19 Ambitious Movies That Didn’t Go as Planned

Sometimes, the best of intentions don't always lead to the best movie. Here are 19 films where everything didn't quite go as planned...

This article first appeared at Den of Geek UK.

As English director Alan Parker once said “no one sets out to make a bad movie.” Yet in spite of good intentions, sometimes a project doesn’t quite go as planned. From epic adventures, to comedies, to superhero movies, there are movies that looked great on paper that simply didn’t deliver in their execution.

We’re looking back at a bunch of movies here that aren’t always well liked, and give a flavor of the problems the beset them. In no particular order, here are nineteen movies which are considered by at least one sentient being to be bad, but showed a bit of promise in the development phase… 

Robin Hood (2010)

Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris had written a spec script with a twist on the Robin Hood legend: the Sheriff of Nottingham was the hero, a sort of medieval forensic investigator, and Robin was the bad guy. Anyone who’s seen Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves knows that this could work. Russell Crowe was attached to star, and Ridley Scott was brought on board as a director after previously wanting to produce. Scott wanted the the original script redrafted, and it was changed so that the Sheriff was caught between loyalty to King Richard while dealing with an outlaw and King John being a hardcore cad.

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Filming was delayed first by the Writers’ Guild of America strike, then the Screen Actors’ Guild strike, and during this delay Scott asked for another rewrite. This one combined the characters of Robin Hood and the Sheriff with the latter discovering the Sheriff dying after a battle and taking over his position. Then this idea lost favor and the film turned into a retelling of the standard Robin Hood legend, with the film no longer able to be delayed any further and no new version of the tale satisfying Scott, who didn’t really like Robin Hood films that much anyway.

Fantastic Four (2015)

Josh Trank sold Fox on his vision for The Fantastic Four, and Fox bought into it. Trank’s Cronenberg-influenced vision was not well received by fans of the comic (with interviews stating that he’d asked the cast not to read any comics, and that Doom was now a blogger), and Fox seemed to lose confidence in the film. There was further outcry over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, both by fans who were upset that he wasn’t going to be the same skin color as his comic counterpart, and by fans who were wondering why you’d cast people of color as Johnny and Franklin Storm, but not Sue.

As negative buzz surrounded the film, unconfirmed reports from the set suggested a fraught atmosphere. Ultimately, the studio lost confidence in the film they’d set out to make and drastically altered the movie, especially its finale, through its reshoots. The finished product impressed few people, though contained hints of a better film (albeit not one where any of the creative team seemed remotely interested in Sue Storm).

Doctor Dolittle (1967)

It turns out that if you hire over a thousand animals to work with Rex Harrison, some of them are definitely going to piss on him. This is fair enough, as Harrison was a demanding and obnoxious presence on set. Harrison and his entourage racially abused other actors and demanded their roles be reduced. His casting had seemed such a good idea at the time…

After the success of My Fair Lady, it seemed sensible to ask for another film from Harrison, Lerner, and Loewe. Loewe had retired, and Lerner was fired after a year of procrastination. The script had trouble working in a romance, and removing the more racist elements of Hugh Lofting’s source material. The replacement writer hadn’t written a cinema screenplay before, and wanted to impress the producer by rattling out a draft. Meanwhile, Harrison demanded the firing of Sammy Davis Jr. from a role that would later be cut, insisting that he be replaced in the musical by Sidney Poitier. The production hired Christopher Plummer to replace Harrison, but paid Plummer his salary in full to leave the production when Harrison decided he wanted to stay.

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Shooting in Wiltshire was interrupted by both the traditionally moist British summer and British Army officer Ranulph Fiennes bombing the production’s artificial dam because he believed it ruined the village. Fiennes thought the dam ruined the village’s rustic aesthetic. Re-shoots took place in a studio in California.

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The giant mechanical snail prop didn’t work properly, and by unfortunate coincidence the local children of St. Lucia had been struck by a possibly metaphorical stomach bug caused by freshwater snails. People threw rocks at the snail in response. A giraffe died before it could be insured. The production hired ducks that couldn’t swim.

Then the film got sued when elements of a previous draft turned up without the writer being credited. The writer had assumed that it was from the books, rather than an abandoned script, and so they were sued quite successfully. The scene in question wasn’t ultimately filmed.

