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Why’d it bomb? Alice Through the Looking Glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass is arguably one of the most surprising box office bombs this year. While I don’t think anyone predicted that it was going to replicate the box office success of its predecessor, I don’t think anyone thought it was going to bomb just as badly (if not worse) as The Lone Ranger and John Carter.

But why did it bomb?

Here are my theories:

5. Competition

While X-Men: Apocalypse  was released the same weekend.  Although the X-sequel was also a box office disappointment, it did have more hype around it than Through the Looking Glass and, while it didn’t do so well either, it did make more money in the long run. It probably didn’t help that they were vying for similar audiences, as both are big budget sci-fi/fantasy blockbusters and most people chose X-Men over Alice (even though the majority of people chose neither).

4. The Story

The plot looked stupid.  If there’s anything right the advertising for the first one did, it’s that it hid that it was secretly just “a fantasy adventure about a chosen one ala Harry Potter or Narnia starring Alice in Wonderland characters” and made it look like it could be a faithful adaptation (even though it wasn’t). The same can not be said for Alice Through the Looking Glass, as the trailer made it loud and clear that the movie was going to be “a generic time travel movie starring Alice in Wonderland characters”. That might’ve turned people off, because how many people really want to see Alice from Alice in Wonderland go time traveling? What’s next, a movie where Mr. Toad goes to an alternate dimension? A movie where Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz goes to space? The whole plot just seemed a bit silly, even for Alice in Wonderland…

3. Johnny Depp’s bad publicity

Well, this is going to be awkward to talk about but, the same day the movie came out, Amber Heard sued Johnny and claimed that he had abused her. This probably scared many people away from the movie as they felt that, if they saw the movie, they would be supporting an abusive man.

2. People are sick of Depp/Bonham/Burton

While these three haven’t made a movie together since 2012, they haven’t been quite able to sell a movie on their own since the early 2010’s. The last Depp/Bonham/Burton movie that was a success was the first Alice in Wonderland while the only films Depp’s been in that have been box office successes were Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Rango, and some movies he’s had a small part in, like 22 Jump Street and Into the Woods. Otherwise, he has not been in a movie that was a box office hit for a while, especially when he’s doing movies with Helena Bonham Carter. Not only was Dark Shadows, which was also directed by Tim Burton, a flop but so was The Lone Ranger, which Burton had no involvement in.

As for Tim, it’s a little hard to tell. Yes, Frankenweenie and Big Eyes flopped but those movies would’ve probably bombed no matter who directed them because claymation movies and oscar-baity films released by The Weinstein Company don’t tend to break box office records. The only film that shows people might be sick of Burton is Dark Shadows, as that didn’t do well at the box office. But the only way to know for certain that people refuse to see Tim’s movies anymore is if Miss Peregrine flops. Yet, as we can tell, whenever those three do a movie together, even if Tim is just the producer, audiences are probably not going to turn up in droves anymore.

However I think the biggest reason Alice Through the Looking Glass flopped was…

1. Poor Marketing

I think this is the biggest reason the movie was a box office bomb. When the first one came out, I remember it was hyped to the heavens and many people were looking forward to it. However, when the movie actually came out, it got a very divisive, bordering on negative, reception and it left many people disappointed.

So, considering the first movie was a disappointment, it probably made a lot of people not want to go through the looking glass. Then, to make things worse, they waited 6 years when the hype had died down and most people hardly, if ever, talk about the movie. In fact, many of what fans the first movie had probably didn’t care either because they probably hadn’t been thinking about the movie for a long time and, by now, weren’t really itching for a sequel. The movie, despite the hype that surrounded it, had no cultural impact and, as a result, not as many people were excited for a sequel when it finally came out. Now, had the movie come out 2-3 years later, as opposed to six, it might’ve still had a chance of being a box office hit but, seeing as they waited so long, they were too late and released the movie when no one really cared about Alice and her friends anymore.

So that’s my theory on why Alice Through the Looking Glass flopped. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted on September 21, 2016, in Movies, sequels, Why'd it bomb? and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 51 Comments.

