Disney Dumped The Switch, But Aniston Needs Strong Co-Stars

by Anthony D'Alessandro
August 26, 2010 5:57 AM
25 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
What went wrong with The Switch, and is Jennifer Aniston's anemic marquee value to blame? Anthony D'Alessandro comes up with some surprising answers.

Jennifer Aniston’s box office allure is in question after Miramax failed to electrify moviegoers with her recent rom-com The Switch. Despite being the only star-driven wide entry in a crowded, blasé August frame, Switch bombed in seventh place with $8.4 million.  The comedy about artificial insemination, which also stars Jason Bateman, queued behind a 3D genre title, an urban comedy and a string of holdovers. 

Unlike last summer, when The Proposal ($164 million) and The Ugly Truth ($88.9 million) fed the hungry female demo, aud-pleasing romcoms have been sparse this season, with the dismal public reception of Sex and the City 2 overshadowing its $95.3 million domestic cume. The press jumped all over Aniston’s inability to allure auds as an American sweetheart.

Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
But many b.o. pundits neglected to point out that Switch is the bastard child of Disney’s Miramax selloff. The actress’ phone will continue to ring with movie offers. The key here is that behind every great romantic comedy, is a great leading man. Aniston can’t open a film on her own: few actresses can: Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts are the only ones. And they still need to be cast in fan-friendly roles like Salt, The Proposal and Eat Pray Love, respectively. It's challenging for actresses to step out of their fans' sweet spot. After Reese Witherspoon scored with 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama ($127.2 million), she soon realized that solo projects are a gamble. Her next film, Just Like Heaven, built largely around her, tanked at $48.3 million. 

Aniston’s biggest hits at the box office -- Bruce Almighty ($242.8 million), Marley and Me ($143.2 million) and The Break-Up ($118.7 million) –in part can be attributed to her strong leading men: Jim Carrey, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.  The same applies to other successful romantic comedies, i.e. Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates and even Witherspoon with Vaughn in Four Christmases, with which she rebounded from Heaven.

Jason Bateman’s affability as a straight man aside, the actor lacks the B.O. prowess to hold up Aniston’s end in Switch.  While he has built a strong co-star resume in prestige fare like Juno and Up in the Air, Bateman has yet to excel financially in a star vehicle.  His comedy last summer, Extract, also from Miramax, put audiences asleep with $10.8 million. Actually, Switch is more Bateman’s film than Aniston’s, as the mixed reviews pointed out. Disney-Miramax might have been better off convincing testosterones that they shouldn’t shrug off seeing the film with their 25+ girlfriends. Fully 65% of those buying tickets to Switch were female.

Should Aniston wish to continue flickering onscreen as part of the Bullock-Roberts club, rather than fade into Meg Ryan-Michelle Pfeiffer obscurity, the actress needs to up her game, suggests Vulture’s Claude Brodesser-Akner. Still coveted for playing a variation of her lovable Friends protagonist Rachel, Anniston should play that character “at the highest level: Alexander Payne, Jim Brooks.”

But, no matter which way you cut it, Switch was destined to fail. Had Disney flagged it as a guaranteed draw, the studio would have scheduled it earlier in the summer, rather than competing against four new titles. Disney could have dodged that situation just as Warner Bros. did by moving Going the Distance to Sept. 3.  Like white Capri pants after Labor Day, if there’s one frame that doesn’t go with Aniston, it’s the August/September period, when she’s bit the dust with a number of stinkers: 1997’s Picture Perfect ($31.4 million), 2001’s Rock Star ($17 million) and last year’s Love Happens ($23 million). 

Obviously, Disney dumped Switch, which they did not develop and finance. Their shuttered Miramax specialty label acquired the film from financier Mandate for $6 million and nearly unloaded it off to Ron Tutor’s Miramax before accepting their distribution fee.  One analyst close to Disney says: “It’s not clear who will ultimately claim the box office money from Switch in their marketshare – Disney or the new Miramax.”  History has shown that co-distributors often squabble in such stat-keeping: MGM laid claim to the B.O. from the Weinstein product they handled, while the Weinstein Co. argued such grosses were rightfully theirs to report in domestic tallies.

