Top 10 Box Office Busts Top 10 Selections

#6A Box Office Bust: Dudley Do-Right

Synopsis: In honor of Thanksgiving, I prepared a double feature of Brendan Fraser turkeys. Opening the twin bill at 6A, Dudley Do-Right (1999) failed despite seemingly having the ingredients to succeed. Of note, the movie followed the formula of Fraser’s prior hit George of the Jungle (1997). Specifically, the actor went back to the well by portraying a likable doofus in a live-action adaptation of a 1960s cartoon. Furthermore, the film had an accomplished writer/director. Serving both roles, Hugh Wilson had an impressive track record which included the classic TV show WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82) and hit movie Police Academy (1984). Even with a marketable star, a talented creative influence, and a sizable production budget of $75 million, Dudley Do-Right flopped with only $10 million at the box office. I have my own theory about why the film became a Top 10 Bust, but you’ll have to read this to find out.


DUDLEY DO-RIGHT (1999)

Plot: In a live-action adaptation of a 1960s cartoon, inept Canadian Mountie Dudley Do-Right tries to woo girlfriend Nell Fenwick while chasing after villain Snidely Whiplash.

Producer: John Davis

Director: Hugh Wilson

Writers: Jay Ward (characters), Hugh Wilson

Actors: Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alfred Molina

Metacritic Score: 44 (mixed reviews with a negative bias)

BOX OFFICE NUMBERS*
Movie Release Date Estimated Production Costs Opening Gross Ticket Sales Theaters Opening Gross / Theater Lifetime Gross Ticket Sales
Dudley Do-Right August 27, 1999 $70 million $3.0 million 1,802 $1,700 $10.0 million

* Information provided by boxofficemojo.com

BACKGROUND 
THE LEAD ACTOR – BRENDAN FRASER

Based on the success of Encino Man (1992), Brendan Fraser likely thought he would become a Hollywood star. Portraying a thawed-out caveman in his first studio film, Fraser stole the show and helped turn the movie into a “sleeper”‘ hit. His next movie, School Ties (1992), performed marginally at the box office. However, it still helped elevate his status due to his top billing over up-and-comers Chris O’Donnell, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Fraser got a reality check from there given the failure of Airheads (1994) and The Scout (1994). Of note, both movies combined to generate less than $10 million in ticket sales.

Despite the declining popularity of his movies, Fraser got the lead role in Disney’s big-budget production of George of the Jungle (1997). The movie received “Two Thumbs Ups” from Siskel and Ebert for being a smart and funny live-action adaptation of the popular cartoon. Ebert even quipped that it was “about a doofus but not made by a doofus.” For any fans of the legendary movie critics, you can imagine Siskel’s reaction to his partner’s comment. With a worldwide box office total of almost $175 million, the film had commercial as well as critical success.

REPEAT A WINNING FORMULA

Whereas originality deserves admiration, imitation seems to be preferred by studio executives. For instance, Fraser’s role in Encino Man inspired his role in Blast from the Past (1999). In the first movie, he portrayed a social misfit trying to adjust to modern society after being frozen for thousands of years. In the second, he portrayed a social misfit trying to adjust to modern society after being secluded in a nuclear bomb shelter for 35 years. I’m sure it got a green light simply based on the similar premise.

Fraser next starred in The Mummy (1999), which served as a high-tech remake of a 1932 movie with the same title. For the modern version, writer-director Stephen Sommers envisioned a campy action-adventure love story. Based on his command of over-the-top humor, Fraser seemed to be ideally suited for the lead role. He certainly fit the bill better than than the other stars rumored to have turned it down (e.g. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck). Despite having mixed critical reviews, the movie became a blockbuster by generating over $400 million in worldwide ticket sales.

As a continuation of the imitation theme, Fraser’s role as a dimwit in Dudley Do-Right resulted directly from his portrayal of a dimwit in George of the Jungle. Making the similarity even more noteworthy, both movies were based on Jay Ward cartoons from the 1960s. The studio behind Dudley Do-Right even employed an advertising campaign which embraced being a copycat. Specifically, they hyped it for being “From the creator of George of the Jungle…and the star of George of the Jungle…and the acclaimed director  . . . who saw George of the Jungle.” Per usual, the imitation failed to match the original.

ACCLAIMED DIRECTOR?

The acclaimed director referenced in the advertising for Dudley Do-Right was Hugh Wilson. Primarily a writer for TV sit-coms in the 1970s (e.g. WKRP in Cincinnati), Wilson hit it big as the writer/director of Police Academy (1984). Due to its success, that movie spawned six sequels. I stopped watching the franchise after the third installment because the movies became unwatchable. Still, I recently tried to introduce my 13-year-old son to the original. Unlike other classic 80s comedies like Caddyshack (1980) or Stripes (1981), Police Academy just doesn’t stand the test of time.

