It’s little revelation to suggest that many films that aren’t very good go on to become major hits. And there’s a good reason for it. Despite the best efforts of critics, there are still films that everyone knows when walking in for the first press screening that their words barely matter. That whatever they write, people are going to turn up in their droves anyway. Take the Hannah Montana Movie this year, or High School Musical 3 last year – is there a critic on the planet who could have stopped the core audience for those films from buying a ticket?
Here, we’re going to look at ten films that were utterly bulletproof as far as critical opinion was concerned. What’s interesting too is that some of these films – even those not so highly regarded today – got good reviews. Some, granted, with good reason, others less so. But the point is that it mattered not a jot whether the critics liked the films in question or not: the studios could have inked the numbers on their balance sheets weeks before the release of the films in question…
THE MATRIX RELOADED Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%Global Box Office: $742m
After The Wachowski Brothers stormed to international success off the back of their 1999 action sci-fi smash The Matrix, several things happened. Firstly, the influences on action cinema started coming through thick and fast. Then Warner Bros used the film to help sell the-then breaking through DVD format. And then the clamouring for a sequel started.
As with a few of the films on this list, The Matrix Reloaded picked up smart reviews at the time, but the truth is they mattered not a jot. Such was the popularity of the first, that a trip back to the world of The Matrix was akin to Warner Bros writing itself a cheque for at least $200m. Yet, over time, the reputation of Reloaded has dwindled, and tellingly, the third film in the series – Revolutions – suffered from a massive drop in expected box office (down to ‘just’ $427m). The reviews for Matrix 3 weren’t as warm, either.
The moral? You can get away with a poor-to-middling sequel once, but the public doesn’t always fall for it a second time (that said, we’re coming to Pirates Of The Caribbean shortly…)
STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACERotten Tomatoes Score: 63%Global Box Office: $924m
There is, bluntly, not a collection of words to this day that exists on this planet that would have stopped the first of the Star Wars prequels from storming past $300m in the US on its release. With people queuing literally for weeks to see the film, and with the world’s media intently focused on it, it was never going to commercially fail.
As it stood, the film got fairly decent reviews on the whole, and it’s only in retrospect that a good number of reviewers changed their tune on it. Count this one guilty of that: personally, I enjoyed it when I first saw it, but every attempt since to watch it away from the novelty of a new Star Wars film on the big screen has failed miserably.
But Star Wars is Star Wars, and as the subsequent prequels went on to prove, it doesn’t matter a jot what anyone said, people were going to watch them en masse anyway…
HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE (aka Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone)Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%Global Box Office: $974m
Chris Columbus was the safe pair of hands chosen to bring Harry Potter to the big screen for the first (and second) time, but such was the popularity of the books even then, that if the finished film had been acted out with glove puppets, it would have been a massive hit. Again, reviews were reasonably kind, too, as they were to his follow up Chamber Of Secrets. It’s only when arguably more talented helmers stepped up for the later sequels that the unambitious take from Columbus was really exposed.
Interestingly, while there’s a case that Philosopher’s Stone is the weakest Potter film, it’s to date the most lucrative. The only one to really come close to matching its take was the warmly received Order Of The Phoenix, which pulled in $938m. That said, even the weakest performing of the Potter franchise pulled in nearly $800m, and there’s little reason to suspect that the three remaining films won’t hit the same number. No matter what the critics have to say…
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLRotten Tomatoes Score: 76%Global Box Office: $786m
George Lucas, once done with Star Wars, mined his other massive franchise back in 2008, 19 years after Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. The feelings of this writer, predictably, mirror those felt for Phantom Menace. There’s a lovely novelty to seeing a new adventure in a franchise you hadn’t been expecting back, and watching Harrison Ford doing his stuff on the big screen – no matter how old he looked – was always going to work to an extent. Any attempt to rewatch the film, though, and the criticisms hold: the effects, the terrible ending, the plot not really becoming of an Indy movie, and a feeling that all concerned were some way past their best. It, however, went on to become the most successful film in the franchise to date, and thus Indy 5 is now seemingly a dead cert.
TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLENRotten Tomatoes Score: 20% (at time of writing)Global Box Office: Over $400m already, in a week
Just what could you criticise Transformers 2 for that wasn’t said last time around, and widely ignored? Michael Bay leers more than he directs? The special effects take over, and you can’t make out too much of what’s going on? It’s loud, soulless and brash? To some, these are criticisms. To others, they’re selling points. Critics can throw as many stones at the movie as they like, but they’re practically printing bank notes just to fund the gross it’s picking up around the planet.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHESTRotten Tomatoes Score: 53%Global Box Office: $1.066bn
When The Curse Of The Black Pearl arrived and made a full-on global megastar out of Johnny Depp, it gave Disney its biggest hit out of nowhere since The Sixth Sense. When Depp then snared a Best Actor Oscar nomination, the film’s mix of critical and commercial success was sealed, and it was just a matter of time before Captain Jack Sparrow was lured back.
Dead Man’s Chest, though, soon took a pasting from the critics, and with good reason. Bloated, unfocussed and lumbering, it was lots of things that the original wasn’t, and not for good reason. However, it also stormed its way to over a billion dollars at the global box office, much of which was off the power of Depp’s star name in his most popular role to date. Those crappy reviews dented it not a jot, and it sits as the third most successful film of all time, just above The Dark Knight.
THE SIMPSONS MOVIERotten Tomatoes Score: 90%Global Box Office: $527m
The common critical response to the big screen debut of The Simpsons was that it was as if a few episodes had just been knocked together and allowed to play out on the big screen. But after a decade of plying their exceptional trade on the telly, when it was announced that The Simpsons were to star in their first movie, it surely had “sure-fire hit” written on every page of the script.
The truth, of course, was that the movie wasn’t that great, save for giving the world Spider-pig, and there doesn’t seem to be a huge clamour for another one right now. But it was well received, generally delivering pretty much what everyone expected. Thus, the reviews, for what they were worth, came in very positive.
But in this case, they simply didn’t matter. Even accepting the difficulty sometimes in transferring from small screen to big, this was the safest bet for transition this side of Warner Bros putting a Friends movie on the big screen. Half a billion dollars later, whether wanted or not, Simpsons 2 is a dead cert, too.
THE FLINTSTONESRotten Tomatoes Score: 18%Global Box Office: $341m
Proof that parents will take their kids to see any old shit if it’ll keep them quiet. One of the worst translations of kids TV favourite to big screen movie in recent memory (Scooby Doo could equally sit in this spot, of course), The Flintstones movie stormed to success in 1994, in spite of reviews that could best be described as “unfriendly”.
Playing heavily on the TV show’s core fanbase, as well as the Steven Spielberg factor and having a big family movie out in the school holidays, the film was exceptionally well cast, and this all helped cement its take. Interestingly, it took six years for a sequel, with a new cast in place, and it was that film that then bombed. Not that its reviews were a fat lot better…
LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDERRotten Tomatoes Score: 19%Global Box Office: $274m
At the time of its release, Tomb Raider was one of the biggest videogaming franchises on the planet. Angelina Jolie was the up and coming star. And the idea of a Tomb Raider movie seemed logical. In fact, it was widely touted as the one that would finally make a huge success of videogames-turned-into-movies.
And, predictably, it did. The film itself was terrible, a tepid attempt to follow in the footprints of Indiana Jones. But Paramount knew what it was doing, and it played on the appeal of the game, and the equal appeal of its leading lady, releasing shots and images that promoted both. For a while, Lara Croft was simply everywhere.
The film’s reviews were, predictably, quite terrible, but not for the first time, nobody seemed to notice, and it nearly went on to break $300m at the US box office – no small feat for a maiden entry in a potential blockbuster franchise. The sequel, though, exposed the plan, as that too got crap reviews, but with the Lara Croft phenomenon fading, and plenty burnt by the first film, the mass audience sure wasn’t handing over its money as easily second time round…
THE DA VINCI CODERotten Tomatoes Score: 24%Global Box Office: $758m
Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code was a rare literary phenomenon, become a gigantic best seller right across the planet. This, therefore, built in a ready and eager audience for a big screen take on the novel, and when Tom Hanks and Ron Howard signed up to make it, a hit was guaranteed before a single frame was shot.
It’s a good job, too. Believed by a good number to be one of the most ponderous, dull blockbuster movies in recent times – personally, I’ve had three attempts to get to the end and failed every time – the reviews were not kind. And that’s an understatement. Yet the book’s audience delivered for Sony, depositing three quarters of a billion dollars in its bank account.
It is paying the price a little now, though: once again, the sequel to such a ropey hit movie has taken a hit, with Angels & Demons some way behind The Da Vinci Code‘s box office take. The reviews for it weren’t that much kinder, either.
Coming tomorrow: 10 blockbuster films that the critics managed to take down