Joe Wright’s 2015 film “Pan,” an anachronistic and colorful origin story for Peter Pan, sounded like a good idea on paper. Retconned origin stories were very much in vogue back then throughout popular culture, and the story of how an immortal elven boy came to Neverland only to become rivals with a one-armed pirate is certainly ripe for exploration. Wright was also a hot commodity, having directed a Best Picture Oscar nominee (“Atonement”), a quirky action film (“Hanna”) and a high-profile literary adaptation (“Anna Karenina”). In addition, Wright managed to secure an impressive cast that included Rooney Mara, Cara Delevigne and Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard the Pirate. Levi Miller played Peter Pan, and Garrett Hedlund played an ally to Pan in the form of the young, sexy, two-handed James Hook, a ship captain destined to live up to his name.
“Pan” was made for a whopping $150 million. On its opening weekend, it earned a whopping $15 million. Worldwide, it would only make around $128 million, which seems high, but doesn’t factor in advertising and distribution costs. At last count, “Pan” lost around $150 million overall, making it a definitive box office bomb.
When you watch “Pan”, you will find a visually rich, energetic and enjoyable – if predictable – adventure film. The costumes are first class, and the anachronisms add a surreal edge to the story; Hearing pirates sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is refreshingly peculiar. Wright also went out of his way to rid JM Barrie’s original story of racist imagery surrounding its indigenous people. The character of Tiger Lily was now played by Mara, and the natives of Neverland no longer resembled stereotypes taken from colonialist Westerns.
Peter Pan Fatigue
Despite its visual opulence, high energy levels and recognizable characters, “Pan” was, well, panned. The film currently only has a 26% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with many critics citing the film’s reliance on CGI and overly familiar action tropes to be a problem – the climax of “Pan”, for example, takes place on flying, three-masted sailing ships that chase each other through a collapsing crystal cave. There is not much humanity in such a sequence.
It could also be possible that audiences and critics simply weren’t that interested in Peter Pan as a character. Since Barrie’s famous immortal boy is in the public domain (the play is still under copyright, but the characters are free), Peter has appeared in many, many films over the years. The first studio film production of “Peter Pan” was in 1924, with Betty Bronson as the title character. A famous animated version appeared in 1953, and the Disney studio went on to keep the film in wide circulation for decades, adapting it into rides and sequels and theme park mascots. (And a much hardened version of the character, which appeared in 2022’s “Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers.”) In 1991, Steven Spielberg made the baffling sequel, “Hook,” and PJ Hogan made another version in 2003. world wasn’t bad for the Peter Pan stories.
Additionally, due to the character’s association with children’s entertainment—even the original play was notoriously loved by children—any attempt to “darken” Peter Pan or make him seem cool to a youth audience would seem silly. There don’t seem to be many ways to turn an immature kid into a hip, hardcore warrior in the vein of most teen-friendly action fantasy, and you can’t really include sex and violence in a “Peter Pan” story intended for a mass audience.
History of origin Fatigue
Another problem with “Pan” was its adherence to a popular trend. Ever since the success of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” a decade earlier, many filmmakers began to lean heavily into the “reimagined origin story” of other famous characters. This is a trend that continues to this day. Before “Pan,” audiences saw an effects-forward origin for “Planet of the Apes,” the “Alien” origin story, “Prometheus,” an origin for Maleficent, multiple X-Men origins, a disastrous prequel trilogy to “Lord” of the Rings,” an origin story for Hannibal Lecter, for Captain Kirk, for James Bond, for Mike Wazowski. To this day, we get flashbacks to the early days of the Joker or Han Solo or Robin Hood. (Remember that Robin Hood movie from 2018? Me neither!).
To quote comedian Patton Oswalt, when describing the infamous “Star Wars” prequel movies, “I don’t give a *** about where the things I love come from! I just love the things I love!” While filmmakers don’t seem to have gotten the memo, sometimes audiences don’t need a backstory to the thing they already love. Where did Han Solo come from? It doesn’t matter, because knowing that wouldn’t make his appeal in “Star Wars” any stronger.
Knowing that Peter was a half-fairy orphan who once defeated the pirate Blackbeard before forming an antagonistic relationship with Captain Hook after years of friendship…well, that’s tiring to think about. The appeal of Peter Pan is that he doesn’t have to grow up, he can fly, and he lives forever inside his favorite adventure novel. For Peter, life is great. It is only when he meets mortals who do not share his enthusiasm for Neverland that his tragedy emerges.
“Pan” is origin story hooey. And the ticket sales figures testify to how well the audience responded.
Read this next: 30 Box Office Bombs Really Worth Watching
The post Why Hugh Jackman’s Pan Failed At The Box Office appeared first on /Film.