Sometimes you have to know what to fold and just take the loss. That's the same choice Universal should have made back in 2008. They had already spent around $90 million on their remake of The Wolfman and slotted it to open on November 12, 2008. Then they moved the film all around the block for nearly two years, spending $60 million on reshoots and the like and eventually debuting the film on Valentine's Day weekend 2010. In the end, The Wolfman performed about as well as an R-rated period piece horror film for grownups would do, earning a decent $142 million worldwide. But since Universal had spent for all the date changes and reshoots, the film now cost $150 million, making the mild disappointment into a genuine flop. The question becomes what exactly made the original cut so unwatchable and/or disastrous that Universal felt the need to spend almost enough for two Wolfman movies in order to deliver a completely mediocre B-movie that caused neither excitement nor a desire for repeat viewing among those who saw it? Not to be dismissive, but this was a werewolf horror film. How much better could it have been and/or how much money could it have been expected to make?
This principle even applies to films that are hits. Warner Bros. made a pretty penny with Clash of the Titans back in April 2010, earning nearly $500 million despite the fact that few actually liked the movie. But the film we saw in theaters is actually a vastly different film than what was intended. Whether or not the original version would have been a better film than what we got (I'd argue it would have been), Warner Bros. apparently spent a decent chunk of change (the film's budget went from being listed at around $80 million to $125 million right before its theatrical release) on re-cutting and somewhat re-shooting what was a nearly finished picture. Grossing $493 million on a $80 million budget surely nets you more money than grossing $493 million on a $125 million budget. Sure, whatever extra money they spent on the quickie 3D conversion was obviously worth it in terms of box office, but what did gutting Louis Leterrier's vision and making an arguably inferior film really get them? For another random example of the last few years, was Paramount really better off delaying the wide release of The Lovely Bones for a month, which earned them nothing but bad buzz and negative reviews prior to the January debut? And just how much more will GI Joe: Retaliation have to gross to make up for the additional money spent delaying it nearly a year and whatever reshoots were done post-date change?
Point being, some movies just don't work and some projects just aren't destined to be mega-hits. The key is recognizing when spending more money will actually improve the financial performance by enough to justify the money you're spending. Otherwise, you're just spending new money to arbitrarily justify previously spent old money, tantamount to keeping soldiers in an un-winnable war to arbitrarily justify the ones who've already died or been wounded in the conflict (or, a less grotesque parallel, spending hundreds of dollars on an about-to-be-replaced automobile because you already paid thousands previously). You get the same inevitable result, but at a much higher cost. Jack the Giant Slayer was arguably a quagmire the moment it couldn't decide to be kid-friendly or adult-skewing. Whatever it makes now is likely no better or worse than what it would have made back in June 2012, except that now Warner Bros. doesn't have the one-two punch of The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to soften the blow. But the difference is that it would have been six months ago and however many millions cheaper. Sometimes you just have to hold your breath, rip that off that band-aid and hope for the best.