Paramount’s upcoming film adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel World War Z was already smelling like a stinker — the $125 million production was originally slated for release this Christmas, only to be pushed back until next summer to accommodate an additional seven weeks of shooting and a third act rewrite by Damon Lindelof (because that’s what that guy’s best at, wrapping things up). That rewrite was eventually done not by Lindelof but by Cabin in the Woods co-writer/director Drew Goddard, and with the reshoots complete, the studio released its first trailer for the film last week. And the Internet went apeshit.
Responses on Twitter and film blogs were swift, damning, and nearly universal. The crux of them was that, simply, the film being advertised appeared to bear little to no resemblance whatsoever to the book it was ostensibly based on. “It’s not always wise to judge a movie by its trailer,” writes Film School Rejects’ Robert Fure, “but from our first look it seems Hollywood has screwed the pooch in the most Hollywood way imaginable.” The book’s multi-narrative structure and elements of social commentary are, it seems, gone; the film’s story of a single protagonist taking on an army of fast-moving zombies looks less like World War Z than I Am Legend.
We’ll have to wait until next June to find out if this controversial trailer reflects the entirety of the film — and if the already poison buzz surrounding World War Z will crash its box office chances. But what has become clear over the past two decades is that the explosion of online film culture can hurt a film’s build-up as much as it can help it; though movie geek sites, Twitter, and even Wikipedia can help amass an audience, they can also keep one away. After the jump, we’ll take a look at ten movies that the Internet may well have smothered in their sleep.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Between his Transformers movies and the countless remakes of horror classics produced by his Platinum Dunes company, Michael Bay has never hesitated to tamper with (and usually ruin) geek-beloved properties. But he went too far earlier this year, when he announced that their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake was going to reimagine its title characters less as mutant turtles than as aliens. Fans went berserk, the usual “raping my childhood” hyperbole was launched, and Bay was forced to issue a statement, insisting that “fans need to take a breath, and chill,” so no worries, bro, they’re “just building a richer world.” It didn’t take, and Paramount ended up quietly cancelling the project last summer.
Fanboys had been salivating for this film adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books for years; sites like Ain’t It Cool breathlessly announced the arrivals and departures of a series of possible directors, including John McTiernan, Robert Rodriguez, Kerry Conran, and Jon Favreau. It finally went ahead in the hands of Pixar genius Andrew Stanton, but its production press was less about the possible quality of the movie than a production out of control. Much ink was spilled over its reported $250 million budget and its 3D retrofit (never a good sign), while observers smirked over the studio’s inability to even pin down a title; it was based on the Burroughs book A Princess of Mars, but that was jettisoned as being too girly, though the switch from John Carter of Mars to simply John Carter remains utterly inexplicable. When it finally opened in March of this year, reviews were mixed, but the months of bad buzz took a clear toll on the box office — it took in a mere $73 million in its domestic run, though it did much better overseas. (Indiewire’s Anne Thompson has a fascinating run-down of the production’s woes here.)
Wild Wild West
Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1999 reteaming with Men in Black star Will Smith was looking like the movie to beat in summer of 1999 — a fast-paced Western-comedy adaptation of a TV classic, with a massive budget and a respectable supporting cast (including Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, and Salma Hayek). But it became an early example of the damage that could be done to a big tentpole movie by the ol’ World Wide Web. The up-and-coming Ain’t It Cool News site was partly making a name for itself by publishing anonymous reviews from test screenings, which had previously been a low-profile way for filmmakers to monitor responses and try out fixes. But the early responses to Wild Wild West were downright brutal, and the site’s own critics were hardly kinder. It opened on the Fourth of July weekend with $27 million — first place, but well shy of the $50 million and $51 million that Smith had put up that same weekend with (respectively) Independence Day in 1996 and Men in Black in 1997. It ultimately topped out at $113 million domestic against at $170 million budget.
You’d have thought Wild Wild West would’ve taught Hollywood a lesson about expensive steampunk Westerns, but apparently eleven years is long enough to forget, which brings us to 2010’s Jonah Hex. This DC comics adaptation was written by Crank masterminds (okay, that might be too strong a word) Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who were originally slated to direct. But the pair left the project due to (all together now) “creative differences” with Warner Brothers, who brought in Pixar animator and Horton Hears a Who director Jimmy Hayward to take over. The cast was impressive (Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon), but the filmmakers couldn’t nail down a tone, and word leaked from test screenings that the picture was a mess. The studio desperately tried to fix it — scenes were tossed and reshot by the handful, edits were made to the eleventh hour (it was submitted to the MPAA far past the normal deadline), and the finished film ran a scant 81 minutes — 73 without credits. When it hit theaters (against Toy Story 3, eek) it came in a rancid eighth place for the weekend, barely managing a total gross of $10 million and not even warranting a wide international release.
