Nine “Oscar Bait” Films from 2013 That Bombed

The Fifth Estate

Behold: The Prestige Picture. Take an A-list director, cast A-list stars in challenging roles, center your story around a serious topic, and bring on the Academy Awards! But what happens when critical acclaim, audience adoration, and "Oscar buzz" fail to materialize? Ask these nine films from 2013, all of which must have sounded like frontrunners during production, but lost the magic on their way to the big screen.

    1. The Fifth Estate. Any discussion about 2013's cinematic disappointments starts and ends with this dramatization of the WikiLeaks saga. Despite its wide release and barrage of advertising, the film was a financial disaster, earning just $3.2 million off a production budget of $28 million. What was to blame? A weak script? Star Benedict Cumberbatch's overexposure in the media? The silliness of Cumberbatch sporting Julian Assange's white mane? Or the lack of interest in WikiLeaks?
    2. To the Wonder. It's probably unfair to call a Terrence Malick movie "Oscar bait": it seems like the reclusive, idiosyncratic director could hardly care less about awards. But even critics passionate about Malick's work were strangely dismissive of To the Wonder. Star Ben Affleck was riding high off of the Oscar success of his own film Argo when this film was released, but that didn't get any butts in seats. I still think To the Wonder will be reappraised in a few years and gain a following, but with less than $600,000 at the box office and few (if any) mentions in critics' year-end best lists, it sure ain't The Tree of Life.
    3. Diana. Oscar bait if ever there was one. Dependable nominee Naomi Watts was cast as the doomed British princess in this biopic, and months ago she was making the Best Actress short lists by prognosticators who had not yet seen the film. Upon its release, Diana dropped off the radar immediately, owing to bad reviews and a protagonist who is, perhaps, just not currently in vogue. It drummed up less than $350,000 in theaters and was written off as insipid twaddle.
    4. Great Expectations. Talk about a self-referential title! But hardly anyone noticed that yet another screen adaptation of the Dickens classic rolled into cinemas this year, and rolled right out. With no love from critics or audiences (box office haul: just over $250,000), even grand thespians like Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter couldn't salvage its fortunes. (Though it hasn't been released yet, Fiennes's self-directed Dickens biopic, The Invisible Woman, may soon be a contender for this list as well.)
    5. The Counselor. Hopes were sky high for this Ridley Scott-directed, Cormac McCarthy-penned drug drama, but McCarthy's grandiloquent dialogue and a few embarrassing moments for the cast (including an infamous scene in which Cameron Diaz has sex with the windshield of a car) turned The Counselor from an Oscar shoo-in into a laughingstock. It raked in $17 million theatrically, but considering its $25 million production budget and 3,000+ screen release, that still makes it a bomb. Runners-up in the "star-driven, tough-guy drama" stinker department: Gangster Squad, Only God Forgives, Oldboy, Out of the Furnace.
    6. The Company You Keep. Every once in a while, a prestige picture gets a halfhearted release early in the year; one suspects that its original intentions were to come out the preceding December in order to vie for Academy Awards, but the studio decided it just wasn't good enough to market as such, and thus they cut their losses and dumped it during spring's quiet spell. Robert Redford's The Company You Keep definitely won the title in 2013. Ignore star Shia LaBeouf (who may be box office poison at this point) and consider the Oscarrific supporting cast: Julie Christie! Susan Sarandon! Nick Nolte! Chris Cooper! And on and on. With middling ($5.1 million) receipts and reviews, The Company You Keep was in the right place at the wrong time.
    7. Parkland. Sometimes a movie comes around that makes you instinctively say, "Eh – I'll see it on Netflix." This period drama about the men who investigated the JFK assassination was such a movie, limping away with just $650,000 at the box office. With a cast including Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, and Marcia Gay Harden, it surely wanted to be so much more.
    8. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. It's still in theaters as I write this, and there continues to be meager buzz about Idris Elba's performance as Nelson Mandela. But despite (or because of?) the insane media coverage over Mandela's recent death, audiences are in no hurry to see the film, and critics have shrugged it off as strictly OK.
    9. Winnie Mandela. If the Nelson Mandela biopic is a bit of a wash, it's still leagues ahead of this instantly-forgotten Jennifer Hudson vehicle, with the unlikely pairing of Hudson as Winnie and Terrence Howard as Nelson. After sitting on the shelf for two years, it was barely released – to wretched reviews and a humiliating $80,000 gross. Winnie Mandela is the perfect example of good intentions not being enough to save a bad film.