Hype. Buzz. Controversy. Publicity. All things that make you think about a film, talk about a film, and - the distributors hope - eventually go out and see the film. Every once in a while, though, that last bit doesn't happen, and the world is left with a movie that everybody knows about but has no interest in watching. Such as these nine bombs, in chronological order:
- Pretty Baby (1978). Louis Malle's dull drama about prostitutes in early 20th century New Orleans garnered infamy before its release due to a couple of nude scenes featuring a then-12-year-old Brooke Shields. Nobody wanted to be caught going to see "kiddy porn", and Pretty Baby made just $5.7 million. (All box office figures for this list are lifetime domestic totals taken from boxofficemojo.com.) The publicity worked out well for Shields, though, and she became a major celebrity.
- Heaven's Gate (1980). Movie buffs have always eaten up behind-the-scenes gossip, but Michael Cimino's legendary flop set a new standard in public knowledge of the business end of filmmaking. For perhaps the first time ever, ordinary people were discussing a film's price tag (Heaven's Gate's budget ballooned from $7.5 million to $44 million), which alone became the reason not to see Cimino's movie. It grossed just $3.4 million, bankrupted its studio, and brought the auteur-led cinema of the 1970s to a crashing halt.
- The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Martin Scorsese's film about the last few years of Jesus included a fantasy sequence where the big J.C., while on the cross, was tempted by the image of life as a normal man, including having sex with Mary Magdalene, which ruffled the feathers of many religious groups. The controversy scored the picture big bucks on its opening weekend, when it grossed a spectacular $44,579 per screen, but the furor quickly died down and it ultimately earned just $8.3 million. Compare this to the far gorier yet more Evangelical-friendly The Passion of the Christ's massive $370 million haul sixteen years later.
- Psycho (1998). Gus Van Sant's pointless shot-for-shot remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic had become a widespread joke long before it saw the light of day. And thus the $60 million-budgeted movie made just $21 million at the box office. That's $11 million less than what Hitchcock's original - which cost only $800,000 to make - earned way back in 1960!
- The Brown Bunny (2004). We now enter a period where pervasive online snark has become a fact of life for most budding cineastes. So thanks to furious critic/blogger Roger Ebert and countless tittering film geeks, Vincent Gallo's meandering indie movie became known only for its fellatio-filled finale months before its theatrical release. Millions of people seemingly knew about this film, yet it made a paltry $366,000 at the box office.
- Snakes on a Plane (2006). The online nerd community had, by 2006, gotten out of control, and even the mainstream media was convinced that the gang of loudmouths on Ain't It Cool News, et al, could turn a mediocre movie into a hit. Yet after months of ironic buzz over the hilariously literal-titled Snakes on a Plane, which drummed up so much noise that the producers even conducted reshoots so that Samuel L. Jackson would utter more fan-appeasing dialogue, the movie itself grossed just $34 million. Not bad for a goofy action picture budgeted at $33 million, but for a time many believed that its box office take would be astronomical.
- Hounddog (2008). Even before it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2007, Hounddog had a reputation as the "Dakota Fanning Rape Movie", for a scene in which the young actor's 12-year-old character is violated. It made for a lot of headlines, but gave distributors the heebie jeebies: the film wasn't theatrically released until over a year and a half later, making only $132,000.
- The Human Centipede (2010). As we are seeing over and over these days, a movie can now become famous simply by becoming a punchline on Facebook and Twitter. But "famous" doesn't translate into "watchable", so this horror cheapie about a German doctor who surgically fuses three poor saps' digestive systems together got a lot of press but grossed a microscopic $181,000.
- I'm Still Here (2010). Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix's mockumentary is "still here" in some theaters as I write this, but it's safe to say that it won't make much more than the $400,000 that it's limped to, despite over a year of press devoted to Phoenix's phony public meltdown, which was meant as fodder for the film. The joke's on you, guys.