The original budget of $6 million tripled over the four-year production.

Some of the songs are quite good, though.

Burn Hollywood Burn (1997)

A film about a fictional director called Alan Smithee (the pseudonym used by directors who wanted their name distanced from a stinker) who tries to disown a film but can’t, whose real director wanted to use the pseudonym Alan Smithee for the directorial credit, convincing the Director’s Guild of America to stop using the Alan Smithee pseudonym for directorial credits two years later.

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The reason that director Arthur Hiller didn’t want his name attached is that writer Joe Eszterhas took over in the edit suite, and was essentially calling the shots throughout. Eszterhas was famed for insisting his dialogue be unedited, and had clout in Hollywood after writing credits for Flashdance, Jagged Edge, and Basic Instinct. After Showgirls and a string of unsuccessful scripts, Eszterhas took aim at Hollywood with a series of weak puns and childish insults. The script did not convince Arnie or Bruce Willis to sign on. The resulting film was deemed not only poorly written but poorly made, and effectively ended Eszterhas’ scriptwriting career (instead launching his “Writing books about having been a scriptwriter” career). It was very much a case of someone buying into their own hype, and then lashing out when success became elusive.

The Hobbit Trilogy (2012-2014)

After adapting The Lord of the Rings so successfully, it seemed like an obvious choice for Peter Jackson’s team to return to Middle-earth for The Hobbit. However, The Hobbit was not only set earlier than those stories, it was written earlier and with a very different tone. Plus Peter Jackson was not the first choice for director, but producer, brought on board after New Line and MGM had a series of expensive flops and needed a hit quickly. Guillermo del Toro was brought on board as a co-writer and director, and the writing took time, delaying the start of filming.

MGM then failed to officially green-light the project due to their financial difficulties. Del Toro left due to conflicting schedules. Jackson took over, and worked with the intention of producing two movies under an existing production schedule. This meant he had no time to instigate pre-production of the movies he wanted to make, which differed from del Toro’s. The script wasn’t finished when he started filming, and some scenes weren’t storyboarded. The decision was taken to make three films instead of two, further complicating matters. The resulting movies were patchy, occasionally brilliant but also deeply flawed. They all made money, so in terms of balance sheets they can be deemed a success.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

On a pilgrimage to Milton Keynes, Den of Geek felt a shiver down its collective spine as it stood where Christopher Reeve once stood. This wouldn’t have been possible without Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. After Superman III and Supergirl had done badly, Ilya Salkind sold the rights for Superman to Cannon Films.

Cannon’s approach to greenlighting movies led to around thirty films being in production at the same time, and having taken a chance on low budget films with some success, it was hoped that they could provide $36 million for Superman. That figure was cut to $17, due to ongoing financial difficulties after Cannon over-reached.

As a result, Milton Keynes doubled for New York. Reeve and director Sidney J. Furie begged to be given the money to film outside the UN in New York. Said sequences were instead filmed at Milton Keynes railway station. Before the filming Reeve knew Superman IV would be bad. Many of the people working on the film knew it, too. Their job was to make the best of a bad script, no money, and an English town full of short buildings doubling for Manhattan.

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The Golden Compass (2007)

New Line wanted to start another fantasy franchise after the success of Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, they went from that (which J.R.R. Tolkien insisted had no allegorical significance) to one that was about killing God. God is really popular, so New Line were worried about his fans being disgruntled and also that children would find the movie a bit long and complicated. They cut the running time down, added in extra wizards from Lord of the Rings, and removed the book’s original ending while excising the religious content as much as possible. For more details, here’s our article on what went wrong.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

There was a writers’ strike in 2007. This film was announced in 2006 for a May 2008 release date, with director Roger Michell revealing in July 2007 that he previously turned down Quantum of Solace due to there being no script. The release date was pushed back to October, with a draft finished in April 2007. Paul Haggis began rewrites the following month, with Daniel Craig having input into the script and the choice of director. Marc Forster wanted a lean, compact movie that reflected real world political situations of the time, and the script was rewritten when he came on board and finished shortly before the strike began.