POLICE ACADEMY – WHAT HAPPENED?
policeacademy
It takes more to entertain kids today, but I didn’t laugh much either.

After returning to the small screen for a few years, Wilson got another shot on the big screen as the writer/director of Guarding Tess (1994) starring Nicolas Cage and Shirley MacLaine. While certainly not a great movie, it helped get him another directing assignment for The First Wives Club (1996). That movie, which starred Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton, generated over $180 million worldwide. Based on his track record, Wilson became the writer/director of Blast from the Past and Dudley Do-Right. As a reminder, Fraser starred in both movies.

THE LEAD ACTRESS – SARAH JESSICA PARKER

When cast as the female lead, Sarah Jessica Parker might have been best known for playing the object of desire in Honeymoon in Vegas (1992). Despite the success of her movies in which she co-starred, Parker failed to be a compelling draw as the lead. In particular, Miami Rhapsody (1995) and If Lucy Fell (1996) combined to generate less than $8 million in ticket sales.

By the time of the Dudley Do-Right’s release date, Parker had just completed her second season as Carrie Bradshaw on the popular HBO series Sex and the City (1998-2004). As such, she had a completely new fan base. Unfortunately, that fan base had no interest in a live-action adaptation of a 1960s cartoon.

CONCLUSION

Despite any similarities, George of the Jungle succeeded while Dudley Do-Right flopped. Based on a review written by Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, the distinction seemed understandable. In particular, Turan provided the following thoughts.

Casting Fraser as Dudley turns out to be too much of a good thing, a case of Blank Look Overkill.

But worse news is yet to come, because as uninspiring as Fraser is, the likable actor is still the best thing about this tiresome, inept farce that’s not even a fraction as clever or entertaining as it likes to imagine it is.

“Dudley” disappoints in every way possible, forcing its failed tongue-in-cheek humor and proving one more time that not all successful cartoons cry out for live-action treatment.

While entertaining, this scathing review didn’t represent the movie’s Metascore of 44. For instance, Ebert offered the following comment.

Fraser is stalwart and credulous as Dudley, Parker is wide-eyed and easily astonished as Nell, and Molina plays Whiplash so broadly he almost needs to stand sideways. Viewers below a certain age (9?) will probably find the movie enormously entertaining, and, truth to tell, I kinda sorta liked it myself. Not enough to recommend to those in the upper grades, but enough to remember parts with a smile.

ALTERNATE THEORY

With a Metascore of 53, George of the Jungle fared somewhat better with the critics. However, it fared much better with moviegoers. From my perspective, the difference had more to do with nostalgia than the quality of the movies. When reminiscing with similarly aged adults about cartoons from our childhoods, I often hear passionate imitations of “George, George, George of the Jungle, strong as he can be . . . ” In contrast, I rarely hear much passion regarding Dudley Do-Right.

My contribution to those conversations usually includes the observation that George’s actions (like smashing into a tree) were silly, but still funny. On the other hand, Dudley’s actions (like riding a horse backwards) were inane and not funny. Others might not differentiate between the characters in a similar way. Then again, the disparate box office totals support the argument that viewers remembered one much more fondly than the other.

FURTHER SUPPORT

To test my theory, I looked at the success of other live-action adaptations of cartoons.

  • The Flintstones (1994), which was based on a #1 ranked prime time TV show, had a mostly negative Metascore of only 38. Still, it grossed over $340 million worldwide. As a result, the studio decided to make a sequel: The Flintstones in Viva Las Vegas (2000). The critics disliked the movie even more (Metascore of 27). Still, it grossed almost $60 million worldwide (six times higher than Dudley Do-Right).
  • The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000) was based on a popular 1960s cartoon. Watching it in reruns during the 1970s, my friends and I didn’t like it too much. I can’t answer for anyone else, but Rocky’s voice grated on me. Despite a similar Metascore (36) to The Flintstones, the movie only grossed $35 million worldwide.
  • Underdog (2007) was based on a cartoon that my brothers and I really liked as kids. With a Metascore of 37 (i.e. similar to the other two cartoon remakes), the movie grossed $65 million worldwide.

Indistinguishable to the critics (i.e. Metascores ranging from 36-38), the movies fared dramatically differently at the box office. Perhaps, the success of the movies depended more on parents’ recollections of the cartoons than the critics’ reviews.

