Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why Action Animated Films Don't Do Well

UPDATED: Originally posted 3/12/09.
We added more information at the bottom (to explain why animated Pixar films and some animated buddy comedies do so well), and don't forget to read the post that we link to on the bottom. Some people want more "proof", but it's all there. Just keep reading. Thanks!
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Most people don't realize what a strong position women have in specific purchasing decisions.

With animated films, filmmakers often set out to make an animated film for a specific audience, not realizing that the audience they need to appeal to is mothers and women. The reason is that boys aren't making the decisions to see the films. The moms are making the decision, and if the mom doesn't want to see the film or she also has a daughter who doesn't want to see the film, then she'll tell her son to go watch cartoons and to wait for DVD to see the film. (This is supported with data that shows how popular action cartoons are on TV but not in the theaters.)



For example, Final Fantasy, Beowulf, Sinbad, Treasure Planet, Quest for Camelot, The Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones, Ant Bully, The Road to El Dorado, Meet the Robinsons, and Star Wars: Clone Wars were all animated action films that failed to find success. What all those films had in common is that they didn't appeal to women.



Atlantis did okay (still lost money, but not a flop). It had good Disney marketing muscle, and it also pushed the love angle and characters well. It did well enough for them to make a direct-to-video sequel. The 3D-animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did okay and actually made money, but it did even worse than Atlantis (it was made with a low budget purposefully so that it could still turn a profit).



And then Emperor's New Groove is another example. It's not an action animation, but it still lost money and wasn't a hit for Disney (it did about as well as Atlantis). It's an example of a straight comedy. Why would moms want to see an animated comedy that doesn't interest them with emotion (like the Pixar films) or romance (like Aladdin, Little Mermaid, and others)? The answer is that they don't. Other 3D films to suffer from this were Antz (did well, but it was not a hit), Jimmy Neutron (also did well and nominated for best animated film, but it was not a hit), Doogal, Barnyard, and Cats Don't Dance (same director as Emperor's New Groove). And Wallace and Grommit was cute and won the Academy Award for animated film, but it was strange and not as well targeted toward women as Chicken Run was (Chicken Run was basically a romance, starring Mel Gibson... boom).



However, Pixar has the idea right. They can do any topic they want, including toys, monsters, bugs, super heroes, rats, cars, and robots. These topics don't sound like they'd appeal to women, but Pixar makes sure the heart of the stories do.

All those movies are about things that appeal to boys... but all the stories are written for mommies. Have you seen Up? Every woman was fighting tears within the first 10 minutes (when the wife dies). The wife also dies at the beginning of Finding Nemo. Those were two of Pixar's top 3 films (boom).

Incredibles is a movie about family, about trust (adultery, suspicion) between a husband and wife, and about love between each member of the family (husband and wife, siblings, father daughter, father son, mother daughter, and mother son)... it's all in there. It sounds like an emotional drama if you were to only look at the relationships covered. They even deal with Violet's fear/crushes with boys. Wow.

The Incredibles was a movie for women... However, it also had action and humor, and it was about super heroes. So it was a movie for men and boys as well.

That's the genious of Pixar.

Other films have also achieved similar success with the buddy comedies and relationship comedies (Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, Despicable Me, and Ice Age). Same thing. The topic appeals to kids (animals in Madagascar), the humor to men (Ben Stiller and Chris Rock), and the relationships to mommies. Shrek was basically Beauty and the Beast in reverse (the message to women was that the inside matters more than the outside), Despicable Me was about a single father adopting children (did you miss that? it's super sappy) and a bunch of cute minions to sell to children, and Ice Age was about returning a lost child (incredibly emotional to mothers). All those films were made with mommies in mind.

The studios try to reach all the audiences, but the most important audience members are the kids and moms.

Is this pandering to moms? No. No more than pandering to kids or men. It's all marketing and business. Studios and shareholders want to make money, and if these films didn't make as much money, thousands would be out of jobs. It's a business, like buying milk at a grocery store.

I'm not going to condemn someone for selling their product in a way that makes the most money. Are you?

Read more here:
http://theanimationempire.blogspot.com/2008/04/question-why-do-some-animated-movies.html

- TAE

20 comments:

  1. Nice information about 3D animation films. Thanks for sharing good stuff. Awesome post.

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  2. So what you're saying is we have to pander to moms and daughters... RIGHT!!! so your saying that your generalization that these films don't appeal to women is the sole reason for these movies doing badly... RIGHT!!! Nice attempt to trying to create an assertion, but you need more date, facts and through investigation.