Craig described this script as “bare bones,” and due to the conditions of the strike he and Forster were allowed to work on it, often on set. Joshua Zetumer was brought on board to write based on Forster and Craig’s daily ideas. While this was a daunting task brought about by circumstances beyond their control, Forster’s sensibilities (having a low key villain with a realistic plan, basing action sequences around the four classical elements) did not mesh with expectations of Bond, even after Casino Royale shook the franchise up. Daniel Craig, whose performance was generally praised, said “a writer I am not,” so at least he had some fun with his syntax.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

A year before the first of the rebooted Star Trek movies was released in 2009, Paramount wanted a sequel. As of December 2010, there was no script for that sequel, as the creative team of J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci had only recently worked out a story outline. They had had trouble deciding on a villain. Even without a script, Paramount financed pre-production on the sequel due to similar problems on the Chris Pine-starring Jack Ryan movie, and decided Star Trek would go ahead first. Even when a script was finished, Abrams’ involvement wasn’t confirmed, and so the release date was pushed back. When he did confirm he would direct, Abrams said he’d prefer the film to be good than to be ready for its release date.

Yet follow the timeline. The first draft was finished by April 2011. Filming began in January 2012. Of the three scriptwriters, Orci and Kurtzman said they didn’t want to put in references to the TV series just to placate fans. Lindelof said their choice of villain was because he had “such an intense gravity in the Trek universe,” it would be harder not putting him in. These two contradictory statements may explain why the story never successfully emerges from the shadow of the original continuity. Orci also noted that they were aware of the film’s position as a blockbuster, hence the scene of the Enterprise emerging from the sea, but they also included backfiring attempts to please fandom. The film was pulled in two different directions, and never successfully reconciled them.

It should also be noted that Star Trek Into Darkness was very well reviewed when it came out, retains a good fanbase, and is estimated to have turned a profit. Not all of those apply to our next entry…

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Batman & Robin (1997)

This movie was fast-tracked after the success of Batman Forever, with director Joel Schumacher embarking on the follow-up with a “More is more” ethos, moving away from the – oh by the way, spoilers – “Batman being sad about his parents dying and it motivating his entire existence” aspects of the character and into something approaching the Adam West version. Schumacher embraced the cartoonish aspects of the story and characters, and this is reflected in the production design’s neon color schemes and excesses.

Schumacher genuinely thought this would be entertaining, a bubble gum factory of a movie with free toys. His enthusiasm failed to win over the audience, though, and didn’t succeed in its own terms like the 60s incarnation did. The difference between the two is similar to the difference between someone hollering “This is cool. Isn’t it cool? This is cool” and someone merely raising an eyebrow.

The Conqueror (1956)

The Conqueror is a film in which John Wayne stars as Genghis Khan. Howard Hughes produced, and was allowed to indulge his passion for sprawling and not always well-made movies. It hardly helped that the production suffered from flooding and a heatwave, but this was another Hughes film with a poor script (writer Oscar Millar tried to write archaic dialogue, and failed midway through sentences) and bad acting. Genghis Khan is portrayed as a cross between Zach Braff and Alexander the Great. Wayne actively sought the role that was earmarked for Marlon Brando, but unsurprisingly his drawl was unsuited to pseudo-Shakespearian and cod Oriental proclamations. Wayne found the script in the Dick Powell’s bin while Powell was called away mid-meeting, and the director couldn’t dampen Wayne’s enthusiasm for a script he’d already rejected. Thus, the film was happening.

Powell, not wanting to make the film in the first place, filmed departing and arrival scenes on the same location, and inserted Judaeo-Christian imagery into Khan’s story. Wayne was taking speed to lose weight for the role, and a decorative panther attacked his co-star (future Oscar winner Susan Hayward). This film came out the same year as The Searchers. Wayne later commented, “Don’t make an ass of yourself trying to play parts you are not suited for.”

It is reputedly one of the movies which Hughes watched during his later years, insisting on the projectionist wearing a blindfold after buying up as many copies as he could (so no one else would see the film). This is more eerie when you consider the movie was filmed downwind of a U.S. nuclear testing site, and later studio scenes involved soil from the area being shipped in by Hughes to replicate the location shoots. 91 of the 220 crew members got some form of cancer, although it is impossible to definitely attribute this to their work on the movie.