POSTSCRIPT

In 1999, Fraser starred in one of the biggest hits (The Mummy) and misses (Dudley Do-Right) of the year. That dynamic repeated itself in 2001 when he starred in The Mummy Returns (over $430 million at the box office) and Monkeybone (under $8 million). In my next post, I’ll explore the failure of Monkeybone as an example of another all-time box office bust.

Fraser struggled throughout the 2000s trying to break free of stereotypical roles. Of note, his only success involved playing comical/goofy action heroes in two Mummy sequels and Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008). Apparently out of loyalty to the original director, Fraser declined returning for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2011). With a new star (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson replaced Fraser) and new director (Brad Peyton replaced Eric Brevig), Journey 2 did even better at the box office ($335 million vs. $242 million). Not that it really matters, but moviegoers didn’t seem to mind that the sequel received worse reviews (Metascore of 41 vs. 57).

Since 2008, Fraser’s most successful film has been Gimme Shelter (2013) starring Rosario Dawson and Vanessa Hudgens. Fraser received third billing in the movie, which generated a whopping $1 million in ticket sales. Ouch! Perhaps the best way to characterize Fraser’s roller coaster career is offered by Chuckie Miller (Seth Green) in Can’t Buy Me Love (1987). When describing the influence that the popular girl had on his nerdy brother (Patrick Dempsey), Chuckie says, “You took him from geek status to king status to no status.”

CAN’T BUY ME LOVE – STILL GOOD
cantbuymelove
Patrick Dempsey: pre-McDreamy (i.e. his own personal geek status before reaching king status)

With respect to Fraser’s career, Chuckie might provide the following support for his quote.

GEEK STATUS – SCHOOL TIES

Brendan-Fraser-School-Ties

KING STATUS – GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE / THE MUMMY

brendan-fraser-10-hot-stars

NO STATUS – SINCE THE END OF THE MUMMY TRIOLOGY

Dudley Do-Right (err, Dudley Do-Wrong)

To the extent Fraser achieved “King” status because of his roles in George of the Jungle and the Mummy franchise, Parker achieved “Queen” status because of her role on Sex and the City. The successful series lasted for six seasons on HBO, and led to two blockbuster movies which combined to gross over $700 million worldwide. She has had roles in other movies (e.g. Failure to Launch, Did you Hear About the Morgans) over the last ten years. Still, none has matched the drawing power of Carrie Bradshaw. Unlike her Dudley Do-Right co-star, Parker has maintained her physical appearance throughout her career.

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS

sjp3

SEX AND THE CITY 2

SJP9

SUMMER OF 2015

sjp5

Interestingly, SJP became one of the first actors/actresses to make a return to the small screen seem like a good career choice to relaunch a movie career. Her newest project, Divorce, is a half-hour HBO comedy series so she’s poised to do it again.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The following table summarizes the box office totals for the movies referenced in the previous sections.

BOX OFFICE NUMBERS*
Movie Release Date Estimated Production Costs Domestic Ticket Sales

Worldwide Ticket Sales

Police Academy

March 23, 1984 $5 million $82 million $82 million
Encino Man May 22, 1992 $7 million $41 million

$41 million

Honeymoon in Vegas

August 28, 1992 $25 million $35 million $35 million
School Ties September 18, 1992 N / A $15 million

$15 million

Guarding Tess

March 11, 1994 $20 million $27 million $27 million
Airheads August 5, 1994 N / A $6 million

$6 million

The Scout

September 30, 1994 N / A $3 million $3 million
Miami Rhapsody January 27, 1995 N / A $5 million

$5 million

If Lucy Fell

March 8, 1996 $5 million $2 million $2 million
First Wives Club September 20, 1996 $26 million $105 million

$181 million

George of the Jungle

July 19, 1997 $55 million $105 million $174 million
Blast from the Past February 12, 1999 $35 million $27 million

$40 million

The Mummy

May 7, 1999 $155 million $260 million $415 million
Dudley Do-Right August 27, 1999 $70 million $10 million

$10 million

Failure to Launch

March 10, 2006 $50 million $89 million $128 million
Sex and the City May 30, 2008 $65 million $150 million

$415 million

Did You Hear About the Morgans

December 18, 2009 $58 million $29 million $85 million
Sex and the City 2 May 27, 2010 $100 million $95 million

$290 million

Journey to the Center of the Earth

July 11, 2008 $60 million $102 million $242 million
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor August 1, 2008 $145 million $102 million

$401 million

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

February 10, 2012 $104 million $231 million $335 million
Gimme Shelter January 24, 2014 $4 million $1 million

$1 million

* Information provided by boxofficemojo.com

** Information provided by IMDb

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