Cinema's 50 greatest flops, follies and failures: part 2

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In Part Two we encounter racist dogs, floating corpses, dancing globes and stripping starlets, plus one very crabby folk singer and a whole boatload of misguided Britpop twerps...

40. Sleuth

(2007)


Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Footlights follies
Picture the scene: maverick RSC mainstay-cum-hazardously dodgy middle-brow director Kenneth Branagh is gleefully micturating on the grave of Old Hollywood golden boy Joseph L Mankiewicz while Harold Pinter is stage left sobbing his sweary heart out. That pretty much sums up what Branagh did with his woeful updating the 1972 version of ‘Sleuth', a flapping-mad turkey which died a death both critically and commercially. Certainly the prospect was intriguing: Pinter returning to Hollywood screenwriting; Michael Caine going mano-a-mano with Jude Law; Branagh's first non-Shakespeare adap in donkey's years. But the execution was laughable, amounting to a film which comprised little more that two men shouting at each other across what looks like a Swedish furniture outlet. And on that note, let's also say that Branagh's upcoming take on Marvel's ‘Thor' comic book has yet to moisten our filmgoing slacks. DJ
Watch Jude Law trying hard to make the film sound interestingRead the Time Out review

Enter the Void.jpg

39. Enter the Void (2009)

Directed by Gaspar NoeGiving up the ghostApparently it's the film that confrontational Argentina-born, France-based director Gaspar Noe has been eking towards his entire career, and it's a high-rise, sense-battering balancing act that topples almost instantly, then keeps tumbling for the entire near three hour runtime. Originally inspired by a accidental late-night viewing of Robert Montgomery's 1947 film ‘Lady of the Lake', parts of which are told from the perspective of a dead person, ‘Enter the Void' employs some of the woozy, POV camera techniques used in his previous film ‘Irreversible' to tell of a young drug dealer's out-of-body plight after he is gunned down in a Tokyo nightclub. His ghost floats around the neon-lit city as we slowly discover the circumstances of his death and the fate of his expat sister who works as a stripper. Following its premiere at Cannes in 2008, the film drew parallels to both the eye-zapping ‘third-age-of-man' fx reel at the end of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey' and the tedium of a screen saver custom built by Athena. Beyond that, it's a movie hampered by single-minded visual ambition (uterus-cam anyone?), wildly oscillating between dreamcatcher profundity and gross puerility and constantly pushing at visual and aural boundaries at the expense of character, logic and clear themes. As much as any cult movie can be deemed a folly, this one will undoubtedly draw a small but adoring late-night crowd, but we sincerely hope that this is one that Noe needed to get out of his system as opposed to a template for future mind-frags. DJ
Watch an eye-ravishing visual effects reel
Read the Time Out review
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38. White Dog (1981)

Directed by Sam Fuller
KKK-9
Uncle Sam Fuller made a habit of stubbing his fat stogie out on the cinematic rulebook, tackling interracial love (‘The Crimson Kimono'), FBI incompetence (‘Pickup on Southstreet') and US army savagery (‘The Steel Helmet') at times when those subjects were just not kosher. Endgame for Fuller came with his 1982 film ‘White Dog', which was considered so politically incendiary and downright out-of-order that it was buried by producers Paramount and remained ‘lost' for close to 30 years. Focusing on a white dog who has been trained by a past owner to attack black people, the film traces the dog's incremental rehabilitation. Of course, seeing it now, it's quite clear that its message was initially misconstrued, and that it is in fact a plea for tolerance, understanding and education, and not, y' know, a celebration of violent racial hatred. DJWatch a brutal scene from the movie Read the Time Out review
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37. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)


Directed by Andrew Dominik
Outlaw blues
"They got their company rules, and I got my mean streak - and that's how we get things done." So intones Brad Pitt's Jesse James while robbing a mail train early on in Dominik's elegant revisionist Western. It's a phrase that could serve as a rallying cry for many of the films in this list. Surely no one involved in the great many of these hugely expensive movies could ever imagine they would make back even a fraction of their often vast budgets. That isn't to say that many of them are not fine pieces of work. ‘Jesse James' is a case in point: a beautiful, mournful, riveting film that we should be endlessly grateful for, it's a folly all the way. But if Hollywood continues to gift us films of this quality whist still managing to balance their budgets, then we'll all get along just fine. ALD
Watch the wonderful opening passage to ‘Jesse James' here
Read the Time Out review maskedandanonymous.jpg

36. Masked and Anonymous (2003)

Directed by Larry Charles
You got a lotta nerve
Untouchable though he is with a battered acoustic on his knee and a blues harp in his word-hole, Bob Dylan's intermittent attempts to forge a big screen career have only ended up making David Bowie look like Brando. The signs were all there in the lamentable emo goof-around, ‘Hearts of Fire', where he plays a bubble-permed folk troubadour ‘with a past' who has to battle for the affections of a fiery strumpet with Rupert Everett's moneyed, PVC-clad Le Bon-a-like synth monster. But special mention this time goes to 2003's direct-to-DVD oddity ‘Masked and Anonymous', which is not so much a train wreck, but 4256 trainwrecks converging on the site of a children's hospital. Dylan (who contributed to the screenplay) stars as Jack Fate, a cowboy minstrel looking to re-find fame in a bizarre, ‘Repo Man'-like dystopian future peopled by Hollywood B-listers. Though taste calamities abound throughout, the main problem is that Dylan mistakes movie dialogue for inscrutable rock lyrics, so you're choked on meandering monologues like:

‘Things fall apart, especially all the neat order of rules and laws. The way we look at the world is the way we really are. See it from a fair garden and everything looks cheerful. Climb to a higher plateau and you'll see plunder and murder. Truth and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. I stopped trying to figure everything out a long time ago.'