Aniston made up for any marketing shortchange by tirelessly championing the film: from her Streisand-inspired Harper's Bazaar cover to her public feud with Fox News' Bill O’Reilly over single motherhood.  Even scarier than the media scrutiny of Aniston’s B.O. muscle is the fact that no amount of the star’s free publicity could push this film to open higher. Like Jolie, Aniston typically throws open the drapes of her private life when tub-thumping her movies. There’s an obvious disconnect between ticket buyers and glossy mag readers.

Switch's one silver lining: financier Mandate recouped its $19 million investment through territory sales before the romcom even bowed. Worldwide, The Switch currently stands at $11.5 million with 90% of its haul coming from the U.S. 

Aniston's next move? On paper, she’s looking to hedge her bets with the Warner Bros./New Line ensemble comedy Horrible Bossess, in which she plays a sexually- charged dentist, and Sony’s Adam Sandler smoocher comedy Just Go With It, both due next year.

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25 Comments

  • Rhoda | March 19, 2011 10:35 AMReply

    EDITED: just saw it as a Saturday afternoon movie to avoid raking leaves—found it pleasant, and thought it was thoroughly Bateman’s movie; it was told from his character’s his point of view, and in fact Bateman was probably the reason I saw it. Anniston was the perhaps the one miscast—she makes a great 40 yr old career woman wanting a baby, but when she come back from 7 years in Minnesota, she hadn’t changed a whit by being a mom, a single mom, or by returning to her midwestern roots. She had slightly more chemistry with Bateman (I liked it when when she said “probably” with such bemused resignation after his proposal) than she did with her character’s son. I saw it as kind of a reverse Kramer vs Kramer, instead of the couple splitting up and Dustin Hoffman becoming the single dad, here you have the couple awkwardly coming together, with Bateman in some single dad scenes along the way—even with the cooking scene and the kid sitting on the counter reminiscent to Kramer Versus Kramer, which was Hoffman’s movie, and the kid’s movie, as fantastic as Meryl Streep is/was, the father & son ruled the movie. But, back to the Switch, I liked the performance and characterization of the role played by the guy from the “Fly” (Jeff Goldblum), some of his line delivery was so delicious; I didn’t care for the over-the top Juliette Lewis character. Also, I thought the movie delighted too much in some of the graphic dialogue, and missed some opportunities for scenes from the heart, not the crotch. Although I have to admit the Diane Sawyer references were pretty funny (my own husband was madly in love with her). But overall, Bateman’s character was so sweet. The main thing I objected in the movie was how darly it was shot, never any good light in its scenes -- cannot Jennifer Anniston be filmed in the bright of day?

  • rhoda | March 19, 2011 10:26 AMReply

    just saw it as a Saturday afternoon movie to avoid raking leaves -- found it pleasant, and thought it was thoroughly Bateman's movie; it was told from his character's his point of view, and in fact Bateman was probably the reason I saw it. Anniston was the perhaps the one miscast--she makes a great 40 yr old career woman wanting a baby, but when she come back from 7 years in Minnesota, she hadn't changed a whit by being a mom or by returning to her midwestern roots. She had slightly more chemistry with Bateman (I liked it when when she rigginedly said "probably" after his proposal) than she did with her character's son. I saw it as kind of a reverse Kramer vs Kramer, instead of them splitting up and Dustin Hoffman being the single dad, here you have them awkwardly coming together, with Bateman in some single dad scenes along the way -- even with the cooking scene and the kid sitting on the counter reminiscent to Kramer Versus Kramer, which was Hoffman's movie, and the kid's movie, as fantastic as Meryl Streep is/was, the father & son ruled the movie. But, back to the Switch, I liked the performance and characterization of the role played by the guy from the "Fly" (Jeff Goldblum), some of his line delivery was so delicious; I didn't care for the over-the top Juliette Lewis character. Also, Ithought the movie delighted too much in some of the graphic dialogue, and missed some scenes from the heart, not the crotch. Although I have to admit the Diane Sawyer references were was pretty funny (my own husband was madly in love with her). But overall, Bateman's character was so sweet.

  • Dan J. | November 27, 2010 7:16 AMReply

    Didn't notice "Danny's" remark further up on the same theory. My statement would underscore Danny's.

