Is 'World War Z' The Next Big Hollywood Flop?

brad pitt world war zVanity Fair’s June cover issue says ‘World War Z’ will need to earn $400 million to be profitable.

When “World War Z” hits theatres this June, Paramount is hoping its zombie film with Brad Pitt will be a huge blockbuster hit with potential sequels in the works. 

However, June’s cover story of “World War Z” reveals that the production for the film sounds more like a Hollywood horror than the movie itself. 

The amount of drama on set is causing concerns that the film could be the first blockbuster flop of the year. 

The Vanity Fair article claims the film suffered from a lack of leadership, communication on set between producers and director Marc Foster (“Quantum of Solace“), budget overages from the moment filming began, and a lack of a clear ending when shooting started. 

After getting ABC’s “Lost” screenwriter Damon Lindelof to review the film, production threw out an expensive 12-minute ending to reshoot an additional 30-40 minutes of the film that would need to be completed in three weeks time. 

According to Lindelof, Pitt told him they “started shooting the thing before we locked down how it was going to end up, and it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”

(Remember, Lindelof is the man who co-wrote “Prometheus,” a film that, despite its box-office intake, left audiences scratching their heads after leaving theatres.)

Vanity Fair reported Paramount paid $1 million to win the rights to Max Brooks’ 2006 apocalyptic novel, “World War Z.” Originally, the book rights were in a heated bidding war between Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way. 

Since then, Paramount told the magazine the budget for the film which started at $150 million has at least ballooned to $170 million. It cites other rival film studios claiming the budget has inflated anywhere from $210 to $250 million. 

Vanity Fair estimates with marketing and advertising costs added, “World War Z” will need to earn $400 million worldwide to break even. 

If that’s true, it wouldn’t only make the film one of the most expensive zombie movies ever made, but also one of the priciest films to hit theatres

The Anatomy Of A Zombie Flick 

Typically, the average zombie film budget is low and never hits anywhere near $100 million to produce.

Here are the top five highest-grossing Zombie films according to Boxofficemojo.com:

Movies DistributorEstimated
Production Budget

Worldwide GrossHotel Transylvania” 

Sony$85 million

$346.9 million

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Sony / Screen Gems  

$60 million 

$296.2 million

Warm Bodies

Lionsgate/Summit

$35 million

$116.5 million

Zombieland

Sony

$23.6 million

$102.4 million

Dawn of the Dead

Universal $26 million$102.4 million

Looking at these stats, a starting point of $150 million seems markedly high for a zombie film.  The highest-grossing film on that list is a children’s animated film from last year.  

However, two industry insiders are comparing “World War Z” to another apocalyptic film instead: 2007’s “I Am Legend” featuring Will Smith.

Business Insider spoke with Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, and Phil Contrino, Vice President and Chief Analyst of BoxOffice.com, to discuss the projections for Paramount’s zombie thriller. 

Contrino says a big budget is a tough hurdle for any movie to overcome, especially one that’s not part of an established franchise, but it’s not the end for Pitt’s zombie film. 

“I think $120 million to $150 million here is a very possible goal for “World War Z,” says Contrino. “It’s a kind of movie that people really respond to. I think people are missing the comparison to ‘I Am Legend,’ another zombie movie that was extremely successful.”

I am LegendIndustry insiders say ‘World War Z’ should be compared to the likes of 2007’s ‘I Am Legend’ instead of a low-budget zombie flick.

2007’s “I Am Legend” featuring Will Smith as the last man on Earth cost an estimated $150 million for Warner Bros. to produce. 

The film opened to a $77.2 million and went on to earn $585 million worldwide. 

The only difference is Smith’s science-fiction flick—also loosely based on Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name—didn’t open in the summer. Rather, it debuted December of 2007. 

“World War Z” was originally slated for a December 2012 release before being pushed back. 

Gomez’s Starlight Entertainment is tracking the film to draw similar numbers to “I Am Legend,” noting Brad Pitt’s universal appeal should also help the film at the box office. 

“We don’t think it will be a disaster, because Brad Pitt is a huge draw internationally and the film’s spectacle and PG-13 rating will cross demos,” Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment tells Business Insider. “If the film doesn’t gel from a narrative standpoint, or gets a negative response through social media on the first weekend in the States, we still see it doing comparable box office to “I Am Legend.” 

What will it take for the film to be profitable?  

Right now, BoxOffice.com is tracking the film to earn $40 million opening weekend and $105 million domestically.

For a film more than a month away, the figure is calculated through looking at traction on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as historical figures for similar films and big players in any movie. In this case, that would be Brad Pitt. 

However, $40 million is a far reach from $400 million. In order to get there, it will need to pick up steam at home.   

“If this movie doesn’t hit $100 million domestic, then it’s in a lot of trouble,” — Phil Contrino, VP/Chief Analyst, BoxOffice

“$150 million would be the goal in North America to start really thinking, ‘OK, we can maybe get to $400 [million],'” says Contrino. “But, $150 million here seems like a long shot at this point.” 

Contrino says Paramount should start worrying if the film doesn’t hit the $100 million mark in North America.  

