10 blockbusters that were taken down by the critics

Sometimes, a blockbuster movie can ride out the barbs from the critics. Other times? It doesn't quite go to plan...

Batman & Robin. Amazing on many levels. None of them real.

Yesterday, we looked at the blockbusters that turned out to be utterly critic proof. The logical next step, therefore, is to look at the films that the critics’ pens did manage to damage, and in some cases, all but destory. Granted, the critics didn’t make the films concerned, but some here – Hudson Hawk and Last Action Hero are interesting examples – have been dealt a kinder hand by history than they were by the reviewers of the time.

The interesting thing about some of the films that we’ve chosen here are that many still went on to bring in a lot of money. Yet in each case, they underperformed against expectations, and it’s the mix of reviews and word of mouth that’s a major contributory factor. Granted, there’s an argument that making better films would have helped, yet the shelves of Blockbuster are littered with films that made a lot of money, but weren’t very good.

In the case of this lot, though, the critics found their targets and struck well, inflicting some degree of damage, often fatal, on the film in question…

BATMAN & ROBIN Rotten Tomatoes Score: 12% Global Box Office: $238m SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL Rotten Tomatoes Score: % Global Box Office: $164m

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These two films have been lumped together for three reasons. Firstly, they were both rubbish. Secondly, they both bombed to varying degrees. And thirdly, they were both exposed in double quick time by the critics.

The different in these cases was that it was Internet critics that did the damage. Both Batman & Robin and Speed 2 came out in 1997, around the time when the Internet was starting to have some influence on people’s viewing habits. The story runs, of course, that Harry Knowles and AintItCoolNews.com were major contributors to the demise of the pair at the box office, and there does appear to be credence to the story. The online – and entirely fair – hammering of both movies certainly helped put AintItCool firmly on the map.

In the case of Batman & Robin, incidentally, the reviews and word of mouth didn’t do ultimate damage to the bottom line. In fact, neither film was an outright financial disaster. However, with Batman, those reviews had a more lasting effect, killing the franchise outright for several years, before Christopher Nolan dragged it back to life with 2005’s Batman Begins.

With Speed 2? They killed the franchise full stop, leaving Fox perhaps ruing the day it decided to press ahead without Keanu on board…

THE AVENGERS Rotten Tomatoes Score: 15% Domestic Box Office: $23m

A contentious inclusion, perhaps, but the poster child nonetheless for the films that studios attempt to withhold from the critics altogether. That’s a tactic that rarely works, as instead, critics tend to assume that the reason they’re being kept from a film is because it’s terrible, and that’s what they write anyway. In the case of The Avengers, they were correct too, and even though no screening had been viewed, vitriol was aiming heavily in the direction of the film in the run up to its release. It barely stood a chance, and in this case it was taken down by the critics without them even seeing the film. As it turned out, the critics were bang on the money in their suspicions.

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The tactic doesn’t always work, of course. The Happening actually pulled in half-decent numbers, in spite of Fox’s refusal to screen the film in advance. Likewise, Snakes On A Plane was pretty much critic-proof anyway, and while its gross disappointed, it’s hard to blame the critics for that. But more often than not, refusing to hold a critics’ screening is akin to putting one star reviews on the poster yourself…

THE POSTMAN Rotten Tomatoes Score: 10% Domestic Box Office: $17m

Confession: I quite like The Postman, but appreciate I’m not in the majority. However, even Kevin Costner must have known that he was gambling when he took on another production of this ilk, having got away with it with change in the form of Dances With Wolves. Post his Waterworld kicking, Costner’s star was firmly on the wane, and few missed the chance to put the boot in when The Postman came around.

It’s not, to be fair, a great film, but it does at least have some courage behind it. Given the amount of money is cost Warner Bros, it had hopes for another Costner-fuelled blockbuster, but a film of this ilk relies on some form of word of mouth to give it a leg up. Released on Christmas Day 2007 in the States, the assessment of Costner’s second turn as director was best described as brutal. It didn’t help that it was released in Oscar-baiting season, when it was clearly never going to be in with a chance. But the reviews pretty much destroyed it, again with some degree of reason. It was to be Costner’s last major budget film.

SHOWGIRLS Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14% Domestic Box Office: $20m

When the website for Paul Verheoeven’s Showgirls became one of the most visited on the Internet back in 1995, MGM must have thought its luck was in. Reteaming Veroeven and writer Joe Ezterhas after the two had generated box office gold – and audience boredom – with Basic Instinct, this was the film that was to push boundaries, to take risks, to tantalise like no other.

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Such ambitions, of course, left it royally open for a good, hard kicking, and that’s what it received. Ironically, in the aftermath of its release, the film has enjoyed a fresh life as a camp classic of sorts, a guilty pleasure and a half. Erotic it certainly isn’t, but glorious entertainment? There’s certainly a case for it.

