15 Blockbuster Movies That Have Not Aged Well
The world changed on a fundamental level in 1915 when D.W. Griffith directed the first ever feature film. The Birth of a Nation changed the world by showing how movies could tell stories, engage the emotions and take audiences on journeys to whole new places. It remains a seminal film today, albeit a little seen one, and for some very good reasons. Birth of a Nation portrays African-Americans (played by white actors in blackface) as beasts, the Ku Klux Klan as a team of heroes, and Jesus as a racist of sorts. Yes, really.
Still, in its day, Birth of a Nation became a massive hit and changed movies. The dated cultural elements—both narrative and technical—of Birth of a Nation don’t even begin to explain just how awful the movie looks in comparison to modern cinema. Scenes go on forever. The camera hardly moves. The performances are flat and affected. Indeed, the filmic conventions of Birth of a Nation look downright awful today. Other than illustrating just how much movies have evolved in 100 years, the film highlights another film phenomenon: blockbuster movies to which time is not kind. The films profiled here have all rusted with age. Once crowd pleasers, their flaws now show, rendering the movies mediocrities at best, and laughable at worst.
15. BATMAN FOREVER
Bat-fans today may shudder that Batman Forever, upon opening in 1995, had the biggest opening for a movie in history at the time. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman—a notoriously sullied name among comic book movie fans—has since touted the movie as a “reboot” of the Batman film series. That’s not exactly true, though the film did set a new tone for the franchise.
Following the somewhat mixed reception of Batman Returns, and the controversies over the film’s content and marketing to kids, Warner Bros. forsook Tim Burton directing a third movie in favor of Joel Schumacher. Schumacher, the efficient and effective director of The Lost Boys, A Time To Kill and Flatliners approached the movie more as pop art than drama. Batman Forever references the events of the previous films, while providing the Caped Crusader with plenty of neon and bright colors to “lighten” the mood.
Featuring then-burgeoning stars Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones, and up-and-comers Nicole Kidman and Chris O’Donnell, Batman Forever became a crowd pleaser, though today it looks cheap and plastic compared to the Burton movies. Schumacher and Goldsman pay little to no attention to the Bat-mythos, comic antecedents or psychology of the characters, while the garish color palate alludes to the disaster of Batman & Robin, which effectively killed the Batman franchise until Christopher Nolan brough it back from the dead in 2005 with Batman Begins.
14. THE FLINTSTONES
It seemed like a good idea at the time: hire popular actor John Goodman to star in a live-action adaptation of the enduring animated sitcom The Flintstones. Hire Steven Spielberg to produce, and bring the town of Bedrock to life with incredible art design and special effects. The creative team unfortunately forgot to add one key ingredient to their brew: a compelling story.
The Flintstones finds Fred Flintstone at the center of an embezzlement scandal that involves his employer, Slate Industries, a greedy executive and a talking prehistoric bird. Studio Universal touted the film as a big-budget kiddie comedy, as if children would understand corporate scheming.
The Flintstones did huge box office business back in 1994, though audiences quickly soured on the film. Remembered today more for its marketing blitz than its quality, the film would set negative precedents for future animation-to-live-action properties like Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear.
13. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND
Otherwise known as the X-Men movie that made the blood of fans curdle, X-Men: the Last Stand debuted to mixed reviews in 2006, along with impressive box office. Following the success of the much-beloved X2 in 2003, the X-Men had proven themselves box office darlings, and audiences couldn’t wait for another outing with the mutant team.
That is, of course, until they saw the movie. Back stage infighting caused Fox to greenlight the film over the objections of Bryan Singer, director of the first two installments. Fox fast tracked the movie to beat Singer’s other superhero project, Superman Returns, to the screen. Matthew Vaughn came on to direct during pre-production, only to depart shortly thereafter due to studio interference. Brett Ratner then came aboard to helm the hasty production.
While audiences in 2006 rushed to see X-Men: The Last Stand, the movie has since earned a reputation as one of the worst comic book movies ever—a movie which almost derailed the entire X-Men film franchise. The series would eventually recover thanks to Singer’s return, first as producer of X-Men: First Class and later, as director of Days of Future Past. The latter film, of course, went to great pains to erase the events of The Last Stand from continuity!
Ratner’s directorial career, by contrast, would take a nose dive after a series of expensive bombs and homophobic comments tarnished his name. He’s since found new life as a fine producer of movies like The Revenant and Electric Boogaloo.
