Why After Earth Bombed: Six Theories

Why was the Will Smith sci-fi flick a failure?

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Columbia Pictures

As Richard Corliss recounts in this weekend’s box-office report, it has not been a great couple of days for the Smith family. Although Will Smith has a long history of bringing audiences to the theaters, his future-dystopic After Earth—in which he co-stars with his son Jaden—made a mere $27 million in its first weekend in theaters, landing it in third place, behind Fast & Furious 6 (now in its second week atop the rankings) and surprise contender Now You See Me.

(MORE: Richard Corliss’s review of After Earth)

So what went wrong? Here are six theories from a variety of Monday-morning pundits:

Blame director M. Night Shyamalan  (Richard Corliss at TIME)  Long past coasting on the success of Sixth Sense (way back in 1999), movies like Lady in the Water and The Happening were critical and commercial misfires. But if Shyamalan is at fault, there maybe hope for the movie: his The Last Airbender – perceived as a flop —actually did reasonably well, thanks to strong showings in foreign markets.

Blame Will Smith (Adam B. Vary at BuzzFeed) Smith’s decision to follow 2008’s Seven Pounds with a prolonged absence from movie-making — returning to movies with last summer’s Men in Black 3 – may hurt his brand. Which translated into extra hurt for After Earth, a movie for which he served as both star and idea-generator. (Smith came up with the concept and brought it to Shyamalan.)

Blame it on a less-than-successful collaboration (Nikki Finke at Deadline) Smith and Shyamalan just weren’t a good match, an insider tells Deadline.

Blame it on critics and audiences  (Rotten Tomatoes) The movie’s just no good, according to the review-aggregation site: with more than 100 reviews counted, it has a ghastly 12% positive rating. Moviegoers mostly agreed, giving Earth a dismal ‘B’ CinemaScore evaluation.

Blame it on nepotism (Brooks Barnes at the New York Times) There’s a wide perception that the father-and-son project turned the movie, in which the Times also sees shades of Scientology, into something of a “vanity project.” With the Smiths père et fils giving joint interviews—like this insightfully bizarre cover story from New York magazine—it wouldn’t have been hard for the movie to gain a negative association with family weirdness and privilege rather than family-movie fun.

Blame Bieber (Gary Susman at Moviefone) Blame Bieber. Well, not really blame blame, but Susman cites the Bieb’s inability to turn out viewers with a tweet as proof of the pop-star’s waning influence.

(MORE: Twitter Fights, Reckless Driving, and 9 More Best Moments of “Bad” Justin Bieber)