The first film critics had a tendency to rely on something they referred to as Auteur Theory. The concept behind this was the idea that a good director was very much the “author” of a film, and was in this way the sole creative force behind the piece of work.
This came to mean that an auteur’s work could be considered alongside all other works by that director, and in it would be commonalities. Themes, ideas and visual styles, would all point to the indication that a director was an auteur. Unfortunately, this also led to director worship, in which case a film by a particular director was automatically considered a brilliant piece of art.
It took a long time for people to recognize the fault in this type of film theory. Eventually, critics began to wonder if a good film could be made by an otherwise bad director, and if an auteur (held in high esteem), could actually produce a bad film. The answer? Yes. Here are 15 films that bombed, despite the great names attached.
15. The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson)
Peter Jackson rose to fame with his landmark splatter film, Braindead (1992). Following his career start in horror, he moved quickly into the mainstream with the film Heavenly Creatures (1994), which received critical acclaim. This success took Jackson to Hollywood, where he has now become most famous for his Lord of the Rings films, made after he won the rights to the J. R. R. Tolkien epic that he cherished in high school.
In 2009, he released The Lovely Bones which he called a “welcome relief” from the large scale fantasy films. The story follows a young teen girl (Saorise Ronan) in the 1970s who watches over her family from purgatory after being recently murdered. She is weighted by her desire for vengeance and attempts to send her father signs to have her killer captured. The film has been accused of being abrupt and received mixed reviews, and holds only a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes.
14. Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton)
Big successes like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas made Tim Burton one of the biggest pop culture icons of the 1990s. He began his career in the 1980s as an animator for Disney, where he began to flex his creative muscles which would later be used to create some of the most beautifully dark animations. His gothic style resonates in all of his work, making everything he does signature Burton.
In 2010, he released Alice in Wonderland, with a story taking place 13 years after the original Lewis Carroll book. In it, Alice must return to Wonderland to put an end to the reign of the evil Queen of Hearts. It grossed over a billion dollars, but did not receive very favorable reviews. Despite being described as a “visual treat” on Rotten Tomatoes, it only holds a 57% rating. Since then, Burton has had one more flop, Dark Shadows, but has redeemed himself with 2012’s Frankenweenie.
13. The Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam)
This Monty Python comedy troupe member has had a long successful career in entertainment. As a director, he is especially known for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a stylistic dark comedy that has itself become a late 1990s icon. He began as a strip cartoonist and became an original member of the Monty Python group. He used these experiences as inspiration as he entered the world of directing.
In 2005, he directed the adventure-fantasy, The Brothers Grimm. After losing and regaining the support of MGM and dealing with tension between Terry Gilliam and the producers, the film was finally released. Unfortunately it was met with a lukewarm reception. Roger Ebert has said that the film chases itself around the screen, “without finding a plot.”
12. Scoop (Woody Allen)
Despite all the controversy surrounding the nature of Woody Allen’s morals and character, his movies all seem to appeal to the public. After moving from slapstick to a more ‘talky’ stand-up style of comedy with Annie Hall, which was a major success, he became recognized as a staple within the Hollywood community. Roger Ebert has described him as a “treasure of the cinema.”
After discovering a special kind of funny in Scarlett Johansson, he tailored the part of Sondra for his British film, Scoop. The story follows Sondra, an eager journalist working on a big scoop, as she begins an affair with an aristocrat. The film fell flat, with most finding it quite unimpressive. Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post called it, “the worst movie Woody Allen has ever made.” Since then, he has redeemed himself, especially with the award-winning instant classic, Midnight in Paris.
11. Star Wars: Episode 1 (George Lucas)
One of the industry’s most financially successful filmmakers, George Lucas rose to stardom in the 1970s, with his smash hits, American Graffiti and Star Wars. The latter immediately become the highest grossing film of all time, and held the spot for half a decade, until it was replaced by E.T. He has since created the production company Lucasfilm, LTD, and has continued to thrive off the success of the Star Wars series.
In 1999, he released the fourth Star Wars film, Episode 1, making it Lucas’ directorial return after 22 years. It had over-the-top special effects and was a major box-office success. Despite all of that, critics and series fans alike remain underwhelmed. Story and plot and character development are all said to have major flaws, and is subsequently the lowest rated film of the series.