12. CROCODILE DUNDEE
The American film industry has long dominated the cinematic market, though on occasion, foreign nations have made the cross over from foreign fare to mainstream American success. In 1986, Australia did just that, producing the runaway success Crocodile Dundee. The film starred an unknown Australian actor named Paul Hogan, who also took on scripting duties.
Crocodile Dundee has a simple plot—a beautiful female American reporter experiences the wilds of the Outback, falls for the titular rugged bushman, and brings him to New York for some fish-out-of-water highjinks. Dundee and the reporter confess their love for one another, and live happily ever after…at least until the first sequel two years later.
Crocodile Dundee nabbed good reviews and became a box-office smash, making Paul Hogan into a star. Hell, it even scored Hogan an Oscar nomination for the script! Since then, however, the film’s reputation—much like Hogan’s star—has fallen. Two stale sequels hurt the first film’s reputation, just as changing sensibilities have framed the movie’s humor as corny rather than clever.
11. TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES
If The Terminator made director James Cameron and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger into bonafide stars, Terminator 2: Judgment Day made the pair into a sensation. The second film in the series opened in 1991 to glowing reviews and hefty box office, becoming one of the most lauded films of the year. Groundbreaking effects won the movie several Oscars, and Cameron hinted at a third installment in the future.
The film that would become Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines had a troubled gestation period. The bankruptcy of Carolco Pictures slowed development, and more importantly, Cameron struggled to find a new story for a third film. He would eventually announce that he no longer had interest in a third Terminator, the series having come to an appropriate close with T2.
Hollywood, however, wouldn’t let Cameron’s disinterest stop development of the movie. With his box office standing on the wane, Schwarzenegger would eventually agree to do Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines for an enormous salary (nearly $30 million). The third film opened in 2003 to mixed-to-positive reviews and strong box office receipts, though it would quickly fade from memory. Several forgettable to abysmal Terminator sequels later, Terminator 3 gets lumped in as an also-ran rather than a touchstone classic like the first two films of the franchise.
10. JURASSIC PARK 3
Just how much more needed to be said about genetically modified dinosaurs run amok in theme parks after the first Jurassic Park delighted audiences? As it turns out, quite a bit, at least from the point of view of Universal Studios, which reaped the box office proceeds.
Jurassic Park 3 opened in 2001 and picked up on the story of the first two films, uniting original cast members Laura Dern and Sam Neil with a new cast of dino-bait. The story found Dr. Alan Grant venturing to Isla Sorna, an abandoned theme park island populated by dinosaurs. As anyone would expect, Grant and his compatriots run afoul with the species on the island, and total mayhem ensues.
Jurassic Park 3 scored some nasty reviews from critics, though audiences lusting for a creature feature rushed to cinemas. Though a box office success, the lukewarm reception from audiences foreshadowed just how forgotten the movie would become. Universal (hmm…there’s that name again) would wait more than a decade before reviving the franchise with Jurassic World, a film which managed to capture a massive box office haul, even if it didn’t quite recapture the magic of the original.
9. PLANET OF THE APES
Summer 2001 had some bad movies flooding the marketplace (see above). What seemed like good ideas at the time often proved to be monumentally forgettable films, as is the case with director Tim Burton’s reboot of Planet of the Apes. The film had long-labored in Development Hell, with names like James Cameron and Oliver Stone flirting with helming the movie. Burton’s pedigree in 2001 as director of such wild films as Batman and Sleepy Hollow suggested he would find a fresh take for the material. Make-up by the legendary Rick Baker and an all-star cast also heightened anticipation.
Then audiences saw the movie– an uneven, stiff affair populated with forgettable characters and an uninspired plot. The film scored mixed reviews, and while the movie did have a strong ticket sale take, Fox studios chose not to move ahead with a planned sequel. Tim Burton, for his part, has said he hated working on the film, which quickly slipped into obscurity. Today it remains forgotten, overshadowed by the legacy of the original 1968 film, and the better-received Rise of the Planet of the Apes reboot and its sequels.
8. SPACE JAM
Hoping to capitalize on some good old-fashioned ’90s nostalgia, Space Jam returns to theaters to celebrate its 20th anniversary on November 16. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not this flick is really worth the price of admission.
