Pixar was on a hot streak. What started as a promising novelty with "Toy Story" had grown into the hottest name in animation -- even overshadowing parent company Disney -- with a run of acclaimed hits "Toy Story 2," "Monsters Inc.," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles." That didn't exactly screech to a halt with "Cars," but the film's reception was enough to make fans realize not every Pixar release would be a winner. The first speed bump came with critics, who gave the film positive reviews overall but noted the lesser quality of story and character workmanship, especially in the wake of "The Incredibles." "Cars" still brought in a highly respectable $244 million at the U.S. box office, but that was less than the four Pixar releases before it. The movie suffered another ding when it lost the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar to "Happy Feet." None of this would've caused much concern coming from any other animation studio, but Pixar wasn't just any other animation studio. Still, they doubled down with a sequel five years later, and the only reason the lackluster "Cars 2" wasn't an even bigger letdown was because "Cars" had already laid the groundwork that Pixar wasn't invincible.
By the spring of 2005, there were high hopes for Fox's "Fantastic Four." The studio had turned a corner with the critically acclaimed "X2" the summer before and previews highlighted a CG-animated and wise-cracking Johnny Storm/Human Torch (played by Chris Evans) that had fanboys giddy. Plus, Jessica Alba (Sue Storm) was at the height of her sex symbol fame with "Sin City" hitting theaters just two months before. Fans were even intrigued by "Nip/Tuck's" Julian McMahon playing Victor Von Doom and Michael Chiklis (less than two years from winning both an Emmy and Golden Globe for another FX series, "The Shield") as Ben Grimm/The Thing. Unfortunately, the classic superhero team was rendered lifeless with this impossibly dull big-screen adaptation. The studio's first mistake was hiring middle-of-the-road comedy director Tim Story ("Barbershop," "Taxi") for the job, a move that only served to highlight their cynical rush to capitalize on current trends when they should've held out for a more visionary talent. When it was announced Story would return for the 2007 sequel, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," fans' hopes for this big screen incarnation of comic book's First Family were put completely on ice.
One screenwriter after another kept trying to crack the riddle of a fourth Indiana Jones film and then, finally, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford decided to just do the movie anyway, perfect screenplay or no, insisting that they were doing it for the fans. And the fans were all, "But... um... you gave us a beloved franchise. Thanks, Steve! We didn't ASK for a geriatric reboot." Under the circumstances, with 19 years of built-up expectations after "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," could the end result have been anything other than a crushing disappointment? Well, it's all a matter of how you look at it. "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" made $786 million worldwide, so there are a number of people in Hollywood who would gladly tell you that the movie was a rousing success. But how many viewers who grew up on "Raiders," "Temple of Doom" and "Last Crusade" wanted our final adventures with Dr. Jones to be a stagnant, soulless endeavor more memorable for a nuclear attack-repelling refrigerator, Shia LaBeouf swinging with monkeys and freakin' aliens than the joyful abandon of the original trilogy? No matter how much richer it made some people, "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is still a letdown because we can't un-see it and it requires willful denial to pretend that Indiana Jones is still just a trilogy.
Sacha Baron Cohen already had an appreciative cult audience from "Da Ali G Show" -- a hit in the U.K. and an HBO favorite in the U.S. -- but no one expected him to score a legitimate blockbuster with a big screen spinoff of "Ali G" character Borat. (A less inspired Ali G movie had already come and gone in 2002, before the HBO show.) "Borat" was so big that giving the final "Ali G Show" character his own movie became an inevitability. And so "Brüno" was born. The flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion lover was always going to be a tougher sell with mainstream audiences than wacky politically incorrect Borat, but "Brüno" had one of the most disappointing box office performances of summer 2009. Although it opened to $33 million, it suffered massive declines from there (73% in its second weekend) and closed with just $60 million. Critics were split on whether the film mocked or encouraged homophobia, but either way audiences simply didn't find it funny.