  1. Very interesting, kevthewriter! Is this going to become a regular series? I hope so because I find discussions about why certain movies bombed fascinating! 🙂

    For me, it’s a combination of just being sick of sequels that seem like obvious cash grabs and being very sick of Depp, especially in combination with Bonham Carter and Burton. And I say this as someone who, ten years ago as a teenager, was a HUGE Johnny Depp fan. He was easily my favorite actor then, and Bonham Carter was one of my favorite actresses and Burton was one of my favorite directors. But I haven’t enjoyed any collaboration of theirs since Sweeney Todd, which I still really like. (I like to play the soundtrack when I’m cooking. :D)

    However, I stopped watching their collaborations after Alice in Wonderland because I felt like everything they were doing together was just a lazy cash grab instead of anything original or interesting. I honestly think they need to start working with other people because their shtick seems old and tired now.

    On top of that, I feel like around that time Depp’s public persona became very obnoxious. I just remember when The Lone Ranger bombed, he gave interviews blaming audiences, and that really turned me off, especially as he started churning out movie after movie that just looked obviously terrible in their trailers and he still kept defending them and blaming critics and audiences for their poor box office performances. And then he had the whole dust-up with Australia about his puppies, and where he used to be one of my favorites, now I think he just seems like a typical spoiled Hollywood jerk.

    The new allegations that Heard made didn’t help–though I did hear conflicting information and have no idea what really happened there–but for me, his terrible track record of recent movies and behavior means that the only movie he’s made in the past several years that looked interesting to me–Black Mass–instantly became less interesting to me as soon as I realized he was in it, despite him getting good reviews for the movie. I rarely actually go the movies, but I wasn’t even interested in seeing it after it came on DVD.

    As for Burton, I don’t know if the Peregrine movie will be a good test of his box office draw. My sample of opinions is biased because I work in a library, but I noticed everyone who has expressed interest in seeing the movie has done so because they’re big fans of the book series. Well, it’s either that or they’re big Eva Green fans. I don’t have any friends–many of whom used to be big Burton fans–or even library patrons wanting to see it because it will be his latest movie.

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    • Thanks

      Anyway, I didn’t know that Miss Peregrine had such a fanbase in the first place. I actually haven’t heard of it until it was announced Tim Burton was adapting it.

      Also, it’s true another reason it bombed was because people were tired of sequels but you can say that for any sequel that bombed this year.

      Liked by 1 person

      • To be honest, I’m a little surprised that people were so excited about it because I read the first book when it came out a few years ago and was very underwhelmed.

        So true about sequels! I tend to avoid them and remakes on principle.

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  2. I also think it’s a combo of Depp fatigue, and souring on the first movie after the fact. I think the first movie was such a hit because Depp was still on a hot streak and because it looked outrageous, and it was in 3-D. The 3-D craze has subsided since 2009/2010 (Thank God!), and people now realize that the first movie was just a giant piece of stylishly-designed crap. So, a reversal of opinions on the first movie and Depp fatigue contributed, in my mind, to this movie’s rightful bombing.

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    • I have talked about this before. In fact, I’m pretty certain in the Razzie article that came out right before Alice 2, I said the movie would flop… let me find that…

      Here it is. This is from the 2010 special category Razzie for Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3-D:

      The next big 3-D release after Avatar was Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Based largely on the promise of Burton’s eccentric sensibilities rendered in 3-D plus what was left of Johnny Depp’s post-Pirates goodwill, Alice was a massive hit despite the fact no one seemed to like it very much. Cameron protested the decision to shoot the movie with conventional cameras claiming that it would ultimately “stunt the growth of 3-D”. Cameron complained, “You can slap a 3-D label on it and call it 3-D, but there’s no possible way that it can be done up to a standard that anybody would consider high enough.”

      After Alice, Avatar star Sam Worthington headed up a remake of the cheesy 1981 movie, Clash of the Titans. Like Alice, the movie was a 3-D conversion. Despite negative reviews, the 3-D upcharge made Clash a big enough hit to warrant a sequel. Two years later after the 3-D craze had run its course, Wrath of the Titans flopped at the box office which does not bode well for the upcoming sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass.

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    • In addition to Depp Fatigue, the 3D craze subsiding was probably another reason it flopped. Only thing is, I remember people hated the movie by the time it was released-if anything, it was like Godzilla ’98 where people expected it to be good and were disappointed when it turned out to suck.