10. Deadly Friend (Wes Craven)
The creator of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and a major figure within the horror community, Wes Craven can (to many) do no harm. The popularity of slasher films in the 1970s and 1980s, was forever changed by Craven, who introduced a whole new kind of splatter flick killer with Freddy, a supernatural haunter who could kill children in their dreams. He has proven time and again, that he does not just have a bloody imagination, but the wits to go along with it. His horror films tend to be some of the most subversive around, from issues of race and class in The People Under The Stairs, to clever parody in the Scream franchise.
However, in 1986 he took a run at sic-fi, and fell flat on his face. Deadly Friend is despised (or ignored) across the board, panned by critics, and holds a shocking 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Originally, the film was conceived with very little gore, but after receiving complaints about the lack of blood from the test audience, major re-shoots were executed to include more spectacular deaths scenes. It didn’t help.
9. The Color of Money (Martin Scorsese)
Filmmaker and film historian, Martin Scorsese was among a special class of filmmakers in the 1970s. He was among the first to graduate film school, which was an all new discipline available in American Universities for the first time. After receiving a Master’s degree from the NYU film school in 1966, Scorsese hit Hollywood with a whole new approach to filmmaking, based on years of study. He and his fellow colleagues, referred to as “movie brats” — Brian de Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg — spent the 1970s blowing audiences away. Scorsese specialized in the darks with works like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
But in 1986, his drama The Color of Money, blew people away in a different way. The story is a sequel to the novel The Hustler and follows pool shark, Fast Eddie, two decades after his retirement. It received a definitive two thumbs down by Siskel and Ebert, but did manage to popularize the game of pool.
8. The Polar Express (Robert Zemeckis)
The master of special effects, evidenced in his earliest works, from match-moving in Back to the Future II to the blending of live-action and animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. If there is one thing by which to characterize Robert Zemeckis’ filmmaking, it’s his fearless creativity. Even his award-winning drama, Forrest Gump, used a number of impressive digital effects.
In 2004, he pioneered performance capture techniques for the computer-animated feature, The Polar Express. The film was made on a whopping $165 million budget and grossed $307 million worldwide. Despite its slow pace and fairly uninteresting story (a boy who doesn’t believe in magic boards a train to Santa’s workshop), people remained intrigued by the new innovative form of animation. Some critics referred to it as “creepy”, while others simply called it a failed experiment. The process has since been used to greater effect in his later works, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol.
7. Blade II (Guillermo del Toro)
This Mexican film director has jumped back and forth between dark Spanish-Language horrors and dramas, to action flicks in Hollywood, and rarely disappoints on either end of the spectrum. As of late, he has successfully moved into English-Language darks, especially since the success of Pan’s Labyrinth, which was a big hit despite it being a foreign language film. Since then, he has given us Mama, Don’t Look Under the Bed and The Orphanage.
On the action side, del Toro is known primarily for Hellboy and its sequel, but he also had the unfortunate task of Blade II on his hands, in 2002. As bad as it was, the truth is, del Toro’s signature style came through, and is the only thing that made the film tolerable. It has been accused by critic James Berardinelli, as being nothing but uninventive raucous, “for undiscriminating movie-goers.” It holds a 59% on Rotten Tomatoes.
6. Survival of the Dead (George A Romero)
In 1968, something magical happened to the cinema — George Romero’s genre-defining zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead. It was his first film, it was black and white, and it did something no one had much expected from a horror film; it made people think. The film used zombies as a metaphor for consumption and the evil of the human race, and explored everything from race to gender, through a small cast who portrayed a group of very different strangers trapped in a life or death scenario together. This success was followed up, using a similar formula each time, by Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.
Sadly, by 2009 it was proven that the formula could only go so far. Survival of the Dead seems to recycle 40 year-old ideas, without adding anything original. It’s like watching a train wreck, especially for fans of the original Dead series. Brad Miska condemns the film for lacking “a clear protagonist, antagonist, and theme.” Nothing will get Romero down though, and he plans to create two sequels to the film.
5. Alexander (Oliver Stone)
JFK, Natural Born Killers, Platoon, at a glance it seems that Oliver Stone can do no wrong. His focus on military and controversial politics come from his own experiences in the Vietnam war. After rising to fame in the mid-1980s, Stone continued to delight with a long list of canonized American films. Recently, his attention has widened to include documentaries with some heavy topics including Castro, Fidel and Israeli-Palestinian relations.
