‘Cats’: Here’s Why Universal Won’t Even Push the Box Office Flop for Awards

It’s easy to argue that despite Cats being the biggest Hollywood flop in years, it’s being talked about more than some of the most popular films making gobs of money. Maybe it’s further proof train wrecks usually gain more attention than the usual Oscar fare.

Not that Cats didn’t have its heart in the right place, outside of a million cat puns being utilized in the hilarious putdown reviews.

The movie’s distributor, Universal, felt like they had no choice but to pull their “For Your Consideration” ads to make it compete at the Oscars. After projected to lose $71 million of its budget, the film seems to be another disaster Hollywood never learns from.

Yet, some found it entertaining. Why was the general consensus of it being a complete bomb? Let’s remind Hollywood all over again.

Overindulgent bombs seem to happen every generation

Poster at the Cats world premiere
The world premiere of “Cats” | Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Anyone who has grandparents still living may be able to learn about one of the biggest Hollywood bombs of all time: Cleopatra in 1963. As a bombastic all-star spectacle, it seemed like a can’t-miss at the time due to the smoldering chemistry of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, not including an A-list roster of stars.

Having a bloated four-hour running time didn’t help, but some people considered it a major bore. Even if it’s still watched and lauded today by others on places like Turner Classic Movies, it’s the earliest example of what Cats is going through now.

There seems to be a recurring notion in Hollywood that if you have a familiar media property and load it with A-list talent, audiences will arrive in droves. Studios forget these movies need a good script to make it work.

Anyone seeing Cats might say the script just doesn’t work as a big-screen epic. There’s also a consensus it was of a certain time and place, namely Broadway of the 1980s and ’90s, now a seemingly far-off place in pop culture lore.

Arguably, the biggest problem with ‘Cats’ was it was just too weird

Remember when the trailer for Cats released this last fall and had everyone confused on how surreal it looked? One thing going against it was having the cast slathered in CGI cat fur, something going against the grain of the original Broadway musical. Not that wearing those old stage cat suits would have helped either.

Let’s be reminded there is a plot to Cats. It’s about rebirth through the process called “Jellicle Choice”, as in deciding whether to ascend to the Heaviside Layer. Yes, it’s a bit like reincarnation in the feline world, something sounding far too much like New Age claptrap for today’s times.

Back in the ’80s, most audiences probably didn’t pay attention to the plot and just enjoyed the dancing, the charming cast, plus the iconic music from Andrew Lloyd Webber. One could argue without Webber’s music in his stage musicals, almost all of them would have been disasters if going strictly by plot.

Outside of Jennifer Hudson’s amazing version of Memory, plus Taylor Swift’s effective Beautiful Ghosts in this Cats, there was too much ample time to focus on the story’s weirdness. Tom Hooper made it stranger by staging certain scenes like straight out of a nightmare.

Case in point is the dancing cockroaches scene on a dinner table while the celebrity cats gleefully cheer them on.

The songs could have been nominated for Oscars

For fans of the song adaptations in Cats, there is some hope Beautiful Ghosts will win Best Original Song at the Golden Globes. This song and Hudson’s Memory won’t be performed at the Oscars now because of the FYC dropout from Universal.

With an overly crowded field of other movies tapping serious themes, perhaps no one will shed any tears over Cats bowing out of award contention by their own volition. Perhaps the film will find an audience later on DVD, if not as an effective cat sitting video.

Lessons from the film might not be learned right away either since many A-list stars are still willing to take on movies like this going against the typical cinematic tide.