Granted, back in 1996, the sporting world’s answer to Who Framed Roger Rabbit made a whopping $230 million at the box office. The Looney Tunes gang had help from a number of NBA megastars, of course, including Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and the legendary Michael Jordan in drawing a crowd for a weird mashup of a movie that featured the former Chicago Bulls superstar joining forces with the Looney Tunes against an intergalactic theme park owner, played by Danny DeVito (always a good thing). Bill Murray gets in on the action as well, first as Jordan’s golf buddy, and later, as a player on the Loony Tunes basketball team.
Jordan had fun with his then-public image, having retired from basketball to play baseball, only to return to basketball again several years later. The comic talents of Murray and DeVito didn’t hurt either, and some fine special effects buoyed the film into a family hit. The soundtrack also became a runaway hit, and made a major star out of R. Kelly. Unfortunately, in a time where Jordan has retired and R. Kelly is better known for his off-stage legal issues, Space Jamplays like a relic rather than a classic. The theatrical rerelease of the film is intended, no doubt, to start early promotion of a sequel said to star LeBron James. It may not offer the kind of promotion the producers had in mind!
Credit Hannibal for at least assembling a creative team with enough talent and zeal to create a worthy successor to The Silence of the Lambs. Do not credit them, however, for making an enduring classic.
With each year that passes, the preciousness of The Silence of the Lambs becomes even more apparent. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster delivered treasures of performances, and Jonathan Demme’s direction creates some of the most tense and terrifying scenes ever to hit screens. In Hannibal, Hopkins returns in fine form, though the movie doesn’t provide him with the same kind of charm or relentless psychological cruelty that made him such a fascinating character. Julianne Moore proves herself a worthy successor to Foster, though the film also misses the haunted spirit that made Clarice so compelling. Director Ridley Scott goes for terror, but his efforts yield only grand guingol nastiness. Gary Oldman makes a welcome addition as the disfigured pedophile Mason Verger, and his scenes with Lecter have a crackling allure, though the pairing of Verger and Lecter illustrates the entire problem with the movie: it becomes a duel of the freaks, rather than a story of suspense, dramatic tension and psychological terror.
Hannibal may offer trashy fun trying to pose as art, though rather than continuing the tradition of horrific drama Silence of the Lambs began, it simply—pardon the phrase—cannibalizes it.
6. ROBIN HOOD PRINCE OF THIEVES
Why, oh why does Hollywood keep making movies about Robin Hood? Audiences have been sitting through tales of Robin, his Merry Men and the Sherriff of Nottingham almost since movies began, and apart from the odd innovation—animating the movie with animals, doing a musical parody—Hollywood never does anything new with the story.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves thought it had found a new way to present the legend: do a “realistic” medieval take on the story, cast a group of attractive, big-name stars, and add a whole lot of ugly violence. The result might have attracted audiences back in 1991, but today it plays more repulsive than entertaining.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves robs the popular story of the vast majority of its charm and fun, replacing it with dark themes of rape and torture. The Merry Men come across less a group of roguish do-gooders than a constipated Ren-Faire troop. Star Kevin Costner has none of the cocky humor or lust of adventure that makes Robin so beloved—not to mention his atrocious attempt at an English accent. Only Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham, laden with sarcasm and dry wit, lives up to the hype, and that’s because it’s like he’s in a different movie!
Audiences might have flocked to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves upon release. It did become the second highest grossing film of the year, after all. Today, however, the arrow doesn’t even come close to hitting the target.
5. VAN HELSING
Universal had a great run, essentially creating the horror movie genre, not to mention the first integrated cinematic universe with their Universal Monster films. Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy—all of them became some of the most iconic images in cinema. The series also helped sustain Universal for almost twenty years, keeping the studio profitable during years of the Great Depression and World War II.
The studio has tried several times to re-tap the Universal Monster series, but just can’t seem to find a take that resonates with audiences. The studio came close in 2004 with their blockbuster Van Helsing. Combining the talents of genre stars Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale under the direction of Stephen Sommers, Van Helsing reimagined the titular character and nemesis of Count Dracula as a mercenary monster hunter. Other than the Count himself, Frankenstein’s monster and some werewolves also got in on the action.
With a massive $160 million budget, Van Helsing promised spectacle as well as adventure. Negative reviews couldn’t stop the film from making $120 million in the US alone, though over time, the negative reputation would overtake audience interest. Relaunching the Universal Monster genre as an extended universe is a great idea, though accomplishing as much would require a director of both creative vision and technical polish. Unfortunately, Stephen Sommers (best known for the noisy, if successful, reboot of The Mummy) just wasn’t up to the job. A long-promised sequel to Van Helsing never materialized, and today, the film is little more than a footnote in a survey of summer hits.
4. THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
In the 1990s, it seemed like Disney Animation could do no wrong. The studio started on a high note with the blockbuster version of The Little Mermaid and followed up with Beauty and the Beast, which became the first animated feature to score an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Aladdin continued the studio’s commercial success, and The Lion King became a monster hit—the highest grossing animated film up to that time. As the decade dragged on, however, hopes expectations for Disney Animation remained impossibly high. Eventually, the studio’s ambition produced a project that was more hype than substance.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn’t exactly a bad movie. Indeed, it boasts a magnificent score by Alan Menkin, fine performances (led by Tom Hulce in the title role), and unsurprisingly gorgeous animation. Still, Victor Hugo, who wrote the original novel, had intended the work as an indictment of the hypocrisies of Christianity, and more specifically, the social order of his time. Needless to say, the thematic content didn’t lend itself to a family musical, and while the film does try to integrate more adult themes into the story, they don’t quite gel with bust out song and dance numbers or cute talking gargoyles.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame marked the beginning of Disney Animation’s gradual decline, as subsequent films—Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan—didn’t live up to the precedents of the early decade, nor did they match the box office totals. Today, The Hunchback of Notre Dame looks more like a cynical cash grab which chose the wrong work to mold to the Disney idiom.
Few movies have the hype and immediate success once enjoyed by James Cameron’s Avatar. The movie debuted in 2009 as Cameron’s long-anticipated directorial follow up to Titanic. Avatar boasted groundbreaking visual effects and 3-D technology, and would displace Titanic as the highest grossing movie in history. It also snagged nine Oscar nominations, including nods for Best Director and Best Picture. But only seven years later, casual observers wonder what all the fuss was about.
Backlash to the alien-environmentalist story of Avatar began almost immediately. Detractors derisively compared the movie to Ferngully and Dances with Wolves, accusing Cameron of ripping off the plot. The look of the picture received almost universal praise, though the characters seemed bland and stale by comparison. Audience interest waned as promised Avatar sequels and a Disney Theme Park attraction met with delay after delay.
And therein lies the biggest problem: for all it’s commercial success, Avatar failed to contribute anything to the pop culture zeitgeist; not one memorable character, one quotable line of dialogue or iconic scene. Though the movie may have seemed like a visionary masterwork upon release, today it plays like a Happy Meal toy: eye catching, but cheap, hollow and not very much fun.
2. TOP GUN
Pauline Kael once notoriously called the 1986 box office smash Top Gun a recruiting poster more concerned with being a poster than a movie. That’s not far off the mark.
The movie starred rising stars Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise in a decidedly ’80s military adventure about fighter pilots, and featured plenty of gorgeous southern California locations as well as impressive aerial stunts. Tony Scott directed the movie, though Hollywood today gives more credit to mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer for making the movie a popcorn success.
Top Gun might have seemed like a red-blooded, patriotic love letter to the Navy in the ’80s, but time has not been kind to the film. Today, the movie plays like a militaristic recruiting video (as Kael observed) with flat characters and plot twists that induce eye rolls. Extended scenes of Kilmer, Cruise and the rest of the recruits playing shirtless volleyball and dramatic locker room moments also make the film into a softcore, homoerotic soap, albeit an unintended one. What came off as an ode to conservatism and masculinity in the 1980s plays like a parody of one today.
Kevin Reynolds, director of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and star Kevin Costner struck again in 1995, though with a decidedly more ambitious premise. Waterworld took the same kind of post-apocalyptic scenario popularized by the Mad Max films and reset it to a world covered in water, thanks to global warming. Humanity now lives on man-made islands, boats and jet-skis, and has resorted to tribalism to survive.
Waterworld had one of the most notorious troubled productions in history, with an out of control budget, constant schedule delays and behind-the-scenes bickering all generating negative publicity. When the film finally did open, it met with decent box office receipts and mixed reviews, with even some of the film’s harshest critics claiming it was nowhere near as bad as expected. Time, however, has taken its toll on Waterworld, which—production history aside—plays like a bloated ’90s attempt to create a phenomenon out of a mediocre movie.
If the Hollywood press was unkind to Waterworld during production, time has been even crueler. What once at least had the aroma of success, today reeks of dead fish.