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Big Budget Catastrophes of Pure Joy

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Mark Kermode | 16:26 UK time, Thursday, 8 October 2009

Some of you objected to my choice of Howard the Duck as the greatest big budget movie disaster of all time but among your own selections, which include Sharon Stone's mighty Basic Instinct 2 and Bruce Willis's ineffable Hudson Hawk, are salutary lessons about the permeability of the membrane between bad and good.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Coming from Richard E Grant that's probably a compliment.

    Basic Instinct 2 is absolutely fantastic. The problem everyone had with it is they took it way too seriously and didn't see it for the delightful hyper-reality trash that it was. It also has the best running sight gag, with the London Gherkin, in any film. Which also doubles up as a parody of every modern film shot in London having to feature the gherkin.

  • Comment number 2.

    Oh.... big budget flops.... well you could have made that clearer Mark! I would have saved my LOTR spiel for a more apropriate time. Cos LOTR wasn't a flop...

  • Comment number 3.

    I think that big budget movie that get slated even before they’ve opened might still be worth seeing, even if it is terrible some of the money at least should be visible on screen.
    On that principle I quite enjoyed Waterworld, Cutthroat Island, and the under-rated mid 70s big budget flop Lucky Lady with Hackman, Reynolds and Minnelli.
    One the other hand you also get to see some genuine stinkers: The Postman for example.

    Others such as Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen you just have to see out of loyalty, even if it turns out to be disappointing.

    I agree about the Last Action Hero, the joke involving several Doberman guard dogs forming a dog pyramid for example was both unexpected and very funny.

    Mulitplex movies today all seem to require a big budget. Terminator Salvation apparently cost 200 million dollars; how do we judge its success? By whether it was any good (it wasn’t) or whether it makes a profit? Ditto Wolverine which cost 100 million and was a terrible, terrible movie.

    And no one mentions Ishtar. Did absolutely no one see it?

  • Comment number 4.

    Jay - I think Ishtar's that film that never got released on video or DVD isn't it? To be honest, I hadn't heard of it until I checked a Wikipedia page for biggest box office flops or whatever it was. Never seen it.

    I think it lead to the bankrcrupcy and shutting down of the studio?

  • Comment number 5.

    I loved The Postman. It looks like Lawrence of Arabia next to the shaky-cam, edited in a blender, dirge we have to sit through today.

    Kevin Costner doing Shakespeare with a donkey, gorgeous widescreen photography and a villian called General Bethlehem. Score, I say.

  • Comment number 6.

    I loved Howard the Duck when I was a kid


    I also enjoyed Waterworld, which I think got a lot of backlash because of Dances with Wolves winning best picture(not Goodfellas).
    I couldn't say looking back it's a classic but I think it's watchable and is not the worse film I have seen.

  • Comment number 7.

    Double plus good for using the word 'knackers' - Try and get it into a review before the end of the year please - Thanks!

  • Comment number 8.

    "Steaming hot donkey droppings"? I guess that's me told, then..!

  • Comment number 9.

    I don't know if it was a flop or a hit financially, but this seems as good a place as any to get this off my chest. I really, really like Coyote Ugly, and don't even bother telling me this is an indefensible stance. I'm well aware how bad it is, but from the terrible car crash of sensibilities - teen girly romance on the one hand, Zoo weekly on the other - to the scene where the main character stops a bar brawl by singing Blondie, I just love it.

  • Comment number 10.

    maybe wrong place to ask this...anyhoo..
    been a follower of the blog / vlog for some time now...and been plucking up the courage to i have a feeling mark will consider me totally daft for the following...
    i really like an often-overlooked film starring robert deniro and wesley snipes called 'the fan'..and would like to know what mark thought of it..
    many thanks.

  • Comment number 11.

    When will you review up man?

  • Comment number 12.

    Get well soon Mark.

  • Comment number 13.

    You were missed today. Get well soon.

  • Comment number 14.

    Did you really have to zoom in on Gordon's gonads?

  • Comment number 15.

    I don't know if somebody has already mentioned this but talking about big budget films that were flops l would like to bring attention to two films.

    Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" and Peter Jackson's "King Kong".

    Besides from being bloated, self indulgent films with some good bits in - persons more intelligent than I please bring up any more similarities - what do these two have in common?

    They were both regarded as flops despite earning pretty OK box office takings. "Successful failures" I think the name is, while "Dragonball Evolution" - a turkey of a film - may have sequels coming up. It seems the difference between a box office winner and flop are not so straight forward nowadays.

    Just thought l would bring this up.

  • Comment number 16.

    P.S. Hope your feeling better Mark, I guess the affect of Transformers 2 has finally caught up with you.

  • Comment number 17.

    Big-budget flops? Bugger! I would have suggested Speed Racer in an instant. Cost $120 million, made $90 million. I love it for all of its flaws, and I understand that you liked it as well.

  • Comment number 18.

    Get well soon Mark :S

  • Comment number 19.

