Skip to content

How Poor Creature Design Can Cause a Film to Flop

Since 1977’s Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, science fiction has quickly become the most popular (and profitable) genre of them all. The combination of sci-fi & fantasy has completely dominated the domestic and international box offices. All but two (Titanic and Furious 7) of the 10 highest-grossing films of all time have incorporated some major science fiction or fantasy elements.. As the genre has grown, so have the budgets to make these movies, and as the budgets grow so does the risk of failure. In fact, the two largest financial losses in film history were science fiction movies (John Carter and Mars Needs Moms). Along with recent domestic box office failure Warcraft (although it has proved a huge success in China), a trend can be seen that movies with poorly designed creatures, especially if they’re the protagonists, tend to fail at the domestic box office (which usually correlates internationally as well).

The most recent addition to this phenomenon is Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft. First things first, Warcraft is not a perfect movie. Although it boasts some unbelievable technical achievements and has fun action throughout, this character-driven story sometimes feels too complicated. Lots of information is jam-packed into 2 hours. That being said, a movie doesn’t have to be perfect to make money, as long as the visuals are griping and the action is exciting (ask Michael Bay). Warcraft definitely has some entertaining action and its CGI is at times astonishing. Nevertheless, when one of the main protagonists has two tusks sticking out of his mouth and an upper-body so large, it’s a wonder he’s able to walk, it’s not hard to see why many Americans didn’t watch this movie.

Despite its $160 million budget and constant advertisement, it was a domestic box office failure, grossing slightly under $25 million in its opening weekend (it placed third among moviepass members). Even worse than the “good” orcs are the overly green “evil” orcs. Compared to the much smaller orcs from Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, those in Warcraft look more suited for an action-comedy than this serious film. Only Gul’dan, with his hood, spikes, and hunched back looks like a passable villain. I know the movies want to stay true to the video games but for a movie that takes itself so seriously (I can count all the jokes on one finger) bright green villains don’t always work. Warcraft has been saved by its success overseas (specifically its $156 million debut in China), but its lack of success in the States (despite being part of one of the largest video game franchises of all time) shows how poor creature design can really harm a movie’s ticket sales.

This pattern of poor creature design in failing movies is even more prominent in the two largest flops of all time, John Carter and Mars Needs Mom. Like Warcraft, these aren’t perfect movies. John Carter feels a bit too long and Mars Needs Moms deals with some sexist overtones. Yet these movies still shouldn’t have failed. A live action (severely underrated) epic directed by Andrew Stanton (known for Wall-E and Finding Nemo) and a Robert Zemeckis (produced) motion-capture experiment, don’t usually cause studios to panic (which is why both films received huge budgets from Disney);  however, each of these movies relies heavily on alien characters that  are, honestly, hard to look at. They aren’t just ugly (District 9 proves that this doesn’t ruin a movie) and they aren’t just unrealistic (I still don’t believe the Neytiri from Avatar are that realistic), they are both. And with these combined features, the aliens from John Carter and Mars Needs Moms are so poorly designed that it is nearly impossible to become lost in their worlds, which is a main goal of science fiction films.

“Mars needs botox” is stated quite early on,  in Mars Needs Moms. A line like this in a script should automatically be a sign of trouble. There is a reason actors and actresses often get plastic surgery. People usually prefer to look at attractive things. This is just a fact which Hollywood has used to manipulate audiences since its inception. Yet, it seems to be lost on creature designers who constantly make their creations  as ugly as possible. It’s more than that these creatures are ugly.. E.T. isn’t winning any beauty pageants. It’s also that the creature designs lack character.  


I was once told a story about an actor, Alfonso Bedoya, who is most famous for playing Gold Hat in The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948). As the story goes, Alfonso Bedoya always had bad teeth. After gaining fame for his famous quote “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges,” Bedoya decided it was time to get his teeth fixed. After getting fixed up with a proper smile, Bedoya tried to get back into film acting; however, without his famous set of crooked choppers,  no studio wanted to hire him. He never acted in Hollywood again. Regardless of whether or not, this story is entirely true, it does show just how important it is for people, or aliens, to have something that makes them unique. E.T. may be an ugly little guy, but he’s as huggable as they get. The titular character from Predator might be “one ugly looking mother******” but he is unbelievably scary. This is what the characters from movies like Warcraft, John Carter, and Mars Needs Moms are missing: special characteristics that make them not simply ugly creatures, but real characters that we want to root for or against. It may not help that John Carter, Mars Needs Moms, and Warcraft didn’t benefit from word of mouth; however, the poor creature design was off-putting for many moviegoers.. Hopefully, Hollywood will  learn from its mistakes.

Make yourself heard!