  • Dan J. | November 27, 2010 7:08 AMReply

    There is another theory as to why "Switch" didn't fare so well at the b.o.: Audience fallout after "Bounty Hunter" earlier this year. "Bounty Hunter" was heavily advertised on TV and in the theaters prior to its release on March 19, but critics and audiences alike were not pleased. (Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 7% approval among critics and RT members weren't much higher.) Still, Jen and Gerard fans turned out to $56M at the b.o., but perhaps many fans felt cheated afterwards, and decided to give "Switch" a pass in response, in spite of it's more favorable reviews.

  • Joan | October 5, 2010 4:12 AMReply

    @ amanda... typical loonifer. aside from the writer of this article, nobody mentioned angie by putting your boring idol down. in fact the writer was being objective when he said jennifer anuston needs to step up her game. why must you always presume that everyone who writes against anuston is a jolie fan? come on there are fans of more talented actresses like kate winslet, reese, julia, sandra, even anne hathaway who think anuston should already retire doing rachelesque roncom, she's not a cute young star ffs! fact that you should swallow is angie could retire anytime cause she already etched her name in hollywood and has already achieved what other struggling actress-wannabees (anuston specifically) could ever attain

  • anonymous | September 24, 2010 4:20 AMReply

    It's ridiculous to blame JA's failures on the cast and the poster. She is not a good leading actor. Someone said she should do what she does best - play Rachel to the max - and that's good advice. Instead of acting like a diva when "Friends" was over, she should have snapped up another sitcom and played Rachel to the max. (Not the Rachel who was moving to Paris, but the real Rachel played by the pre-marriage-to-a-real-actor JA.)

    JA will have to get naked in a movie if lots of people are going to go see it. She doesn't even have to look "picture perfect" because she can be spray-tanned and airbrushed. Movie lights have a way of hiding flaws when it's necessary.

    You know she's got to be just desperate enough to do it...

  • mikhael tarigan | August 30, 2010 11:42 AMReply

    The reasons are:
    1. It’s a very weak weekend as the summer comes to an end
    2. they market it more with “the people who brought Juno and Little Miss Sunshine”. Both films are great but they were small releases and not reall mainstream.
    3. However they show Jason Bateman mostly throughout the trailer although Aniston name got mention first. So the first thing that people remember about the film is not Aniston.
    4. We already got Eat Pray Love who has better marketing and cast although The Switch is far more interesting in story area.

  • candiruacu | August 30, 2010 5:31 AMReply

    It's quite possible that Anniston might get more respect if she would actually break out of her comfy rom-com niche (It works for Roberts, Bullock & ANGELINA). Even if she were to fail, at least it would show that she wants to be taken seriously as an actress rather than just be the name above the title. & It would certainly be refreshing for all to see her in a movie where she isn't just regurgitating her well worn Rachel persona and is actually daring to fail. Unless something like that happens, I'm afraid she will be back on the small screen in record time.

  • Danny | August 28, 2010 11:17 AMReply

    Aniston's "Picture Perfect" is my all-time favorite film. I've seen it about 10 times and own several copies, just in case one wears out. "The Switch" is an excellent film. I just think people are getting tired of seeing Aniston doing the same type of role in a romantic comedy. Too, "The Bounty Hunter" was a very bad movie. Maybe audience haven't forgiven her for that one and they worried that this film might be just as bad.

  • Danny | August 28, 2010 11:07 AMReply

    First off, (to the writer of this article) Aniston's "Picture Perfect" is not a stinker! It's my favorite film of ALL-TIME. I bet I have watched it 10 times! It made me notice Jennifer Aniston, whom I had virtually ignored during "Friends". I never watched that show. I have followed Aniston ever since. And I have several copies of "Picture Perfect" just to ensure that I always have a copy that works! Secondly, "The Switch" is truly a great film. I enjoyed it immensely and I think it's one of Jennifer's best. I couldn't believe how bad "The Bounty Hunter" was, and I have to wonder if audiences were so turned-off by that movie that they just naturally assumed that she had made another bad romantic comedy, since it "The Switch" was her next movie after "The Bounty Hunter". I think audiences are just tiring of seeing Jennifer in the same kind of romantic comedy role. Too, I suspect that she's getting too old to appeal to the younger girls in that type of role. Could a 20-year old really identify with a 40-year old Aniston in a romantic comedy? I'm not so sure. She still looks amazing, but let's face it, our society is very youth-oriented and shallow. I will adore Aniston at any age!