Heaven’s Gate (1980)

Michael Cimino tried to make Heaven’s Gate in 1971, but was unable to get a big enough star attached. Following Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Deer Hunter, he was able to convince United Artists to make the movie. Cimino was in a position where he would leave a room and people would say “Cimino’s so hot right now” probably, and so he was allowed to make a film with his exact demands. Due to his obsessive eye for detail John Hurt was able to go away and make The Elephant Man during filming, as he hadn’t anything to do on the production. Further tales of Cimino’s exacting standards can be found in this article.

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Heaven’s Gate flopped, critics hated it, it cost a lot of money, and made little. Cimino had been indulged to the point where he assumed that the film he wanted to make must be good, and compromise was unnecessary. The intention was, though, a benign one: Cimino didn’t want his film to be merely great, he wanted it to be awesome.

The Cotton Club (1984)

Robert Evans, involved in the production of The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, became interested in the story of The Cotton Club because he read a picture book about it and met a theatrical impresario with similar ambitions, who was introduced to him by a coke dealer (who would later be found guilty of arranging the impresario’s murder after he was cut of a producing credit). Turning down Paramount, Evans needed to raise a budget for the movie. Funding was drawn from sources as diverse as Las Vegas casino owners and Arabian arms dealers (although apparently that money was returned as they wanted script input). Evans was originally going to direct and produce, but decided not to at the last minute. He got Francis Ford Coppola to do the job, which sounds like quite a good last minute substitute, but Coppola was mainly taking the job because he was in debt.

The rehearsal script was written in eight days, and the sheer number of rewrites (estimates suggest around 30–40 drafts) resulted in a lack of cohesion in the ambitious multiple storylines, all the while costs of recreating 1920s Harlem doubled the projected budget (the sets and costumes reportedly costing $250,000 a day). The threat of bankruptcy loomed over the production, and Coppola clashed with Evans (eventually banning him from the set). Coppola added to the costs and strife by firing the original crew and replacing them with his own, and his fondness for improvization caused further script rewrites.

Oh, and Sylvester Stallone was going to play the lead instead of Richard Gere, but then Sly discovered that Evans was having an affair with his girlfriend.

The obvious lessons here are to not let your ego get in the way of securing funding, establish and stick with a long-term creative vision, and don’t have sex with other people’s partners, especially if you might have to work with them.

Judge Dredd (1995)

Director Danny Cannon wanted the film to be more violent. Sylvester Stallone wanted it to be PG-13 and funny. Obviously, the ideal tone would be for it to be violent and funny, but it seems that no one really knew exactly what to make of Dredd, with Stallone saying when he came on board the tone wasn’t set in stone. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Stallone coming on board the film might never have been made. The resulting movie was a mess that got pulled in different directions. Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner said in the recent Futureshocks documentary that he wasn’t consulted about the movie. Whether or not he’d have been listened to, the resulting film is very much one based on the world of the comics rather than a faithful representation of it. This might have been accepted if the resulting film was better, but it wasn’t.

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Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)

Speed wasn’t thought of as having franchise potential, until it became incredibly popular and Fox decided it was worth a go. They had plenty of ideas for a sequel, and director Jan de Bont under contract. He decided to use his recurring nightmare of a ship crashing into an island as inspiration for the film’s plot. He chose to film on Saint Martin, as the island had been struck by a hurricane the previous year for the first time in a century, and what were the odds of it happening again?

Some drawbacks to this plan:

– Sandra Bullock was afraid of water.

– Her co-star Jason Patric – who signed on with no intention of watching the movie and was one of many people who didn’t think the script was good – saved her from being decapitated by a rudder. Both actors took the role to provide financing for other movies.

– A hurricane struck Saint Martin again, destroying most of the set as it was being built.

– Boats are not good fits for movies called “Speed.”

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Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Kenneth Branagh (director of the first Thor movie) eventually turned down the chance to direct again, saying the turnaround time was simply too quick for him to begin working on the sequel (Don Payne had been developing sequel storylines before the first film was released, so that, in the event of a success, they could proceed quickly). Brian Kirk entered negotiations, then Patty Jenkins agreed to direct in September 2011. The story seemed to be decided already, based on Kevin Feige’s synopsis when Jenkins’ involvement was confirmed, but she departed in December 2011 citing creative differences. This reportedly upset Natalie Portman, who had been looking to do less acting work to be with her son and was specifically interested in a few projects with female directors (including Jane Got A Gun, which also had its female director depart over creative differences). Alan Taylor was then hired to direct and Robert Rodat to rewrite Payne’s script.

