Why Charlie’s Angels Just Bombed So Hard

Talk about Fallen Angels...

Charlie's Angels 2019

On paper, you can see why Hollywood wanted to make a new Charlie's Angels. It's an established IP with box office money behind it and evidence of a fanbase. But it was also based on something horribly outdated that would need a serious revamp to land with modern audiences. And unfortunately, that was inherently part of its biggest problems - in seeking to "fix" Charlie's Angels, the new version was given an imagined "agenda" that made its very existence a problem.

That's why the latest kinda reboot, which has just posted initially uninspiring box office figures, was always doomed. That it made just $8.6 million in its opening domestic weekend is disappointing, but it's not entirely surprising. Sadly.

It now sits on $27.9m in total on a budget of around $48-55m (a not ridiculous amount by any means). If it hits $25m domestically, it will be a surprise and key overseas markets - China in particular - have simply not come out for it. So what went wrong?

To understand the present, you have to go back to the past first.

4. Charlie's History

Farrah Fawcett Charlie's Angels
Sony Pictures

Charlie's Angels might be one of the most recognisable pop culture staples of the late 1970s - at least in TV terms - but it, like The Dukes Of Hazzard - was very, very rooted in a cultural moment that is as far removed from now as you could possibly imagine. It may have starred powerful female characters but it was marketed on sex appeal in a way that was wildly at odds with its supposed feminist agenda. Whisper it, but it also wasn't very good.

It was - however - popular, at least initially. The first two seasons broke into the top ten of Nielsen Ratings, despite ABC calling it one of the worst TV ideas they'd ever heard of and refusing to accept the huge ratings of the pilot to the extent that they screened it a second time to check. Talk about faith in your own product. But for those first two seasons, the show pulled in great figures, despite critics calling it no more than "Jiggle TV" marketed on the sex appeal of the leads.

It might have become a classic thanks to syndication and largely off the back of those first two seasons, but the third, fourth and fifth seasons faired markedly more badly, dropping in ratings to the point that the network relied on gimmicks like a talent hunt to find a new Angel for the fifth season. It didn't work and the show ended up being cancelled in 1981 at its lowest and with the original concept of a detective show increasingly pushed aside for light plots, a cop show of the week approach and more overt focus on "glamour".

Pitch a movie like THAT in 2015 - or even at the turn of the Millennium - and it wouldn't get off the ground. Ideas of feminism were grossly different back then and it's clear why there's been several attempts to reframe Charlie's Angels from what it once was. Unfortunately, though, those who actually LIKED the original show liked it for the things that revisionists would always be likely to change about it.

In 2000 and 2003, McG rebooted the series and managed to rake in over $500m for the pair at the box office from budgets totally almost $220m. Not massively successful, but there was enough profit in the first one to warrant a sequel, even with talk of production unrest (between Bill Murray and Lucy Liu, most famously). There had been talk of third and fourth chapters in the same series with the cast returning, but that plan hit the rocks around 2004, even though Drew Barrymore was talking about possibilities of a follow-up as late as 2015.

The sequel simply didn't make the required money for further instalments, earning less than the original and when you combined that with a critical mauling - including Razzies nominations - you don't need a degree in marketing to work out why it killed the franchise. But then, perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised on the cooler reception when it came with only a B+ CinemaScore, which hardly indicates enthusiasm.

And yet, someone, somewhere still believed that Charlie's Angels was a viable, commercially promising brand. Because after that, we got another reboot in 2011, this time for TV, which ran for one season, was cancelled after only the fourth episode thanks to low ratings and suffered the ignominy of having its final episode left unaired. That's how bad it was.

And yet, STILL someone, somewhere STILL believed that Charlie's Angels could work and we come to the latest attempt, announced in 2015 and helmed by Elizabeth Banks with a new, dynamic cast hired not simply because of how they look or the "glamour" appeal they bring to the table. The sort-of reboot - which has been called both a new take and a continuation, which is a problem in itself - was clearly well-intentioned and sought to change the imbalance of plot and surface gloss that plagued both the original TV series and Full Throttle, but critical reception seems to suggest that the script was an issue from the start.

And while the critical response has clearly played into things, there's more to this tale than merely bad reviews (because there have been FAR worse for far more successful movies). You have to start with the audience.


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