Many people have been talking about the downright-creepy Cats: a film whose initial appearances alone doomed from the very start. The first trailer for Cats received an overwhelming amount of dislikes on YouTube, with many criticizing the film’s poorly done and uncanny CGI. The movie already had an audience stacked against it, awaiting more reasons to criticize it.
Unfortunately, Cats gave them those reasons and then some. After much speculation, it indeed turned out to be an awful film — earning a measly 19% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and many scathing reviews. Chief film critic of The Daily Telegraph Robbie Collin described it as “…everything you’d hoped for and more: a mesmerisingly ugly fiasco that makes you feel like your brain is being eaten by a parasite. A viewing experience so stressful that it honestly brought on a migraine”, while Den of Geek referred to it as a “One of the weirdest and most garish monstrosities to be birthed out of the Hollywood studio system in this century.”
So what exactly went wrong? The film had all the makings of greatness: a talented cast, a generous budget, and seasoned director Tom Hooper helming the project. With movies like The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, and The Danish Girl under his belt, this movie seemed to be an assured success. Yet, it was a complete and total failure, only earning $2.6 million dollars on its opening day (despite the projected $15-20 million). Unfortunately, Cats is not the only film to be a horrible mess, with many other flicks earning their spot in movie history as total box-office bombs and critical failures — such as Mortal Engines, Cutthroat Island, and Dark Phoenix. All of these movies had the characteristics of success, with a fabulous cast and established creators behind them. So why do they do so poorly?
With Mortal Engines (2018), one of its main issues was the fact that it had an inexperienced director. Though Peter Jackson, iconic director of the Lord of the Rings franchise, was heavily advertised as a part of the film, he was only its producer and screenwriter. The real director was actually Christian Rivers, a storyboard artist and visual effects supervisor for Jackson whose only previous directorial experience was the short film Feeder. While Rivers is probably very talented and creative, having somebody so amateur direct a large, expensive film was an egregious error.
This brings us to the next issue with Mortal Engines: the impossible budget. Costing a whopping $150 million, the film had little chance of earning back all that money. To put it into perspective, Iron Man (2008) cost $140 million. While that’s not a major difference between the two, one of them was based off of an established and extremely popular franchise, while the other was hardly known to moviegoers.
Cutthroat Island came out 23 years before Mortal Engines, yet proved a similarly horrific financial failure. In fact, when adjusted with inflation, it once held the title of largest box-office bomb — losing a massive $173 million. Of course, this loss would then be surpassed by Mortal Engines, which wasted $175 million. Unlike its “competitor”, Cutthroat Island’s issues were caused by reckless management and several production problems.
There were many issues with finding a leading male due to Michael Douglas dropping the role at the last minute. Director Renny Harlin was so preoccupied with finding another actor that set construction and script work were done without his consultation. When Harlin didn’t like the outcome of those constructions, expensive rebuilding and rewriting occurred. Other issues included delayed shooting, the abrupt quitting of two dozen crew members, and broken pipes causing sewage to infect a large water tank used by the actors. The film’s catastrophic failure actually resulted in the general decline of Hollywood’s pirate movies, which wasn’t fixed until 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Finally, we come to Dark Phoenix — the most baffling failure of them all. Like Iron Man, this film was based off of an already successful franchise, had several critically acclaimed prequels before it, and an all-star cast. Yet, it earned a 23% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a $52 million loss. Similar to Mortal Engines, Dark Phoenix had a director with previous experience in other areas of film — but not so much in actual directing. This was the first film director Simon Kinberg had ever managed, having previously worked as a screenwriter and producer. He also wrote the script, which was plagued with its own issues. For example, the plot was originally going to be done through two films rather than one. However, the studio decided to change this late into pre-production and Kinberg struggled to make major changes for his script.
While these issues resulted in the movies plot and tonal issues, they didn’t necessarily cause its poor financial success. Plenty of critically-panned films have done well at the box office, particularly when they’re from established series. What caused Dark Phoenix’s financial loss was the Fox-Disney merger. Because of the merger, advertising for Dark Phoenix was heavily delayed and resulted in not enough people even knowing of the film’s release. Avengers: Endgame coming out two months earlier didn’t help either, causing many to focus on its release rather than that of Dark Phoenix.
The examples listed in this article all have a variety in story and plot, yet many exhibit the same mistakes during their creation. Though all had a recognizable cast and exciting plots, they were bogged down by extremely large budgets, production issues (such as accidents on set or script rewrites), poor advertising, and — most lethal of all — directors unfamiliar with making extremely expensive, CGI heavy films. Hopefully, future filmmakers will learn from these unfortunate mistakes and we as an audience will see less critical and financial failures like the ones listed here.