    Although it's not perfect, I liked The Avengers. It succeeded in recreating the pop-art atmosphere of the series and a movie like Danger: Diabolik. I was also baffled by reviews which complained about the lack of chemistry between Fiennes and Thurman, while it was obvious that the director wanted their conversations to be a bit artificial.

    Batman & Robin is a bit of a mixed bag, because on one hand it wants to be a big action movie and on the other it wants to camp it up like the original tv-series and the 1966 movie. If you go along with these shifts in tone (which of course are a bad thing), the movie is not as bad as many people want you to believe.

  • Comment number 20.

    I definitely agree with Last Action Hero. I thought my dad and I were the only people who actually saw some good in it! I think Arnie shows he has a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humour, the movie is filled with brilliant little blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments, not least of which is the appearance of Sharon Stone's character from Basic Instinct and the T-1000 from Terminator 2. I think it is a movie that appeals to people who see the essential absurdity of big-budget action films. Plus, The Austrian Oak himself shows some surprising depth in certain scenes, calling to mind Adam Sandler's performance in the superb Punch-Drunk Love. Last Action Hero is a movie about the emotional toll that comes with being a typecast protagonist. Finally, who can forget the hilarious Hamlet send-up early in the movie?

  • Comment number 21.

    ' Superman Returns'! I'd almost erased that from memory. A massive budget blockbuster whose opening shot is the back of Kevin Spacey's head. Nice one.

    Also, explaining who Superman is using a title card - WTF!

    Superman as a peeping tom, flying around looking in people's windows?

    Wasting about 30 minutes of screen time setting up a space shuttle only for it to play no part in the movie except to reunite Lois and Supes? Couldn't they just use a plane? Wouldn't have made any difference would it.

    How did those bad guys get a huge machine gun and a gimbal support up to the top of a building without anyone noticing?

    Should I go on?

  • Comment number 22.

    Most definitely The Postman, quality script (perhaps unintentionally) with a very quotable line about Microwave Ovens. Also agree with Last Action Hero, which reminds me of an important question, can you really say that Steven Seagal films are bad when they are so UNINTENTIONALLY funny, for example I have watched Nico, Hard to Kill and Under Siege on numerous occasions but struggle to recommend them to my mates.


  • Comment number 23.

    “Speed Racer” was absolutely brilliant, it was eating cotton candy on acid, I saw it on IMAX, it was quite an experience despite the fact it’s too long I still really really like it.

    I will fly the flag for “Southland Tales” till day I die, it’s the spiritual sequel to “Kiss Me Deadly” and is a sorta sequel to Donnie Darko, it’s set 20 years in the future and has some similar themes. I thought it was a great satire of the Bush years in the States and some images from that will always be in my mind. Richard Kelly is a really nice guy too, I’ve emailed him and a couple times and has taken time to answer my questions. I can’t wait for “The Box”. Please re-watch it Mark.

    “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” is one of the greatest films ever made, I will always remember fighting with my dad who forced me to see in this amazing cinema in Portland, OR, USA, I was born there and lived there for my first 10 lives of my life and then moved over here to escape Bush but back to Munchausen, It’s just a perfect fantasy film, I saw it on a massive screen with a beautiful 35MM print.

    Some of my favourite flops are…
    Tideland (costed 6 Million, made $500,000 worldwide)
    Empire of the Sun (Spielberg’s masterpiece and was a pretty big flop, Mark your just wrong about Jaws, Jaws is great but it’s not his best film)
    The King of Comedy
    Naked Lunch (costed 20 Million, made like 3)
    The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (made like 30 Million worldwide, costed like 50)
    Fight Club (infamously underperformed at the box office)
    The Hudsucker Proxy
    The Big Lebowski
    Jackie Brown

  • Comment number 24.

    My favourite "flop" hands down would be "It's a Wonderful Life"

    Strong mention to "Duck Soup" (1933) [although people think it was a flop it was only a qualified flop ]

    Favourite Spielberg flop: "1941"

  • Comment number 25.

    Thinking of the year 1941 and qualified flops, I suppose you also have to mention the "greatest film of all time".

  • Comment number 26.

    Yeah, Batman & Robin has to be mine. While I hate Joel Schumacher as a director and only really except Nolan's Batman films - I love Arnie in almost anything and Thurman is so bad she is funny!

    Bane is pure kids comedy, while Clooney and O'Connell are like the best unintentional double-act I've seen!

    What I love is that Batman is always ready to tell as many people as he can his true identity plus, you have to love the Batman credit card (no doubt wired straight to Bruce Wayne's trust fund)!

  • Comment number 27.

    Dear Mark,

    I've seen 'Tormented' and anticipated the flicked-to-death-with-a-wet-towel scene. The victim wasn't killed, but merely had his eye dislocated. He died a minute or so late when being impaled on a spiked railing.

  • Comment number 28.

    DUNE is a mess, but an incredibly visually stunning one.

  • Comment number 29.

    I believe that Citizen Kane didn't earn it's budget back and that it was met with mixed responses by critics.
    I even heard that it was booed at the academy awards.

  • Comment number 30.

