Box office stinkers that had public holding nose
Published 30/07/2016 | 02:30
Many column inches have been devoted to the failure of Emma Watson's latest movie. The former Harry Potter star's previous films have made over $8.4bn at the box office, she has 22 million Twitter followers, and 33 millions likes on Facebook. It must have come as something of a blow, then, to find out that her new film, The Colony, made just £47 in its opening weekend in Britain.
A rather dour German-backed production, it stars Watson and Daniel Bruhl as a young couple who get entangled in the Chilean coup of 1973 and end up trapped in a sinister messianic cult.
It's no great shakes, apparently, but scarcely bad enough to justify such a disastrous showing in Watson's homeland.
But all is not as it seems, because The Colony was simultaneously released on a digital platform, which meant that anyone with a laptop could have watched it at home instead. And the film's cinema release was merely symbolic: it was shown only in matinees in Widnes, Burnley and Hull.
Which means, to be fair, that The Colony isn't necessarily a real flop, as it may yet recoup its costs in other territories, and digitally.
And while Watson has announced that she's taking a year off to catch up on her reading, she should be thankful she wasn't involved in any of the more infamous career-ending car crashes. The age of the big-budget epic was drawing to a close when an impressive cast and crew assembled in 1963 to begin shooting The Fall of the Roman Empire. Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif and Sophia Loren were among the stars of a film that aimed to repeat the recent success of epics like Ben-Hur.
It was filmed on location in Spain, and producer Samuel Bronson staged mass battles involved 8,000 extras and built a huge wooden replica of the Forum. Having cost $20m, however, the epic grossed less than $5m. It destroyed the careers of producer Samuel Bronston, and Northern Irish actor Stephen Boyd, and the saddest thing of all is that The Fall of the Roman Empire was actually a pretty good film. Sometimes, timing is everything.
In 1970, David Lean came to Kerry to begin shooting Ryan's Daughter. His resetting of Flaubert's Madame Bovary in the west of Ireland was intended to be his masterpiece, but instead turned out to be a bit of a mess. The story of a young married woman who becomes a pariah after falling for a British officer, the film starred Robert Mitchum, John Mills, Sarah Miles and Trevor Howard.
After a famously riotous shoot that went wildly over time and budget as Lean waited on the Kerry coast for perfect weather, the finished film was savaged by the critics and barely broke even at the box office.
The late Michael Cimino would identify with Lean's perfectionism. When he died a few weeks back, there was much talk of the injustices done to his infamous 1980 flop Heaven's Gate, but it has to be said that Cimino was often his own worst enemy.
While making the epic western, he shot almost 220 hours of footage, went six months over schedule and wildly over budget. His ego inflamed by The Deer Hunter's critical success, Cimino took perfectionism and nit-picking to a ludicrous extreme. He had elaborate sets completely dismantled and moved three feet to the left, obsessed over the size and shape of background trees, and became so dictatorial that the crew began calling him 'the Ayatollah' behind his back.
The first cut he showed to United Artists was five hours and 20 minutes long. Following a disastrous initial release in November of 1980, United Artists seized the film, trimmed it down to two and a half hours and rereleased it in April 1981. It still stank. After Heaven's Gate, no one in Hollywood would touch Cimino with a bargepole and by the end of 1981, United Artists had been bought out by MGM.
Madonna is no stranger to box-office failure, and her sporadic attempts to become a film star have invariably ended in failure. The disasters began way back in 1996, when she and Sean Penn were the new golden couple, and some bright spark came up with the idea of casting them in a frothy period adventure set in 1930s China. MGM and Handmade Films talked up Shanghai Surprise during production, and used the fact that Penn and Madonna had just married to promote it.
The only problem was, the script was terrible and poor Madonna couldn't act to save her life. Shanghai Surprise swept the board at that year's Golden Raspberry Awards, and often appears on lists of the worst films ever made. It cost $17m, and recouped less than $3m.
God loves a trier, and in 2002 Madonna returned to the fray with Swept Away. Directed by her then-husband Guy Ritchie, it was intended to be a dark psychological romance starring 'Madge' as a spoilt heiress who gets stranded on a desert island with a young man she can't dominate.