      Personally, though, I didn’t really hate it, I just found it to be a generic nothing of a movie, just with crappy effects and one of the most boring leads ever put to celluloid. I guess The Cheshire Cat was cool though…

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  3. I went to see the Burton/Depp Alice in Wonderland with relatively high hopes and they made me feel really dumb for it. In the process they proved to me that they had absolutely zero understanding of what makes the original book a long-lasting favorite. It’s as if they thought it should have a lot in common with the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films, but with some “quirky” behaviors thrown in…and break dancing. Ugh! Why the hell would I subject myself to more of that!?

    The characters of Wonderland are not quirky. They are mad and satirical. Burton made the deadly mistake of taking them seriously while simultaneously not taking them seriously enough. You have to want to say something about the real world through lunacy and language, not want to say something about Wonderland or its residents through eccentricities and action sequences.

    There is no social satire in the Burton Wonderland film and therefore it is not a valid version.

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    • They were very clearly not interested in the source material except as an excuse to put Johnny Depp in a funny hat and to present it as a Peter Jackson-style Lord of the Rings fantasy. The same thing was done with Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent. By and large, it’s proven to be a pretty successful formula. You could probably throw the Clash of the Titans remake into that group as well. The problem is, audiences didn’t care for most of these unimaginative reimaginings. So when sequels like Wrath of the Titans, Huntsman 2: Hunt Harder or whatever it was called) and Through the Looking Glass, audiences stayed home in droves. As a not-quite wise man once said:

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      • Huntsman 2: Hunt Harder. Ha ha! I got a good laugh out of that one.

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        • “You fooled me once, you can’t fool me again!” Lol You know I’ve had a long-time hunch about this funny Bush video. George Bush started bringing up the “Fool me once” quote (“Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”) but mid-way through he paused and stammered as he realized he’s going to have to say the “shame on me” part. He knows that’s how it ends because why else bring it up? My hunch is once he started reciting the quote he realized he didn’t want a clip of him out there on The Internets with him saying “Shame on me”, so instead he spontaneously made up the nonsense “you can’t fool me again!” bit. At least, that’s my theory. If I’m wrong, then shame on me.

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        • LOL

          I think he just slipped into Who lyrics.

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        • I gave myself a mental high five when the joke came to me. 😉

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  4. I think depp could give quinten tarneteno a call . He could help revive depps career. He has a pirates movie out next year so far all pirates film have been a hit if that pirate movie tnaks so depp has no safety net anymore

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  5. There were certainly issues with the marketing and the decision to wait 6 years to produce a sequel, but I think audiences are just sick of Johnny Depp. Since PotC 4 came out in 2011, Depp has not starred in a single movie that was profitable at the box office (unless you count what amounted to extended cameos in 21 Jump Street and Into the Woods).

    Rum Diary, Dark Shadows, Lone Ranger, Transcendence, Mordecai, Black Mass and Through the Looking Glass all lost money at the box office. While it is true that a couple of those (like Dark Shadows) probably turned a profit after factoring in TV and home video, that is offset by the fact Long Ranger and Transcendence combined to lose more than $300 million.

    Honestly, I am struggling to think of an actor who has gone from being the biggest star in Hollywood to being box office kryptonite as fast as Depp has and the closest I can come up with is Kevin Costner. The fact Disney pushed back the release of Pirates 5 (which was originally scheduled for release last year) to 2017 doesn’t bode well for his future either.

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    • It will be interesting to see how Pirates 5 fares at the box office next year. The Pirates series – much like Depp’s career lately – has been a run of diminished returns. The Pirates series has seen a continual erosion in box office domestically, I suspect there’s a chance this new one could even struggle to break $100M domestically. We’ve been seeing a lot of unnecessary sequels lately flopping, could Pirates 5 be the next big-budget disaster? If that happens you can count Depp’s career over.

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      • Pirates 4 performed weakly in the US, but it made bank overseas. Worldwide, it was the second-highest-grossing movie in the franchise. Outside of the US, it outgrossed all the previous movies. The only reason Pirates 5 is happening is that the series has become increasingly popular in the worldwide market. That will probably be enough to make the next Pirates movie a success. I won’t be surprised when Pirates 6 is announced even if the fifth movie underperforms here.

