‘Lincoln’ and ‘Man of Steel’: Box Office Augury Part 2 — The Reckoning

Dr Peter Han Area 49 Lead Scientist ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Man of Steel’: Box Office Augury Part 2    The ReckoningBack on September 25, 2012 I predicted that the films Lincoln and Man of Steel would both enjoy tremendous box office success when they eventually opened. And although both films have raked-in a lot of dough, neither achieved the scale of success that I had foretold.

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln ultimately grossed over $182 million in the U.S., which is far more than most experts expected but $118 million less than I predicted. So why the colossal shortfall? The film did not have the visual scope or emotional resonance that I expected based on the initial trailer and the creative team involved.

Lincoln One Sheet ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Man of Steel’: Box Office Augury Part 2    The ReckoningDespite Spielberg’s “movie mastery” and another Academy Award winning turn from Daniel Day Lewis as President Lincoln, I never felt emotionally connected to the story or the man. The director and actor appeared to do all they could to shake-off the dust of the past and craft a film that would engage modern audiences, but the film felt more like a history lesson than a historical drama.

Maybe it’s because Lincoln is not so much about the man but a particularly crucial moment in U.S. history: the passage of the 13th Amendment by the House of Representatives. And though he is the principal figure, the President is but one player in a crowded and complicated chess game of backroom politics.

Another reason for the emotional disconnect is that the film focuses on the last few months of Lincoln’s life when he’s already a widely venerated (and despised) figure, making it much harder to humanize him despite his acute domestic difficulties. Missing are any moments of the man before he became the 16th President of the United States, which would have helped make him more relatable to moviegoers not carved in marble.

(Since I made my predictions several months ago a number of my colleagues have told me that the idea of a historical film like Lincoln earning “north of $300 million” at the domestic box office was among other things: “absurd,“ “insane,” “inane” and “ridiculous bordering on the f@#ing retarded.” And of course — I am man enough to admit it — they turned out to be right. But I still contend that if Spielberg had shot the film in 3D and reworked the ending so Lincoln lived it might’ve had a shot.)

Lois Lane Superman Man of Steel ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Man of Steel’: Box Office Augury Part 2    The Reckoning

Man of Steel, as I’m writing this, has earned over $280 million at home and another $338 million overseas. Very good numbers, but not the Avatar-like bonanza that I had written about. My prediction was based primarily on the potential appeal of actor Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel. And although he succeeded in filling out the suit and fleshing out the character the film failed to connect with females like I anticipated.

The fault for this lies with the story, which skewed too far to the fanboys and not enough to general audiences, especially women. There was way, way too much action and not enough interplay between Superman and Amy Adam’s Lois Lane. If director Zack Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan had reworked the script to emphasize the love story a little more, Man of Steel probably would have pulled in more women and more money.

Another reason for the film’s box office shortcomings, relatively speaking, were the surprisingly (and somewhat puzzling) poor reviews — 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. Lincoln, in comparison, scored 89%.

Unlike Lincoln however, Superman will get another shot at the box office pinnacle. Naturally a sequel’s already in the works, and with the certain addition of arch-villain Lex Luthor and lessons (hopefully) learned from the first film, I predict the next installment will do a whole lot better.

Dr. Peter Han