As I was writing my review for this film, I couldn't help myself from delving into the reasons that the script and messaging wasn't its only problem. Rather than clutter the review with a 1,000+ words about the franchise, marketing efforts and previous failed reboot attempts, I thought it would be best to make a separate article and link them together so readers could more easily decide which parts they were interested in reading.
Charlie's Angels is a franchise that has been around for nearly 45 years. The original TV series ran for 5 seasons in the late 70s and early 80s (and also did crossovers with other TV series of the time, including Love Boat and Vegas). About 15 years after the last episode aired, Sony made several attempts to reinvigorate the franchise. From 2000 to 2011, there were two feature films released, a handful of video games, an animated mini-series and a live-action TV series reboot on ABC. All of these efforts had one thing in common: they weren't terribly successful.
It's true that Charlie's Angels (2000) managed to gross a solid $264 million in the global box office. So financially speaking, it did well enough to justify another movie attempt for Sony. But critic reviews were mediocre, at best, and fan reviews were considerably less generous. The second film, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, performed even worse in the box office and yielded poor reviews from both critics and moviegoers alike. It was enough to ensure there wouldn't be a third film. The first Charlie's Angels video game for Playstation 2 also fared poorly, and still holds one of the lowest video game ratings ever. And the TV series reboot in 2011 was cancelled by ABC after the fourth episode, due to low viewership.
So the studio learned a valuable lesson, it seemed. The format just wasn't quite right for the audiences they were targeting. It happens. Filmmaking is an art and it's not always going to be well received, even when it's based on previously successful intellectual property. But fresh ideas can lead to successful reboots, as we have seen with Disney's live-action Marvel films, Sony's Spider-man, the DCEU properties, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, etc. So along comes Elizabeth Banks with a fresh idea about how to get people excited in the Charlie's Angels franchise again: a movie that's written, directed, produced and led by women, with prominent feminist messaging. It appears Sony Pictures knew this would be a gamble, as the budget for this film is estimated to be $48 to $55 million. That's less than half of what they spent on the Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle sequel some 16 years ago. Moreover, after dropping the marketing budget from its initial $100 million to just $50 million, the ad campaign was changed to primarily target females aged 13 to 39. So don't be too surprised if you're outside of that demographic and don't remember seeing many ads leading up to the film's release. That was apparently intentional. As you may be aware, the film's opening weekend grossed an abysmal $8.6 million - drastically less than the $25 to $35 million predictions made a few months prior; and below even the lowest pre-release prediction of $10 million. Writer-director-producer Elizabeth Banks attempted to position herself for the poor performance with statements like the one made to the Herald prior to the film's release:
"If this movie doesn’t make money it reinforces a stereotype in Hollywood that men don’t go see women do action movies."
Having seen and liked a number of female-led action movies that were financially and critically successful - the Alien franchise, the Underworld franchise, the Resident Evil franchise, Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2, Wonder Woman and Lucy, just to name a few - I can hardly understand why such a stereotype even exists in 2020.
She would go on to defend herself with a half-baked claim about Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel being successful only because they were linked to a predominantly male genre by way of comic books. She glossed right over all the other female-led titles over the last 40 years that have also been successful. Then, right before the film's opening weekend, she made another questionable statement to The Wall Street Journal in response to questions about why she chose to reboot this particular franchise:
"You’ve had 37 Spider-Man movies and you’re not complaining! I think women are allowed to have one or two action franchises every 17 years — I feel totally fine with that.”
Obviously, she was exaggerating for effect. There are nowhere near 37 Spider-Man movies. And as I've noted above, there are a number of successful female-led action movies and franchises (outside of the comic movie sub-genre) within the last 17 years.
When the movie ultimately bombed on its opening weekend, Banks seemed to change her tune slightly. It was clear from the moviegoer figures that it wasn't just men that weren't buying tickets to her movie - women weren't buying them either. So she would offer up yet another explanation - this time it was a message about poor marketing. There's probably more truth to that claim than any of the others she spouted. Although, I doubt we would agree on the reasons for that. There was unarguably a well-funded marketing campaign, even with a slashed $50 million budget. The problem is that it was very narrowly targeted; and on top of that, it was targeted at an audience that is probably one of the least likely to go see an action movie.
There were two trailers released (one of which had very few actions scenes); an exclusive music video and soundtrack with collaboration from Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus; a promo spot featuring female soccer star Megan Rapinoe; and promotional campaigns with RuPaul's Drag Race, Drybar (hair treatments) and Justfab (fashion and apparel). If you're noticing a trend there, that's because there is one. The extremely limited marketing material that men would see and engage with probably has a lot more to do with their lack of ticket purchases than sexism.
The one promotional spot they ran that might entice a broader audience - that is, the action-laden first trailer - got more than 17 million views after it was posted on YouTube. It was seen, for sure. But it was seen five months before release with hardly any follow-up that would appeal to that broader audience. The second trailer had very little action, and unsurprisingly, less than a third as many people watched it on YouTube. Also, notably missing from the marketing efforts were any sort of prominent promotion during the San Diego Comic-Con, despite Sony's action-oriented, sexy-female-spy property being a no-brainer for the venue.
In short, the feminist messaging within the film is not the crux of the movie's performance issues. Although, Elizabeth Banks pre-release commentary about sexism probably didn't help things along. More importantly, the studio and marketing team seem to have been determined to rely on their low-conversion, ticket-buying demographic of 13-39 year old females who likely never saw the original series or the subsequent films. It's almost as if they didn't want men, or most anyone else who might have been a fan of the franchise's earlier properties, to know this film was coming to theaters.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on our social media platforms. Why do you think this film bombed in the box office? What could they have done differently? What would you have done differently?