You may have thought Meet Dave bombed because it's the latest in a long string of unfunny Eddie Murphy movies... but it turns out there's another reason. The movie bombed, at least in part, because Fox refused to market it as science fiction, believing that nobody likes SF, and especially not SF comedies. Whether or not you care what happens to the bland Dave, the explanation of why Fox buried it, in the L.A. Times, should concern you.
Meet Dave, you may have heard, was originally called Starship Dave, a much better title that actually gives you some clue what the film is about. Rival marketers say Fox ran away from the movie's premise in its marketing as well. "People who saw the ads had virtually no idea what the movie was about," writes Patrick Goldstein in the L.A. Times. "Whenever I quizzed various potential moviegoers about the film, I got a lot of puzzled shrugs." Because most of the movie takes place in New York City, the studio must have thought they could market it as an "earthly delight." This is a rare failure for the marketing department at Fox, which has had 16 movies in a row before Dave that were critically panned and did well at the box office. (Think Alvin and the Chipmunks, Jumper, The Happening, etc.)
The studio's discomfort with marketing a science fiction comedy stems from Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman's belief that "scifi films and films set in the future are box-office poison," writes Goldstein. Fox had been all set to make Used Guys, a scifi comedy featuring Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey and directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers) - but then Rothman killed it. It was too expensive, but Rothman also thought nobody would go for the premise: men living in a women-ruled world. (Honestly, it does sound pretty hideous, especially with Stiller and Carrey as the men.) Soon after the project was axed, Rothman asked Goldstein to name one scifi comedy that had ever made money. (Goldstein didn't think of Men In Black until it was too late.)
Science fiction writer Alan Dean Foster pops up in the comments on Goldstein's article, somewhat scandalized that the studios don't think scifi comedies make money:
Didn't SPACEBALLS make money? THE INCREDIBLES? WALL-E? The genre is replete with wonderful stories that are both hysterically funny and true SF...many perfectly suitable for film adapation (I have two of mine under option right now). Now if the folks responsible for making such decisions only read books, instead of basing all their references on other films....
Now I'm curious: which two Foster books do you think Hollywood has optioned, and would they make good movies? I haven't read his work since I was a kid.