Hype and Hollywood have gone hand-in-hand since the very beginning of the movie business. It predates the modern blockbuster era up by several years as Hollywood has always done their best to hype up a movie. Today, it’s major with the Internet, social media and more allowing studios to majorly hype up their movies for a big opening and then further success. Of course, that does lead to the downside, which is if the hype gets to be too much and the film fails to deliver, it can be a much bigger deal.
It can be a double-edged sword. Supporters of mega-bomb John Carter will argue that a key reason behind its failure is that Disney didn’t do enough to hype the film. It’s not alone as many a movie slips under the radar for a huge surprise while ones that are pushed so hard fail fast. It’s not just blockbusters; every year brings a slew of supposed “Oscar bait” movies that get attention only to fall flat upon release. With the push for more promotion increasing in the last several years, it’s no surprise films with high expectations face a backlash. The Force Awakens was a massive box office and critical success but even it has some complaining it didn’t live up to the hype so it can be harder to overcome that much expectations. Some are able to pay it off but others are seen as just not succeeding because of that amount of expectation. Even movies that were hits at the box office are still seen as lacking due to all the advance buzz and Here are 20 movies that failed to live up to their advance press and how such a thing is a double-edged sword for Hollywood.
20 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Contrary to popular opinion, not every Indy fans loathes this as many openly say it’s better than Temple of Doom. Still, when you wait nearly 20 years for one of the most iconic heroes in movies to make his return, you expect something a bit more special. Making Indy “aged up” to the 1950s (skipping WWII completely) was rough and Shia LaBeouf’s performance as Mutt had stupid stuff like swinging in CGI trees. Cate Blanchett was fun as the villain but the introduction of aliens into Indy’s world didn’t go over well with audiences. Spielberg still delivered some good action pieces and Harrison Ford was having a good time in the role yet it still seemed to not live up to two decades of waiting and one hopes the planned next installment can be better.
The attention being paid to this movie was really huge in 1995. Paul Verhoeven had a good track record as director and Joe Eszeterhas as writer and both were boasting of a truly powerful take on the life of a stripper turned Vegas dancer. Attention was paid to such things as the NC-17 rating, the casting of child star Elizabeth Berkley in the lead and the talk of protests against it in various cities and an advertising campaign that made it sound like the most scandalous motion picture ever made. What came out would easily be the worst movie of 1995, trashed by critics for its ridiculous acting and dialogue, sex scenes that elicited laughter instead of thrills and a huge box office bomb. It’s enjoyed a second life as a “so bad it’s good” cult movie but given how much this was supposed to change sex in cinema in 1995, it never paid off as it should have for a massive failure.
18 Spider-Man 3
In 2002, Sam Raimi managed to bring the Wall-Crawler to the big screen. Two years later, he managed the feat of a sequel even better than the original. Naturally, fans expected the third movie to continue that streak, especially with the introduction of the popular foe Venom and expanding the cast more. The promotion was bigger than ever and fans lined up for opening night. They were rewarded with a three-hour flick that tried too hard to insert too much (Venom, Sandman and a new Green Goblin) into one movie. Topher Grace was terribly miscast as Venom while the segments of “Emo Peter” have been much ridiculed. It crushed the series so badly they the studio felt they needed to do a hard reboot just five years later which also ended up not living up to hopes. It’s astounding how the same man who directed two of the best comic book movies ever could also give us one of the worst and even Raimi isn’t perfect.
One of the most laughable stories in Hollywood history is how famed B-movie director Roger Corman passed on this because it would cost an “astronomical” $5 million. Universal decided to make it a big-budget deal starring Kevin Costner and directed by Kevin Reynolds and before long, stories were told of the set affected by storms, Costner and Reynolds at each other’s throats, the budget ballooning to a then-unheard of $170 million and adding to the tie-ins of video games and other merchandising. After all that, the movie ended up being just a so-so action piece with bad performances and science and all that hype didn’t end up helping it salvage its costs. Ironically, it’s inspired a highly popular stunt show at the Universal theme parks while the actual movie sunk badly under its own cost and hype.
