Success is not always guaranteed. Sometimes, it isn't even anticipated. That's what this is piece going to look at; movies that were largely predicted to fail, but they did the exact opposite.
The pirate genre is dead. Cutthroat Island
killed it in 1995.
Johnny Depp is not a box office hit maker. This movie is based on a Disneyland ride. Not only is it about pirates, it is also a ghost story. Today’s audiences are not going to get it.
These were just a few reasons why Hollywood prognosticators were not very kind to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. A pirate movie will not succeed in the 21st century, they said.
Word has it that after the 2002 failure of The Country Bears
, Disney CEO Michael Eisner tried to shut down production of Pirates. He was also reportedly worried over how expensive the film was.
However, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were convinced the movie would succeed. They liked the notion of using modern technology to revise an old genre, feeling they would be able to pay tribute with humor and fear.
In the end, they were correct. Pirates of the Caribbean hit theaters to rave reviews. Viewers and critics alike praised the performances of the cast, the costumes, action sequences, and overall atmosphere of the film. With a worldwide haul of $650 million, the world of pirates had been resurrected.
Superman was no stranger to major media. From the Kirk Alyn serials, the George Reeves series, and the Fleischer cartoons, the man of steel had been just about everywhere. Even for all his popularity, Superman was still a comic book character, and the idea was that comic book characters are for children. And if they are for children, audiences would never take a big time effort seriously.
In the early 1970’s, father and son producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, along with Pierre Spengler got the idea for not one, but two epic Superman films to be shot at the same time. A very bold idea in those days.
They had Godfather creator Mario Puzo write a script, veteran filmmaker Guy Hamilton to direct, and secured Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman in starring roles. This was a surefire hit in the making.
The film was going to be shot at studios in Italy, but Marlon Brando would not go there due to an active arrest warrant for him. They could not film in England at Pinewood, because Guy Hamilton was a tax exile. So they hire Richard Donner in Hamilton’s place, and after a huge search, cast the unknown Christopher Reeve for the title role.
It didn’t take long for trouble to begin. Donner and the Salkinds had their own sides of the story, but suffice to say, through various events and circumstances, they all came to loathe one another. Be it disagreements over the script, the tone, the schedule, it was a mess. Long story short, they completed the first Superman film to make the release date, and halted production on part 2. Richard Donner believed if the first movie wasn’t a hit, audiences wouldn’t come back for a second one.
Superman The Movie hit theaters in December of 1978. Overcoming all the personnel problems, it became the most successful movie of the year and Warner Bros’ biggest hit of all time. Simply put, the man of steel’s big screen debut was the film that launched the superhero film genre, and erased long time doubts that viewers would accept a serious take on a comic book.
After Superman’s box office success, what happened when they got ready to complete Superman II
? Well, that is a story for another time.
Steven Spielberg has said when it came to Jaws
, he felt his career was going to be over before it began.
Over budget. Behind schedule. Script problems, location issues, a clashing cast, mechanical fish failures, it was all leading to what should have been a tremendous box office bomb.
The first time they put the robot shark in the water, it sank straight to the bottom.
Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw were exceptionally unkind to one another.
Shooting a movie on the ocean was difficult in too many ways to name.
Released in theaters at a time when there was no such thing as a summer blockbuster. In those days, movie goers typically didn’t flock to theaters during the summer season.
But upon release, word spread quickly and Jaws became a smash success.
The Passion of the Christ was a controversy from the day it was announced. Director Mel Gibson has said from the project’s beginning, he could not secure funding or a distribution deal. No one in Hollywood wanted a part of a Biblical film, shot in dead languages.
Even so, he pressed on. His own company, Icon Productions funded $30 million for the film. He even had to distribute it himself, after 20th Century Fox backed out of a possible deal, due to protests.
When previews and early looks began, the predictions hit. It’s too violent, it is full of antisemitism, the cast is no one of note. Gibson’s little movie about the final hours of Jesus’ life will fail miserably. Even with support from evangelical figures such as Billy Graham, Max Lucado and Tim LaHaye, there was very little anticipation for The Passion to be a hit.
