If you haven’t seen Jem and the Holograms in theatres, and going by the numbers, you haven’t, you missed your chance. Universal has pulled the film after just two weeks. In its second week, Jem was getting $160 per movie screen* it was shown on. With today’s movie ticket costs, that’s about ten to fifteen per showing. The movie just did not get an audience.
Early reviews indicated that the movie had one of the most generic plots possible, with a “Remember Your Friends When You Are Famous” theme and having little connection to the Jem and the Holograms cartoon beyond just the name and being about an all-girl band. People saw the trainwreck coming and decided that they had better things to do, like wash their hair or dig a hole and fill it back up.
There may have been a fundamental disconnect between producers and audience. The Jem movie was based on the dolls, made by Hasbro. The audience was expecting a movie based on the 80s cartoon, with a heftier plotline that involved crooked music producers, a bad-girl band wreaking havoc, and a love triangle where two of the interests were really the same person. The audience who wanted to see the cartoon done in live action had no reason to go, and the generic plot may have kept away the younger set.
Might have been the targeted set. Advertising for the movie was minimal. It’s possible that Universal, the studio behind Jem, knew exactly what it had and went for a contractually-required minimal effort to promote the film. The pulling of the film may have been in defense of the Jem brand. This Jem and the Holograms movie was a flop, but it was one no one saw in theatres. In five years time, the movie will be forgotten enough to try again. Universal gave the film a $5 million budget. Given what Universal made from Jurassic World, Furious 7, and Minions, the loss from Jem is minimal. While Jem failed at the box office, it wasn’t the bomb Gigli was. The movie won’t hurt the brand, especially after being pulled after two weeks**. The IDW comic series is doing well and will keep the brand alive.
For the hypothetical movie in five years, what lessons can be learned from this attempt at a Jem movie? First, forget the generic plot. Jem has established characters, thanks to the cartoon and comic. Each character has her story, from Jerrica’s work to keep her father’s record company afloat to Pizzazz’s family issues. Tailor the film to the characters, not the other way around. Second, at least ask Christy Marx to be involved. Fans of the cartoon were dismayed when Marx wasn’t involved at all. Ignoring the creator and writer of the original Jem cartoon may have kept more people away from the film than anything else, including a lack of marketing. Even if Marx is brought in as a script consultant to make sure the characters feel right.
As Lost in Translation keeps finding, it’s the eye to details that make or break an adaptation. The generic-ness of Jem and the Holograms that caused audiences to just not go. The fans of the cartoon didn’t see their characters on screen, just their shells.
* Not the full theatre, but the actual theatre room in the multiplex where the movie played.
** In comparison, Gigli was pulled after three, but theatres were cutting the number of showtimes by then.