Cinema's 50 greatest flops, follies and failures: part 3

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In part 3 we hit the road (yellow brick or otherwise): Eddie Murphy's got a tank, Kurt Russell's in his death car and Kris Kristofferson's leading a whole damn convoy...

30. Best Defense (1984)

Directed by Willard Huyck
In which Eddie Murphy intones those immortal words, ‘I love Iraq!'
In the auto industry, the technical term for two halves of separate (usually conked out) vehicles fused together is a ‘cut and shunt'. The term also applies to this so-called topical comedy from 1984, which seems to be a result of the fact that Hollywood had fooled their vodka-clouded selves into believing that Dudley Moore alone could still sell a movie. Moore stars in one segment of the film as Wylie Cooper (!), a browbeaten weapons engineer who has produced a new-fangled targeting system for American tanks (which the prop department bods realise as a silver rugby ball with some toilet rolls Sellotaped to it). At one point in the production, that was the movie, until audience tests revealed that the three years since ‘Arthur' had been a long, long time, and that for this baby to fly, they needed more than Moore. So, another movie - an Eddie Murphy movie - was fused on to the hulk of Dud's original comic caper, and the final product has us switching back and forth between Dudley running around offices in a kipper tie and Eddie Murphy pulling donuts in a tank outside the Reno city limits. Not a pretty sight. DJ
Watch the trailer

Read the Time Out review

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29. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Directed by Victor Fleming
A wizzy wiz if ever a wiz there was
A flop, you say? A folly? A failure? One of the most beloved children's films ever made, a holiday staple, a gay icon, a family favourite? Surely not. And yet, on its initial release, ‘The Wizard of Oz' barely scraped back its production budget, and it wasn't until a tenth-anniversary reissue that it began to make any serious money. The film bears many of the hallmarks of a notable failure: massive budgets, technological boldness, musical sequences, silly names, fantasy elements, attempts to recapture ‘childhood wonder', animals and midgets. This is a film which succeeds almost in spite of itself, requiring a monumental effort of cynicism-suspension on the part of its audiences. True, once you get into its goofy, upbeat, dayglo mindset the film has many, many rewards. What's surprising (and oddly pleasing) is that, even in today's crummy, coldhearted world, audiences are still willing to make that leap. THWatch Munchkin suicide debunked!

Read the Time Out review


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28. The Fountain (2006)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Tree fellers NOT wanted
Aronofksy had to make some serious hard-luck compromises to get his passion project on to the screen. A troubled production history saw budget cuts lead to last-minute cast withdrawals (namely Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), which in turn led to a pre-production shutdown and huge chunks of the script being pulled out as the project was retooled to fit the parameters of a new, slimmed-down budget. The resultant film feels every bit like a spark was lost somewhere along the way, but no matter how little time one has for the finished result - and, to be fair, it is pretty duff - we can't help imagining how special ‘The Fountain' might have been had Aronofsky been allowed to fulfil his vision. ALDWatch the trailer here
Read the Time Out review

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27. Greed (1924)

Directed by Erich von Stroheim
The hardest cut
Back in the '20s film was a young medium, and its boundaries were still being tested. So perhaps immigrant Hollywood icon Erich von Stroheim thought it was perfectly acceptable to spend $500,000 of Sam Goldwyn's money making a ten-hour tragedy about the collapse of the American dream and the eternal lure of filthy capital. Or perhaps he was just bonkers. We'll never know: first, Von Stroheim was pressured into cutting the film down to a more manageable six hours (to play, he insisted, over two nights. Sure, Erich). Then, to his lasting dismay, he bit the bullet and cut it down to four. And finally, inevitably, he was booted off the project and it was slashed down to 140 minutes - still a biggie, even by today's standards. We may never know what delights Stroheim's original version may have offered - the prints were burned by a janitor - but even in its truncated form, the film is hailed as a masterpiece. Seriously, though - ten hours? THWatch some amazing behind-the-scenes newsreel footage
Watch the Time Out review