While it is a brutal and painfully emotional film, The Passion of the Christ
became one of the top 5 films of 2004, bringing in $600 million. The late Roger Ebert gave it a four-star review, saying it "might just be the greatest cinematic version of the greatest story ever told."
What? Marvel’s founding Avenger was supposed to fail? Strictly speaking, maybe not. But in the early months of 2008, I personally found not many people knew who Iron Man was. Those that did, saw him as a C-list superhero, way below the likes of Spider-Man, Wolverine and even the Incredible Hulk. We were aware of Marvel’s bold plan to begin a shared movie universe, but many people I spoke to found Iron Man to be a questionable choice to launch what we now call the MCU.
When you mix in the fact that Robert Downey Jr. wasn't on anyone’s radar as a box office draw, and the insane hype for the The Dark Knight
, I didn’t know anyone anticipating Iron Man to be a hit.Co-worker: I know the new Batman movie is out in the summer, what other superheroes are coming up?
Me: Iron Man will be out in May.
Co-worker: Who the heck is Iron Man?
Yes, that conversation actually happened.
Ultimately, the armored avenger’s big screen debut made a solid impression on viewers and fans, and became a worldwide hit.
Back to The Future was a movie nobody wanted. Bob Gale conceived the story in the late 70’s, and later teamed up with Robert Zemeckis to put a script together. However, once they began shopping it around, they were continually rejected. No one saw any appeal to a time travel movie. In addition, the Bobs were not viewed as Hollywood hit makers after they produced two flops in Used Cars
and I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Eventually, with encouragement from Steven Spielberg and the Bob Z’s successful movie Romancing The Stone
, Universal Pictures decided to give Back to The Future a chance.
But then came the more problems. Their first choice for Marty, Michael J. Fox wasn’t available due to his commitment to the TV series Family Ties. Though they were able to secure Christopher Lloyd, Tom Wilson and Lea Thompson, the search for Marty was difficult.
They ultimately cast Eric Stoltz in the role, but a month into filming, Zemeckis and Spielberg knew something was missing. They felt Eric’s timing when it came to comedy moments, just wasn’t there. So, they went back to Fox’s agent, begging him to let Michael play the role. After a few stipulations, Fox was finally cast as Marty, and Stoltz was shown the door.
With Fox now on board, they had to reshoot everything they had done with Stoltz. The studio wasn’t too pleased with this, but Zemeckis convinced them to let him do it, as opposed to canceling the entire movie. After all that, the movie proceeded smoothly.
For all of the early rejections, casting changes and other difficulties, Back To The Future was a tremendous success, spawned two sequels, and remains a favorite to this day.
James Cameron is a master of disaster. You can read all about the difficulties he faced during making Aliens
and The Abyss
. When it came to the Titanic, it wasn’t easy either. Cameron pitched it to Fox as Romeo and Juliet on the famed ocean liner. Although they knew him as more of a sci-fi/action filmmaker, from the aforementioned Aliens and Abyss, as well as True Lies
, they felt certain he would deliver, so Titanic
was given the greenlight.
For all of the film’s spectacular visuals and effects, times on set were not smooth sailing. Cameron has a well-earned reputation as a hard-charging perfectionist, and by Kate Winslet’s account, has a temper like you wouldn’t believe.
Cast and crew were continually getting cold, flu and kidney infections due to so much water exposure. Shooting went past schedule, which postponed original release date. More shooting meant more money, so it became a $200-million-dollar project when it was all said and done. Executives at 20th Century Fox were in panic mode over all this, and suggested James cut nearly an hour from the film. He said they would have to fire him and kill him.
Scheduled for a summer 1997 release, Cameron told Fox and Paramount that the effects were too complex to make that date, so it was pushed to December 1997.
When preparing for early previews, there was a massive foreboding for the most expensive movie ever made. During his final months of completion, even Cameron himself had come to think it would be a disaster. Production difficulties, ballooning costs and a delayed release had fueled speculation that this movie would bomb like none other.
But you don’t need me to tell you what a hit Titanic
was. All the money it made, all the awards it collected, and all the acclaim it received.
Just like in real life sometimes, you never can tell what's going to happen.