“If this movie doesn’t hit $100 million domestic, then it’s in a lot of trouble. It needs to at least do that,” says Contrino. “It would be a bad sign for overseas [earnings] as well. $100 million would be a definite disappointment for something like this.” 

To reach blockbuster-sized status, Paramount will have to overcome more hurdles than just an inflated budget, but other variables that may effect the film’s success: 

An Inexperienced Film Crew 

Brad Pitt World War Z

Vanity Fair suggests the reason Pitt was able to work on his passion project at Paramount was because he’s friends with Paramount Pictures chairman and chief executive, Brad Grey, who co-founded Pitt’s production company. 

“World War Z” will be Pitt’s first time as both producer and star of a film. 

His previous credits as a producer include 2011’s “Moneyball” and Oscar-nominated “The Tree of Life.” At Paramount, Pitt produced “Eat Pray Love” starring Julia Roberts which earned $204 million worldwide. 

Director Marc Foster (“Monsters Ball,” “Finding Neverland”) has one action flick under his belt, 2008’s James Bond sequel “Quantum of Solace.”  

While the film had monetary box office appeal earning $586 million at theatres, it received a lot of backlash from fans and critics alike.  

Grey acknowledged Foster’s limited experience in blockbuster films, and Paramount answered by hiring an experienced crew to work with them and to more or less experiment with “World War Z.”

From Vanity Fair: 

“Paramount surrounded Forster and Pitt (as a producer) with a highly trained crew experienced with making expensive, special-effect-driven action movies. ‘What you want to do, in my judgement, is breed more producers and directors who know how to make these pictures,’ said Grey. ‘That is not an easy thing to do. Mistakes can be made if you don’t have experience. But I think it’s good, when all is said and done, to learn trial by fire.'”

A Storyline That Strays Far From Source Material 

world war z book

One of the main reasons people are so hyped for “World War Z” is because it’s based on Max Brooks’ 2006 novel. 

For those unfamiliar with the book, it doesn’t take place during a zombie war, but after it. The story follows a U.N. employee interviewing survivors about their experiences during the zombie apocalypse. 

However, when the plot came out, suggesting the film would take a different route it was a massive let down to fans and bloggers. 

It will be a lot different. 

Brad Pitt set out for the film to be a passion project, reflecting Brooks’ novel; however, he admitted to Lindelof it was altered heavily. 

“When we started working on the script, a lot of that stuff had to fall away for the story to come together,” Pitt told Lindelof. 

Vanity Fair revealed just how different the film will be from the novel: 

“Carnahan [the second screenwriter for ‘World War Z’] deviated significantly from Brooks’s book, scrapping the first-person accounts and basing the story on a former United Nations field specialist and family man named Gerry Lane, who was not a character in Brooks’s manuscript but was borrowed from Straczynski’s [the first ‘World War Z’ screenwriter] draft. The movie became an action adventure, with Lane forced to leave his wife and two daughters to hopscotch the globe.” 

Contrino doesn’t think this will affect the box-office draw at all citing other films that have strayed from source material including Harry Potter. 

However, Gomez thinks the adaptation of this book could be crucial not only to the success of this stand-alone film, but for Paramount’s hopes at turning this into a franchise. 

“If the filmmakers have abandoned logic for the sake of cool visuals, an essential aspect of this potential franchise will be short-changed, and the movie may not do as well,” says Gomez.

A Big Name Who May Not Bring The Money Anymore

Pitt’s theatre appeal may not be as large as Paramount thinks it to be.

The actor’s last films haven’t been spectacular draws to the box office either. The Weinstein Company’s fall 2012 release “Killing Them Softly” bombed opening weekend earning $6.8 million. 

He hasn’t had a big hit at theatres since 2009’s “Inglorious Basterds” and that earned $321 million worldwide.

The only Pitt films to ever gross more than $400 million worldwide are “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” ($478 million) and “Ocean’s Eleven” ($450 million).

So is it a definite Hollywood bust? 

men in black 3‘Men in Black 3’ is an example of a film with on-set horror stories that saw massive success at the box office last year.

The film has the odds stacked against it, but absolutely not. 

For one thing, a lot of movies have problems on set.  

“The trickle-down effect from that story [Vanity Fair] can be potentially harmful,” says Contrino. “It’s not the kind of publicity you want before you open a movie, but I think often too much is made over a movie going over budget and the release date being pushed back. That kind of stuff happens more often than you know about.” 

One recent example to look at is “Men in Black III.” Sony’s third film in the franchise suffered from multiple delays, rewrites, and a demanding Will Smith who reportedly had a $9,000 per month trailer for the film. 

“Just because those things happen to a movie, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a disaster,” — Phil Contrino, VP/Chief Analyst, BoxOffice

The film cost a whopping estimated $250 million to produce. Granted, “MIB3” was a sequel; however, it went on to become one of the most successful movies of 2012 scoring $624 million worldwide

Overall, Contrino doesn’t think the on-set horror stories will have a big effect on the movie going experience.  

“Just because those things happen to a movie, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a disaster,” says Contrino. “If they [Paramount] already spent that much on the production side, they’re not just going to sit back. Expect a huge marketing push to try and salvage some profitability.” 

We still have more than a month until “World War Z” hits theatres June 14. 

For now, check out the latest trailer:

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