In 2004, he directed his one and only flop: Alexander. Critics did not go easy on their beloved filmmaking icon, and simply tore the film to bits, mercilessly. Historians were especially frustrated by the film’s lack of factuality, and a group of 25 Greek lawyers even threatened to sue over inaccuracies. Today, four versions of the historical epic exist. After the theatrical cut suffered a terrible fate, Stone went on to release a director’s cut, and then another, and then another. 2007’s version, Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut, is now Warner Bros. highest grossing item.
4. Elizabethtown (Cameron Crowe)
Cameron Crowe won the hearts of 1980s American youth, with his teenage culture oriented films, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything. He then went on to establish a new generation of Crowe-lovers with Almost Famous, in 2000. The film was semi-autobiographical and even had the positive effect of reuniting his mother and sister who had been estranged for many years following her rebellious adolescence.
He followed that hit up with Vanilla Sky, which received mixed reviews, and then released Elizabethtown, which amused even fewer of his fans. The rom-com has been said to lack originality and holds a score of 45/100 on Metacritic. Roger Ebert was not too hard on the piece though, writing that while it is nowhere near the greatness of Almost Famous, it is sweet and good-hearted.
3. The Ward (John Carpenter)
1978 introduced the world to slasher cinema in a big way. John Carpenter’s Halloween was a low-budget splatter flick that many people probably expected to dismiss. But after a very limited opening, word of mouth caused the film to blow up in a big way. It became a runaway hit in no time and it became clear that something special was going on. The film wasn’t just about slicing women up and rolling credits, it was about exploring the basic fears of human nature, it was about bringing the scary to suburbia, it was about witnessing crazy. and not being able to understand it.
Carpenter continued to please viewers with his horror and sci-fi pics, The Fog and Event Horizon, to name a couple. After a long hiatus, the director returned in 2010, for what fans had hoped would be a triumphant reclaiming of the horror-master title. Instead, The Ward happened. A ghost story set in a women’s psych ward in the 1960s, the film had all the ingredients for greatness, but fell incredibly short. Flat and unimaginative, the film holds a sad 32% on Rotten Tomatoes.
2. Hook (Steven Spielberg)
Hollywood honcho, Steven Speilberg, is known for his grandiose successes, Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List — the list goes on and on. Today, the unadjusted gross of all of his films combined is estimated at $8.5 billion. He is an actual, real-life, billionaire. In 1987, he was even awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his work as a creative producer.
But in 1991, he slipped with the fantasy-adventure film, Hook. The film stars the late Robin Williams as a now-grown Peter Pan who lives as Peter Banning and has no recollection of his childhood adventures. But when Captain Hook returns, and kidnaps Peter’s children, he has no choice but to return to Neverland. Admittedly, a great premise for a Pan sequel, but it simply didn’t land. Critic Roger Ebert summed it up as follows: “[The] failure in Hook was its inability to re-imagine the material, to find something new, fresh or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth. Lacking that, Spielberg should simply have remade the original story, straight, for the ’90s generation.”
1. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock)
The Master of Suspense, the founder of Slasher cinema, and the most controversial filmmaker in his history, Alfred Hitchcock. At a certain point, it was safe to assume that the magic inside him could never die. After making it big in his home country of England with spy films, he arrived in Hollywood with a bang in 1940. Year after year, he churned out some of the most tantalizing thrillers, featuring twisted male characters who had strained mommy-issues. Before long, he was known for his ‘kill-the-pretty-blonde’ strategy (although this actually happened less in his films than is widely conceived).
By the end of his career though, his films were losing their touch. Marnie (1964) was considered to be a flop, and critics began to wonder if he was getting too old. It followed a con-girl who gets manipulated by a love-struck victim of hers, who decides she is simply suffering from a psychosis he believes he can fix. Pop-psychology and corny romance abound.
But, in 1976, just four short years before his death, he released his last film which was a total redemption. Family Plot was a light-hearted suspense that featured an unserious story of a con artist and her boyfriend, who become entangled in a kidnapping. Roger Ebert was delighted with the film, calling it “pure Hitchcock.”