There are some films that are able to capture the public imagination and become critically and commercially successful. Most of these films are among the esteemed classics of cinema that are discovered by each generation. Some, however, become absolutely detested and will not gain any sort of popularity beyond its initial time at the box office.
It is those films that I wish to focus on today. I have managed to isolate some of those films and will try to examine why they did not hold onto their popularity. In some cases, the filmmaker was simply a one hit wonder who used it all up. In other cases, the actual reasons were slightly more complex that that.
10) My Big Fat Greek Wedding- Nia Vardalos was a one hit wonder that does not seem to realize it. Her first film is among the highest grossing independent films of all time, and holds a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. Vardalos has never repeated the success, and, in fact, has become associated with the word “failure.” The problem here is obvious; Vardalos has only one joke in her repertoire and she told it once. Now she is doomed to repeat it. Even when she tried to capitalize on her one popular film (in the form of a sitcom entitled My Big Fat Greek Life) it failed horribly. These failures reflect back on the film; we now know what Vardalos is capable of. Seeing her waste everything on her first attempt does not become enjoyable, but rather heartbreaking.
9) Napoleon Dynamite- I am sure many remember the hype surrounding this film. It was incredibly popular, was meant to showcase two emerging talents (Jon Heder and Jared Hess) and was widely praised, earning a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (I do enjoy how Rotten Tomatoes describes it as “often funny,” as though this is some sort of compliment rather than a prerequisite for a comedy). Instead, Heder seems to be stuck playing supporting characters and Jared Hess’ other films have been largely ignored. Even this one, which was oft quoted when it was first released, now has a stigma that prevents anyone from doing so. This one is a tad more difficult to understand. I think it had something to do with the fact that the film could not be easily copied. Sadly, that is what audiences had come to expect. Understandably, Hess wanted to experiment with other genres. Perhaps he should have waited – maybe churned out another film like this one before trying to blindside everyone with a “Santos” parody. Careers and the public are fickle monsters – if you do not keep them happy, they will betray you.
8. The Greatest Show On Earth-A late Cecil B. DeMille film, this one is still held in some fairly high regard. Steven Spielberg has stated this was the first film he went to. It also won Best Picture over High Noon and The Quiet Man. The problem is that this does not translate into modern day success. Most consider it to be an embarrassment and among DeMille’s worst films. This one is a little more easy to examine; the film is not that good. It is wildly disjointed and does not know if it wants to be a documentary about circus life or a drama. What amazes me is that it was popular to begin with. At least it did not really tarnish DeMille’s reputation – he continued making classic epics.
7) The Sixth Sense-Whatever happened to M Night Shyamalan? He was, more than any other, considered the next great visionary and one of the few story tellers who could save late nineties Hollywood. His first major film was nominated for honest to God Oscars, despite being a horror film and thus something no member of AMPAS would be caught dead watching. Now, Shyamalan is constantly ridiculed (his latest film only has an 8% on Rotten Tomatoes) and his fans have been denouncing him in spades. This is because, like Nia Vardalos, Shyamalan has only one real talent, and he used it up. Now, he is still trying to remake kiddie television into his own image, to increasingly disastrous results. With that much failure, it is not a surprise that his one success has been called into question.
6) Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace-This remains, according to imdb, the eleventh highest grossing motion picture in history. It was greeted with enormous hype at its release, but now has become Exhibit A in the trial against George Lucas. Like The Greatest Show on Earth, it is easy to see why. The script was not the problem (Star Wars has never had good scripts. No, do not write to me to complain or deny this). The problem is that Lucas had no one who was able to tell him no. He wanted to make a convoluted mess that had very little to do with the universal themes that he had explored previously. Now it had more to do with an examination of geo political themes that had never existed anywhere. It is a problem that Lucas could not connect to his massive fan base. He tried to indulge himself in a property that had become far larger than himself. He did not solve this problem until Star Wars Episode III.
5) Around the World in 80 Days-No, I am not referring to the 2004 Disney version with Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan. That film was never critically acclaimed and almost bankrupted the studio. I am referring to the film that won “Best Picture” in 1957, apparently beating Giant and The Ten Commandments. Now, it frequently tops the list of “Worst Best Picture Winners,” (including here) due to the fact that audiences became used to the sort of epics that it displayed. It won in the 1950s, when big budgeted Hollywood epics were enjoying a resurgence. Some have lasted, some have not. Around the World in 80 Days was simply one that did not, because its 19th century view of world politics did not fare well in an age of globalization and a de-romanticized view of other nations. Those that lasted attempted to parallel current events (especially Lawrence of Arabia). This film did not and suffered for it.
4) Crash-And so we come to this; another gigantic Oscar winner that caused controversy and ended up being a stone on Paul Haggis’ back as he could not repeat the success. There is even a TV show on Starz that are trying to capitalize on it. It is doing fairly well, but is not up to any standards the film set. The problem is simple; it came out the same year as Brokeback Mountain and managed to steal a lot of its thunder. That film at least forced society to examine its treatment of homosexuality. By contrast, Crash examined items that we had already seen before in a way that was not new or insightful. It was controversial that it managed to receive as much acclaim as it did. The themes in the film have simply become dated; it’s as simple as that.
3) The Fast and the Furious-This was one of the really popular films of 2001. Do not give me that look. It was and launched a franchise as well as the career of Vin Diesel. Now, Vin Diesel is considered a joke and you are likely laughing at having to remember this.Again, the problem is a simple one. The film was not really created to be something that lasted. Its success was almost accidental. This was something in which the public simply became aware of their mistake. The themes of the film also did not carry over well beyond 2001. It made much more sense to discuss the traditional views of crime before 9/11 – now it seems quaint. The franchise has been greeted with diminishing returns (even after Vin Diesel came back) and it seems like it is pretty much over.
2) Independence Day-Maybe I am stretching with this one, as I did with Fast and the Furious. It was not really acclaimed (the film holds a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes) but was enormously popular with audiences and was mentioned time and time again during the 1996 Presidential campaign. Those who saw it liked it. Those who see it now are not impressed. This is just because the film is not as impressive as it once was. What was once a technological marvel now looks like ever other film released by Hollywood (I call this the Jurassic Park syndrome) it is forced to fall back on its strong characterization and its effective storytelling…oh wait. The film doesn’t really have that. When something is revolutionary, pretty soon everything will resemble it. And Independence Day now looks like everything that is aired on FX.
1) Titanic-Here we are, a film that was dated the second it was released on video. This was a film that overcame tremendous odds and was supposed to be the new classic that would define an era. It was, for twelve years, the highest grossing film in history. Frankly it still deserves that title – no one paid twenty dollars for their tickets. But how is the film remembered today. Not very well. Go read the reviews from when the film was originally released. Joe Chamberlain practically announces his intent to propose to the film. Does anyone still retain that same love for the film? Badmovies.org practically destroys it. A recent poll on imdb asked audiences if they were going to see it when it was rereleased. Most of the respondents said no, as they “did not enjoy the film when they first saw it.” Why is this? It is because the people involved have all gone on to do far better things with their careers (except Cameron) and show themselves as true artists. When that happened, people looked back at the film and realized the the true potential of the actors was not being used. People are far more interested in the peak. Of course there is an interest in the travels to the peak, but this was a case of audiences trying to create it themselves and later realizing their mistake. Perhaps the film’s rerelease in April 2012 will prove me wrong. Only time will tell.