Even Uncut readers gave this one a wide berth. DJ

Watch Ebert and Roeper give Dylan's disaster a big thumbs down

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35. Showgirls (1995)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven
‘I'm erect. Why aren't you erect?'
Violent femmes, bisexual bitch fights, sex in the swimming pool... it must be a Paul Verhoeven/Joe Eszterhas collaboration. High on the success of icepick-wielding bonkfest ‘Basic Instinct', the duo decided to take one step closer to cheap porn and accidentally made a giant leap into camp cult classic. A flop at the box office, the story of the supposedly sassy stripper (a blank-faced Elizabeth Berkeley) became celebrated on video and DVD, when students could enjoy it in the privacy of their own rented accommodation, rewind the gratuitous sex bits and howl with ironic laughter at the risible dialogue. The thought that Verhoeven intended it to be taken seriously is the joke that keeps on giving. ASWatch an awesome DIY stage tribute to the movieRead the Time Out review Guesthouse.jpg

34. Guest House Paradiso (1999)

Directed by Adrian ‘Ade' Edmondson
Rock bottom
This mile-high tsunami of bogies marked the closing chapter in the near 30-year comedy partnership between Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, and what a tawdry, vile and mirthless affair it is. This flat-footed big screen outing took everything that was naff about the (intermittently superb) BBC sitcom ‘Bottom' - the play fighting, the crude innuendo, the pound-shop special effects - and supercharged it into an embarrassing mess of a movie that looked like a cross between an intensely blue Roy Chubby Brown routine and ‘Noel's House Party'. In the end, it falls between the failure and folly stools, as we all know that when Rik and Ade are on form, filthy gems like ‘Mr Jolly Lives Next Door' can worm on to our screens. DJ
Watch the boys engage in some misc pan-fightingRead the Time Out review


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33. The Boat that Rocked (2009)

Directed by Richard Curtis
Shit floats
Winsome bourgeois romcom rejuvenator Curtis had already taken a shot at crafting an epic failure with his rambling, teeth-hurtingly sweet portmanteau plodder ‘Love, Actually', but much to everyone's surprise it actually made money. And so Curtis upped anchor and set sail for the '60s - or at least some sickeningly twee version of same, where men wore frilly shirts and women kept their mouths shut, where marriage was accidental and rape just another wacky coming-of-age adventure. ‘The Boat that Rocked' truly is a seedy, objectionable little film: devoid of narrative drive, character development, warmth or genuine good humour, drowning in sickly ITV clichés and barefaced sexism, sucking any sense of excitement or danger from what should have been a timely celebration of cultural rebellion. Falling flat with British audiences thanks to its punishing 135 minute runtime, the film was heavily edited for US consumption, but still managed to flop there. Despite remaining in demand as a screenwriter, Curtis currently has no more directorial projects in development. Please, God, keep it that way. TH
When even Tony Blackburn can't find a nice word to say, you're in trouble

Read the Time Out review

ishtar.jpg

32. Ishtar (1987)

Directed by Elaine May
‘Dune' of the dunes...
In the case of some of the mega-budget skidmarks that crud up this list, you can at least look up at the screen and see where all the money went. Elaborate set pieces, massive sets, casts of thousands - none of these come cheap (or at least they didn't until CGI came along and took a dump in the laundry basket). With others, however, you're left gaping up at the screen and wondering just which galactic orifice all those millions disappeared into. ‘Ishtar', for instance, is a film about two jobbing New York musicians getting a gig in a fictional North African country and finding themselves lost in the desert. A couple of exterior NY shoots, an airport set and a few closing scenes in the Mojave and you'd have a perfectly serviceable direct-to-vid mid-'80s comedy starring, perhaps, James Belushi, or, if you're lucky, John Candy. But factor in the star wattage and renowned perfectionism of multi-take merchants Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman and the same exact flick ends up being filmed in Tunisia and costing $60 million. None of this would matter if the film showed the barest flicker of humour, invention or charm. But. It. Don't. ALD
Watch Siskel & Ebert dismantling the film here

Read the Time Out review

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31. The Great Dictator (1940)

