There were a lot of great films in 2015. There were also a fair share of disappointing ones. Rather than just dump on the really bad ones, here’s a look at fifteen examples of films that dropped the ball whether by smashing expectations, adopting a poor release strategy, or in missing opportunities to deliver something special to audiences but instead made tragic missteps along the way.
Michael Mann is an electric filmmaker. When he releases a film it’s an event and his approach to filmmaking is in many ways a barometer for others in the film industry. His Heat changed the way gunfights are shot and edited. His Collateral was a lesson in the raw magic of digital filmmaking. His Manhunter may have been overshadowed by the success of The Silence of the Lambs but it remains one of the best onscreen personifications of Thomas Harris’s literary rogue’s gallery of characters. Blackhat is a pretty good movie, which is acceptable for many but when it comes to Michael Mann it’s damning praise. With a rising superstar in Chris Hemsworth and a topic that is an all-too-scary threat the filmmaker wasn’t able to deliver something on par with his legacy and resume. Coupled with an awful release date in the dreaded mid-January slot, Blackhat just simply didn’t do enough with its assets to warrant its existence.
The Wachowski siblings have fallen considerably from the lofty perch they “ascended” to with The Matrix. That goes without saying. With that in mind, Jupiter Ascending was their most ambitious effort since the 1999 Keanu Reeves masterpiece. With the red hot Channing Tatum in the lead, the reliable Mila Kunis next to him, and Eddie Redmayne riding high on his Oscar buzz for The Theory of Everything, it seemed the best possible project to elevate the duo back to the cutting edge of visionary filmmakers. After several release delays the film finally reached theaters under very little buzz at all. Adding to that was the sad truth that a new IP with tons of weird races and settings is more difficult for audiences to embrace in the modern franchise driven world. The result was a bold and oftentimes exhilarating movie packed with too many faults to stick.
Neill Blomkamp made one of the great science fictions of all time in District 9. His Elysium was a mixed bag but his talent is without question. Whenever he teases us with something great like Halo or Alien movie, the rug gets pulled out from under us. What we did get was Chappie. It’s not an awful film by any stretch but it also doesn’t move his career forward in the way that it could have. It’s a polarizing piece with some great character stuff and a very well-developed leading character but the ultimate takeaway can only be summed up as a disappointment. One has to wonder how many more “almost” films the director can have before exhausting all the goodwill he’s accumulated.
The director of Taken. Five great actors. A genre audiences repeatedly embrace. How could it all go wrong? Somehow it did, though The Gunman is actually not a bad little movie all things considered. It just came out amidst overload and indifference. Which is a shame because having the likes of Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Ray Winstone, and Idris Elba is an embarrassment of riches. As is often the case when a sensation hits everyone and their mother tried to make a film in the mold of Taken and its middle-aged action hero. It didn’t work for Pierce Brosnan with The November Man. It didn’t work for Kevin Costner with Three Days to Kill. And it didn’t work for Sean Penn here. That said, it’s not a bad late night cable watch so don’t believe the hate.
Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel, Charles Dance, and Paddy Considine is a cast to kill for. In a year of great ensemble casts that ranks right near the top. It’d take a Herculean effort to squander a cast like that. Mission accomplished. A film based on a book that caused waves usually has a built-in audience and with a cast like that it seems as if Child 44 was a “can’t miss” prospect. Sadly it falls flat on every level and in a year of very good Tom Hardy movies like The Drop and Mad Max: Fury Road, Child 44 is a bit of an abomination. See the excellent 80’s HBO movie Citizen X to see the story done right.
Here’s the ugly truth about Tomorrowland: It’s quite good. Somehow that’s not enough with the presence of the already legendary Brad Bird at the helm and George Clooney in a rare genre event film. Part of the problem was the “mystery box” nature of the movie with Disney keeping its cards close to the vest on what it was about and part of the problem is that a very 1980’s style of adventure film doesn’t have the wattage to appease a savvy modern audience. Had this film been released back then an entire generation would defend it as they do Gremlins and Back to the Future. Instead this film will be remembered as a failure even though it’s quite a charming endeavor.
Everest is a cautionary tale on movie release strategy just like The Walk, another very solid 2015 IMAX effort. The window to reach audiences and grab their movie ticket purchasing energy is very small unless a film has a tremendous amount of buzz. For a film about a harrowing true story people have seen or read about extensively it’s all about finding that golden light that appeals to audiences. This film tried a limited release on large screens and focused primarily on the presentation of the spectacle and realistic stunts rather than the amazing cast and human story at the core of Everest. It failed. While the spectacle is impressive and the large format presentation is effective, the movie isn’t as emotionally impactful as it strives to be. As a result it didn’t cross over despite and amazing cast giving it their all. The lesson here is that the material is king. As fancy as the presentation may be, it’s all about the merits of the story. It’s also odd to see what ought to be an awards season release coming out as counterprogramming in the Summer. Oops.
The Griswold family has endured for four decades even though a worthy installment in the series hasn’t happened for two of those decades. That’s a testimony to the enduring power of the original and the fact that sometimes comedy can install a level of audience commitment unlike any other genre. As a result the decision to revisit that family had better be an effective one or it could spell doom for the brand. With the presence of some truly excellent modern comedy superstars it seemed as if Vacation was a sure thing. It wasn’t. Oh boy it wasn’t.