    Mark Kermode, You need to do another Moral Panic video.

    From Melon Farmers.

    “Tory MP Julian Brazier has urged local authorities to ban Saw VI.

    He said: The British Board of Film Classification is passing more and more violent films.

    But councils do have the power to ban such films and I welcome any taking this tough line.

    Vivienne Pattison, director of Mediawatch, called for tighter controls. She said: Studies link exposure to film violence with violent behaviour. If there is the slightest chance that media violence can cause harm, is it worth the risk?”

    I fear that if the Tory's get back in to power, we could be heading for another video nasty scare, with the Murdoch newspapers waving the moral panic banner just like they did back in 1984, and in 1993.

  • Comment number 31.

    Apologies for this being off-topic but I've just seen Up for the second time and just need to spread the word. It's fantastic.

    Funny, charming, engaging, heartbreaking and heartwarming. I left the cinema tonight with the same feeling as I did after It's A Wonderful Life. OK, I'm not going to even compare it to the Capra classic but I've just got a feeling this film will go down as a cult classic.

    Finally, just to stick to the topic of budgets; I assume the budget was fairly sizeable but in my opinion worth every penny!

    Good Doctor - I hope the swine flu doesn't spoil your enjoyment. It was even better second time around for me, so if illness is your excuse for a second viewing; grab it with both hands.

  • Comment number 32.

    Lynch's Dune was a mess (though often a good-looking mess); although it was cut prior to release, I haven't seen anything in the deleted scenes that convinces me it was ever anything else. The TV adaption was laborious. It seems that the transition to screen strips the book of any subtlety and serves only to highlight its weaknesses. I've read that another film adaptation is in the works.

    I too liked Hudson Hawk.

  • Comment number 33.

    Last Action Hero was elevated by McTiernan's direction. The undisputed king of 80s/90s big budget hardboiled action films. Accept no subsitute.

    Hudson Hawk is an OK caper for kids. It's certainly has enough silly Looney Tunes inspired moments to keep them interested. However, the film was ruined by Sandra Bernhard (and Bruce Willis's earring). Richard E. Grant could've used an accomplice who's voice didn't sound like nails on a chalkboard. Bruce should stick to being directed by McTiernan.

  • Comment number 34.

    I'm honoured to be considered an old friend despite only ever having one comment and that being months ago

    Also pleased to see the Good Doctor shares my views on the underrated gem that is Last Action Hero

  • Comment number 35.

    The only thing that redeems the overblown arty pretensions of ' irreversible ' is Vincent cassels performance.Eraserhead took a few screenings to get.but I think its Oldboy for me or anything by Park chan wook.

  • Comment number 36.

    I'm amazed that nobody has mentioned "Casino Royale"! By which I mean the sixties version - is this the only example of a remake with the same title being the exact opposite of the original film? I'm not sure if it was a financial disaster, though I rather think it was, but it's way, way overlong, clearly very expensive indeed, and contains some of the most staggeringly weird miscasting since Harpo Marx played Sir Isaac Newton (yes, really! - in "The Story Of Mankind", if you're interested). David Niven, Woody Allen and Peter Sellers ALL playing James Bond (sort of) in the same film??? Or indeed Ronnie Corbett as a supervillain's lackey with a clockwork heart who dies on the toilet? And what about those kamikaze grouse?

    Personally I think that any film in which Woody Allen swallows an atom bomb must have something going for it, but the "Helzapoppin" ending with cowboys, the Frankenstein Monster, etc. crashing into the casino and adding to the chaos which is already total strongly suggests that the scriptwriters were taking the same drugs as whoever thought a big-budget "Howard The Duck" movie was going to be a really good idea... Anyway, "Casino Royale" to my mind has that transcendental jaw-dropping "WHAT were they thinking of???" quality which I think is what we're talking about here. And although there are lots of dull bits (and the inexplicably famous Bernard Cribbins is in it for quite a long time), you certainly don't know where it'll be going next. Best in-joke: Peter Sellers' facial expression when, having no doubt read the book, he realises that the villain is about to interrogate him in a room containing a wickerwork chair and a carpet-beater...

    PS - If I may attempt to be psychic: how long will it be before we are having pretty much this same discussion about a hideously misjudged mega-budget superhero spoof called "Flaming Carrot" (possibly retitled "Flaming! - A New Breed Of Hero!" in the UK)?

  • Comment number 37.

    I would add Around the World in 80 Days starring Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan which cost about $80 million and bombed.

    And unless you are a fundamentalist Jules Verne fan screaming "blasphemy", it is a totally charming and enjoyable film that appeals to the whole family as well as Chan and Coogan fans. Lots of nice cameos, funny script, Rob Schneider not being hateful, excellent fight choreography and stunts and Cecile De France being so charming and beautiful I completely fell in love with her even though you suspect she would turn into a shaven-headed psycho lesbian truck driving serial killer at any minute!

    That this movie failed at the box office only proves we live in a sad world.

  • Comment number 38.

    I won't mention anything M Night Shyamalan makes then...


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