Guest Post: Five big budget movies that fail to meet studio’s high expectations

Every year Hollywood churned out big films one after another. But they also have one or two films each year that they hope it will either rake in a lot of money, earn tons of Oscar nominations or both. Through the years, studios would invest in certain talents and throw quite a bit of money on the project, but for whatever the reasons, they ended up NOT properly marketing the film.

Below are list of films that studio executives had high hopes for, but most of them turned out to be huge disappointments:

1. The Alamo (2004)

After he won the Oscar for directing A Beautiful Mind, Ron Howard was going to make this film and Russell Crowe agreed to be his leading man. The film was supposed to open on December of 2003 and Disney was hoping that not only it will make a lot of cash, but also getting tons of Oscar nominations. Before the cameras started rolling, Howard demanded a budget of $200 mil and he wanted to make a hard R-rated war film, similar to Saving Private Ryan. Upon hearing this, Disney executives weren’t too thrilled about making a bloody R-rated war film that’s supposed to open around Christmas time. So they countered the offer, they told Howard he could have a budget of $100 mil and the film must be PG-13. Of course Howard said no and decided not to direct the film; he stayed on only as a producer. Not only did Disney lost Howard, Crowe also walked away from the project since he only wanted to work with Howard.

So now that both Howard and Crowe left the project, Disney was in a hurry to find another director and leading man for the film. They settled on an up-and-coming director John Lee Hancock, whose first film The Rookie performed quite well for Disney at the box office. Hancock promised he could make the film for less than $100mil and it will be PG-13. He also brought his leading man from The Rookie, Dennis Quaid, to star in this film. The final budget for the film was around $95mil and Disney still set the film to open on December of 2003. But just a few months before its release date, Disney announced that the film won’t open ’til April of 2004. They said they needed to give Hancock more time on the film but I think the real reason was that they didn’t like the movie at all and didn’t want to spend money promoting it. Well when the film finally opened in the spring of 2004, Disney hardly promoted it and of course it tanked at the box office.

I was very excited to see this film when it was first announced, but after learning about the behind the scenes drama, I knew the film was going to be a letdown and I was right. The film had no focus and I couldn’t figure out which character was supposed to be the lead. Also, the battle sequences were pretty lame, in my opinion war films shouldn’t be PG-13. If you’re serious about telling a real war story, it should be as intense as in real life. This film had great potential to be great but because the greedy studio executives, it turned out to be a mediocre product.

2. Red Planet

This was one of the two films about the planet Mars that came out in 2000, the other one was Mission to Mars. Warner Bros. scheduled the film to open in the busy Summer month of June that year. With a healthy budget of $70 mil and a still well-known Val Kilmer as the leading man, they probably thought it could earn some good numbers at the box office. Unfortunately things didn’t turn out as they’d hoped. Mission to Mars which opened a couple of months ahead of it, ended up tanking at the box office and most critics hated it.

So now they realized that the public wouldn’t be interested in seeing another film about Mars in such a short time span, they decided to move release date to November. It’s not a bad month to release a film, but after poor test screenings and last minute edits to obtain a PG-13 rating, Warner Bros. didn’t even bother to promote the film. I think they put out some TV spots here and there but nothing significant. Poor Val Kilmer, he was on pretty much every TV late night talk shows trying to promote the film himself since he got no support from the studio. I remember seeing him host Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks after the film came out and still trying to plug the movie. It was quite sad to have seen that, I actually felt bad for the guy.

Of the two Mars films, I actually liked Red Planet better, I thought Mission to Mars was dreadful. I thought the concept of Red Planet was very intriguing but the execution was poorly done.

3. The Invasion

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel from Germany got the attention of Hollywood executives with his film Downfall. Producer Joel Silver, who was responsible for the Die Hard, Matrix and Lethal Weapon films, convinced Hirschbiegel to come over to the States and make a film here. Warner Bros. actually held a huge press conference when they announced this film, hoping that it would be a huge summer tent pole for them. This was the third re-imagining of the original 1956 film. So with an $80 mil budget, they started to shoot the film in the Fall of 2005 and it was supposed to open on June of 2006. A few months later, Hirschbiegel showed his first cut of the film to Warner executives and they were not happy with it. They were expecting a sci-fi action thriller but what they got was a psychological thriller with little to no action at all. So they decided to bring in The Wachowskis to rewrite the film and assist the additional shooting of the film. Of course by this time the film couldn’t make its June of 2006 release date, it’s now been scheduled to open in the summer of 2007.

Even with The Wachowskis’ help, Warner Bros. still wasn’t satisfied with the film, so in January of 2007 they brought in Australian film director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) to shoot additional scenes, which include more action and a twist ending. Finally the film was scheduled to come out in August of 2007. But by this time, Warner Bros. executives have dismissed the film and didn’t even bother to market it. Well of course the film tanked at the box office and Hirschbiegel’s career in Hollywood never took off.

I saw the film and it has potentials but you can tell there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen trying to fix it. I would love to see Hirschbiegel’s original cut someday, maybe it’s better than the final version.