The thing about "The Matrix" is that it snuck up on people. Yes, it was masterfully promoted, but it was still a low-ish budget action film that was released in March and took in a modest $27+ million in its opening. It just became a phenomenon, winning Oscars and changing cinema (in tiny ways) and stuff. The sequel was produced on an insanely high budget, clocked in at an abusive 138 minutes (only two minutes longer than the first, but... boy that's a long two minutes) and made absolutely no sense. Seriously, try showing "The Matrix Reloaded" to somebody who hasn't seen "The Matrix." They may never watch another movie ever again. And go back now and watch the vaunted freeway chase that got all of the publicity back in 2003. It goes on forever and becomes thuddingly monotonous almost immediately. Want to talk about poisoning the franchise waters? "Matrix Reloaded" opened at $91 million and made it over $281 million, but when "The Matrix Revolutions" came out six months later, it opened under $49 million and topped out at $139 million domestic. Fans were NOT happy
Yeah, sure, the "Star Wars" prequels are pretty easy targets on a list like this, but there's no denying the fact that "Episode One" was one of the most anticipated openings of all-time, and it failed to deliver on all counts for the majority of fans -- some of whom were waiting in line FOR A MONTH to see it. After only a few minutes, the film's deficiencies begin to far outweigh its strengths, and after more than two hours crammed with aimless dialogue scenes, pointless subplots (wait, what are "Midi-chlorians" again?), terrible child actors, dead-eyed adult actors, and even a fart joke, audiences were left scratching their heads and asking, "We waited 16 years for this?"
The first "Speed" was one of the biggest surprises in the summer of 1994. Overnight it transformed Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock from recognizable supporting actors to household names. Reeves declined to return for this waterlogged sequel, which sees Sandra Bullock and Reeves stand-in Jason Patric become trapped on an enormous, lumbering cruise ship that's headed for a fateful collision with an oil tanker (courtesy of a scenery-chewing terrorist played by Willem Dafoe). While many saw this concept and title as eyebrow raising, there was hope that with director Jan de Bont returning (he'd shot the blockbuster "Twister" inbetween the two installments) audiences might get something close to the genuinely-thrilling first film. Instead, it became one of Bullocks' biggest blunders and almost destroyed Patric's career. That said, "Cruise Control"'s sheer awfulness actually redeems it somewhat; if nothing else, it's the perfect vehicle for a spirited game of "Spot the Continuity Errors."
Bryan Singer had done as much as anyone to bring the superhero movie into the 21st Century. His two "X-Men" films were well-crafted, nuanced and filled with good actors. And just one year before "Superman Returns," Warner Bros. scored with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight reboot "Batman Begins." So fans were primed to see the Man of Steel back on the big screen for the first time since 1987's disastrous "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace." "Returns" opened to decent reviews and solid box office, but couldn't match expectations. It only got worse from there as the movie suffered steep box office declines and crawled to $200 million in the U.S. (on a reported budget of $270 million, far above "Batman Begins"). With a sluggish running time over two and a half hours, a torpid love triangle and cheesy son-of-Superman subplot, "Returns" simply wasn't the reboot audiences were hoping for. Warner Bros. cancelled plans for a sequel and eventually decided to try again: Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" with an entirely new cast and creative approach is due in 2013.
One of the most popular and sexiest video game characters (at the time) portrayed by Angelina Jolie, a little over a year after her breakthrough Oscar win? Add to the fact Jolie reconciled with her father, Jon Voight, who played her father in the film and you've got a tabloid fueled formula to make "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" one of the most hyped films of 2001. The mix was so seductive that U2 provided the title track - "Elevation" - and shot a music video tie-in for it (something they had never done before or since). What U2 didn't know is that the studio and director Simon West ("Con Air") were at odds and the early cut that got them on board was completely re-edited by noted movie "fixer" Stuart Baird. Despite mostly negative reviews, the movie was a big hit (the largest opening for a female actress at the time) and grossed $131 million domestic. Unfortunately, audiences were left with such a bad taste in their mouths the follow up, "The Cradle of Life," never had a chance.
Sometimes hype is just laughably unrealistic. Shouldn't we have known flashy "Charlie's Angels" director McG wasn't the right guy to relaunch a beloved sci-fi franchise? Maybe it was the casting of Christian Bale as John Connor that made this seem so promising. Or the potential to finally get a good look at the world after Judgment Day. Or the rumors that Arnold Schwarzenegger himself would pop up in a cameo. When the movie landed a PG-13 rating it was a red flag: a cravenly commercial move for a historically R-rated series. "Salvation" opened below the "Night at the Museum" sequel at the box office, becoming the first "Terminator" movie not to open at #1, and fell apart from there. The only good thing to come out of the movie was Bale's infamous rant against cinematographer Shane Hurlbut -- a viral sensation online. Instead of kicking off a new series of "Terminator" films, "Salvation" terminated interest in the franchise. At least for now
1984's "Ghostbusters" was a relative surprise. It was a medium-budget film with a bunch of "Saturday Night Live" actors and a fresh high-concept idea, and it made a ton of money. The sequel was able to bring back all the key players, and trotted out most of the same tricks, but it never felt like anything but a pale imitation of the first installment. There's no real tension and most of the laughs seem forced. It doesn't help that the main antagonist is trapped in a painting for most of the film's running time.
