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Hype backlash hits Hollywood

In an industry where all publicity is said to be good publicity, the ubiquitousness of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez should have helped sparked ticket sales for the couple’s first movie together.

But Gigli had a disastrous $3.7 million opening weekend gross then went on to suffer an unprecedented 81.9 per cent drop in business last weekend — the biggest second-weekend nose dive in box office history. Many say an overdose of J. Lo and Ben coverage hurt the film’s ticket sales even more than the savage reviews the picture received.

Similarly, Demi Moore’s unlikely romance with Ashton Kutcher overshadowed her comeback in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle while coverage of Harrison Ford’s bomb Hollywood Homicide focused as much on his relationship with Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart than his new cop buddy flick.

“If anything, this summer has shown how overexposure can kill a movie,” said Brandon Gray, editor of BoxOfficeMojo.com. “If people feel like they’ve seen the movie before it comes out because of the antics of the stars overshadowing their movie, they feel no real pressing need to pay $10 or more to see it in the theatre.”

Affleck and Lopez have certainly demonstrated that they can each sell movie tickets individually. Affleck’s Daredevil grossed $102.5 million domestically this year, and Lopez’s Maid in Manhattan took in a solid $93.8 million at the US box office after its release in December 2002. Affleck also scored last summer with The Sum of All Fears, which took in $118.4 million and spent a few weeks at No. 1.

But there has been a year of endless publicity surrounding their romance to the degree that even their going out to buy a pizza together garners paparazzi attention. In the days prior to the August 1 opening of Gigli, the pair gave a lengthy joint interview to Dateline NBC, which aired over several nights, and on the syndicated Access Hollywood programme.

“The number of times a day that a typical fan or consumer has to be bombarded by the image of their idols makes them less idols than next-door neighbours,” said Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Southern California. “I think our appetite for our next-door neighbours has limits.”

But Sony Pictures Entertainment vice-chairman Jeff Blake, whose studio released Gigli, Angels and Homicide, scoffs at the notion that these films suffered from a publicity backlash. “I will never second-guess,” Blake said. “Sometimes films do better or worse for a lot of reasons.”

Blake believes the Angels film simply got caught up in a current anti-sequel trend, while bad media buzz killed Gigli and Homicide before they even got out of the gate.

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