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  • Writer's pictureJustin McConnell

The Rocketeer: Failure to Launch

In this week's episode of the Next Level Nerd Movie Podcast, we discuss the 1991 cult classic "The Rocketeer". The movie was supposed to be the first in a trilogy of films. However, due to a poor box office showing those sequels would never see the light of day. It appears that most of the blame for this is not due to the critical response, but to the box office response.

The film started out with a budget of $35 million dollars, which rose to $40 million, but the overall take was roughly $47 million.

According to a behind-the-scenes article from Entertainment Weekly, "The price of re-creating L.A. in all its 1938 glory, then piling on plenty of airborne special effects, was high. In his famous budget-cutting memo, Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg praised The Rocketeer as an example of the studio’s new cost-consciousness. But even as he was citing the movie as a calculated $35 million gamble, its budget was rising, eventually reaching the $40 million mark. Actually, says Johnston, 'We agreed on $25 million, but once [Disney] started seeing footage, they realized this was a bigger movie than they were anticipating, and they approved overages. The budget kept climbing, but it never got completely out of control.'"

The film also opened just one week after the second largest box office draw of 1991, "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves". It also received some stiff competition from the Billy Crystal comedy hit "City Slickers".

As mentioned by Entertainment Weekly, Jeffery Katzenberg was concerned with the economic recession and believed that "Magic is the key. Regardless of the recession, people will still leave their VCR's to go to the movie theater... if they are convinced that the experience that waits them there will be magical enough."

In his fascinatingly insightful leaked memo, Katzenberg talks about how movies that fail are often blamed as being poorly marketed and he argues against how that isn't always the case.

While the memo itself is endlessly entertaining to anyone who is a cinema nerd, the marketing for this film had some undeniable problems.

According to cited sources from Screen Finance on the film's Wikipedia page: "Outside the US and Canada, the film was released through Touchstone Pictures rather than Walt Disney Pictures, in an attempt to attract the teenage audience it did not reach in North America. The Disney tag also was seen to have turned off people who assumed that the film was for children, which was probably the reason why the Walt Disney Home Video logo was not seen on video releases of the film.

In addition, Rocketeer's original Art Deco poster was changed because it failed to draw attention to the cast, including then-current James Bond, Timothy Dalton. A new poster was designed to feature Dalton, Billy Campbell, and Jennifer Connelly prominently. The film also failed in Britain, grossing just over £1 million in its first two weeks at just under 250 screens. The new advertising campaign was being designed while the British promotional campaign for the film was already under way and some theaters still had the stylized United States film poster."

Rumors have swirled for years about sequels or remakes of this movie, but with Disney doing so well in the superhero and graphic novel film genres since acquiring Marvel, it is increasingly less likely we will see another Rocketeer film from them any time soon. However, they are known to roll the dice from time to time and play on nostalgia. So who knows?

It could happen.


If you are a cinema nerd, check out the Den of Geek article about the Katzenberg memo to see all of his prophetic predictions about the movie industry. Disney's continued focus on characters and movie magic are undeniable when you compare the Marvel Cinematic Universe to any of their competitors.

Also, be sure to check out the NLN Movie Podcast on any of the following platforms:




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