4. 1492 Conquest of Paradise

With a string of box office failures throughout the 80s, Ridley Scott had a mini comeback in 1991 with Thelma & Louise. So after that film’s success, Paramount Pictures offered him a chance to direct this big-budgeted adaptation of Christopher Columbus’ story. He told the studio he’ll do it with one condition, he wanted to cast Gerard Depardieu as Columbus and they said yes. The film had a budget of $40 mil; this was back in the early 90s, so that was quite big. The film was scheduled to come out in the holiday season of 1992, which became the year of Christopher Columbus films.

Warner Bros. released their version called Christopher Columbus: The Discovery earlier that year. Even though Warner’s version of Columbus tanked at the box office, Paramount still believed that Scott’s version would be a hit and earn many Oscar nominations. Well, a couple of months before the film’s release date, they had a test-screening and it didn’t go well at all. Also, some critics who have seen the early screening trashed the film, so Paramount decided to move up the release date to early October instead of the busy November or December. Not only did they change the release date, they also didn’t even bother to push the film at all. It was one of the biggest flops of 1992 and it got zero Oscar nominations. Scott’s career took a hit too; he didn’t have another hit until 2000 when he made Gladiator.

I saw this film a couple of years after it came out, even though it was a huge flop, no one really paid attention to it. I think everyone in Hollywood was more interested in talking about Alien 3’s failure that year. (To read more about the behind the scenes of Alien 3, go here.) Anyhoo, I thought 1492 has some great ideas but somehow Scott wasn’t able to execute them, the film looked great and the soundtrack was wonderful. I wonder if there’s another cut of the film that studio refuse to show it publicly. Ridley Scott just refuses to talk about this film, I could be wrong but maybe he’s ashamed of it?

5. King Arthur

When Disney announced this re-telling of King Arthur, they had high hopes for it. Originally Michael Bay was going to direct it but he left because he couldn’t get the budget he wanted. With Jerry Bruckheimer producing and director Antoine Fuqua, who’s still basking in the success of Training Day, they believe the film will be a huge success. The film was supposed to be a more realistic take on the King Arthur legend, they even hired screenwriter David Franzoni (Gladiator) to write the script.

The film was scheduled to come in the Fall/holiday season of 2004 but Disney realized they didn’t have a big action picture for that summer, so they decided to move up the release date to July. Along with a new release date, Disney executives also wanted the film to be tone down to get a PG-13 rating instead of the intended R rated they first agreed upon. Of course Fuqua was not happy with the new demands from his bosses; he already shot several scenes with the intentions that the film’s going to be R rated. Not only does he have to finish the film earlier than he thought, he also has to edit the film down to get a PG-13 rating. Both Bruckheimer and Fuqua were trying to convince Disney execs to release the film as R-rated but to no avail, they can’t fight the big boys at the top of the studio.

They did test screenings a few months before the film’s release date and it didn’t go too well at all. Disney now realized they have a stinker in their hands, so they decided to not push the film as hard as their previous summer flicks. Of course when it finally opens in theater, the film failed miserably and sort of ruined Fuqua’s career; he hasn’t done any big-budgeted film since.

Disney actually released the director’s cut of the film on DVD that contained more graphic violence in the battle scenes. I never saw the PG-13 version, just the director’s cut and I thought it was okay. The main problem was that the story just wasn’t that interesting and the cinematography was just awful, seriously the film just looks ugly. Maybe it was Fuqua’s intention to film it like that but for a $90 mil movie, I want to see some cool visuals. The only good thing was that Clive Owen was perfectly cast as Arthur; wish they gave him a better the screenplay though.

Well have you seen any of the films above? If so, how do you feel about them? I think all of them could’ve been great films but because studio interference and bad screenplay, they all failed.

(Sources:, Entertainment Weekly and Cinescape magazine)

30 thoughts on “Guest Post: Five big budget movies that fail to meet studio’s high expectations

  1. Wow! what a great informative post! and I had no idea Michael Bay was supposed to direct King Arthur first.

    I’ve been thinking about movies that ended up as flops, It was cool to see a post about it at the same time as I’ve been contemplating one.

    I enjoyed The Invasion, Red Planet, and King Arthur actually and feel that they deserved a better chance too. Gotta love the studios…

    Thanks for this great post, Ted! Nice work!

  2. Fine look at these, Ted. 2004’s ‘The Alamo’ is closer to real historical history than John Wayne’s film from 1960, and there are parts of it I still enjoy. But, you’re right that it all got undermined and remains unfocused — man, would I have loved to have seen an R-rated Ron Howard film telling this tale with Crowe in the lead. That would have been somethin’!

    I’m also a fan of ‘Red Planet’ (though I admit it’s more its quirks and Kilmer, an especially Carrie-Anne Moss). While the others aren’t very good, and shouldn’t have met expectations, I have to admit to enjoying the guilty pleasure that is ‘King Arthur’. Yeah, it’s a mess and will never attain anything close to cinematic heights of historical epics (like ‘Ben-Hur’ or ‘El Cid’).

    But, it is a bloody fun mess (in director’s cut) if you don’t take it seriously and cheer for the good guys and hiss at the villains. Clive Owen, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson, Mads Mikkelsen, and Stellan Skarsgård chewing scenery works for me in a quite visceral way. I guess it’s a guy thing… I have friends that feel the same way about it. Particularly, when Arthur finally cleaves Cerdic ;-).

