movie “never took hold the way many of us thought it would.”

Box Office Mojo makes a good point about two possible reasons why:

[T]he Kick-Ass machine rammed outrageousness, colorfully vicious action and self-referential humor down people’s throats but lacked purpose and story. It was true to its sensory-bound but nondescript title. Furthermore, while some spoofs work, people aren’t as eager to see heroes torn down. Watchmen and television series Heroes alienated many viewers with such themes, so a movie brazenly dissing heroes in its presentation, like Kick-Ass, was only going to go so far.

Let’s consider both of these points for a second. Firstly, while there was a lot of push for this movie, with television, print and online ads appearing all over the place, the marketing really seemed to be confused with online trailers giving a more honest view of the stylized ultraviolence-and-swearing that filled the movie instead of the weird teen comedy you’d have expected from the television ads, or the garishly colorful posters with their oddly-inspirational slogans (“Shut Up. Kick Ass.” Really?) – You could be forgiven, if you weren’t already paying attention, for not really knowing what Kick-Ass actually was, from the way it was being marketed.

The second point, though, may be the more important one in the larger picture: This was another deconstructionist superhero comic that disappointed when adapted to another medium. It’s not necessarily another Watchmen – If nothing else, the smaller budget and involvement of its creator saves it from that fate – but it could be construed as a sign that moviegoing audiences like their superheroes more inspirational than flawed, Dark Knight-aside. And why not? The superhero genre is still pretty much unexplored in that medium, and to that audience, so they haven’t necessarily reached saturation point or the need to see icons stripped down and humanized just yet (Again, Batman aside – but you could argue that he’s been in the public consciousness at least since Adam West’s turn in the late ’60s, and is almost separated from superheroes as a genre due to his pop icon status). Kick-Ass underperforming on its opening weekend, despite the guaranteed attendance of its core fanbase, may be taken as a sign by some studios that the subversive nature of superhero movies stretches as far as Iron Man‘s snark before audiences start to wander away to other thrills.

(Actually, to Box Office Mojo’s point – what other action genre does have successful parody movies? I suddenly just remembered the failure of Cop Out earlier this year, and now can’t think of any. What am I missing?)

There’s also the possibility – spoken quietly in comic circles if at all – that Kick-Ass was never going to be a mainstream hit because it’s so intent on shocking audiences and declaring its edginess, at the cost of things like story or characterization. For a while, it seemed as if that was even considered a selling point for the movie, as it positioned itself as the punk of superhero cinema, but bad reviews from reviewers not knowing for reactionary conservatism might have warned off potential moviegoers with warnings of a film that lacked morality, has an unconvincing plot or, worst of all, featured Nic Cage as giving the film’s “most nuanced performance.” Maybe, despite all the hype and the excitement beforehand, Kick-Ass was never the kind of film that could have been a massive mainstream hit.

And so, fans and industry observers alike turn their attentions to next weekend. Lionsgate hopes that the movie will have such positive word of mouth that it’ll break the pattern of 60% second weekend dropoff and have a long life… much like How To Train Your Dragon. But even if it doesn’t, it’ll easily make back its production budget while still in theaters and, let’s face it: That’s all the success it really needs for there to be a sequel – even if it’s a direct-to-DVD one.


  • Noah Chenhalls

    This article is a joke. The movie was number 1, but it wasn’t number one ‘enough’? The bottom line is that it’s number 1 right now. Framing a success like a failure is moronic.

  • Nikki Stinson

    I think what’s really important here is not whether or not it becomes a mainstream hit but the fact that it rose to number one against such a well liked movie. Kick-Ass the comic was in and of itself pretty strongly not mainstream, hell, comics in general aren’t mainstream, and for a new comic with a new premise and hero to hit the screen and hit number one (which I’m sure Cop Out did not) is amazing. For the fact that this is a comic book movie, I for one, am glad that it even made it to number one, which means enough people saw it to really enjoy it and give it solid DVD sales. Not to mention I’m fairly sure that Millar and Romita Jr. didn’t make the comic hoping that every Tom, Dick, and Harry will have it sitting in their book collection next to their wife’s copy of Twilight. Stop making it seem that mainstream is the only key to success. While you may not be able to summon any meta-movies that know their spoofs and play on it well to great success (Robin Hood:Men in Tights, Spaceballs, Princess Bride) there are plenty of smaller movies that drew such a fan following that they didn’t need mainstream flash affection (Evil Dead trilogy for example). Besides, as a comic book fan who appreciates the effort it takes to get people into comics in the first place, do we really want to know that the people with the discerning taste to like Twilight NEED to like Kick-Ass?

