Wednesday, June 12, 2024

“Babylon” With Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie Isn’t the First Huge Box Office Disaster, and It Won’t Be the Last


Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” is a huge disaster at the box office. We knew this was coming some time ago.

The three hour catastrophe starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie cost $250 million and made less than $5 million over the holiday weekend. Paramount will take a write down for the total amount and life will go on.

I’m seeing all kinds of panicky upset notices about this on Twitter. You know, the movie biz is full of these failures, and there will be more. That’s the way it goes.

Back in 1960, “Cleopatra” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton came raining down on its studio. It was the “biggest failure of all time.” Everyone lived.

In 1973, I remember as a teen reading about Ross Hunter’s “Lost Horizon,” which nearly toppled Columbia Pictures.

Then there was “Heaven’s Gate,” which sent United Artists into a frenzy. Coming so soon after Watergate, the word “gate” got added onto anything that was a scandal or a massive failure.

Let’s not forget “Ishtar,” Elaine May’s “passion project,” derided and dismissed just like “Babylon.” Some people went to see it just to see where the money was misspent. And on sand dunes, no less!

There are several dozen more examples of Babylonian disasters. The average loss is $100 million, for movies like Kevin Costner’s “The Postman” and even Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG.” We don’t know what “Amsterdam” lost this year. How about Will Smith’s “After Earth.” John Travolta’s “Battlefield Earth”? Remember “John Carter” and “The Lone Ranger”? We’ve been here before: Francis Ford Coppola’s “One from the Heart” comes to mind. Al Pacino in “Bobby Deerfield.” And so on.

“Babylon” may be the the biggest loss ever at $250 million. But believe me, there’s something out there, it hasn’t been made yet, which will top it one day.

What was the problem here? Too many characters and no one to root for. Margot Robbie’s Nellie looked like a Studio 54 crasher and was played like she was Harley Quinn. The rest of the characters were deeply negative. And the orgy scenes– no one at Paramount saw them in dailies and said ‘no’? No one?

So “Babylon” will go into the history books and we will shake our heads. It’s too bad– we really needed both “Babylon” and “Amsterdam” in this very mediocre season.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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