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  3. more data, facts and thorough investigation.

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  4. There are some mistakes in your thesis. For one, The Incredibles was a success, and it was very much an "action movie", certainly more so than most of Disney/Pixar's output. I suspect it succeeded simply because it had the Pixar name to sell it. Two, "straight comedy" animated movies have also done extremely well in the past--think of the Shrek series, Despicable Me, and Ice Age.

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  5. The Animation EmpireAugust 16, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    Anony from August 16th...

    There are no mistakes. I already explained Incredibles. Go back and read it again. The topic itself for the film can be anything, and Pixar has done it all...

    They made movies about monsters, toys, cars, robots, rats, bugs, and super heroes... all are things for boys. So therefore, the movies shouldn't have done well, right? Wrong.

    It's because all those movies are about things that appeal to boys... but all the stories are written for mommies. Have you seen Up? Every woman was fighting tears within the first 10 minutes (when the wife dies). The wife also dies at the beginning of Finding Nemo. Those were two of Pixar's top 3 films (boom).

    Incredibles is a movie about family, about trust (adultery, suspicion) between a husband and wife, and about love between each member of the family (husband and wife, siblings, father daughter, father son, mother daughter, and mother son)... it's all in there. It sounds like an emotional drama if you were to only look at the relationships covered. They even deal with Violet's fear/crushes with boys. Wow.

    The Incredibles was a movie for women... However, it also had action and humor, and it was about super heroes. So it was a movie for men and boys as well.

    That's the genious of Pixar. Other films have also achieved it via the buddy comedies. Same thing. The topic appeals to kids (animals in Madagascar), the humor to men (Ben Stiller and Chris Rock), and the relationships to mommies. The studios try to reach all the audiences, but the most important audience members are the kids and moms.

    The flops and poor performers I listed about all forgot the mommies. The successes you (and I) mentioned did not.

    And anony from October 26... "pandering to mommies" -- Seriously? Why so negative? Doesn't everything for kids pander to kids? Doesn't everything for men pander to men? Why is it pandering to sell to the people who buy your tickets? That sounds more like marketing and common business sense. Isn't the point of making movies to make money? It is to the studios and shareholders who back them!

    So if you keep your perspective, you probably want to avoid marketing, sales, and business in your life (you'll have a hard time in those careers because everything will seem like pandering to you).

    - TAE

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  6. So you're saying the ONLY animated movies that will EVER do well are ones aimed at women and children? What about the works of Ralph Bakshi? What about Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir (okay, those were real-life stories, but still definitely not for kids)? What about Shane Acker's movie 9? There have been plenty of non-comedy animated movies that were aimed at audiences other than children and made money.

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  7. Anony,

    Yes. That's what I'm saying. I'm not saying those films weren't good (they were). I loved Iron Giant and Cats Don't Dance.

    It's true. Look at how much money they made. Compare that to Shrek, Beauty and the Beast (adjusted), Aladdin (adjusted), Snow White (adjusted), Toy Story 3 (not adjusted), and Tangled.

    I'm pretty sure the whole article was about "purchasing decisions" and not about quality of film. Did I not make that clear? I admit that you have to read past the title to get that context.

    - TAE

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  8. I DID read the article, and I think you have a very valid point--that kids won't be able to watch what they can't convince their families to take them to. But there have been exceptions, especially in the past couple of years, when we saw movies like Rango, 9, and Legend of the Guardians that were aimed at children but were quite serious in nature. And next year, there's A.D., an all-CGI zombie movie. I wish them luck.

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  9. The Animation EmpireAugust 17, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    Thank you!

    The point is actually more that those films aren't making as much money and often lose money. The kids can still watch them on DVD (and some films, like TMNT, were made cheap and then probably did much better on DVD than in the box office). Mothers are more willing to pay for DVDs that they don't want to watch... because they don't have to watch them. They just put them on and get a free babysitter for their boys.

    But of course their preference is that it's on TV. Take 3-2-1 Penguins. It's a Christian cartoon aimed mostly at boys. It didn't do well on DVD, but after they repurposed it for TV, it did VERY well. Why? Because the mothers weren't entertained by it, but the boys were. So moms didn't want to invest time and money, but they were more than willing to sit their kids in front of it and go work.

