Every once in a while, Hollywood gives us a hard-hitting, cinematic experience that perfectly speaks to the zeitgeist. On other occasions, a film is so painfully, unfortunately timed that audiences don’t know whether to stare in awe or cringe and look away.
Often, if a situation arises that suddenly transforms a perfectly harmless movie into a dark, insensitive take on current events, producers might have enough forewarning to scrap it before production even begins. However, it’s also often the case that a film’s already in the can when a tragedy strikes, forcing production companies to either shelve the movie for years or give up, lose money and toss it entirely. In even rarer cases – as was the case for at least one film on this list – it’s already hit theaters when a tragic event suddenly casts the movie in a darker light and causes it to flop at the box office.
Imagine if Jaws had come out in the midst of a freak shark attack outbreak, or a Die Hard sequel just happened to perfectly predict a terrorists’ plot – exactly at the time of the film’s release. Seem far-fetched? That’s likely what the producers of the films below thought. In reality, filmmaking happens to be one of the most serendipitous fields out there, entirely at the whim of current events, trends, newspaper headlines, public opinion and, all in all, good or bad timing.
The following films exemplify the dire consequences of unfortunate timing in the movie industry. These are six would-be successes that were completely blindsided by bad timing.
6. Nosebleed, 2001
A movie executive pitches a blockbuster action-comedy starring Jackie Chan, in which he portrays a window washer/kung fu master who foils an elaborate terrorist plot at the World Trade Center. In the 90’s, this probably would have been an acceptable, if absurdly far-fetched, movie pitch and might even have gotten made. In reality, this pitch was coming to fruition at an incredibly unfortunately time: September 2001.
Obviously, there’s no need to go into detail about why this particular movie was scrapped, but there have been interesting claims about how the movie actually ended up in Hollywood Hell. Some claim that production was actually scheduled to begin the exact day of the attacks at 7 A.M., on location at the towers, but due to script delays Jackie Chan was actually in Toronto at the time filming The Tuxedo. If the writers had gotten their work together in time, it seems, Jackie Chan might have been dangling from the top of the World Trade Center at the exact time of the September 11th attacks, all for the sake of a Hollywood shot. Talk about bad timing.
5. The Watch, 2012
It’s a summer comedy starring Hollywood heavyweights Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and others. Even the plot of Neighborhood Watch is innocent enough: A plucky group of men decide to form a neighborhood watch in order to get out of their boring domestic routines – and inadvertently find themselves defending the Earth against an alien invasion! What could possibly go wrong?
For one, the name Neighborhood Watch garnered quite a bit of negative press between the time of production and the summer release date (July 2012). In February of 2012, an unarmed, African American teenager named Trayvon Martin was gunned down in the streets of Florida by George Zimmerman – an active member of the local Neighborhood Watch.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Hollywood producers scrambled to distance the film from the controversial event. However, despite trying everything – from changing the name of the film to simply The Watch to scrapping entire movie trailers and press pieces (including one image of a neighborhood watch sign riddled with bullet holes) – the movie ultimately suffered seriously from the bad timing, taking in only $68M at the box office despite the star-studded cast.
4. Phone Booth, 2002
In 2002, Colin Farrell is a slick New York City business man who picks up a ringing telephone in a phone booth (remember those?) – only to find himself trapped inside and at the mercy of a sniper on the other end of the line.
With an undeniably cool concept and the star power of Colin Farrell behind it, Phone Booth was set to rake it in as one of the slickest thrillers of the year. However, between the time it debuted in Toronto and its international release in April of 2003, headlines broke in Washington D.C. that put the film in jeopardy.
The “Beltline Snipers” were John Allen Muhammad and his seventeen-year old partner who went on a killing spree in October 2002, killing ten victims in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and critically injuring at least 3 others. Because of the parallels the snipers drew to the unseen sniper in Phone Booth, the film was delayed 4 months until after the killers were caught and media attention had largely been redirected.
3. Space Camp, 1986
A spunky group of teenagers at NASA space camp accidentally launch themselves into orbit and find themselves on an out-of-this-world space adventure! Unfortunately, this well-meaning teen adventure movie was slated to be released in the year 1986 – but tragically clashed with headlines when the Challenger explosion was still on the minds of movie-goers all over the world. Despite a delayed release date, the movie flopped at the box office.
2. O, 1999
This reimagining of Shakespeare’s Othello set in an urban high school starred up-and-coming Hollywood stars Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles and others. The movie, which was shot in the late 1990s, didn’t hold anything back – depicting the violent murders of 4 teenagers.
Tragically, real life was worse than the movies. In April 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold took the lives of 12 of their fellow classmates and 1 teacher in the most infamous high school shooting of all time – the Columbine Massacre. Due to the sensitive subject matter and extremely unfortunate timing of O, the film was shelved for two full years, not making its debut until 2001.
1. A Confederacy of Dunces
The last movie to make this list is a bit different. It wasn’t a collision of fictional plotlines and real-life tragedy that doomed this production – it’s that the starring role of this movie seemed bizarrely and tragically cursed.
In 1982, Harold Ramis was set to write and direct the film with actors John Belushi and Richard Pryor as the leads. However, in March of that year Belushi overdosed and died at the young age of 33 – just days before he was set to meet with producers of the film.
Since they hadn’t officially begun production yet, producers decided to replace Belushi with fellow comedian John Candy. Unfortunately, before the film was back on track Candy succumbed to a heart attack in his sleep. He was 43.
Next in line was Chris Farley. By now the film had been on hold more than 15 years. However, in similar circumstances to John Belushi, Farley tragically overdosed at the age of 33 before officially signing on to the film.
While the film is still technically “in development,” with Will Ferrell now being tipped for the lead, a long list of tragic events still stand to prevent it ever seeing the light of day. In addition to a lack of interest from current studio heads, the murder of the woman who headed Louisiana’s State Film Commission (where filming was set to take place) and of course the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, A Confederacy of Dunces goes down as one of the most unfortunately timed Hollywood movies of all time.