  • Amanda | August 28, 2010 8:50 AMReply

    It's hard to respond to Aniston critics when they are obviously Brangelina loons.
    We weren't talking about awards, we were talking about box office and Clooney is hit and miss. Most actors are hit and miss. Most actors play the same roles over and over again. No one complains about Leo playing the same character over and over, or Sean Penn. They may be different movies, but they are the same character type. I would bet anything that if she was just Jennfier Aniston from Friends instead of Jen from Jen/Brad/Angelina no one would be making a big deal out of this.

    And lets not forget the time Clooney made fun of Ronald Reagan's alzheimer's.

  • Ok | August 28, 2010 6:19 AMReply

    Oh please. George Clooney has an Oscar to his name. At least he plays roles which are appropriate to his age. He doesn't pretend to be a cute little girl at 41 plus. He also picks better scripts. It's not the SAME story OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER He also knows how to tell a joke in interviews and doesn't say "retard" on national tv. He's much smarter, more charming, and has personality. I'd much rather see him in a movie ANY DAY over Rachel "rom com" disasters Aniston.

  • pete | August 28, 2010 4:14 AMReply

    got to agree Jennifer Annistan did a good job of getting free publicity, you got to give her credit for a film this small to have people talking about it for the last couple weeks is impressive, got to say the movie poster made me sick to my stomache, and the tv ads made no sense at all it had Jason Bateman tripping on a tredmill with Jeff Goldburn, yeah looks like a $1.50 movie to me from the get go or rental, then I have to get past the movie poster, if the ads were smart they would of played up the contriverse with Bill O'Reiley, and changed the poster, to something else.

  • Amanda | August 27, 2010 8:48 AMReply

    When the American tanks I will be expecting the same type of article for Clooney who misses more than hits, but nobody bitches about that.

  • Patricia | August 27, 2010 7:02 AMReply

    I am amused by the remark, "Still coveted for playing a variation of her lovable Friends protagonist Rachel, Anniston should play that character 'at the highest level: Alexander Payne, Jim Brooks.'” No truer words were ever spoken. Aniston is not criticized for her acting, she's criticized for always playing Rachel playing the part. Pardon me but this sounds like it was written by fans of Rachel. Blaming her co-star for the disappointments of "The Switch"? Jason Bateman was arguably the best part of the movie. But arguing that this fact gives it any appeal to male audiences is absurd.

    And defending the box office of this film as some seem to be doing ignores the home run this film had been expected to make. And if it's making decent per theatre averages, there's reasons it's not being more broadly released. It will be disappearing fast.

  • Karen | August 27, 2010 7:01 AMReply

    She's just not a box office draw by herself. Look the film was beaten by The Lottery Ticket and Lil Bow Wow, and a whole slew of other films. She had a similar disaster last year with Love Happens and Management. She only sells with a male co-star. Why do people insist that she's A list like Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock, I don't understand? Bullocks and Roberts have MANY 100 million plus films under their belt SOLD on their STAR POWER alone. They also have Oscars. Aniston has none of these things, but for some reason her insane fans and Hollywood insists that she is some
    amazing star, actress, and A list. I think they are disconnected from reality.

  • anonymous | August 27, 2010 6:38 AMReply

    The Switch had horrible one sheet posters. It had Bateman sniffing and making a face as he looks into a cup (of sperm) and Aniston making another face in a seperate photo across from Bateman, totally disconnected. It was the marketing that failed.

    A guy friend of mine would comment on the ads every time we would drive past one of the billboards. He would say, "Why do they think that is appealing?" then the next time he would say, "I hate that poster". It became this running joke.

    When advertising irritates rather than informs, when the comedy isn't playing in the context, that is nothing but bad marketing! The poster was too "on the money" and people felt like they didn't have to see the movie because, like a bad movie trailer, the poster told the whole story... and it literally said it all by the expressions on the actors faces, "This stinks."