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  6. I think the blockbuster success of Avatar in late 2009 and well into 2010 wound up giving Alice in Wonderland a tremendous boost at the box office. Moviegoers were blown away by Avatar in 3D and Alice looked like it would be another 3D extravaganza. For a minute, 3D looked like it might be the Next Big Thing in cinema. That, coupled with Johnny Depp who was still a popular draw resulted in a huge Billion dollar box office take worldwide.

    I want to say I’m surprised that Disney ignored the mediocre reception to the first film but lets be honest, when a film earns One Billion Dollars of course it is getting a sequel. What is maybe a bit more surprising is that Disney waited six long years to finally get to it. Were they hoping six years later most people would forget how lousy the first film was and just show up again anyway?

    The other major factor mentioned by several members here already – in the past six years moviegoers have become tired of Depp’s shtick of continually playing eccentric cartoon-like characters. it worked tremendously well the first time in the original Pirates of the Carribean film – he earned that Oscar nom for his giddy performance of Jack Sparrow, but that was 13 years ago.

    Disney is going to lose in excess of $80 Million dollars on Alice 2 because they wasted their time greenlighting a needless sequel to a poorly received film starring an actor many moviegoers are losing interest in.

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    • I think Disney was aware on some level that Alice wasn’t beloved despite making boatloads of money. They initially passed on making a sequel and chose to make Maleficent instead. They viewed that movie as a spiritual successor. The success of those movies lead to more live action remakes like Cinderella, The Jungle Book and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast. Thankfully, they aren’t all following the LotR model. But Disney loves a sequel and as time passed they couldn’t resist going back to that well even though it was probably obvious to just about everyone who didn’t stand to make a buck off the thing that almost no one actually wanted a sequel to Burton’s movie.

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      • I really liked CINDERELLA, THE JUNGLE BOOK, and even PETE’S DRAGON. I think those are all much better than the hideous and awful duo of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and MALEFICENT.

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        • Of the three recent remakes, the only one I have seen was Cinderella which was a beautiful movie that left me feeling a little unfulfilled. That may be a flaw in the subject matter though. I find the animated version to be padded out and the heroine is too passive for my tastes. I hear very mixed things about the new Jungle Book, but word is very positive on Pete’s Dragon. My kids didn’t want to see it because it looked “too sad” and pretty much everyone I have talked to confirmed my sensitive girls would not enjoy it.

          I am cautiously optimistic about Beauty and the Beast.

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        • THE JUNGLE BOOK was pretty great, I thought. I bought it on Blu-ray, just as I did CINDERELLA. She may have been a bit passive in it as well, but I was so glad that they didn’t go the MALEFICENT or ALICE route and make her a warrior or reverse who was good and who was bad.

          PETE’S DRAGON was kind of sad, but also very sweet. It was a lovely movie, really.

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        • I will probably check out Pete’s Dragon on my own at some point. I’m not especially motivated to watch family films when I don’t have to and the kids will never want to watch it. But I have heard enough good things that if it is on and I am bored, I will give it a look.

          Cinderella was better than Maleficent or Alice, but not by all that much in my estimation. It was loads more faithful though. The dresses were fantastic if you are into that and lots of little girls are. I watched it with my youngest who deemed it way, way, way too sad. (“Too sad” is a frequent complaint in our house.) I was curious why they had to keep killing off so many parents. We could have done without the death of King Charming.

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        • It’s a Disney movie. Parents must die.

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        • Cinderella’s an orphan. So, I was expecting some parental deaths. Although the live action remake put them in the spotlight more than previous versions of the story. But killing off the king was a step too far for my then-6-year-old. Not a criticism of the movie, but my girls are on the sensitive side which can make for some difficult viewing experiences. There were tears which I don’t think was the intention of the filmmakers.

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        • I think it WAS intentional. They want to recapture those BAMBI, OLD YELLER, and THE LION KING moments. If they can connect with people on that emotional level, they can lure them in. I feel his death was unnecessary too, but I still liked it despite that possibly-one- death-too many.