On paper, it sounded fantastic. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teaming up for a double feature of movies based on the “grindhouse” theater style of their youth. Rodriguez gave us “Planet Terror,” with Rose McGowan as a one-legged stripper fighting zombies while Tarantino offered “Death Proof,” with Kurt Russell as a maniac driver fighting some women. It promised to be great for fans of fun action and both directors but opening a three hour action/horror mix on Easter weekend in 2007 may not have been the best move as the film was a huge box office flop. The critical reaction was mixed as well as some thought Tarantino was amazingly self-indulgent with his entry while Rodriguez’s was a bit too over the top. Ironically, the most successful part of the movie was a fake trailer for Machete Kills that became so popular that Rodriguez turned it into a real movie years later. Somehow, two great writer/directors just couldn’t make a combination work for a big letdown for their fans.
15 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Its low place on this list might be surprising to some but time has allowed a contingent of Star Wars fans to see it in a more favorable light. That said, you can understand the disappointment of millions that after 16 years, George Lucas finally returned to the galaxy far, far away for a movie packed with too much CGI, the loathsome Jar Jar Binks, good actors forced into bad performances and a storyline that seemed to muddle up the mythos of the series. There were good points (the pod race, the lightsaber duel) and fans are a bit more open to it given how it laid the groundwork for such things as the great Clone Wars series and introduced the saga to a new generation. Still, it has to rank as a major letdown that after so many years, the trailers causing a huge fuss and countless merchandise tie-ins, the prequel left many fans wanting for something they wouldn’t get until 2015.
14 Wild Wild West
By 1999, Will Smith was boasting “I own the 4th of July” after mega-hits Independence Day and Men in Black. So teaming with MiB director Barry Sonnenfeld and Kevin Kline for an adaptation of the cult 1960s TV show seemed to be another hit in the making. Warner Bros banked on this as their big gun of the summer and put so much into hyping it with tie-ins and Smith doing a music video. When it opened, it was quickly ripped into as one of the worst movies of that year, all style over substance, terrible dialogue, bad racial jokes and acting (Kenneth Brangh just chewing scenery as villain Loveless) and a crazy climax of a giant mechanical spider. It was a notable failure at the box office, ending Smith’s “ownership” of this weekend and showing all the glitzy style can’t salvage a bad script and story, even in the summer.
13 The Godfather Part III
After making the first two mob movies masterpieces, Francis Ford Coppola hit a rough patch with mega-flop The Cotton Club and others. So it made sense that in 1990, he returned to the well with this new entry in the saga and of course, the press was big, the expectations of another classic and even talk of the first trilogy to have every entry win Best Picture. Sadly, by 1990, Al Pacino had morphed from a truly talented actor to the overreaching ham we know today and his Michael Corleone turning into a joke. The plot lacked the same excitement and vibe of the originals and Coppola’s daughter Sofia’s performance as Michael’s daughter was so horrendous even Sofia herself admits it’s a horror that drove her from acting. The movie had a mixed critical reaction and while it did well at the box office, most fans see it as truly lacking and not even part of the real saga. The first two Godfathers are loved but this is the distant cousin no one wants to remember.
12 Sucker Punch
If ever there’s a case of a movie that had awesome trailers but turned out horrid, it’s this. It looked amazing, a wild fantasy world of hot women fighting demons, using samurai swords, kung Fu, guns and more, it seemed to be an epic ride and the expectations of it were massive. But the final product turned out to be a bizarre mess of multiple “dream/not dream” plotlines, exploiting women even as it claimed to be championing them and truly horrible dialogue. Sure, the action bits were cool to watch but the CGI just overwhelming and the climax coming off rather ugly as well. It totally failed at the box office and if this is what Zack Snyder’s mind works like, no wonder so many of his movies fail to work so much.
11 Superman Returns
When Bryan Singer announced he was going to finally return the Man of Steel to movies, fans were naturally excited. The attention was huge, many expecting a fresh new take on the mythos with Singer’s usual care. But Singer made the huge mistake of making this a direct sequel to the original 1978 movie with Brandon Routh not quite suited for Superman, Kate Bosworth terrible as Lois Lane and Kevin Spacey wasted as Lex Luthor. The plot came off dull and insipid and the action poor while the subplot of how Lois’ son was really Superman’s was much hated. It just seemed that Singer was trying to make a 1970s movie in 2006 and the tone didn’t fit at all. While successful, it didn’t live up to expectations and probably paved the way for the “gritty” take by Snyder years later which makes this one of the biggest missed opportunities in film that just doesn’t soar like Superman should.