That case was nowhere to be found in 1995, though, as the film was swiftly savaged and spat back out. Already struggling to make headway as a result of an NC-17 rating in the US, that kept it off the screens of some cinema chains, MGM gambled that the Internet attention the film had got would pay off. They were the first of many to realise that good website hits did not equate to box office gold, especially when an army of critics was stood in its way, sharpening their knives.

HOWARD THE DUCK Rotten Tomatoes Score: 17% Domestic Box Office: $16m

A film that was onto a loser from the off. Howard The Duck is the kind of product that lands in the lap of a marketing executive, and they instantly consider a career in plumbing instead. The only hope for salvaging any kind of box office return in this instance would be if the critics gave it a pass.

They didn’t. More than in most cases, there’s a feeling of the film makers – Mr Lucas included – bringing doom and gloom upon themselves, but the savaging the film got on its original release is still remembered to this day. In fact, aside from a quiet video release, it’d been virtually impossible to track down until it was finally slipped onto DVD last year. Any plans that all concerned had for a follow up were destroyed when the reviews finally came in.

Even the DVD release didn’t attract too many who looked back on it with any kind of charm. Er, apart from us.

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HOOK Rotten Tomatoes Score: 21% Global Box Office: $300m

The film that was expected to give the that-far lacklustre 1991 box office a massive shot in the arm. It saw Spielberg making his first broad audience blockbuster since Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, had a cast of major star names, and paired the director himself, frequently compared to the main character, with bringing the Peter Pan story back to life. It was a match made in heaven.

The problem, though, was he delivered a long, drab film that only sporadically sprung into life. Considering just how much money had been pumped into the production, the global return of $300m was a good deal below expectations, with the tepid reviews and equally chilly word of mouth inflicting real damage on its overall performance. It’s still decent money, of course, but it threatened, until Jurassic Park turned up a few years later, to derail the Spielberg juggernaut somewhat…

HUDSON HAWKRotten Tomatoes Score: 21%Domestic Box Office: $17m

LAST ACTION HERORotten Tomatoes Score: 33%Global Box Office: $137m

We’ve paired these two together, for a number of reasons. Firstly, they both saw a big name star vehicle for the summer being slated. Secondly, both films then underperformed significantly at the box office. And thirdly, hindsight will argue that both are far better than those initial write-ups would lead you to expect.

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Yet both were hit hard by the reviews. Bruce Willis had just come off The Bonfire Of The Vanities, itself a box office disaster, yet was expected to bounce back with Hudson Hawk. It’s certainly an unconventional blockbuster, but there’s a feeling now that it was just his turn for a critical kicking. And he got it. Then the stories turned into how it was the turkey of the summer, and audiences stayed away in droves. Heck, it’s no masterpiece, but we’d take it over something like Striking Distance any day.

Last Action Hero, meanwhile, was Arnie’s return to the action genre for the first time post-Terminator 2, and to be fair to him, it was a risky project from the outset. That said, again there’s an element of it felt like his turn, as critics savaged the film. It didn’t help that it was released in the slipstream of Jurassic Park, which would go on to dominate the summer box office. Universal, at the time, was so confident of Jurassic’s success, that it held back its main advertising push on TV to its second week, extinguishing Last Action Hero’s chances in the process. Confused critics – many of whom did have valid points, of course – then plunged the final knife in, and the film bombed.

BATTLEFIELD EARTH Rotten Tomatoes Score: 3% Global Box Office: $29m

A film that was in trouble from the off, given that it was based on the book of the same name by L Ron Hubbard. Attracting anti-Scientology press from the second the project was announced, it’s fair to say that gushing previews of the film were not in abundance.

Quite the opposite, as it turned out. It didn’t help too that it was viewed as a vanity project for John Travolta. And ultimately, it didn’t help that it really wasn’t very good. That said, not very good films pass under the noses of critics regularly and just about get through. Battlefield Earth? It was all but destroyed under a tidal wave of negative publicity. And when it dropped out of the top ten at the US box office in a matter of days, at the most lucrative part of summer blockbuster season, it killed any hope of making the planned sequel in little more than a week.

For this was a case where not only was the film concerned not very good, but one where the press was happy to pick up that as a story, and shout very, very loud about it. Did the Scientology and Travolta factor come into it? Yes, very probably. But it really would have helped all concerned if the film itself hadn’t been so shitty.

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And just to end on a positive note, proof of the impact that critics can have in boosting a worthy project…

STAR TREK Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95% Global Box Office: $358m (and rising)

Star Trek, unless most modern blockbuster juggernauts, actively needed the critics to help achieve what Paramount was hoping for. And it was this: to make a mass market movie out of the Star Trek franchise, that could extend its appeal beyond fans of the franchise. To do that, Paramount needed a strong film, that in turn would fill the mainstream media with glowing reviews. Without them, Star Trek may have got to around $200m worldwide without too much trouble. With them, and fuelled by subsequent word of mouth, the film sits at over $350m and rising, with a sequel definite, and a final take likely to exceed $400m. Reviving Star Trek as a major blockbuster franchise was a big gamble for Paramount, but it’s one that’s richly paid off.

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