Analysis: Why Johnny Depp flopped with Mortdecai

Mortdecai, the new star vehicle for Johnny Depp has received poor reviews and is expected to bomb at the box office this weekend.

The camp caper centres around the adventures of a moustachioed aristocratic art dealer.

It co-stars Gywneth Paltrow,  Ewan McGregor and Paul Bettany – all great performers on their day in their own way – but none could be considered to be box office dynamite.

And nor any more is Depp.

With an A list celebrity status the one-time as the clown prince of the Indie circuit, the fifty-one year old actor is now best known for playing a pantomime pirate.

Last year his woeful $100 million sci–fi flick Transcendence took only $103m gross worldwide on a budget of $100 million.

Lets not forget the ahem, train wreck that was The Lone Ranger: $260m from a $215m budget.

Prior to those The Rum Diary took $24m on a $45m budget.

Those first figures are the global gross takings, for a clearer picture of how truly awful they are one must first deduct the cinemas 50% cut. Nor does the production include the global promotion costs which on The Lone Ranger was guesstimated to be $50m or so. ($30m is reckoned to be a more realistic figure for most films.)

So Production $260m plus promotion $50m multiplied by 2 (accounting for the cinema’s 50%) equals the break-even figue for The Lone Ranger. That’s $620m – well over half a billion dollars – against a $215m return.

Ouch.

But why has Depp’s Hollywood star dimmed so much?

Broadly speaking, when confronted by a dozen choices at the local multiplex, the over 40 crowd will choose a movie depending on who it stars e.g. George Clooney, Sandra Bullock or even Johnny Depp.

Whereas the under 30’s will head towards recognisable franchises; a Fast Furious film, a  Marvel superhero adventure or even a Pirates Of The Caribbean.

An Indie star with a small but loyal following, Depp hit the break-out blockbuster jackpot as Captain Jack Sparrow in the mainstream Pirates franchise.

But Depp’s ageing fan base isn’t sufficiently large enough to take a mega–budget film into profit by itself and younger cinema-goers don’t care about him or his non-franchise films.

So he has big success with Pirates but not so much with the The Tourist. That co-stared Angelina Jolie who has had spectacular success last year with Maleficent so it’s possible to imagine it was she not he who pulled in the punters for that one.

Depp’s only other recent films to make serious money are those directed by Tim Burton. And then only when based on a much loved book such Alice In Wonderland or Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

But look what happened to Burton’s Depp-starring remake of TV show Dark Shadows. 

Budget $150m plus $30m x2 = break-even of $360m. Worldwide gross was $246m.

Ouch again.

You have to go back ten long years for Depp’s last unqualified success that wasn’t a Pirates or a Burton film. That was 2004’s Finding Neverland, which yes, was based on a much loved book and co-starred Kate Winslet.

His starring roles immediately prior to that were Secret Window (2004) From Hell and Blow (both 2001) , all of which struggled to cover their costs – even on their mid-price budgets.

So it’s no real surprise that Mortdecai, a film with no existing franchise base, a familiar title or a big name director flops.

Depp has been great before, he’s been pretty good very recently, lets hope he can be great again.

But lets’s forget the silly moustache next time, eh Johnny?

All figures courtesy of Box Office Mojo

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