    Now Rango, 9, and Legend of the Guardians were perfect examples of films that didn't do well, but only in the sense that they lost money or didn't make much to make the effort worth it to the studios (or to get a sequel). Fortunately I think Rango is making more money on DVD (again, mothers don't want to go watch it, but as a gift to their boys to watch without them, it seems like a better idea). Rango did better than it would have also, because they hired Johnny Depp to voice it.

    All three are great films.

    Rango cost $135 million to make, it made $123 million in the states, but it also made $120 million outside the US (the international market loves Johnny Depp after Pirates). Plus its DVD sales and minus the costs of theaters (which are never factored in, but could be as much as one third the box office take), and you have a film that made a little and did "okay."

    Legend of the Guardians did much worse. I think it's obvious. Rango at least was comedic and fun for kids and starred Johnny Depp for the parents (and a ton of older jokes are in there). But who was Legend of the Guardians for? It was too violent for little kids and not overly cute or funny (at least not to the satisfaction of what mothers want for their kids). It definitely wasn't for mothers (very violent), and what father really wants to see a cartoon war movie about owls?

    I'm not sure who the audience was. It was basically an animated Braveheart. It was made by the director of 300 and Watchmen. It was great, and I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure why they thought it would sell.

    It cost $80 million, made $56 million in the US, and made $84 million outside the US (the international market also loves epic films with lots of action). Plus we trust Zach Snyder (300 and Watchmen), so that helped a little (and he's now slated to direct a Superman: Man of Steel for Christopher Nolan, which is where Zach belongs). The film didn't do as well on DVD sales (it did okay), but taking into account what the theaters make, and it made less profit than Rango. Another advantage it had, though, is that they made it for $80 million, which is pretty good based on how great that film looks.

    - TAE

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  10. Found this trailer on Youtube. From the looks of it, this one's not going to be marketed at moms OR kids.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_MG8R7pjiw

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  11. The way I see it, things are actually improving for animated action movies. Look at it this way: In 2009 we had 9. Not a big success, but the fact that it was even made shows that someone was doing something right. The next year we had Legend of the Guardians. It did better, but not great. Now we have Rango, which got excellent reviews and topped the charts for almost a month. And we seem to have an animated zombie movie in the works. . .

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  12. The Animation EmpireSeptember 2, 2011 at 5:10 PM

    El Squibs... not a bad sentiment, but it's hard to prove. Yes, Rango and Guardians made a little (when all was said and done), but it could have just been two ups in a sea of downs.

    9 probably made nothing... http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2009/9NINE.php

    It made $46 million, cost $30 million to make, cost about $15 million to the theaters, cost about $5 million to marketing (-$4 million at this point), made $9 million in DVD sales, cost $3 million to the stores and about another $2 million to marketing... and you're left with dead even. No profit.

    And that's actually good. Final Fantasy and Beowulf lost a ton.

    So it will be interesting to see what AD does.

    Thanks!

    - TAE

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  13. The only reason Finally Fantasy didn't do well is because video game movies, in general, don't do well (the big exception seems to have been Lara Croft Tomb Raider, whose main selling point was Angelina Jolie's sexiness).

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  14. I've been observing the debate that's been going on around this post, and I thought I'd offer my opinion, which is what I call the "Four Points" of animation.

    I. Movies like these have been successful before. It's rare, but it happens. They include Heavy Metal, Wizards, TMNT, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to name just four. And there are plenty of other successful "adult" animated movies like Fritz the Cat and South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut.

    II. Live action movie in these genres still do well. Compare the success of the live action Transformers movies to the 1986 animated one. What it implies is that there is a subconscious prejudice in American adults against animation as a medium.

    III. Sometimes, animation is better. There are some times when animation is simply better-suited to telling a story. Consider the case of Aeon Flux, a popular sci-fi cartoon that used to air on MTV. It was made into a live action movie, which, of course, bombed. Had it been animated, I have little doubt that more fans of the show would have seen it.

    IV. Movie genres go in and out of style. Remember when everyone thought pirate movies were history after Cutthroat Island flopped? It's the same way for animation. Give it 10 or 20 years, and the notion of animation as being "just for kids" will seem ridiculous in hindsight.

