Over the weekend, Gina Carano made her major motion picture debut in Steven Soderberghbe’s latest film, Haywire. For Carano, this is a giant departure from her career as a professional fighter and into the mainstream. As much as MMA has grown over the past few years, Women’s MMA has not seen the same level of growth or acceptance. For career growth, Zuffa having the reigns of Strikeforce and Strikeforce being the lone large promotion to have women’s divisions, it is hard to blame her for moving into the realm of acting.
Haywire opened this weekend, in a crowded market full of other big debuts and finished in sixth, behind those openings and the 3D re-release of Disney’s classic, Beauty and the Beast. Haywire is predicted to have cost the studio around $23 million to produce and in its debut weekend grossed what critics are considering a paltry $9 million. The MMA media immediately decried it as a failure, not making the same amount in the box office as other films opening that same weekend or some “Disney re-release.” The irony, of course, is that RottenTomatoes.com currently has the film at 81% “fresh,” making it one of the highest rated films in theaters right now.
Reading Hollywood and film-insider sites you’d be surprised that you don’t see scathing rhetoric being spewed about Haywire being a failure, instead you’ll see how it was a critical success and that most news outlets would urge moviegoers to spend their hard-earned cash to go see it. My question here is, where is the disconnect between the often-imagined fickle Hollywood and the often-imagined to be a “brotherhood” of MMA worlds? I’ll argue that the world of Mixed Martial Arts is incredibly fickle, if not one of the most fickle groups of fans and media assembled today.
Success and failure is seen in very black or white terms in the world of Mixed Martial Arts; you either win or you lose. If you win, you are the hero and you have a lot of upside potential, but if you lose you are a failure and your career is on the decline. There are special circumstances, like with anything else (fighters fighting past their prime or fighting “cans” for example), but generally speaking it is incredibly hard for a hero to be built and to maintain that status in the world of MMA. To speak frankly, the MMA world looks to tear down anyone almost immediately and the barrage of criticism seems to come from a place of resentment and jealousy as opposed to a place of fandom.
Criticism is not by any means unique to Mixed Martial Arts, nor is extreme criticism or passion. Sports fans are incredibly passionate about local sports teams and will quickly become incited at a string of losses, a bad play or a bad call. That being said, most sports fans are doing it from a place of undying devotion. A fan might call a quarterback a “bum” for fumbling the ball in a do-or-die situation, but when a fan of an opposing team calls that same quarterback a bum, expect backlash and for that devotion to come out.
Most MMA fighters would be lucky to see this level of devotion from fans, and currently only the sport in general or the UFC brand in particular see this level of devotion. The fighters themselves are instead held to standards that no mere mortal could live up to and any fighter who reaches the top sees a steep fall to rock bottom. Carano is the latest fighter being placed on the cross, this time for attempting to break free from the shrinking world of Women’s MMA and find a career path that works better for her. The film debuted with only mediocre press going in, during a bad time of the year for debuts against an array of well-known films that have received more press and still was able to make almost half of the budget back on its opening weekend. The clear winner for the weekend was Underworld: Awakening. Underworld’s stint at the top yielded $23.5 million dollars, while the film itself cost a whipping $70 million to produce. The Underworld series is a wildly popular series of films, starring established star Kate Beckinsale as a vampire battling the forces of possible evil, with this one being the fourth in the series. Number two was Red Tails, a Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrance Howard WWII vehicle to discuss fighter pilots overcoming racism that yielded $18 million with a cost of $58 million. Followed by the latest rigidly formulaic Mark Wahlberg action film that opened the week before and the Tom Hanks 9/11 tear-jerker which has received a lot of press and had a wide ad campaign, most likely the widest of any of the films that opened over the weekend. Then there was Beauty and the Beast.
The point here is to illustrate that success in the film industry is not based on a simple, black and white “win or lose” metric. Instead, there are varying shades of grey and the bottom line for a film to be considered successful or not is if it is able to make a profit, winning at the box office is good press, but is not the clearest metric for measuring success. For Haywire the opening weekend was not a “win” at the box office, but the studio recouping almost half of the cost of production in the first weekend is a good sign. For Carano, the fact that her acting has not been widely panned bodes well for her future in the film industry if she chooses to keep going. Compared to the other films opening over the weekend, the bar wasn’t as high for Haywire, with them having to make less in the box office to turn a profit on the film.
So how should we measure success? The world is not black and white, if it was indeed as such, it would be a strange world full of failures. Relax.