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        • I thought it was okay. I didn’t really expect to like it, but enjoyed it a bit more than I expected too. The one-death-too-many wouldn’t have been a factor if not for the fact my kids cry easily. Inside Out elicited sobs long after it was over.

          I DVR’d a Lewis Black comedy show recently with a punny title of Old Yeller. Get it. He’s old and he yells. My oldest saw the title on the DVR and asked me about it. She had heard of the Disney movie, but hadn’t seen it. I told her that I had seen it. When I was younger than her, my dad lined us up in front of the TV. He was almost gleeful as he sat and watched us watch the movie knowing all along that when it was over we would all be bawling our eyes out. My dad and I have taken very different approaches to this parenting thing.

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        • I’d be more aligned with your dad.

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        • A lot of people would. I don’t want to go off on a tangent about parenting, but I will because I can’t resist tangents. I find that different children require different parenting approaches. I have learned with my kids, who take after their emotionally sensitive mother, that it’s best not to force this issue where sad or scary material is concerned. The cost outweighs any potential benefit. Instead, I look for opportunities where they express an interest in something slightly more mature. When Josie wanted to see Ghostbusters, a movie Kara found much too frightening, I was happy to take her despite not being particularly interested in a remake. Kara and I watch Supergirl although any time they talk about her family on Krypton usually results in wet eyes. I will occasionally distract her when I see that coming.

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        • Unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” way for parenting. If there was, everyone would be great at it, and every kid would be perfectly adjusted and confident.

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  7. I was drug to a midnight screening in 3d of the first one. We got there late and had to sit in the front row. It was awful. And I had just done Alice as a play, which only added to the disillusionment. Anyone that would subject themselves to this a second time is some kind of masochist.

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  8. black mass did not lose money it was modest hit.

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    • Production Budget: $53 million
      Domestic Total Gross: $62,575,678

      In terms of domestic box office, Black Mass probably lost money. It was not a hit. Not even a modest one.

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    • Rule of thumb is that films need to make at least double their stated production cost in order to be profitable at the box office in order to account for marketing and the theaters’ cut of the ticket revenue.

      Black Mass had a production cost of $53 million and grossed $99.8 million globally, so it almost certainly lost money at the box office. It is possible that after factoring in TV and home video the film eked out a profit so it wasn’t a Transcendence or Lone Ranger level bomb, but it is hard to really call it a hit.

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  9. in terms of worldwide it was modest

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    • That’s a stretch. Even including the worldwide gross, it failed to double it’s production costs. It wasn’t a flop. But I wouldn’t call it a hit either. “Disappointment” seems fair.

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  10. I remember it be hyped up as depps comeback so much oscar buzz. However he ended up getting snubbed.

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  11. I hadn’t realized Big Eyes was a Tim Burton film; it’s not especially Burtonesque. Despite the trailers that played up Amy Adams looking around and seeing oversized eyes on everyone, it was basically a very straight forward biopic. I rather liked it.

    I don’t think the Amber Heard divorce hurt the film much, if only because the court of public opinion appears to side very heavily with Johnny Depp, if only because he has pop culture clout and Amber Heard doesn’t. I take no opinion on the matter myself.

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    • I dunno, if she was convicting him of abuse, especially on the same day it came out, it probably hurt the film at least a little

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    • Since we weren’t there, it’s impossible to know what went down between Depp and Heard. I agree, I don’t think the bad press hurt the movie all that much. But it sure didn’t help. If any hard evidence comes out, Depp could end up like Mel Gibson. But as long as he doesn’t get pulled over drunk or leave angry voice messages, Depp will probably have nothing to worry about.

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      • The abuse accusations against Depp are sort of unquantifiable against Alice 2’s release. It’s opening weekend take was $33.5M; without the abuse allegations would Alice 2 have opened much higher? Probably not, to be honest. There just wasn’t much of any interest in the film heading into the release anyway, but for sure the allegations did the film (and especially Depp’s reputation) no favors.

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      • Judging from the responses I saw online, people like Depp and had no particular feelings about Heard prior to the accusations, and were heavily inclined to disbelieve Amber Heard; she was generally dismissed as a gold digger, in much the way people responded to the abuse allegations in the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills divorce. However, Depp does seem like a more believable candidate for booze-fuelled rage than McCartney. But I digress. The point is, I don’t think anyone who was very keen on seeing this film changed their mind because of the allegations. Maybe people just weren’t interested because the first film simply didn’t require a sequel? (And, despite the title, has fuck all to do with the source material).

