Nine Movies That Were Made Too Soon

Rambo III’s “brave mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan”
Some movies age like wine; others like milk. Often it can't be helped. As a filmmaker, you don't always have all the facts about your subject matter, not to mention your collaborators; those facts might only surface later, when it's too late. If the following nine films had allowed a little more time for the truth to come to light, they would have turned out differently. Some, in fact, wouldn't have been made at all. This list would be all too easy to write if it were #MeToo focused: All I'd have to do is name a bunch of movies by Bryan Singer or Luc Besson, or anything starring Kevin Spacey or Bill Cosby. I chose instead to cast a wider net, defining "too soon" in a variety of ways.
  1. Rambo III. I have complained elsewhere about the idiocy of this movie's title, but let's discuss the underdog rebels who come to Sylvester Stallone's rescue: Afghanistan's guerrilla fighters, the mujahideen. This was 1988, and the Soviet Union was still America's enemy. So the enemy of our enemy is our friend, right? But after the real-life mujahideen drove out the Soviets in 1989, their infighting led to civil war and then to takeover by the Taliban – itself founded by a former mujahid named Mohammed Omar. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden formed Al Qaeda in 1988, enlisting many of the mujahideen fighters that he had been funding. You know the rest. Thanks Rambo!
  2. Mission to Moscow. Naturally, before the USSR was our enemy, they were our ally. And among the propaganda churned out by Hollywood during World War II were at least three features that glamorized our Soviet friends. 1943's Mission to Moscow, produced by Warner Bros., directed by Michael Curtiz (fresh off Casablanca), and starring Walter Huston as an American ambassador sent to the titular city, is the most notorious. It's practically a love letter to Joseph Stalin, justifying his purge trials and other atrocities. America's two other notable pro-Soviet pictures were The North Star (also starring Huston) and Song of Russia. Both were box office hits; The North Star even received six Oscar nominations.
  3. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey. This feel-good documentary about Kevin Clash, the man behind Sesame Street's beloved Muppet "Elmo", came out in 2011. Clash himself came out the following year – after being accused of having had sexual relationships with teenage boys. He was forced to resign from Sesame Street, and although The Jim Henson Company would rehire him for more grownup projects, you can't watch Being Elmo now without feeling a little icky.
  4. Blade Runner. It's called the "Blade Runner Curse", and it refers to the real-world companies which, as suggested by their logos in 1982's Blade Runner, would still be huge in 2019, when the film takes place. Not only were the Atari, Pan Am, RCA, and Bell System brands all gone by 2019, they didn't even make it to 1992! If only the film's art department went for Apple, United Airlines, Sony, and AT&T instead.
  5. The Lady. All right, I'll include one Luc Besson film. It's "aged like milk" not because of the rape allegations against Besson, but because it's a gushing biography of Aung San Suu Kyi (played by Michelle Yeoh), the Burmese politician who was once the world's most famous political prisoner. She even won a Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest. The Lady, which came out in 2011, soon after her release, was Oscar bait that bombed. It's just as well, since the real Aung San Suu Kyi assumed power in Myanmar in 2016 and proved to be a heartless autocrat – in particular, turning a blind eye to her military's genocide of Rohingya Muslims. Most of her human rights awards have since been rescinded, though she still has her Nobel... and she is still in power.
  6. How Stella Got Her Groove Back. This 1998 hit was based on the novel by Terry McMillan, a dramatization of her own relationship with a Jamaican named Jonathan Plummer. (McMillan was 43 when they met; Plummer just 20.) Both novel and film celebrate the chemistry between a vivacious middle-aged woman and a handsome younger man. McMillan, in fact, married Plummer around the time Stella was released in theaters. It made for good publicity, but a few years later, Plummer came out as gay, McMillan divorced him, and now the May-September romance depicted in Stella feels rather doomed.
  7. The Elephant Man. This 1980 drama, directed by David Lynch, was partly based on a 1923 memoir by Dr. Frederick Treves (played by Anthony Hopkins), who treated the deformed Joseph Merrick, a.k.a. the "Elephant Man", in the 1880s. But Treves's memoir misnamed Merrick as "John" Merrick, and Ashley Montagu's 1971 book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity, the other basis for the film's script, perpetuated the error. And so poor Joseph Merrick, played by John Hurt in an Oscar-nominated performance, was called "John" in the film. That very year, Michael Howell and Peter Ford's book The True History of the Elephant Man corrected the misnomer, but The Elephant Man was already in the can.
  8. Peeping Tom. It was the project that derailed Michael Powell's brilliant career. Released in Britain on April 7th, 1960, Peeping Tom – Powell's unexpectedly twisted thriller about a serial killer who films his victims while murdering them – was previewed for English critics, who savaged it. It subsequently bombed, and Powell, despite a CV that included such classics as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, was effectively banished from the UK. It's said that Alfred Hitchcock, who was preparing to open Psycho just two months later, learned from Powell's mistake and chose not to screen his film for critics before its premiere. Psycho, of course, was a box office smash. The world can only wonder what might have happened had Psycho been released before Peeping Tom, which is now considered a classic.
  9. Hulk. When Hulk came out in 2003, Marvel was still years away from joining forces with Disney and establishing a unified "Cinematic Universe" under Kevin Feige. So different studios had the rights to Marvel's biggest superheroes – and different visions as well. As Sony and Fox had just scored with Spider-Man and X-Men, respectively, Universal Studios, who had the rights to The Hulk, figured it was time to greenlight the green giant. But with inconsistent director Ang Lee and untested star Eric Bana in the hot seat, the results were a mess. And while it was 2005's Batman Begins which begot "reboot" as a cinematic term, the joyless Hulk was such a nonstarter that Universal gave it a peppier reboot just five years later. (That reboot, The Incredible Hulk, was a nonstarter in its own right; Ed Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for Disney's Avengers-related films, even as Universal retained the rights for solo Hulk outings.)