Directed by Charlie Chaplin
He's got the whole world in his hands
It wasn't long after its 1940 release that history took a studded cosh to Chaplin's double-barrelled satire of fascist sturm und drang: when news made it to the West of the vile extent of Hitler's atrocities, the jokes just didn't seem so funny any more. The pomp and pageantry of National Socialism - specifically how it was viewed from outside Germany - were gustily lampooned in this story of Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin), the ruthless, comically effete dictator of the fictional state of Tomainia whose persecution of local Jews leads him to get embroiled with a World War One grunt (Chaplin again) who later assumes his identity. The film was a huge hit upon its release, working as much as a slice of rallying wartime propaganda as it did a seat-filling high-class blockbuster. And it contained some of the director-star's most memorable work, not least the famous scene where he waltzes with an inflatable globe. Yet the film has fallen out of favour somewhat, its closing to-camera plea for tolerance and camaraderie coming across like an uneasy peace of soap-box hectoring suggesting Chaplin had perhaps lost confidence in the visual potency of the medium, a potency that had made him a silent era star in the first place. DJ
Watch the beautiful globe dance here

Read the Time Out review

See 30 through to 21

Author: Adam Lee Davies, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins and Anna Smith



Users say

14 comments
Susan
Susan

The Boat that Rocks was little more than an abomination and a shameful waste of my ten pounds and hours that I will never be able to claw back. Poor Phillip Seymour Hoffman just looked embarrassed throughout. It was a disappointing waste of British talent for something that could have been a good showcase. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. And if you have diabetes avoid Love Actually on pain of death.

TheRealDrPretorius
TheRealDrPretorius

As somebody who frequently posts under the name Pretorius, I am appalled by the moronic post below. Not only does he have his "its" back to front with his "it's", he doesn't seem to have read the piece he's commenting on. The film WAS a financial success. All that noted, I must, alas, agree that The Great Dictator does not stand up. As others have said, the final speech pulls you out of the film and comes across as absurdly preachy. I saw it about five years ago in a new print and was amazed at how clunky, broad and witless it seemed. In short, it belongs in this list.

Jonathan Rosenbaum
Jonathan Rosenbaum

The "real" Rosenbaum (i.e., me), currently returning from a little over a week in Argentina, is the same one who knows that "it's" is an abbreviation for "it is" and "its" is a possessive adjective.

Arthur Jefferson
Arthur Jefferson

Agree with the author. Chaplin's climactic bromide is functional for radio but this is the same director who spoofed American bourgeoisie and hypocrisy sans dialogue. The Three Stooges--and I'm forfeiting comparison to Chaplin--concluded their own satire of Hitler's fascism with De Fuhrer (Moe) and his propagandists (Larry & Curley) devoured by lions; personally, I prefer the low-brow resolution.

anita
anita

i have seen THE BOAT THAT ROCKED and i loved it so much, and i agree with mark LOVE ACTUALLY was a great movie. I own both movies and watch them all the time!!!!!!!

Evan M
Evan M

Not sure what you're talking about, Pretorius. Rosenbaum correctly used "it's" as a conjunction, not a possessive. I believe (and hope) that this is the real Rosenbaum, seeing as his opinions on Ishtar and Chaplin are consistent with past writings. He is absolutely right, though. Whatever the writer's personal feelings about The Great Dictator, it has no place on a list of flops. It was a smash hit success when it came out and remains Chaplin's most profitable film. Today, it still retains a classic status, as evidenced by its high rating on IMDB's website, and the hour-long documentary on its DVD, including interviews with notables like Sidney Lumet. Godard also called it the second best American sound film ever made.

janna kriens
janna kriens

The Great Dictator is a masterpiece that holds up to time like few political films. The speech at the end is, perhaps, more relevant to-day than it was 70 years ago. No wonder it was played at midnight during a concert L.A. to ring in our first year without Bush as president. God bless Chaplin!

DrTrelawney
DrTrelawney

The Great Dictator is nearly unwatchable now, That last speech is ghastly.

Mark
Mark

I haven't seen THE BOAT THAT ROCKED but I have seen LOVE,ACTUALLY, which is mentioned quite disparagingly in the article. LOVE ACTUALLY was the best comedy released in the first decade of this millenium, funny and touching, wonderfully acted and inventively directed. It should have made more money.

DrPretorius
DrPretorius

From Major Whoa: "The same movie is listed in many film books as a classic!" For God's sake. About half the posts on this article seem to be from people that are missing the bloody point. The piece on the Great Dictator clarifies that the author thinks the film contains some of Chaplin's best work. This is a list of (largely) FINANCIAL flops. They're saying it made no money. The quality of the film is neither here nor there.

Major Whoa But Why
Major Whoa But Why

"The Great Dictator" a flop? The same movie is listed in many film books as a classic! I'm not sure I agree with you on that one.

Dr Pretorius
Dr Pretorius

It is not, I fear, the real Rosenbaum. The genuine article knows when to use "it's" and when to employ "its".

Daniel
Daniel

Wait, THE Jonathan Rosenbaum?! Really enjoyed Movie Wars :)

Jonathan Rosenbaum
Jonathan Rosenbaum

Failing to recognize the biting and hilarious political satire of ISHTAR is by now routine (and boring), but calling THE GREAT DICTATOR a "flop" and/or "disaster" is downright stupid. For whatever it's worth, I'd much rather hear and see what Chaplin has to say about Hitler than read your own wisdom on the subject. And so would many other people.



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