Director Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and 300 were solid box office-hits, and while his 2009 adaptation of Watchmen didn’t exactly burn up the box office, it was a well-respected take on a difficult piece of source material. But those films had a common element that his 2011 effort Sucker Punch did not: they were all based on top-flight pre-existing material, while Sucker was an original screenplay. Then again, we’re using the phrase rather loosely — Snyder and Steve Shibuya’s screenplay is such a mishmash of lifted ideas and rehashed homage that it plays less like a movie than a filmed mixtape. The first glimpses of the movie at the 2010 ComicCon were positive, and for good reason — it’s the kind of girls-and-guns-and-visual-spectacle picture that makes for a great trailer. The trouble came when people started getting a look at the whole movie. Buzz was bad, with Warner Brothers holding off on critics’ screenings until the last minute. Between those pans and the underwhelmed early responses from audiences, it sunk at the box office, coming in second in its opening weekend behind, no kidding, a Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie. And yet, WB still tapped Snyder to take over one of their most cherished franchises…
The road to rebooting Superman (the first time, for Bryan Singer; Snyder’s Man of Steel is the second) was, as we’ve discussed before, a long and very bumpy one. We join the story in 2002. Nicolas Cage had left the project, McG (Charlie’s Angels) was going through the revolving door of possible directors, and J. J. Abrams — known at that time as the Alias guy, as opposed to the Lost–Star Trek–Super 8guy — was brought on to take a crack at the script. His draft, titled Superman: Flyby, was a reimagined origin story, beginning with a civil war on Krypton, following Kal-El to earth, and including his death and resurrection. It also imagined Lex Luthor as a corrupt CIA agent, Jimmy Olsen as gay, and a Krypton that doesn’t explode. McG had left the project and (shudder) Brett Ratner had stepped into the director’s slot by the time the Abrams script made its way to Ain’t It Cool’s Drew McWeeny (aka “Moriarty”), who eviscerated the screenplay in a well-circulated AICN post, calling it “a disaster of nearly epic proportions” and announcing, in a riff on the original Superman’s famous tagline, “You’ll believe a franchise can suck.” This iteration of the film ultimately fell apart, reportedly for several reasons, but we can’t help but think the screenplay’s high-profile disemboweling helped but the kibosh on the project.
The Green Lantern/The Green Hornet
Comic book and superhero fans tend to swing a lot of potential Hollywood blockbusters; with studios going all-in on so many (so very many) comic book adaptations, they’re an audience ripe for plucking. But when those films misfire, watch out — they’ll scream longer and louder than casual fans about the damage that’s been done to their favorites. Take, for example, The Green Lantern, a much-anticipated adaptation of a beloved DC property. The unveiling of initial footage at the 2010 Comic Con, a year before its release, impressed fans and press (sound familiar?), but once the full trailer was released that fall, fans were unimpressed. That was followed by bad buzz the following spring, with anonymous insiders reporting that the production was troubled and the film was “terrible,” and initial test screenings confirmed those early reports. Its eventual underwhelming box office may have also been the result of consumer confusion; casual moviegoers the world over kept mixing it up with The Green Hornet, the superhero radio-series-turned-comic-book-turned-TV-show-turned-movie that hit screens a mere six months before The Green Lantern. Its January release was preceded by its own wave of bad buzz; the Michel Gondry-directed action/comedy, which starred a slimmed-down Seth Rogen (who also co-wrote), had seen its release date bumped six times , partially due to the dreaded post-production 3D retrofit, and the last of those postponements had moved the film from a plum December slot to the graveyard of January. The film itself isn’t half bad — it’s certainly better than its terrible reputation, which has stuck with it in the months since its initial release.
Batman & Robin
There is plenty of blame to go around for the debacle of 1997’s Batman & Robin, the film that killed the lucrative Caped Crusader franchise for nearly a decade: the incompetence of director Joel Schumacher, the repulsive and pun-heavy script by (Oscar winner!) Akiva Goldsman, the laughably bad performances by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, and Alicia Silverstone. (We’ll give Clooney a pass on this one.) But Warner Brothers blamed its bad box office on the Internet. Specifically, they blamed Ain’t It Cool News, whose “head geek” Harry Knowles had published an early review, which promised “no matter how bad you have heard this film is, nothing can prepare you for the sheer glorius (sic) travesty of the 200-megaton bomb of a film this is. This film is so bad, so awful, so vanity ridden with horrible over the top performances, that nothing I can say can prepare you for it.” Ha ha, come to find out, Knowles was under-selling it, and audiences agreed; its $42 million opening was the weakest since the series began in 1989, and once word got around that it was a stinker, it sputtered at a total domestic gross of $102 million — the lowest for a live action installment of the series. Unless you count…
…and most don’t. This 2004 spin-off was promising; the character had been the highlight of Burton’s Batman Returns, and it was a big-budget starring showcase for the red-hot (careerwise and otherwise) Halle Berry. But directorial duties were handed over to Pitof, a French visual effects artist with one previous feature credit. Fans started to worry when they got their first look at Berry’s nightmare of a costume, and they hit the roof when the first trailer premiered — which got such a virulent response that Warner Brothers made a new one, eliminating all of the dialogue. (Said dialogue was reportedly the work of, no joke, 28 different writers and re-writers.) The film’s already toxic buzz was intensified by the studio’s decision not to screen the film for critics at all — always a bad sign — and that buzz was solidified in a tepid third-place opening and eventual reviews from horrified critics.
Those are the films we thought the Internet sunk — agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments!