Nine Movies That Attempted to Cash in on Fads


The moment a fad achieves widespread popularity, someone in Hollywood says, "Let's make a movie about it! We'll rake in millions!" That someone is nearly always wrong. The thing is, it takes so much time to write, shoot, and edit a film – even a cheapie riding the coattails of a national craze – that by its release date, audiences are already over said craze. However, some of the following films, dumb and cynical as they were, still managed to earn a tidy sum.

  1. Breakin' (1984). Breakdancing's mainstream heyday really lasted just a year, from summer 1983 to summer 1984. Yet no fewer than four breakdance-themed movies came out at the tail end of that period. Breakin', released that May, was the most profitable, grossing $38 million on a budget of just over $1 million. June's Beat Street made $16 mil. September's Body Rock, starring Lorenzo Lamas, bombed with $1 mil. December's Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo wound up with $15 mil thanks to sequel value – and let's acknowledge that 7-month turnaround! – but it was clear that the country's fascination with breakdancing was fading fast.
  2. Lambada (1990). The two Breakin' movies were produced by '80s schlockmeisters Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. By 1990 the cousins were rivals, and when the lambada dance craze swept the world in mid-1989, each rushed out his own tie-in movie. Globus's Lambada opened on March 16, 1990 – the same date as Golan's The Forbidden Dance. By then the lambada was already played out, and both films flopped.
  3. Tilt (1979). Pinball machines have existed since the 1930s, but the 1970s marked the golden age of this arcade staple. With the Who's 1969 album Tommy doing much to popularize the game, its 1975 film adaptation was the first true "pinball movie". But this list is about those anxious producers who chased fleeting fads, and so I give you Tilt, a corny Brooke Shields vehicle released in 1979, just as the public was abandoning pinball for video games. (The following year, the even more obscure Pinball Summer was released in Canada. By the time the film hit the US, pinball was so passé that its Stateside distributors retitled it "Pick-Up Summer".)
  4. Singles (1992). Can a city be a fad? If we're talking about Seattle in the early 1990s, then yes. To be fair, Singles writer/director Cameron Crowe had relocated to Seattle long before Nirvana and Soundgarden put it on the cultural map. But make no mistake: Singles was made to capitalize on the then-hot grunge movement, and the town that became defined by it.
  5. Groove (2000). The underground rave scene was maturing into large-scale EDM festivals by the time independent filmmaker Greg Harrison got the funding to shoot Groove, his rave movie set in San Francisco. The film wasn't awful, but it was instantly dated, a glow stick-filled primer for squares. (Another 2000 indie, bluntly titled Rave, painted a darker, LA-centric picture.)
  6. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987). There's a strange pedigree to this movie, considered one of the worst ever made. In 1985, cartoonist Art Spiegelman, in the middle of writing his Pulitzer-winning, Holocaust-inspired comic Maus, invented the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards. It became a grossout hit with preteens and has been in print ever since. But its mid-'80s furor is what inspired Atlantic Entertainment, a production company with a wildly variable output, to join forces with the cards' publisher Topps to bankroll a $1 million live action adaptation. It failed, spectacularly.
  7. Roller Boogie (1979). This list would not be complete without at least one late '70s roller disco movie. In fact there were two: Skatetown, U.S.A. was the other 1979 title. Roller disco also factored into Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu, those quintessentially campy '70s films that unfortunately came out in 1980.
  8. Saturday Night Fever (1977). Did someone say disco? Before you react, let me say that Saturday Night Fever is a pinnacle of 1970s cinema, a film every bit as vital as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Dog Day Afternoon. But let's face it: it would have never been made if it weren't for discomania. That it turned out to be an excellent motion picture was practically an afterthought.
  9. The Emoji Movie (2017). We are now in an advanced age of film exploitation, where comic book, toy, and video game companies lock in their big-screen strategies years in advance (see: The Angry Birds Movie. Or, rather, don't). But emojis are more or less in the public domain, and thus The Emoji Movie, one of the worst theatrical films of 2017, was a true fad-casher-inner. In a rare instance, the fad has outlived the cash-in.