Why’d it Bomb?/Why’d it Hit? The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Kevthewriter looks at two Guy Ritchie movies and asks who one was a hit while the other wasn’t.

In 2009, Sherlock Holmes was a box office success. It’s sequel, A Game of Shadows, also did well. Instead of doing a 3rd one, though, Guy Ritchie decided to do a remake of the 60’s spy show The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which didn’t do even close to as well as either of the Sherlock Holmes movies did. But why was Sherlock Holmes a hit while The Man from U.N.C.L.E. a bomb?

3. The Release Date
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. came out in August, when people seem to only go see one or two movies. The year before, everyone was seeing Guardians of the Galaxy and TMNT and nothing else. In 2015, everyone went to see Straight Outta Compton and Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation. On the other hand, Sherlock Holmes and its sequel both came out in December, when people tend to go out to the movies more so there were more people interested in going out and seeing it.

2. Star Power
At the time of Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Jr. was coming off of Iron Man, which was seen as a big comeback for him, as well as Tropic Thunder, which got him an Oscar nomination of all things. I think people were interested in seeing what he was in next. The Man from U.N.C.L.E., on the other hand, didn’t have the star power Sherlock did. Armie Hammer is unfortunately considered box office poison, especially after The Lone Ranger, and while Henry Cavill might be Superman in the DCEU, most people went to see Man of Steel because it was a new Superman movie and it was the start of DC’s attempt at competing with Marvel, not for him specifically.

1. The Source Material
Sherlock Holmes is a beloved property to this day. It has a popular show based on it still running on the BBC, it has another popular show that has been running for 5 years on CBS, and another movie about Sherlock with Ian McKellen playing an elderly version of Holmes, among other things. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may have been popular back in the 60’s but it’s been forgotten over the years so no one was really interested because the audience they targeted it to has, well, probably never even heard of it in the first place.

Unfortunately, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a franchise non-starter for Richie and King Arthur has bombed as well. Ehh, Aladdin will be probably be a hit for him…


Posted on August 30, 2017, in Why'd it bomb?, Why'd It hit? and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. jeffthewildman

    Another possible reason for why The Man From U N C L E bombed may have been due to the fact that people were getting burned out on spy movies by that point in 2015. The year started off with Kingsman which, while not a major smash, was popular with both critics and audiences and made enough to warrant a sequel. Then in early June you had Spy, followed two months later by MI: Rogue Nation as you noted. So, by the middle of August, audiences were spyed out.

    I enjoyed Man From U N C L E. But it didn’t stick with me the way Kingsman did. While that one may not quite have been as good as I thought it was when I first saw it opening weekend, it holds up decently to repeat viewings. Man From U N C L E was closer in quality to two other August 2015 releases: Ricki And The Flash and We Are Your Friends. Both of those I enjoyed while they were on, but faded five minutes after I left the theater.


    • I have to agree with that. People can only watch so many spy movies before getting bored. And most people don’t know who Napoleon Solo is, except for Robert Vaughn fans like myself.

      I wonder if “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” would’ve fared better if the original stars, David McCallum and Robert Vaughn, made cameos. But I’m not surprised they didn’t. McCallum and Vaughn were pushed into reprising their “U.N.C.L.E.” roles for a TV movie (which they didn’t want to do), so it’s not a surprise they didn’t want to do “U.N.C.L.E.” a third time.


    • I didn’t consider the other spy movies that came out that year. That being said, I agree with you that Kingsman was a superior film. I find The Man from U.N.C.L.E. largely forgettable. In fact, the only thing I remember is finding Henry Cavill more charismatic than usual. Meanwhile, I could at least name things that happened in Kingsman, it’s just too weird of a movie to ignore.


  2. I am a huge fan of the original TV “UNCLE”. I grew up watching it. I was deeply disappointed with this movie. If it hadn’t been called “Man from UNCLE” you would never think it had anything in common with the TV show. They didn’t use the theme music (big mistake!), casting was poor. Plot about the bad guys stealing an A-Bomb? How many times have we seen that? Maybe two good looking babes. Not much more. Very boring.


  3. I enjoyed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. reasonably well—it’s a competently executed action comedy. But it’s not too hard to see why it wasn’t a hit. First, while Sherlock Holmes is superior source material, as kevthewriter notes—it’s pretty deeply embedded into the cultural DNA of, at least, the English-speaking world—Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin aren’t. The original series was too short-lived and too much a product of its times (sort of as was the case with The Avengers TV series, also adapted into a famous movie flop).

    Secondly, kev is also right to hit on the star power issue. It wasn’t just Downey, either. Any Sherlock Holmes adaptation that is worthy of the name is going to be about two people—Holmes and Watson. And Jude Law was a terrific choice as Watson—a not-quite A-list star with a high profile and a fair amount of charisma of his own, who played off Downey very well.


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