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  15. DonBluthFan,

    1. I don't consider Heavy Metal, Wizards, TMNT, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars to be successes. Heavy Metal and Wizards became cult classics, but they hardly made much money, especially not in the box office. TMNT made some money, and enough to launch the careers of those involved, but probably not enough to get a sequel or to remotely compare to what the family market does. And if you compare TMNT's success to the lower performers from Disney and DreamWorks (Pixar doesn't have any low performers), then the low end of Disney and DreamWorks is still much higher than TMNT. And finally Clone Wars lost a TON of money (hopefully it made it back on TV, since it was just a glorified TV pilot).

    So what I'm defining as "success" is the equivalent of what Pixar animations are making or what live action films make, like Transformers, Pirates, National Treasure, etc. It's just not happening for animated films that don't appeal to moms.

    2. Adult prejudice against animation? Well they certainly came out for the Simpsons movie, but I don't think they're going to try that again (lightening doesn't strike twice, and the Simpsons creators pretty much turned 7-11s into Kwik-e Marts so they know they'd have to match the marketing muscle as well as story quality, since animation quality wasn't really part of the deal). Why should adults want to see animations without their kids? Will romantic comedies appeal to moms more in animations? Why do that? Action movies? A Hangover film as an animation? Why? Part of the problem is that you can make a live-action comedy or action movie for men for about $60 million (a good one). But to make it awesome and realistic enough in animation for men to like it... $300 million easy (ala Beowulf). And the chances that you're going to make that in sales are slim (Beowulf lost a ton).

    3. Agreed. Animation is awesome. But business is based on supply and demand, which unfortunately doesn't always match up with Awesome.

    4. Ah, but Pirate movies were once a huge boom. Errol Flynn's films were fantastic and the biggest box office hits of the day (kids ran around pretending to be Captain Blood as they run around pretending to be Captain Sparrow today). The writers of the POTC films (Elliott and Rossio) were students of those Flynn films and recreated the exact same elements (adding supernatural elements). So I don't consider that an issue of styles coming in and out. I consider that an issue of quality filmmaking. Nobody had quality pirate films until POTC brought it to the table again (as Flynn once had). If you're a fan of POTC, you should watch the Flynn movies (Captain Blood and Seahawks are the big ones). Flynn brought it as Depp does today.

    - TAE

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  16. Now I see. You have a very warped idea of what a success is. Not all Movies have to make truckloads of cash for their studios to consider them successful. Clone WArs made $69 million on a $9 million budget. That's a huge profit margin. Heavy metal made $20 million on $8 million, and Wizards made $9 million on just $2 million. If you have requirement for yourself that every "successful" movie has to be a blockbuster, you'll just be disappointed. The people who made these weren't.

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  17. The Animation EmpireNovember 21, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    DonBluthFan,

    True. The people who made these were relieved they made a little money.

    You're right about Clone Wars. Thank you for the correction. I was looking at the wrong site (should have gone to The Numbers). It also made $23m in DVD sales, which is VERY good. That's very healthy.

    But, you failed to mention that it costs $15-$25 million to market a movie like this and that it's within the Star Wars franchise. The last live-action Star Wars movie made $849 million. So let's compare $69 million with $849 million and ask ourselves if animation that doesn't appeal to women is really where studios want to invest their money.

    And yes, it's an investment. That's the perspective... that people want to make money. Does that sound selfish? It might. But with money you can also go on and make bigger and better films. Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks have all learned this. We probably won't see another animated Star Wars film. Yet Toy Story 3 made over 1 billion dollars.

    So, yes, some production companies want to make movies that only make a little profit. And some studios are willing to make a few of those great films. But all studios line up films like a business and look at the bottom line. They could release a film that makes them $10 million or one that makes them $200 million. Which one is going to let them grow and hire more employees?

    So then they grow.

    The trick is to make sure the successful movies are good and have the same redeeming qualities as the ones that are not as successful and don't make much money.

    In other words, this topic was always just a comparison between animated movies that appeal to mothers and ones that do not.

    - TAE

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  18. And there's more to it than just appealing to mothers. Making a movie-any movie-is fraught with risks, and even being family freindly isn't a guarantee of success (look at what happened to Don Bluth's 90s films, or to this year's Winnie the Pooh for that matter). You might also find this TV Tropes article helpful. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AnimationAgeGhetto
    I've said all I can, and if we still think differently thats not my problem. I just have different standards than you.

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  19. What about Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn?

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  20. Rather than go into further detail than the poster above me on how this concept of yours is inherently flawed, I will leave you with a quote from someone very late and great:
    "If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid."
    -Albert Einstein.

    I suggest you work out the relevance of this quote yourself.

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