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26. Red Beard (1965)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
‘Holby City' - Feudal Japan style.
Known primarily for balletic chop-socky epics like ‘The Seven Samurai' and ‘Yojimbo', Akira Kurosawa was also one of cinema's most ardent humanists, always looking to gauge the personal emotional toll of violence, modernisation and general reckless endeavour. Indeed, the emotional toll of bringing this sprawling 1965 hospital-set soap opera to fruition was considerable, not least because its torturous two-year production period was enough to drive his leading man of choice (Toshirô Mifune) to put a halt to their 17-year period of collaboration, but also led the director to attempt to end his life. This occasionally ungainly, always engrossing tale charts the day-to-day life of a rural clinic, with Mifune's renegade ‘Red Beard' taking a young intern under his wing and ushering him along that gory path from medical textbook to blood-drenched operating table. The film remains well liked in the Kurosawa canon despite the fact that if flopped commercially, though did mark the end of his initial block of filmmaking, leading him to experiment with colour stock and make a few more masterpieces (‘Ran', ‘Kagemusha') and a few more follies (‘Dreams'). DJ
Watch the Japanese trailer
Read the Time Out review


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25. Convoy (1978)

Directed by Sam PeckinpahTrucking hellArizona. Noon. 7th of June. Yep, it's the rarely spotted Movie Based on a Popular Song genre (Wikipedia lists only 11, and several of those – ‘The Crying Game'? – are deeply spurious). The song ‘Convoy' had been a huge smash for truckin' legend CW McCall, and with its immediate narrative hook - the load-haulin' hero Rubber Duck starts an 18-wheeler party through the Deep South - it's actually a better-than-average fit for movie adaptation. The producers must've thought they had a surefire moneyspinner on their hands, but they'd reckoned without Bloody Sam and his bottomless hip flask. Peckinpah was deep in the throes of alcoholism when the movie was shot (allegedly in large part by his friend and Second Unit director, James Coburn), and thanks to his legendary irascibility and perfectionism - not to mention wrangling hundreds of trucks - the film's budget swiftly doubled in size to more than $12 million. The movie remains Peckinpah's biggest box office success, but it's chiefly remembered as a bloated, overlong shadow of his former glories. Great fun, though. THWatch a version of the theme song with a pounding jive bunny casio beatRead Time Out review


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24. The Holy Mountain (1973)

Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
The ultimate trip
So there's this dwarf, right, and he pals up with this shit-covered thief who looks a bit like Jesus. Then there are these chameleons, okay, and these toads, and they re-enact the coming of the Spanish conquistadors to South America. Then there's this big tube... and an alchemist who turns crap into gold... and seven evil masterminds... and they all go on this, like, quest or something...

Perhaps the most extreme example of the battle lines between art and commerce, ‘The Holy Mountain' was funded by Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein with money from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, in what they doubtless viewed as revolutionary act against the normalising forces of Hollywood. And although they didn't succeed in bringing down the system or reinventing the art of cinema, they did manage to blow a few minds. Which is something. TH
Watch the Great Toad and Chameleon Circus

Read the Time Out review

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23. Grindhouse (2007)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez
Too much of a not-very-good thing
It should have been great: a double bill of down-and-dirty, smash-and-grab low-budget schlock shockers from two of the world's most trash-literate filmmakers, plus trailers for fake movies shot in the style of '70s fleapit forthcoming attractions. An excuse for Tarantino to trim the fat off his legendarily overweight dialogue and display his action chops. A reason for Rodriguez to let loose with a torrent of all-out gore. It ended up being, well, a bit tame.Rodriguez's instalment, ‘Planet Terror', trundles along nicely enough, with some inventive splat and a few decent one-liners. The trailers are amusing in their way - ‘Machete' and 'Hobo With A Shotgun' are even being made into full-length movies as we speak. But there's simply no excuse for Tarantino's ‘Death Proof' which, even in its truncated ‘Grindhouse' version (never mind the extended standalone cut), is arguably the most self-indulgent work released by a major director thus far this century (at least until ‘Inglourious Basterds'). Tarantino was supposed to know his way around genre cinema like the back of his hand - yet how many '70s action movies had he seen which consisted almost exclusively of characters spouting fatuous cultural references while eating gumbo? How many which featured so little plot, action, sex or death? If he was in fact attempting some kind of Beckettian inversion of the entire ‘Grindhouse' concept, then perhaps he succeeded. If he was attempting to please his audience, he failed miserably - as evidenced by the film's resoundingly flat box office reception. THWatch a selection of real exploitation trailers that put those fake ones to shame Read the Time Out review

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22. Popeye (1980)

