It's not just about being bad, it's about being disastrous.
A lot of bad movies come out every year. But not many are disasters. They either make money, were cheap to produce, or are loved by your friends which drives you insane and causes you fits.
Either way, bad movies are a time a dozen.
But what about the ones that suck so much they cause a black hole—the ones that ruined studios, cause long and storied careers to die painful deaths, and that stick with us for generations?
I have had a lot of time to sit and watch movies during the quarantine. And while I already talked about hidden gems, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the movies we can learn from...the ones you want to make sure your name is nowhere near.
What's the Most Disastrous Movie Ever Made?
There are so many factors when it comes to cinema. As I mentioned, budget and money, star power, and the legacy of a title all matter when it comes to disasters. You see, when I talk about a movie like Plan 9 From Outer Space, I think most can agree it was terrible, but it was independently financed and didn't do anything to harm Bela Lugosi's legacy.
The Room is similarly bad, but was it disastrous for those involved?
Not really. It inspired an Oscar-nominated movie and Tommy Wiseau is bigger than ever now.
When you want to dig deep, I think about Heaven's Gate, which might be a masterpiece...but it bankrupted a studio, ended Michael Cimino's career for a few years, and went down in history as a disastrous movie. So, it has to be in competition.
Another strong contender is Battlefield Earth. It was the movie based on a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The film was a long-time passion project for noted Scientologist John Travolta. The thing is, this movie is an incomprehensible mess. Which makes it a strong contender.
Furthering the disaster narrative, Battlefield Earth was turned down by almost every studio in Hollywood until Travolta found a backer in Franchise Pictures—never heard of them? That's because the combination of a poor box office return and the fallout from legal issues surrounding the means by which the film was financed led Franchise Pictures to file for bankruptcy in 2007.
The movie is so so so so so bad.
But can we beat this movie?
I can hear people yelling Cleopatra at me, so I must oblige.
That movie was given a budget of $44 million and adjusting for inflation the 1963 movie would cost around $330 million today. Things got so bad that Fox almost went bankrupt. At the time, news of infidelity between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made the set tense and caused many fights.
But at the time this movie was supposed to be expensive and epic, I mean, they planned on it running 6 hours!
What about movies today?
Something like John Carter might bomb, but it's made by Disney, who has so much money and content coming out it can afford to lose big bucks without real repercussions. And that movie is actually kind of fun when you watch it now. Not a terrible mess like some of these other titles.
I classify it next to things like The Lone Ranger, which failed but still had a lot to offer us.
I also really liked watching Cutthroat Island, even if it did ruin Carolco Pictures, which seemed to be crushing it with iconic movies such as the Rambo franchise, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Field of Dreams until this title bankrupted them.
I am a massive fan of James Brooks movies. And it kills me that the $120+ million budgeted How Do You Know is the last movie we've gotten from him. It's on Netflix now and worth revisiting if just to remember a time when stars earned a bucket of cash for rom-coms.
Also, there are notable animation titles here like Mars Needs Moms, which not only is a bad movie with a terrifying premise but grossed $39 million against a $150 million budget and caused ImageMovers Digital to dissolve despite having at least 4 projects in development. 450 people were let go!
As recently as 2018, Mortal Engines was a movie that was thought to spawn a new franchise, instead, it ended up losing nearly $175 million and received very poor reviews.
For me, I truly think the answer here is The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Moreau was directed by Richard Stanley, who got fired after a week...this was supposedly his dream job. But the nightmare was just beginning.,
This movie is completely batshit, and often atop lists of being the worst movie ever made. I actually don't even think it's fun to watch. First off. you have to endure a Brando so hammy and insane that everything he does makes you think about how tragic the end of his career was. I mean in 2004, critic Roger Ebert described The Island of Dr. Moreau as "perhaps [Brando's] worst film".
Second, you have to see Val Kilmer, a genuinely amazing actor in his prime, waste his talents on screen—and he apparently fought with everyone while making it.
Richard Stanley told The Telegraph, “The film went wrong because it turned into a corporate fiasco: it wasn’t just a case of Brando being mad.” He says, “Of course Val’s demands had a lot to do with it, but Val would have never acted up if the people around him hadn't kept saying yes to him. All he had to do was make a demand, and the company would give it to him. And the moment everyone else saw that he was getting away with it, they all thought it was worth a try.”
Supposedly continually butting heads with Kilmer was the new director, veteran John Frankenheimer, whose storied career only gave us 2 more movies after this mess. Again, his fighting with Kilmer seems strange because Brando was the one derailing set, but upon completion of Kilmer's final scene, Frankenheimer is reported to have said to the crew, "Now get that bastard off my set."
Not only was it expensive to make, but it barely broke even at the box office, thanks to international sales.
What do you think is the most disastrous movie ever made? Let me know in the comments.
Got a stinker I should check out? Tell me where I can stream it.