    Very enjoyable read! Thanks Ted and Ruth.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Michael, I really enjoyed Red Planet too, just wish they had better talents working on the film. A missed opportunity to have made a great sci-fi thriller.

      1. I had no idea Tom Sizemore was in Red Planet. Too bad he didn’t talk about the movie when he was at the panel at TCFF, it would’ve been nice to hear some tidbits about filming w/ Val Kilmer, ahah.

  3. From the title, I was somewhat expecting less obvious picks, you know the kind of movies that make a ridiculously high amount of money but still don’t even close to breaking even like Tron Legacy or what not.

    Nonetheless, it’s a great read, Ted. King Arthur is about as bland as it gets. Haven’t seen the others although I’m intrigued by The Alamo one. But yea, Dennis Quaid… blah

    1. Ted S.

      You know I should’ve rename the title to something else. The goal of the article was say that these films had high expectations when they were announced but after the film is finished, the studio didn’t bother promoting it at all. Tron: Legacy on the other hand, Disney spent quite a bit of money promoting it but it still didn’t make enough to justify the $250 to $300mil they spent the huge ad campaign.

      I can’t say I recommend you see any of them, maybe Red Planet, even though it came out in 2000, the special effects still looks pretty cool today.

  4. The problem with the five films featured above is that they are all terrible. The problem when you throw money at star actors and directors is that they phone in their performances and the film loses out because of it. There’s definitely that going on here. Red Planet was always going to be trash in my eyes – it just felt like a trend that had already passed away.

    1. Ted S.

      Yeah I agree about Red Planet, after Mission to Mars came out, no one was interest in seeing it. Of course Warner Bros. saw that too since they hardly spent any money promoting it.

  5. Hi, Ruth and company:

    Exellent, insightful reviews, Ruth!

    ‘The Alamo’ is a topic and historic event that really didn’t need another retelling. Not surprised that once negotiations stalled with Howard and company, the project spiraled and an inferior product emerged.

    ‘Red Planet’ is a fun watch. Even if it has a glossed over B-Movie feel to it. Especially with its Evil Mutant Robot Kitty on a rampage. Had a hard time wrapping my head around its All’s right with the World happy ending.

    ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ has been done well twice. Once by Don Siegel and once by Philip Kaufman. There was no need to revisit the film after Abel Ferrara’s abysmal ‘Body Snatchers’ back in 1993.

    Not a fan of badly executed revisionist history, no matter what size the budget. I sat through ‘1492: Conquest of Paradise’ to pay off a debt of honor and really wish I hadn’t.

    One can only imagine what would have been done to this interesting period piece if Michael Bay had actually directed ‘King Arthur’… No, wait! I believe it’s called the latest version of ‘The Three Musketeers’!

    1. Hello Jack, long time no see. I wish I could take the credit but this is my pal Ted’s post 🙂

      Out of all these, I’m curious about Red Planet as I quite like Val. I did see King Arthur, it’s not spectacular but it’s not terrible either. Like Ted said, Clive Owen is perfect in the lead role, brooding and bad ass 😀

    2. Ted S.

      Hi Jack,

      As always your comments are fun and detailed and I agree with you.

      LOL, yeah the new Three Musketeers does look like something Michael Bay would’ve done.

    1. Ted S.

      Yeah with the exception of 1492, each of those films were pretty a disaster before they hit the theaters because executives messed them all up.

      1492 was just badly directed by Scott, to me it felt like he just didn’t care to tell the story.

  6. interesting that Disney decided on the screen writer of Gladiator because they wanted historical accuracy, a film so historically inaccurate from the opening scene from what I’ve read.

    very much enjoyed the read Ted.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Toby.

      Yeah I don’t know if Disney executives wanted accuracy on King Arthur, I think they hired David Franzoni because Gladiator was a big hit and hope he could do the same with King Arthur. Unfortunately the script was a mess and Fuqua’s definitely not the right director this film.

      I read a lot of Marcus Aurelius’ books so yeah Gladiator was definitely not the most accurate portrayal of the man or history of the Roman Empire.

  7. The problem with The Alamo is that no one outside of Texas cares. I say that as a native Texan. It’s one of my personal favorite movies but the sprawling, slow nature of the film along with the subject matter in general (we love our Texas history but why should anyone else care, really?) makes it impossible to advise non-Texans to see it. Good list!

  8. Hmm, I must admit that I have not seen any of these. From some I saw the posters/covers, but those never made them look as appealing movies.

    Interesting to see how many changes can be made to movies based on what a studio thinks of a movie. It really makes you realise that there are many movies which really are not like the director/screenwriter intended.

    1. Ted S.

      I would bet my house that 80% to 90% of films that came out of Hollywood weren’t what the writers/directors intended. If your name is not Spielberg, Cameron, Nolan or Lucas, studio executives will likely want to make changes to your vision.

  9. I agree they could have been way better if there weren’t so many hand in the cookie jar. Seen them all and King Arthur was the only one I could sit through a little insterested. The rest were meh.

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