Sunday, September 30, 2012

Consider the biggest flops of all time. So many are obscure. Like 2005's "Stealth" starring Jamie Foxx, who was coming off his Oscar for "Ray." It lost $111 million. It was a "Top Gun" knockoff, minus the box office.

They don't make Hollywood flops like they used to anymore. Ask Taylor Kitsch

Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012,
By Michael Heaton

The Plain Dealer The Plain Dealer

Considering how much forgettable celluloid comes out of the West Coast these days, it's a safe argument that Tinseltown has run out of creative juice.

In fact, you can take this argument further. Hollywood doesn't even know how to make a proper flop of a movie anymore.

Do you know what Hollywood leading man had the worst cinema summer in recent history?

Not Tom Cruise. Not Denzel Washington. Not Clint Eastwood.

His name is Taylor Kitsch.

Taylor who?

See what I mean? Kitsch had not just one summer bomb at the box office but three. Count 'em: "John Carter" "Battleship" and "Savages." Never heard of those movies either? More to my point. Together they made $185 million, which was like the cost of the food on the snacks table for the crew on "John Carter" alone. The movie "John Carter" lost $165 million.

Talk about box-office poison.

Kitsch -- whose sole resume boost was a terrific run on television's acclaimed "Friday Night Lights" -- had a toxic trifecta on the big screen. Only movie critics and a few astute readers of Entertainment Weekly ever heard about it.

To make a genuine flop, a bomb, a stinker, a train wreck, a debacle in the classic sense of the term, four things are required: big stars, high expectations, a big budget and a massive hemorrhaging of funds.

Consider the biggest flops of all time. So many are obscure. Like 2005's "Stealth" starring Jamie Foxx, who was coming off his Oscar for "Ray." It lost $111 million. It was a "Top Gun" knockoff, minus the box office.

Remember the 2008 "Speed Racer" starring Emile Hirsch? It was based on the animated Japanese cartoon of the 1960s. Did you know it lost $114 million?

"Mars Needs Moms" lost $140 million in 2011. If you don't remember that one, you're not alone.

Part of the problem is that Hollywood churns out so many movies now, if one doesn't catch fire on the first weekend it opens, it is replaced quickly with another. There's no time to anticipate the impending doom of a coming flop and enjoy the fiscal disaster once it crashes and burns. Big film disasters go largely unnoticed today.

Like "Sahara" in 2005, starring Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn? It lost $144 million. It's not that it failed. Who knew it opened?

Another problem is that movies are no longer cultural events the way they were in the 1970s and earlier when every other movie made a major statement about life, the world or society. The only people Hollywood makes movies for today are comic-book fans. Spike Lee said in an interview recently that he couldn't have made "Malcolm X" and Oliver Stone couldn't have made "JFK" today because neither wore tights and a cape.

But getting back to flops. Not only did baby boomers grow up in a time of great movies, they grew up at time when a huge flop was something to be enjoyed. They were grand examples of the folly of man.

The queen of all flops might be the 1963 epic "Cleopatra" starring Liz and Dick and a cast of thousands. It was that year's top-grossing film, raking in $26 million. It cost $44 million.

Michael Cimino's Western "Heaven's Gate" in 1980 was a long, ponderous product of a misguided ego. He had just come off the success of "The Deer Hunter" and was in love with his own genius. It also cost $44 million. It made a fraction of that back.

This isn't exactly ancient history, but the 1995 pirate movie "Cutthroat Island." starring Matthew Modine and Geena Davis and directed by Renny Harlin, is a flop many people still remember fondly. Cost $98 million. Grossed about $10 million. Yo ho ho and a bottle of flop. Don't blame the pirate theme. Johnny Depp did all right with it a few years later.

"Ishtar" is another proud member of the Movie Flop Hall of Fame. Starred Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. Cost about $55 million. Made $12 million. Director Elaine May and producer Beatty locked horns throughout the shoot, which took place in Morocco. Same place they shot "Sahara." Note to self: Never make a movie in Morocco.

So is it all over for our friend and thrice-flopper Kitsch? Don't worry about him. Heck, he's on the cover of Esquire magazine this month as one of Hollywood's hottest young hunks.

He has a charmed existence -- as well as a Teflon career.