Taylor said, after the film, he was given absolute freedom while shooting but post-production took the movie away from him. There were reshoots to add in more scenes with the popular Loki at the expense of Christopher Eccleston’s villain Malekith, and additional exposition was added to the start of the movie, resulting in a slow start and a sidelined bad guy that neuters a significant portion of the film. This came from an attempt to please both fans of the MCU and keep the films accessible for newcomers.

Last Action Hero (1993)

Zak Penn, writer of the first Avengers draft, came up with a script with Adam Leff, which was essentially Scream for action movies. Their script – called Extremely Violent at this stage – started a bidding war that attracted Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie was concerned that the script was too violent (let that sink in for a second) but liked the concept. Penn and Leff’s screenplay was redrafted by Shane Black and David Arnott, which Penn disliked but Columbia Pictures were happy with. Then John McTiernan – who had directed both Black and Schwarzenegger in Predator – was brought in as director, and rewrote that script as he was unsatisfied with it. Penn fell out with Black, Arnie still wasn’t happy with the script, Black and Arnott were fired, and William Goldman was brought in and paid a million dollars. Black attributes this to the studio’s wanting insurance, not necessarily against poor quality, but against accusations that they didn’t try.

The late Carrie Fisher and Larry Ferguson polished the script further, and the scripts veered in different directions with each new draft. It was still deemed unsuitable. McTiernan called Black again, asking for help with the action sequences, but Black declined. Despite this, a release date was set in stone, a mere nine and a half months away.

When it came to the actual filming, Schwarzenegger became obsessed with details like his character’s car and boots, eating into filming time. McTiernan was also uncertain how to approach the movie, whether it was for kids or action aficionados. The compressed shooting time meant that he was ultimately rushing to get something finished, with a three-week gap between the end of filming and the release date. Various writers’ unconnected ideas were incorporated with minimal editing (in writing terms this was definitely a case of too many cooks). A test screening led to a decision to reshoot the ending. McTiernan had slept about six hours a day for months, and was bewildered by the confidence of the marketing (the film had its name written on the side of an actual rocket). Then Columbia, who were refusing to back down due to the money they’d invested, decided to put Last Action Hero out the same week as Jurassic Park on the grounds that Hook was mince, so clearly Spielberg was a spent force.

So yeah. There was a lot of hubris involved in this film.

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Green Lantern (2011)

Den of Geek looked into this one in greater detail here, but it’s similar to Thor: The Dark World. Despite kicking off with a lot of exposition (which is later repeated), this is not a film that’s big on logic. It started life as a script by Greg Berlanti co-written with two comic book writers, with Berlanti slated to direct. He got moved onto another project, and Martin Campbell was brought on board. Michael Goldenberg was asked to simplify the script, turning the unique aspects of the comic into a more generic tale (Warners were apparently wary of a strong authorial vision after Superman Returns).

Campbell wanted Bradley Cooper for the lead, the studio wanted Ryan Reynolds. Campbell and Reynolds reportedly didn’t get along, and final cut was taken away from the director after reports of reshoots and a late 3D conversion. Too many people had a say in the editing process, and the resulting film was a mess with no clear vision behind it.

Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

Director Brian de Palma, hired after Mike Nichols had dropped out, had been unable to cast the role of Peter Fallow, having approached Jack Nicholson and John Cleese. Warner Brothers decided that Bruce Willis was so hot at the time, although he later demanded that a death scene be filmed more quickly specifically because he was too hot. He was not popular on set.

Also unpopular was the ending, with test audiences (consisting of a “profusion of blonde hair and golf slacks” who didn’t get the film, according to de Palma) not liking the suggestion that the hit and run that underpins the entire story may not actually have involved any actual hitting. The edges of Tom Wolfe’s novel were smoothed over in studio cuts, with Tom Hanks (then known primarily for comedies like Big) playing a more likeable version of Sherman McCoy. This was an attempt to increase the film’s profitability, as with Willis’ casting, that backfired. In Hanks’ case, he was simply too nice to carry off the role, and in Willis’ case he probably wasn’t trying very hard.