What was intended to be a small-budget costume drama would explode into what was in 1963 the most expensive movie ever made. The production had various starts and stops, cast members coming and going and the desire to make it more epic added more and more to the budget. The key of it was how Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton engaged in a love affair that put Cleopatra and Mark Antony to shame. It got massive international press that brought more attention to the movie, making it truly seem like the epic of the times. However, its bloated running time hurt its showings as did rough critical reaction. While it was a high grosser, its massive budget meant it still became a huge flop that nearly put 20th Century Fox into bankruptcy. Today, it has some style but just not worth the massive attention and press put into it as Liz and Richard were a much better story off-screen than anything that ended up on film.
9 Batman V Superman
How do you screw up the two greatest super-heroes sharing the screen to set up the Justice League? Well, Warner Bros sure answered that with this movie which is already being massively trashed. Having Zack Snyder bring his “grim and gritty” approach was totally wrong and while Ben Affleck actually made a good Batman, he couldn’t rescue the messy storyline, the idiotic bits setting up the JLA and Jessie Eisenberg’s laughable Lex Luthor. Gal Gadot was praised as the best part as Wonder Woman but the “Knightmare” sequence and Flash appearance meant to set things up just turned into a confusing mess. Fans had dreamed for decades of the two on screen together only to be left with a huge letdown due to the movie’s tone and trying too hard to be “realistic.” Trying to mix Dark Knight Returns with Death of Superman was a disaster in the making and it’s paying off with a huge box office drop-off and savaging by both critics and comic book fans. It throws the entire “DC Cinematic Universe” into doubt and proof you truly can screw up years of expectation in a “can’t miss” film.
Anything with the touch of Oprah Winfrey is going to be a huge deal. Such was the case in 1998 as she produced and starred in this adaptation of the bestselling novel, directed by Jonathan Demme. Not only was the studio pushing it but Oprah devoted several episodes of her hit show to detailing the movie, its history, the story it was telling and more. Given all that, it was expected to be a success and a serious Oscar contender. Less than a month after it opened, “What happened to Beloved?” articles were popping up in magazines. The $80 million film took in barely $20 million at the box office as Oprah and the studio had vastly overestimated how much of her audience wanted to see a three hour movie about slavery and the critical buzz wasn’t as big as expected either. It became a rare misfire for Oprah and how even she can’t pull off everything no matter how much she used her show to try.
The Director’s Cut Blu-Ray makes the excellent case that this 2012 movie could have been fantastic. It was going to be a clear-cut prequel to the Alien series, with Ridley Scott bringing this universe to new life and in a great way. But then writer Damon Lindelof decided to add some “mystery” that turned the whole thing into a mess. The studio did their best to push it still with the epic overtones and the good cast of Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender but the bad reviews and poor word of mouth couldn’t overcome the problems and sank fast. A shame as the movie could have been a great revival of the series but faltered under its own weight to leave fans with a major letdown.
6 Pearl Harbor
Believe it or not, people in 2001 actually thought this was going to be the next Titanic. Michael Bay actually had some push then and a cast of Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale promised to highlight a powerful retelling of the Pearl Harbor attack. Instead, what viewers got was a bloated movie with laughable dialogue and situations and leave it to Bay to turn one of the more powerful moments in American history into a wild action piece that went against physics and shoved the “rah rah America” vibe far too much. Ripped to shreds by critics, it’s been turned into a joke massively by folks since, mocked for its dumb lines and chemistry-free mix of stars and why so many people feel Bay is one of the worst directors around.
5 Snakes On a Plane
This is a truly bizarre case of a hype machine that wasn’t even begun by a studio yet failed to pay off. The moment this movie was announced, viewers on the Internet began to get into it, Samuel L. Jackson as a federal agent defending a plane filled with deadly snakes. The Internet was soon promoting it huge with parodies and lines, pushing how crazy it was and a cult classic in the making. New Line took notice and reshot several scenes to add to the wild stuff (including Jackson yelling the meme-inspired “I’ve had it with these mother-----ing snakes on this mother------ plane!”) and pushing it in advertising. In August of 2006, it opened…and that supposed built-in audience failed to show up. The movie grossed far less than expected, vanishing fast and New Line was left baffled as to how something built into a huge phenomenon fizzled like this. It seemed folks enjoyed talking about but not too into actually seeing it, leaving the studio with a bit of egg on its face and showing how you can’t always trust folks online as a savvy audience.