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        • That’s consistent with my experiences/observations. I think Depp got a pass and Heard was demonized, but no one cared about the movie anyway for all the reasons we have discussed.

          If Heard is telling the truth, I hope one day she is exonerated. But we’ll probably never know for sure.

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        • I feel as though, generally, when a male cultural icon is accused of doing something bad, most of the public refuses to believe it and jumps to his defense, even if it’s a more controversial sort of celebrity. When the a female celeb gets accused of something bad, a good portion of the public is all too ready to believe it. That’s not to say that I personally defend Heard or condemn Depp; I feel as though I notice a pattern.

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        • In general, that is probably true. Look no farther than our presidential election.

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        • I don’t see a lot of people defending Trump, except for those whose wits have vacated their brains.Both candidates are crappy and deserve every bit of scorn and criticism they receive.

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  12. Right now pitt might be in same boat as depp/ There are accusations of pitt abusing his kids he might suffer same backlash as depp. pitt career is still hot but who knows if this will derail it.

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  13. do you belive the pitt rumours

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  14. Will Avatar 2 Share the Same Fate as Alice Through the Looking Glass?

    https://dejareviewer.com/2016/06/21/will-avatar-2-share-the-same-fate-as-alice-through-the-looking-glass/

    A Glimpse Through the Looking Glass

    Alice Through the Looking Glass offers an unpleasant glimpse into the future of the James Cameron’s Avatar sequel.Alice Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, arrived in theaters a few weeks ago with a thud. It will be lucky if it earns a quarter of the original film’s $334 million domestic take and a third of its $1 billion worldwide take. That’s an astonishing drop-off for a sequel to a seemingly beloved film.

    It looks like Disney took the wrong lesson from the success of Alice in Wonderland. That film was a fluke. It wasn’t terribly good, but people were willing to overlook its flaws because of its amazing visuals. It turned a simple story into a Lord of the Rings­­-like adventure, complete with ancient prophecies and a climactic battle at the end.

    This same template was used a couple of years later in Snow White and the Huntsman, which was also a shockingly successful film, despite how terrible it was. It’s appropriate that Alice Through the Looking Glass should come out so soon after The Huntsman: Winter’s War also bombed. This type of gimmick is clearly wearing thin.

    Disney should have been happy that they got lucky with Alice in Wonderland and left it at that. But they thought they had a surefire franchise on their hands. The only trouble is that:

    Tim Burton didn’t direct the sequel, and even attaching him to the project as an executive producer didn’t help much because his track record since Alice in Wonderland has been pretty weak.
    Johnny Deep’s star power is waning with one bomb after another weighing heavily on his ability to carry a big-budget film.
    3D films have lost their novelty.
    This could spell trouble for the Avatar sequels because of these same factors.

    Writer/director James Cameron hasn’t done anything since Avatar. At least after Titanic he kept busy making documentaries and a TV show. Actor Sam Worthington hasn’t exactly become a household name, though Zoe Saldana has done extremely well for herself, co-starring in the rebooted Star Trek film series and the unbelievably great Guardians of the Galaxy.

    Diminishing Returns

    Wait, you’re making a sequel to a mediocre but inexplicably successful film?Let’s face it, Avatar was sold on its beautiful visuals. It didn’t have a very interesting story to tell or compelling characters to invest in. It was just the first modern 3D film to provide such an immersive experience that audiences were able to forgive all of its flaws. But are people going to show up in droves the way they did for the first film? I doubt it.

    Of course, even if Avatar 2 made just one-third of the original’s gross it would still earn $900 million worldwide. So even though it’s unlikely to come close to the first Avatar, it won’t be a failure. It’ll earn plenty of money to justify all of the other sequels. But if it’s not a game-changing sequel (like The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight), but just a so-so effort (like The Matrix Reloaded or RoboCop 2), its follow-ups will see even faster diminishing returns.

    I hope Avatar 2 will be good. But I have a feeling that Alice Through the Looking Glass offers an unpleasant glimpse into that film’s future.

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