In the late '90s, Universal and director Stephen Sommers resurrected "The Mummy" property with a fun, profitable set of films starring Brendan Fraser, and "Van Helsing" seemed like a natural next step. With Sommers helming, the rest of the studio's famed monsters were lined up to face rising star (Hugh Jackman, hot off the "X-Men" films), with a hot female lead (Kate Beckinsale) in tow. Sounds like a recipe for success, doesn't it? There was only one thing missing -- a script.
M. Night Shyamalan had already lost some of his "Sixth Sense" luster after the mixed responses to "Unbreakable" and "Signs." But it looked like "The Village" would be a return to form. The creepy trailers promised Shyamalan had something truly spooky in store, and the buzz was this one had a genuine twist ending and not just a narrative reveal. That was enough to give Shyamalan his second highest opening weekend of all time at $50 million (behind "Signs"). But once audiences got a look inside "The Village" -- with its so-so scares, hilariously bad Adrien Brody performance and massively underwhelming twist -- word of mouth was the polar opposite of "Sixth Sense." "The Village" was arguably Shyamalan's first complete creative strikeout and set the stage for his first unmitigated disaster two years later with "Lady in the Water."
"Godzilla" is a textbook case of movie marketing over-hyping an "expected" blockbuster. After luring "Independence Day's" Roland Emmerich to Sony Pictures, the studio spent millions on a non-stop campaign for the first real, big budget, studio "Godzilla" flick. The film's iconic teaser trailer was shot before the film began production and for months billboards touted "Godzilla's foot is as big as [insert your local landmark]" across the country. The studio also purposely didn't reveal the entire monster in any of its TV spots or previews to ensure moviegoers went to the theater to see New York City destroyed once more. Instead, the constant drum beat of partner spots, studio spots, games, toys and publicity stunts turned the expected blockbuster into one of the biggest summer let downs of all time -- and not just at the box office. Emmerich's "Godzilla" is just not a good movie - a sentiment perhaps best summed up by Heisei-era Godzilla actor Ken Satsuma, who stated after walking out of the film's Japanese premiere: "It's not Godzilla; it does not have the spirit."
Will Smith has pretty much been infallible over the course of his historic movie career, but after the heights of "ID4" and the first "Men in Black," many forget he had a few stumbles here and there. One picture which taught Smith a big lesson was 1999's "Wild Wild West." The recon Western reunited him with "MIB" director Barry Sonnenfeld and paired him with Kevin Kline who was coming off the biggest solo hit of his career, "In & Out." Warner Bros. expected "WWW" to be the biggest movie of the summer and scared everyone off the crucial July 4th weekend except for "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" (which turned out to be a critical wonder and moneymaker for Paramount). "WWW" tried to bring an odd mix of futuristic technology to the 19th Century, but the project just didn't jell. Moreover, it was an expensive one at that (a $170 million budget). But, Smith was still making waves on the pop charts at the time as "Getting' Jiggy wit It" had hit no. 1 on the Billboard 100 only a year earlier. The single for "Wild Wild West" also hit no. 1 (he hasn't hit the top 10 since) and the video was in constant rotation on MTV, but like "Godzilla" it just seemed to be too much saturation for moviegoers. The film 's mostly negative reviews didn't help and it opened to just $27 million. The failure of "WWW" is so notorious that Smith has self-deprecatingly joked about the project for years.
Based on Nickelodeon's animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender where the story would center around the first book of the series, fans of the original show were excited to see a live action adaptation. However what they got instead was a poorly casted, horribly acted and even worse, 103mins of seeing their beloved characters act nothing like their cartoon counterparts while the rich culture and source material for the bending abilities fighting styles were even butchered. The Last Airbender has received nearly universal negative responses from critics, on the tomatometer receiving 7% from Top Critics and 6% from All Critics while many fans of the original series have demanded for a remake or reboot of the film. Director M. Night Shyamalan was accused of white-washing the characters during casting the parts for the movie. The Last Airbender has won 6 Razzie awards for Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actor nominee: Dev Patel, Worst Supporting Actor: Jackson Rathbone, Worst Supporting Actress nominee: Nicola Peltz, Worst Director: M. Night Shyamalan, and Worst Screenplay. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.