No movie is all bad. Some films seem so misguided that it’s hard to see why anyone didn’t stop them being made before they cost so much time, money and talent, yet sometimes those same mistakes have led to something genuinely great further down the line.
Careers have been ruined by stinkers like After Earth and Gigli – but they’ve also been made. A really, truly, unequivocally terrible movie often makes a big impact in the film industry as everyone else scrabbles to try and avoid repeating it – shaping genres, shifting tides and making sure we never have to watch The Last Airbender again.
However bad some movies might be, there’s always a silver lining if you look for it…
Batman & Robin (1997)
Gave us: Batman Begins
Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman effectively launched what we now think of as the modern superhero genre – but it took quite a long time to get off the ground. Batman Returns (1992) picked things up well enough, but Burton quit after making it, forcing Warner Bros. to find another director who could reboot the character in a different way. Unfortunately, they went to Joel Schumacher.
Batman Forever followed, as did Batman & Robin, the film that gave us George Clooney’s Bat-nipples. “I think we might have killed the franchise”, said Clooney at the time, realizing too late that he’d made one of the worst superhero movies ever made. In fact, Schumacher’s film saved Batman. If the film had had worked, Warner Bros. would have pressed ahead with Batman Unchained – the third Schumacher film in what was meant to be a trilogy. When the film tanked, the studio scrapped their plans and started thinking about another reboot instead that did everything differently (we wrote about this in more detail right here). Eight years later, that led straight to Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins, and the start of DC’s best Bat-movies.
Gave us: Ben Affleck 2.0
Gigli was a very expensive mistake. Bad enough to lose $70 million, to cost director Martin Brest his whole career, and to tar everyone involved with what’s now usually considered to be one of the very worst films ever made. It’s fair to say that the film was a low point for a lot of people (seriously Pacino?), but it felt like enough of a rock bottom for Ben Affleck to start building himself back up again.
Not that it happened immediately. To start with, he stuck closely to his friends – appearing in Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl and Clerks II. Then he went meta by playing a washed-up superhero star in Hollywoodland. But after that came his sidestep into directing with weighty, decent dramas like Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo. For a while, it looked like Affleck was pulling a George Clooney. The fact that he got lured back into a cape for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice just suggests that he forgot about all the promises he must have made after Gigli. It sort of seems like he’s been regretting it ever since too…
The Room (2003)
Gave us: unintentional irony
Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 “film” has given us so much – not least James Franco’s 2017 The Disaster Artist and this video of Wiseau doing a Heath Ledger impression – but the most valuable thing it’s given us is the ability to laugh at something that’s not actually meant to be funny.
Coinciding with the home video boom and the age of the internet, the “so bad it’s good” moniker was pretty much invented for Wiseau – with Hollywood quickly realizing that there’s money to be made in irony. Snakes On A Plane followed in 2006, and Tarantino’s Grindhouse arguably owes Wiseau a debt for making B-movies look so bankable. The year The Room came out, mockbuster studio The Asylum had only made three films. Within a decade, they’d already made another 93.
After Earth (2013)
Gave us: M. Night Shyamalan’s career injection
Few directors have had quite as easy a ride in Hollywood as M. Night Shyamalan. Make one stinker, and you’ll be lucky to recover from it. Make two, and you’re out the door. Somehow, Shyamalan has made about five turkeys that have all been panned by the critics – and studios keep on giving him enough money to do it again.
After The Village, Lady In The Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender started making Shyamalan’s name more and more toxic, he was given $150 million to make a lavish sci-fi with Will and Jaden Smith in it. After Earth was, by pretty much all accounts, an awful film – with Will calling it “the most painful failure” of his whole career. Thankfully, the bad reviews finally got through to Shyamalan, who took a long hard look at his career and hit the reset button. Getting back to basics with a different form in TV’s Wayward Pines, he returned to cinema with The Visit and Split, which were both better than anything he’d made since Signs. Shyamalan is a good director, and After Earth made him try again.
The Emoji Movie (2017)
Gave us: an end to the lazy tie-in movie
Sad face. The Emoji movie was doomed to fail before it started. As great as it was, The LEGO Movie (2015) started a horrible trend in kids’ animation that almost became a real problem. Basing a film (and its funding) off a commercial brand, The LEGO Movie made studios realize there was a fast track to success with ready made merchandise opportunities.
Trolls and Angry Birds quickly followed, both in 2016, and The Emoji Movie jumped in straight after – hoping to ride the success of Wreck-It Ralph with a deeply cynical nod to real internet companies like Spotify, who were partially paying for the thing. Thankfully, the wave of vitriol that followed from critics and audiences around the world helped to remind studios that it’s definitely not okay to try and sell expensive subscription services to children. Shortly after the film came out, the Minecraft movie lost its writer and director, and it’s now sitting in limbo. Coincidence? Laughing face.
The Wicker Man (2006)
Gave us: Nicholas Cage memes
To be fair, The Wicker Man remake gave us more than Nicholas Cage memes. Standing as a burning sacrificial warning sign of what could happen, it also signalled a change in the way that horror remakes were made. Proving that some classics deserve a bit more respect, the likes of The Crazies (2010), Carrie (2013), and Evil Dead (2013) trod a bit more carefully around their source material, not wanting to be strung up like Neil LaBute’s woefully miscast remake.
Also, it gave us more than a decade of Cage memes that just seem to fit any mood and situation, letting the internet dig back through his crazy career to find anything to top perennial favorites like, “Not the bees” and “How’d it get burned”. Cage recently announced that he’s not a fan of the ‘Cage Rage’ phenomenon, which is shame, because he’s just so damned good at it.
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