Cinema's 50 greatest flops, follies and failures: part 5

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We're into the top ten, and it's bargains galore: $40 million dollars for a used pirate galleon, £35 million for a trip to Communist Russia, and only £25 million for a full-scale model of Las Vegas - the price is right, so come on down!

10. Pirates (1989)

Directed by Roman PolanskiPolanski walks the plankIn the wake of Mad John Depp and his roustabout crew of box office buccaneers, it's hard to remember how long the pirate movie had languished in untouchable red-light purgatory. Errol Flynn had thrilled audiences with the tights-wearing, cutlass-waving likes of ‘Captain Blood' back in the '30s, but since then things had been quiet, and by the '80s, despite numerous best-forgotten attempts at revivification (Graham Chapman's ‘Yellowbeard' bounds unnervingly to mind), the pirate movie essentially became restricted to adaptations of ‘Treasure Island' and the occasional forgettable kiddie romp.

Polanski had been nursing ‘Pirates' since his mid-'70s heyday, originally intending to cast Jack Nicholson in the role of salty sea-dog and potential cannibal Captain Red, until the actor's expected fees put him out of contention. So the project languished, until a combination of blind luck and Euro funding rebirthed the whole sorry mess some time in the early '80s. The original budget was $15 million – a pretty penny in those days – but, as committed readers will probably have anticipated, it quickly spiralled to a reported $40 million-plus, thanks to Polanski's insistence on building a full-scale galleon in Tunisia. The end result – with a past-his-prime Walter Matthau in the lead, and support from no one you've ever heard of – was the biggest box office disaster of its day. Polanski must've been pleased as punch when ‘Ishtar' took that crown only a year later – and even more so a decade on, when forgettable swashbuckling Geena Davis vehicle (you couldn't make it up) ‘Cutthroat Island' not only made all the same mistakes and singularly failed to revive the pirate genre, but actually became, according to Wikipedia, the biggest net money loser of all time. Nice going, Geena. TH
Watch this clip, which may be more fun than the entirety of Polanski's movie

Read the Time Out review

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9. 1941 (1979)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Slightly funnier than 'Schindler's List'
The feature-length making-of documentary that accompanies the DVD release of Spielberg's monumental WWII folly finds the director in self-deprecating form, admitting that he took the film on because it offered an opportunity ‘to really break some furniture' and that its fanbase is limited to ‘a small, insane group of people'; co-writer Bob Gale calls it ‘one big mess', while producer John Milius – ever the troublemaker – gleefully praises the film's ‘social irresponsibility.'

Set against the fear of a Japanese bombardment of California in the wake of Pearl Harbour, the film treats such chortlesome historical nuggets as the Zoot Suit riots and the shelling of American oil refineries as little more than a mosaic of ramped-up carnage across which a none-more-eclectic cast that includes Toshiro Mifune, John Belushi and Christopher Lee parade their scenery-chewing chops. Noisy, confusing and riotous, it lacks any real narrative core, unapologetic bombast holds sway throughout and the formal demands of the intercut set-pieces regularly stifle the humour, but this is kitchen-sink filmmaking of the most indulgent kind and comedy on a scale that – for better or for worse – we may never see again. ALD

Watch the theatrical teaser trailer here

Read the Time Out review



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8. Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Directed by John Boorman
Better than sucking cocks in hell... but only just
How to follow one of the most immense, intense, bracingly terrifying moneyspinners in Hollywood history? Well, first off, ditch everything that made the original work: the claustrophobic setting, the Catholic simplicity, the witty, stylish dialogue, the director and most of the cast. Now let's broaden out the mythos: this isn't just good and evil we're dealing with, this is demons and hypnosis and plagues of locusts. So, since we're clearly going BIG, let's go serious as well: no humour, please, let's make all the dialogue as deadeningly portentous as possible. And just to be sure no one's having any fun, let's bring in old granite-face, Richard Burton, to play the lead. And let's pack him off to Africa, so he can patronise the local medicine men and get in a spot of bother with some fake lions.

Seriously, whoever thought that a director riding high on ‘Zardoz' would make a good ‘Exorcist' movie was, well, as loopy as whoever brought in Paul Schrader to do the same thing 25 years later. John Boorman has made some fantastic movies, but give the man a chance to overdo the thundering symbolism and he'll jump at it: this is, after all, a director who wanted to insert erotic pagan ceremonies into ‘Lord of the Rings'. Sure, there are a few so-mad-they're-good sequences in ‘The Heretic' – the climactic seduction scene has to be seen to be believed – but it's still a limp and leaden follow up. Luckily, original author William Peter Blatty wasn't about to let his creation die, and it only took him 15 more years to rustle up funds for his brilliantly oddball ‘Exorcist 3', the one true sequel to a genuine horror classic. TH
Watch the Turkish ‘Exorcist' here

Read the Time Out review


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7. Reds (1981)

Directed by Warren BeattyMr Beatty goes to LeningradHold up! Isn't ‘Reds' a wonderfully accomplished film that made piles of cash and won scads of Oscars? Indeed it is. But if releasing a $35m period movie about a grandstanding American communist in the year that Ronald Reagan became president of the US isn't a folly, we're at a loss as to what is. Following crusading journalist John Reed from his early days whipping up union fervour across the flyblown states of America to his time as a war correspondent in Russia and his eventual burial in the Kremlin Wall as a Bolshevik hero, Warren Beatty's three-hour passion project somehow managed to succeed in an era when US audiences were supposedly irrevocably dumbing down on kid-friendly space operas and Burt Reynolds larks. Opulent, sensitive and requiring a great deal of commitment from the audience, ‘Reds' represents one of the very highest watermarks in American cinema, and it's unlikely we'll see a film of such intelligence and sensitivity on such a grand scale again. ALDWatch the ‘Internationale' scene here
Read the Time Out review


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6. One From the Heart (1982)


Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

There's no business like slow business
Ah, the musical – stumbling block for many a great filmmaker, from Scorsese's ‘New York, New York' to Bill Condon's ‘Dreamgirls' to, um, Chris Columbus's ‘Rent'. Seduced by the escapist lure of the musical spectacular and the promise of Broadway-size box office, these filmmakers became convinced that they could reinvigorate that most benighted of genres, and bring about a new Hollywood golden age. But no filmmaker has fallen so quickly, and from so great a height, as Francis Ford Coppola with ‘One From the Heart'.

It was his pet project: a sprawling, neon-hued Las Vegas dreamscape with a realistic core, a dazzling display of light and sound framing an intimate, achingly modern tale of love lost and rediscovered. Sure, there'd be songs and soft-shoe, but there'd also be soul, and grit, and truth. Sounds like a solid idea – but hardly a commercial one. Which would have been fine if, as initially projected, the movie had cost a paltry $2 million. But then things got out control: refusing to shoot on location, Coppola insisted on building all the sets from scratch. Eschewing ideas of mainstream, audience-friendly casting, he insisted on planting Frederic Forrest (the sweaty Chef from ‘Apocalypse Now') and Teri Garr (Phoebe's Mum from ‘Friends') centre stage, while to score the film he hired none other than critical darling but commercial who-he Tom Waits. TH
Hear the amazing title track from the film

Read the Time Out review

See 5 through to 2


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


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