Directed by Robert Altman
From the director of ‘OC and Stiggs'...
Career curveballs rarely arrive in such immediately distasteful dayglo hues as cinephile darling Robert Altman's take on EC Segar's dearly loved comic strip about a violent, semi-retarded sailor man (Robin Williams in his mumble-heavy debut film performance) and his sweet love affair with gangly local dame Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall). The reason that ‘Popeye' takes its place on this list is that it's such a bizarre realisation of Altman's preoccupying stylistic tics. The large ensemble cast and overlapping dialogue are present and correct, as is the dark thematic undercurrent (concerning the economic decline of small towns) which is partially veiled by the comically calibrated performances and a free-and-easy approach to narrative. It's a big, beautiful mess that has grown in stature over the years, and it's a folly that is ripe for a revisit. Remade two years later by RW Fassbinder as ‘Querelle'. DJWatch Shelley Duvall sing 'He Needs Me'

Read the Time Out review


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21. Sorcerer (1977)

Directed by William Friedkin
The wages of Friedkin
Just the poster for ‘Sorcerer' gives a pretty good idea of the logistical nightmare it must've entailed. A truck hangs perilously on the edge of a rope-and-plank bridge over a yawning jungle ravine. A man scrambles towards the camera, and the rain lashes down. Even for a director coming off a string of successes – including ‘The French Connection' and ‘The Exorcist' – a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's punishing suspense masterpiece ‘The Wages of Fear' must've been a tough sell. The film concerns the efforts of four wanted criminals to drive a truck loaded with nitroglycerin across some of the roughest terrain in South America - ugly characters in ugly situations, it doesn't exactly scream ‘heartland America'. Add to that the fact that all Friedkin's leading man choices turned him down, resulting in Roy Scheider being cast and the rest of the characters being played by grizzled pan-European nonentities. Then, to add insult, the film was released concurrently with ‘Star Wars'. Even the title was blamed for putting off audiences, who expected something supernatural, especially from the director of ‘The Exorcist'. Friedkin never quite recovered - but then, if you're going to embark on wild, Herzogian jungle adventures, you best be ready to face the consequences: madness, malaria, and very possibly the end of a promising career. TH
Watch a fanmade montage from the film

See 20 through to 11


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


Users say

13 comments
Jeff L
Jeff L

Play the Chaplin speech at the end of The Great Dictator right this moment...it is perfect for today's society.

loulou
loulou

Death Proof is one of my favourite movies - brilliant retro feel to it with strong female leads. Love it!

Dan
Dan

The Fountain is truly terrible. Great soundtrack though.

Ron
Ron

Total disagreement on POPEYE, I love that film and how you can call Querelle a remake leaves me totally baffled .

Godbluff
Godbluff

I saw Death Proof and really liked it for its simplicity and feelbad-feelgood storyline. The dialogue was brilliant as usual - the initial action jaw-dropping - the outcome spot on. Tarantino is one of the few directors that really are artists. If you want a conventional movie - avoid it.

Daniel
Daniel

Jesse I stand corrected

Malcolm
Malcolm

You might have at least mentioned that 'The Sorcerer' was a remake of the 50's classic 'Wages of Fear', and as the other comments say, a worthy, underrated one at that.

James
James

Fan of Death Proof here. Don't really know why the film gets so much flack. He was pastiching pulp-films and I think he did a great job. I don't think 65% on Rotten Toms really qualifies as a commercial failure

Alex Stockwell
Alex Stockwell

Well, at least Aronovsky got one thing out of "The Fountain": Rachel Weisz. Good work, my friend.

JRS45
JRS45

I totally agree that "Sorcerer" is an underrated classic. It is superb storytelling, spectacular sound and an unforgettable musical score by Tangerine Dream. The studio is to blame for putting a movie like this in the summer movie releases when it clearly should have come out in the fall. Also the fact that besides STAR WARS there were other summer movie hits such as SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, ONE ON ONE, HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO, THE DEEP, A BRIDGE TOO FAR, ROLLERCOASTER and THE RESCUERS.

jesse
jesse

Yeah it was but only in canada

DemonwithaGlasshand
DemonwithaGlasshand

"Sorcerer" was an excellent film that did, indeed, suffer from bad timing and a bad title. But it is interesting, tough and engaging. I love the acting. Scheider is perfect and who cares if the rest are Europeans? Very, very underrated.

Daniel
Daniel

Hobo with a Shotgun wasn't in Grindhouse



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