Hard to imagine Madonna being unable to dominate anyone, and she was truly awful in a film that is reputed to have made less than a million dollars at the box office. And let's not forget W.E., a 2011 biopic of Wallace Simpson which Madonna co-wrote and directed. It was ghastly, and no one went to see it.
Joel Schumacher's unleashed a few stinkers down the years, but none quite as reprehensible as Batman and Robin. For the fourth of the 1990s Batman films, Schumacher decided a lightening of tone was required. George Clooney played the caped crusader, but seemed all at sea in a dreadful mess of a film that had unintended homosexual overtones. "I think we might have killed the franchise," Clooney said afterwards, wrongly as it turned out.
Batman and Robin performed poorly at the box office, but not as badly as the 2004 superhero yarn Catwoman, which didn't even recoup its $100m budget. Warner Brothers hired a French special-effects guru called Pitof to direct this film about the caped crusader's nemesis, Catwoman (Halle Berry), who locks horns with a villain played by Sharon Stone.
Beware of people who go by one name: Pitof's film was an unmitigated disaster, and it says a lot that even the sight of Halle Berry in a cat suit wasn't enough to draw the crowds.
Romantic comedies are supposed to be relatively cheap to make, but Peter Chelsom's 2001 film Town & Country is a dishonourable exception. Although shooting on this slender tale of tangled relationships began in June of 1988, with a cast that included Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Andie MacDowell, the production stalled in mid-1999 and wasn't completed till the middle of 2000. By then the budget had risen to $90m, and star Warren Beatty's demands for constant retakes had driven everyone over the edge. It made less than $10m, and is reputed to have lost its studio, New Line, more than $100m.
Back in 2003 Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were so well known as a celebrity couple they were given the collective name of 'Bennifer'. Gigli was supposed to be the film that announced them as a major force in Hollywood, and told the story of a hapless mob enforcer who falls in love with a lesbian hit woman.
But writer/director Martin Brest apparently forgot that comedies are supposed to be funny, and Affleck and Lopez were a deadly dull screen couple. Gigli is considered among the worst films of all time, and hardly recouped a tenth of its budget. Lopez and Affleck separated in early 2004.
Sometimes, advance word dooms a picture long before it's released. American critics were waiting in the long grass for Gore Verbinski's Lone Ranger when it opened in the summer of 2013, convinced a movie with such a troubled production history couldn't possibly be any good. Verbinski and his producer Harvey Weinstein were about to start filming in the summer of 2011 when Disney called a halt and demanded budget cuts. When shooting did eventually get under way in 2012, wildfires, an outbreak of chickenpox and the sudden death of a crew member made The Lone Ranger seem a cursed enterprise.
The casting of Johnny Depp as the Native American guide Tonto didn't exactly do the production any favours either, and it didn't come close to recouping the estimated $375m spent on its production and marketing. In fact it wasn't that bad really, but will go down in history as a stinker.
If you watch one movie
I was browsing Netflix the other day when I came across The Odd Couple, a 1968 movie based on a Neil Simon play. It used to be on the television all the time when I was a kid, but nowadays, of course, hardly any good films are. I hadn't seen it for years, and wondered if it had stood the test of time. I needn't have worried. Gene Saks' film isn't any kind of classic in the cinematic sense: it's all about watching great comic actors tackle a sparkling Broadway script.
Jack Lemmon is Felix Ungar, a recently separated middle-aged New Yorker who movies in with his old friend, Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau). Oscar's a slob, a newspaper sportswriter with a sink full of dirty dishes who spends most of his free time playing poker with his friends. Felix, a fusspot and cleanliness freak, is horrified by all this, and begins cooking proper meals and whipping the place into shape. In other words, he becomes Oscar's wife, and a clash of ideologies becomes inevitable. It's a little gem of a film, smart and sharp and wryly funny, and they just don't make comic actors like Lemmon and Matthau any more. The scene where Felix attempts to clear his sinuses in a crowded restaurant is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.