  • Fan | August 27, 2010 2:07 AMReply

    Thank you Anthony for spending the time to explain how this works.

  • Anthony | August 27, 2010 1:37 AMReply

    Hi everyone. Thanks for the comments.

    Fan, as far as the math goes for “Switch” -- I make a point to be fair and justify the film’s B.O. returns against its low cost.

    To say that “we’re comparing numbers for films in over a thousand more theaters is bad math” defeats the whole industry notion of a box office chart. The primary, fair weight ranking on the chart is simply the total amount of money each film pulled in over three days. Films with various theater counts enter the chart all the time, sometimes a film at 2,500 runs makes more money at No. 1 than the No. 2 film that’s playing in more venues.

    In terms of the theater average for “Switch”: My personal take on theater averages –another means of splicing B.O. figures -- is that their potency and weight mean more when a film is playing in limited release, anything under 1,000 engagements. $4,000+ a theater means significantly more to a film in 10 venues vs. 2,000+. Typically a high theater average serves as a barometer for a film’s potential expansion, i.e. “Borat” making $31,607 per theater at 837 sites in its first weekend is amazing, and makes the argument that there’s a demand for the film; it should be booked in more theaters.

    I am not impressed by the theater average for “Switch.” So far, “Switch” is following a similar B.O. trajectory to Aniston’s other August/September misfires “Love Happens” and “Picture Perfect” – generating similar theater averages, theater counts, weekends hauls. Daily wise, “Switch” is doing better than “Love Happens,” but I attribute that mostly to summer crowds.

    The weekend box office overall wasn’t strong, and I think there might have been some studio spin to tubthump the film’s low ticket sales. At the end of the day, Disney and exhibitors have less money to deposit in their bank accounts from a star-driven wide release – regardless of the film’s theater average. Not to mention, “Switch” ranked eighth on Wednesday and was beaten by a number of films.

    If “Switch” was an Aniston project worth savoring, it would have been released earlier in the summer. If “Switch” posed any kind of B.O. threat, other distributors would avoid ganging up on it. Perhaps if Miramax wasn’t in limbo, “Switch” might have fared better as a platform release a la “The Kids Are All Right.”

    “Eat Pray Love” remains the must-see chick pic heading into the fall and “Going the Distance” is vying for its own share of females. This is what “Switch” is up against in weekends to come.

  • Anne Thompson | August 26, 2010 10:42 AMReply

    Anthony and I both worked at Variety, so Variety slanguage sneaks into these B.O. pieces. Aud-audience.

  • joe | August 26, 2010 10:19 AMReply

    what is an "aud"?

  • Fan | August 26, 2010 9:45 AMReply

    Greg, Anne, I still don't get it. I may be a little slow, but the switch is outperforming everyone except "THE EXPENDABLES" and "EAT PRAY LOVE". How can you insist that people aren’t going or that it failed? Look at the numbers, it was at $392.00 per theater yesterday which put's it at number 3. It's only in 2012 theaters and out performing films playing at a 1000+ more theaters.

  • Anne Thompson | August 26, 2010 7:29 AMReply

    Agreed--which supports the thesis that she'd better start picking better movies that people might want to see.

  • Greg | August 26, 2010 7:17 AMReply

    It's perplexing why Aniston continues to get a bad rap in the media and the industry as a movie star. She is always blamed and dismissed as a 'TV star' when one of her movies fails, but gets absolutely zero credit for her hits. To blame Aniston for the bad results of 'The Switch' or 'Love Happens' is ridiculous. Did say Sandra Bullock wasn't a star after 'All About Steve' bombed? No, it was only a few months after her 'comeback' with 'The Proposal.' 'The Bounty Hunter' is nearly unwatchable, but still made $67 million. Look at the poster for 'He's Just Not That Into You.' Guess which star has the biggest photo on there? Aniston. Anyone who doesn't think she helped open that movie is just trying to tear her down for reasons not connected with her talent or bankability.

  • Fan | August 26, 2010 6:45 AMReply

    Ok, please explain how a film that has a per theater average that places it in 3rd place is a bomb? With the exception of lottery ticket you are comparing numbers for films with over a thousand more theaters. That is just bad math.

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