  • stealthwise

    A good example of an action parody that succeeded would be Tropic Thunder, wouldn’t it?

  • Kiebler

    @Noah, no one will know its number 1 right now. The mainstream media has already reported this weekends numbers and they put Dragon (a movie that’s been out for 4 weeks) ahead of Kick-Ass. In the movie business, that is a failure (even if it eventually turns a profit).

    As for why it performed so pitifully at the box office I think it was entirely the fault of marketing. The online advertising did have a more adult bent to it, showcasing more of the violence, while the tone of the television advertising was aimed squarely at teens. But the film lacked two things that could have possibly brought in teens. Recognizable characters (Kick-Ass is not Iron Man) or actors that teenagers like. It was also rated R so the bulk of the people they were marketing it towards couldn’t see the film unless an adult took them (the reviews probably put the kibosh on that) or they bought a ticket for another film (Dragon) and tried to sneak into Kick-Ass.

    The online adverts probably brought in more adult viewers, but online advertising accounts for a much smaller reach than television.

    Personally, I just didn’t have time to get to the movies this weekend and will probably check it out next weekend.

  • jhota

    i think “Kick-Ass” (or, as it appears on theater marquees around here, “Kick-A**”) is going to do a steady business, rather than the blockbuster flash and die thing.

    i’ve talked to quite a few folks who were wary of seeing it opening weekend, but word-of-mouth has convinced them to go see it.

    and DVD/Blu-Ray sales will probably be very strong.

  • karl

    i hate when people monday morning quarterback marketing campaigns. people love to act like a campaign was the worst idea ever and obviously going to fail when a movie doesnt open big, but never speak up before hand? if kick ass had happened to opened to 40 then people would be saying the marketing was brilliant, the marketing was ok and may not have been the downfall… maybe people just didnt want to see this movie no matter how they spun it.

  • Joseph

    $20 million and a #1 spot for Kick-Ass is only a disappointment when judged against its “projected” $30 million dollar opening. And there have been several articles (including boxofficeguru) who noted that a $30 million opening was probably unrealistic from the start. Pre-release tracking did not show much interest outside the core audience. It is a hard-R violent film: that generally means no school age kids and few women. Compared to similar movies (“Guru” mentioned the two Kill Bills) $20 million is a respectable opening for a violent movie based on a comic book most people have never heard of.

    As was noted, it got mostly positive reviews and will certainly be profitable based on worldwide box office revenue alone, and I am hoping for a sequel with all the principals involved sooner rather than later.

  • Brianobx

    People way over think these things. That Box Office Mojo quote was ridicules. Heroes alienated people because after season one it went into the toilet.

  • Brianobx

    Production Budget $30 million
    Total US Gross $19,828,687
    International Gross $17,376,515
    Worldwide Gross of $37,205,202.

  • Jesse_Custer

    This is only the first weekend it’s been out and already people are quick to write articles about a film they didn’t understand themselves. wow.

  • wombat

    Here comes Captain Obvious!!!

    Kick Ass = Lame comic. Lame movie.
    Watchmen = good comic. Lame movie.

    Tights on paper = can be good.
    Tights in movies = always embarassing.

  • kyle

    the movie was good i guess some people were not into it as i am and if they make a seconed one im going to see i hope they will

  • John Murdock

    Brianobx, you got it wrong dude in furure wait for a movie to run it's course for totals:

    Production Budget $28 million (not $30 million as stated above)
    Total US Gross $47,213,207 (as of May 24th 2010)
    International Gross $42,871,299
    Worldwide Gross of $90,084,506
    Source for above figures = Box Office Mojo

    So Made 3 times its budget and will most likely be a killer hit on BluRay/ DVD due to most people uncertain of it would probably watch it on DVD and then realise what an amazing movie it is.

    In addition most of the money will go directly to the creators as no big greedy studio involved.

    Best film of the last 10 – 20 years

  • Bbabysittin

    I was saying the movie was doing well, that it had already succeeded after the first week, and that haters of the film were overstating their claims of box office failure.