4 The Hobbit
Be careful what you wish for. For years, fans had asked for Peter Jackson to return to Middle-Earth to adapt the prequel to The Lord of the Rings and in 2012, it finally happened. Sadly, the experience was muted by some very poor decisions, first and foremost being Jackson deciding to expand a simple book to a trilogy just to make it a bigger deal. Dragging out the action, adding in slews of unneeded connections to the earlier trilogy and creating Evangeline Lilly’s female elf were all seen by Tolkien fans as bad moves that screamed out “Hollywood” more than “true to the spirit of the book.” More so was how Jackson went whole hog on CGI in a way that would make George Lucas blanch, overwhelming the story and actors (Martin Freeman actually a good pick as the young Bilbo) and distracting from the film, the battle scenes more a video game than an experience to enjoy. Building up to the dragon Smaug only to kill him in the first five minutes of the third movie was as idiotic a decision as possible and the Blu-Ray extended cuts just indulge Jackson’s tastes even more. For years, Star Wars and LOTR fans have argued as to which was better. Now that argument can extend to which saga had the more disappointing prequel trilogy as Jackson undid so much of his prior goodwill by turning Middle-Earth into a bloated mess.
3 King Kong
Twice moviemakers have attempted huge remakes of the 1933 classic and both times they failed to reach expectations. In 1976, Dino de Laurentiis produced a version with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange in her film debut. It was one of the most expensive movies of its time and a big deal was made over a giant robotic Kong to be used in it but it would turn out the thing barely worked so it was just Rick Baker in a suit for pieces. Despite some great push with cover stories on magazines, the movie opened to poor reviews and while a success at the box office, in no way the monster hit it was expected to be.
In 2005, Peter Jackson made this his first post Lord of the Rings film and thus expectations were even higher. The budget ballooned to over $200 million as Jackson was intent on giving the movie all he had with CGI and trying to push it majorly and naturally the studio backed him up. While the movie was good with critics, it wasn’t the raves expected for Jackson and the overreliance on CGI was criticized as was its length. Throw in the miscasting of Jack Black and Adrian Brody and it’s no wonder audiences had a hard time connecting to it. In both cases, modern moviemaking just came up short to the stop-motion of the original film and proving there’s only one true Kong.
2 The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions
In 1999, the Wachowskis blew away moviegoers with The Matrix, changing the way people saw action, sci-fi and even marketing. Naturally, fans were excited about the sequels, shot back-to-back and promoting an even deeper look at this universe. They expected more amazing action, more nifty effects, just more of the same excitement. When the human city of Zion broke into a massive dance party, it was a bad sign they were not getting that. There were some good pieces (The Burly Brawl, the highway chase) but they were buried under constant philosophy talk and gobbledygook about destiny and overturning what fans believed about the movies. Revolutions was even worse, barely any major action, just repeating the same action/effects pieces and an ending that just felt anti-climactic after all that had been seen. Most fans prefer to remember the first film as a groundbreaking classic but ignore the sequels for good reason.
1 Godzilla (1998)
The excellent book The Gross examines the summer movie season of 1998 and how it shifted a lot in hype and marketing. Much of it is devoted to how most everyone believed this was going to be the movie of that year. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were coming off the massive success of Independence Day and thus reviving the greatest movie monster of all time promised success. Sony went into overdrive pushing it, keeping all sight of Godzilla himself off-screen while promoting the tagline “Size does matter” and billboards teasing the monster (“His foot is as big as this bus.”) It was going to be the smash…and then it opened.
Critics were not kind to the story with Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno wasted as the human cast and a dumb plotline. The worst part, however, was that Godzilla himself was slammed by moviegoers as a refugee from Jurassic Park, not the epic monster he should have been and the action just loud and dumb. Despite a sequel tease, it barely made back its budget at the box office and would be made fun of by fans in Japan. As The Gross explored, the overhyping was its downfall as it set up a monster fail.