Bridge of Spies
The immortal Steven Spielberg is not immune to bad marketing. Bridge of Spies should have been sold on three criteria and three criteria alone. Steven Spielberg behind the camera, the Coen Brothers behind the word processor, and Tom Hanks in front of the camera. Those three facts alone make Bridge of Spies unmissable for any fan of cinema. Instead the film was released amidst much more exciting options and given trailers that downplayed all of the film’s greatest assets. In reality the film is more of a soulmate to the great suspense movies of the 70’s and 80’s than anything modern and requires an audience with patience and sophistication. That’s a hard sell. The film was given the wrong release date, the wrong publicity, and its subtlety may have been just a little too subtle for anything other than a Christmas Day release date.
There aren’t many examples of time being kind to television shows release installments for theaters long after that show has fallen out of the spotlight. Entourage is one of those weird creations that has a large fan base even though the show routinely repeated mistakes. It’s not easy to succeed when the two leading characters are the least interesting in the bunch, but the real-life Hollywood access producer Mark Wahlberg brought to the proceedings had surprising legs. Entourage was always good for a smile but its legacy seemed directly rooted to the time and place it arrived. The feature version proved that. Even though the movie is no better or worse than an episode of the show it appears time has proven the victor once again when a property tries to recapture the zeitgeist that made it popular in the first place.
There’s a long-running theory that some of the Marvel films made by studios other than Marvel are simply made to allow the individual studios the right to keep making them without losing the license. There may be some truth in that but no one goes through the massive amount of work to create something so consuming as a film based on obligation alone. Fantastic Four is an hour of quite a good movie before losing its way during the crucial last half where the majority of the superhero action occurs. There’s plenty of ink devoted to director Josh Trank and controversies with the brass at the studio and stories of tweaks, reshoots, and rewrites. The honest truth is that those things are not negative elements in the filmmaking process. Oftentimes the best results come from reshoots, rewrites, and editing tweaks. All audiences ultimately have to work with is the finished product and in this case it’s an unfortunate mess. Really, how hard is it to give justice to one of the great comic book villains in Dr. Doom? The poor guys is 0-3 on the screen so far.
Fifty Shades of Grey
Here’s why Fifty Shades of Grey is on the list: It’s awful. With that said it’s a massive hit and there’s a sequel on the way and it’ll most likely be a massive hit. It’s still awful, and the real reason it’s on this list is that it’s an example of the most thin of concepts that has manipulated its audience in a way that’s quite frankly shocking. This is a product that began as Twilight fan fiction that somehow evolved into a softcore publishing sensation that somehow evolved into a film that made enough money to own a sports franchise or two. One one hand it’s the American Dream. Something was built from nothing and became a cash cow. You can’t fault that. But what does it say about us as an audience? That’s really why it’s on this list.
Run All Night
2015 is the year audiences finally tired of seeing Liam Neeson pounding butts over injustices brought upon his family. Probably a year too late in fact. Run All Night is another disposable action thriller that isn’t a terrible movie but one that reminds us why a diverse diet is important in one’s film ingestion. Overload can be a crushing thing, especially when the likes of Neeson and the always lovely Ed Harris are involved. Even Joel Kinnaman, star of the better-than-it-deserved-to-be Robocop remake deserves better. Another factor is in director Jaume Collett-Serra, the responsible for the surprisingly good Orphan and House of Wax. No one seems all that invested in the work and that’s just plain inexcusable.
Though none of the films have been hits, the return to screens after politics for Arnold Schwarzenegger has been filled with fun performances and entertaining results. Surprisingly, the Austrian action legend is one of very few bright spots in the latest film in the saga of men and machines. Such is the case for the unfortunately named Terminator Genisys. When series creator James Cameron spoke up in support of the film before its release it seemed audiences were being rewarded for their continued patronage. Nope. Despite the presence of Game of Thrones alumnus in the form of Emilia Clarke and director Alan Taylor the film makes a muddle of series continuity and to no great end. The biggest mistake was in giving the pivotal role in the film to Jai Courtney, who must have left all of his charisma on the set of Jack Reacher.
It’s not easy to make Quantum of Solace look like a classic, but Spectre pulls it off. Everything is just slightly off the mark here even though the cast is loaded with great names and it’s the first installment in the Daniel Craig run on the series to involve the legendary villain Blofeld. It just doesn’t connect emotionally as the fantastic Skyfall was able to. The action doesn’t pack a wallop, the interplay isn’t as sharp as normal, and even the title song was a bit of a dud. Possibly the fact that Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation had done such a marvelous job at mainstream spy action earlier in the year made the mistakes that much more glaring or maybe the fact the release date was force fed to the cast and crew without much time for rest played a part in the film’s failings. Or maybe it’s just time to move on to the next phase of 007.
Note: The opinions stated in this article are just that. Opinions. If one of these films is one you love then you have the author’s sympathy and applause for seeing something in it that he didn’t. Have a happy 2016!