The differences between an initial film concept and how it looks on paper in comparison to the finished product can be quite dramatic indeed. A lot of movies when first announced by a studio that initially gets the fans on board with its original ideas have gone on to become spectacular failures both in box office gross and/or critical acclaim, simply because of unforeseen circumstances during production
Things like studio interference, budget constraints, creative differences and the MPAA are just a sample of what can affect that which we the theatre going public eventually get to see on the big screen. And throughout the history of cinema there have been many instances of when something that has had too many conflicting arguments or ideologies behind the scenes affected the quality of the movie overall. The result of these cinematic misfires can be summed up with one little sentence. Too many cooks will spoil the broth.
Even the likes of successful franchises like MARVEL are not immune to this phenomenon, with director Edgar Wright leaving the production of “Ant Man,” citing creative differences with the studio in regards to the director’s original vision for this comic book character. Even though he had been involved since its initial development phase in 2010. Five years of his life was dedicated to a film he never got to make. Nowadays, it is Disney’s new Han Solo Star Wars anthology film production that has our attention with the original director’s replaced with Ron Howard amid reports of sub-par acting.
So with that in mind we here at A Nightmare On Film Street present to you five films which had awesome concepts that on paper looked like would have been sure fire Oscar contenders and/or box office gold, but instead became a how to guide as to how not to make a movie.
1. Robocop 3
There have been many instances throughout the history of man in regards to a forced relocation of an indigenous populace. Star Trek has dedicated entire episodes to the subject. So the idea that Robocop would go against his creators upon the realization that his prime directives conflict with their ideology of how to run things is not only a plausible concept but a thought provoking one as well.
It raises the age old question, “who watches the watchers?” Who polices the police when it is they who are the criminals?” And who better for that than Robocop. An intriguing prospect with limitless possibilities and an interesting twist in the continuation of his story arc.
What We Got Instead – Not Frank Miller’s Robocop, Last Stand
Not many people outside the hardcore fans of pop culture are aware of Frank Miller’s involvement of in the Robocop series. But not only did he write the initial screenplay to the second sequel which ended up becoming the base for the final story, but he also returned for the follow up. His screenplay, Robocop: Last Stand, has gone on to become a series of graphic novels with a cult fan following.
But like many other sequels that fail to meet the expectations of its predecessor, this film was the result of unscrupulous producers looking to cash in on a growing franchise. With dollar signs in their eyes the movie was subjected to the limitations of a PG13 rating and was toned down to meet the growing children’s market. Therefore becoming a parody in of itself as that pretty much was what the original set out to satirize in the first place.
The resulting outcome had Frank Miller swear off Hollywood for over a decade until the release of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of his acclaimed graphic novel Sin City. Miller said in 2005. “Don’t be the writer. The director’s got the power. The screenplay is a fire hydrant, and there’s a row of dogs around the block waiting for it.” On top of Peter Weller absence and Nancy Allen only agreeing to reprise her role if she is killed off in the first act, resulted in a terrible box office return and subsequent cancellation of the movie franchise until it was given a reboot in 2014.
Although that didn’t stop the original producers to take one more shot at cashing in on this now pop culture icon.
2. Superman 4, The Quest for Peace
Concept – In order that Earth does not suffer the same fate as Krypton, Superman takes it upon himself to rid the world of all Nuclear Weapons.
The ramifications of the Man of Steel taking matters into his own hands against the will of the world’s governments would be far reaching indeed and story wise could literally have been endless, especially in the Cold War era of the 1980’s. And when you take into consideration that those nuclear weapons were actually preventing a descent into World War 3 at the time for fear of mutually assured destruction, makes it even more harrowing to think about.
Who would have been the bad guys in this scenario? The U.S. Government, the former Soviet Socialist Republic or would we have seen Superman himself become the villain in the eyes of humanity. Would Lex Luthor become a sort of anti-hero in the aftermath of such a momentous decision made by this so called Super Man?
What We Got Instead – Nuclear Man
In actual fact, the idea of a super villain spawned from excessive amounts of radiation and infused with Superman’s DNA is also a pretty cool concept. But along with the rest of movie was just executed horribly and was the inspiration and basis for this article. Although it should be noted that Christopher Reeve and the director did in fact have good intentions with this movie, but were significantly affected in their abilities to create something magical and thought provoking by a drastically reduced budget ($10 million compared to the first film’s $55 million), as the production company simply ran out of money.
The effect of which meant a hell of a lot of rewrites and improvisation on many of the special effects, resulting in a catastrophe of a movie that although was released 10 years after the first one, made it look far cheaper than its predecessor by comparison. And with the estimated 45 minutes of cuts made by the studio upon release even Jon Cryer who played Lex Luthors nephew Lenny in film, has stated in public that Cannon ultimately released an unfinished movie. The aftermath saw the Superman franchise put on hiatus for almost two decades until Bryan Singers’ Superman Returns. The Quest for Peace went on to win 2 Razzies and was voted in at number 40 on a list of ‘The 50 Worst Movies Ever’ by readers of Empire magazine.
However, in light of recent film releases featuring the Man of Steel, the one thing it does get right it gets is the character of Superman. And for those who follow the DC Extended Universe like its holy writ (pun intended), in “Batman v Superman,” Lex Luthor combines his DNA with Kryptonian DNA to create an unstoppable killing machine. Sound familiar?
3. Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan
The Friday the 13th horror franchise had pretty much run its course by the time 1989 came along. There is only so many ways you can tell the same story in the same location before it becomes stale. And although the producers began tinkering with the paranormal by giving Jason supernatural powers and having psychic leading ladies, this came off as more of an act of desperation to stay relevant rather than any type of continuity. What more could be done with this hulking menace with a psycho killer to reinvigorate a dying franchise?
Thus came the idea of transplanting Jason straight into one of the worlds most populated and iconic cities. Jason would leave the limited confines that was the Crystal Lake setting and run amok throughout the city of New York, most notably the island of Manhattan. A concept that could reboot the whole franchise. A change of style and direction the franchise desperately needed at the time.
What We Got Instead – Jason Takes a Cruise
Now granted, the original script did call for the majority of the action to take place inside the New York City limits, but as with many of the other films on this list suffered from major budget constraints with the studio unwilling to pay for filming in specific locations within the city, forcing the production to be moved to Vancouver and a massive rewrite that concluded with this abysmal chapter of the Friday the 13th saga.
The writer and director Rob Hedden has commented on this. “Okay, we’ll make Vancouver look like New York and we’ll do it that way. But they came back again with, ‘You can’t do the Brooklyn Bridge in Vancouver. You can’t do Madison Square Garden in Vancouver. You can’t do the Statue of Liberty in Vancouver.’ Pretty soon it was half New York, half on the boat. Then it was the last third in New York. It just kept getting whittled down and down.” This film became the lowest grossing chapter of the franchise and convinced Paramount that Jason was no longer a viable option and sold the rights to New line Cinema.
But it did give us this memorable scene….
4. Star Trek 5, The Final Frontier.
Science and religion have not been the greatest of companions on the road of human evolution. Many ideological battles exist in the modern world that has divided humanity like never before. The ongoing question that is faith vs fact has become an existential one among the masses in both fields of study and will most likely continue for generations.
When you add this concept to the Star Trek canon you could have a very thought provoking film indeed. The idea that religious extremists in the same vein as ISIS or Al-Qaeda would take over an all-powerful Starfleet vessel in an attempt to prove the existence of God can be quite nerve wracking to say the very least. And aside from all the rhetoric about religious persecution on both sides of the fence, what if they actually did find God? Like the rest of the films on this list the possibilities could have been endless.
What We Got Instead – Group Therapy And The Fan Dance.
Just like Superman 4, the film makers themselves had high hopes for the idea and good intentions for the finished product, although Gene Roddenberry had voiced concern and was not keen on tackling such a controversial issue. But like the Quest for Peace it suffered from budget cuts that forced the creators to rewrite the script in order to rein in costs. Even going as far as including recycled sound effects from films like Star Wars and 2010, as well as extensive use of the Wilhelm scream.
The production was also affected by the Writers Guild Strike of 1988 and shortly before the beginning of location shooting, Hollywood union truck drivers or teamsters also went on strike to protest pay cuts and overtime changes. After one of the production’s camera trucks exploded in the studio parking lot and the actions attributed to unsavory tactics by the union workers, the non-union drivers were forced to head up to Yosemite National Park under cover of darkness with a police escort.
With all of these problems in combination with contractual obligations that forced the studio to hire William Shatner as director and it is actually amazing that a film was produced at all. Star Trek V with all of its productions problems may not have had much of a chance anyway, regardless of what storyline they went with. It is a shame though that what could have been a profound and definitive moment within Star trek canon came off so poorly.
Although it did provide us with a classic Kirk moment….
5. The Happening
Now the idea of biological warfare is nothing new in Hollywood. But what made this M. Night. Shyamalan production such a fascinating and original concept when the teaser trailers first landed is how this alleged weaponized virus was affecting the general populace. People randomly committing suicide by the thousands with seemingly no control over their actions and no motives behind their decisions.
Was it a terrorist organization? Was it the United States Government or one of their allies initiating a false flag policy? Could it be Alien forces from outside of our world manipulating events in anticipation of an invasion? Or maybe eco-terrorism with environmentalists out to make a point. Let’s not forget all of those religious fanatics from all faiths, whether be Muslim, Christian or otherwise. Or was it just some industrial accident?
What We Got Instead – Marky Mark talking to plants.
Granted, it was the first act that pulled us all in mainly with the uncomfortable death scenes, but as the film progressed it became clear that it was the trees causing all of this devastation. Which by the third act essentially had Mark Wahlberg running from the wind. Forget about all our science in relation to our extensive knowledge on the various flora and fauna that envelops our planet, let’s give trees sentience and make them the bad guys.
This film is a failure on all levels from director to studio. Nothing more can really be added that has not already been said throughout internet land. With its bad acting, lame script and ridiculous final premise, The Happening has been classed as one of the worst films ever made and alongside Batman and Robin, Battlefield Earth and the remake of The Wickerman may also be one of the most ridiculed movies in history.
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 17% gave positive appraisals based on 168 reviews. The consensus reads “The Happening begins with promise, but unfortunately descends into an incoherent and unconvincing trifle.” It was nominated for four Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Picture, Worst Actor for Mark Wahlberg and Worst Director and Worst Screenplay for M. Night Shyamalan.