6. The Postman (Kevin Costner, 1997)
Kevin Costner was one of the most successful superstars in Hollywood after a series of blockbuster hits and his Academy Award wins from his directorial masterpiece Dances with Wolves. His career took an unfortunate turn downwards when he ventured into the realm of science fiction and post-apocalyptic movies.
The first of these, which Costner only starred in, was Waterworld in which most of Earth’s land had been submerged by oceans and Costner has to fight off an evil Dennis Hopper who runs an oil-rig and terrorizes the struggling survivors. Inexplicably, following this commercial and critical failure, Costner decided to create yet another wasteland epic The Postman, this time directing as well as starring.
Instead of water, The Postman’s dystopian setting is more traditional, featuring locations that lack societal structure and technology. Costner plays an unnamed survivor who wanders the wasteland looking to trade Shakespearean soliloquies for food or water. After coming across an abandoned mail-car, the nomadic actor dresses himself in postman’s gear and arrives at a village pretending to be an agent of the newly reformed government and its postal system.
While this story angers the controlling ruler of the town, it inspires many of the town’s citizens who begin to develop a postal system of their own, connecting with other societies across the world and eventually rebuilding human civilization. While the plot itself did not cause the film’s downfall, the film’s pretentious execution and three hour runtime helped secure its five Razzie wins and Costner’s lasting downfall.
7. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 1999)
One of the most infamous and certainly most disappointing movies in cinematic history, George Lucas’s long awaited prequel to the first three monumental films in the Star Wars series, while still tremendously successful, transformed Lucas’s legacy from visionary genius to hack.
Due to the immense fanbase and popularity of the series, a Star Wars project of any kind will probably always be successful, and indeed, after the debacle of Episode I, Lucas’s next two films in the storyline still managed to draw hordes to theaters. The backlash from the severe drop in quality from the first trilogy to the new trilogy, however, made Lucas pass the directing job onto a new filmmaker for the 2015 entry in the franchise.
Had The Phantom Menace not been as anticipated or its franchise not been one of the most beloved of all time, it probably would have a much greater reputation today, because there are many good qualities. The special effects and design of the alien worlds are stunning, especially for their time. It also adds more quality actors to the cast, including Liam Neeson, Samuel Jackson and Ewan McGregor.
Unfortunately, the script and characters are dull and shallow, with the audience not able to grow connections to the heroes like they had done with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. It also features an alien named Jar Jar Binks who is one of the most annoying characters in any film ever. Although the film, and its two sequels, satisfactorily explained the premise for the superior trilogy, Lucas’s reputation was forever tarnished, especially in the fan communities, for the lack of delivering on such great potential.
8. Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004)
Oliver Stone was one of the most talked about and celebrated directors of the 1980s and 90s known for his edgy and topical focuses. With films like Wall Street and his politically charged Vietnam films like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, Stone proved himself as one of the most exciting filmmakers of his era.
As the 21st century approached, Stone’s films waned in both quality and popularity with mediocre projects like Any Given Sunday. His first true failure, however, didn’t come until 2004 when Stone ventured into the always risky genre of historical epic with this biopic of the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great.
Stone tells this leader’s story through a narrator Ptolemy, played by Anthony Hopkins, who walks the audience through the life of Alexander, played by Colin Farrell, focusing on his rise to power, his romantic relationships and complications and his battles.
By showing us episodes from various Alexander’s life, Stone tries to create a more human portrait of the ancient figure, highlighting his conflicted sexuality with his frequent lover Hephaistion, played by Jared Leto, and his wife Roxanne, played by Rosario Dawson. Upon its theatrical release, the film was not received well by critics, many saying that while the production quality was well done, the film was a mess.
Historians similarly were disappointed, many saying that much of Alexander’s personality was not consistent with history and that the film blew the homosexual aspect of his life out of proportion. While Stone’s more recent films have been slightly more promising, nothing since this epic dud has come close to the masterpieces of his youth.
9. The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004)
Saying that this film destroyed Mel Gibson’s career is a bit misleading, as the actor/director sabotaged himself to much greater heights with his unstable personal life. Still, this religiously charged retelling of the story of Jesus Christ’s trial under Pontius Pilate and subsequent torture and death.
While any film of this nature is bound to accrue some detractors, the nature in which Gibson told the story caused an uproar, prompting many today to call the film the most controversial movie of all time. Indeed, the brutal violence and torture depicted in the film is disturbing, and film critic Roger Ebert even said that he thought it should be given an NC-17 rating for its content.
The film tells a fairly accurate reconstruction of the final events of Jesus Christ’s life, staying close to the tellings of the Gospels as well as a few other choice texts regarding the events. Gibson, however, admittedly took some creative license with some of the scenes, not to change facts but to better convey the themes and messages of the Passion. Because the story that the film tells is so well known, the focus is instead on the pain that Jesus underwent which Gibson captures with beautiful but agonizing shots.
The film was a massive success commercially, maintaining a U.S. record for the highest grossing R-rated film. Critically it was more mixed, with some championing it as a masterpiece of art others maligning it. Viewers were similarly polarized, many criticizing the anti-Semitic nature of the plot.
When critics and audiences alike were unrelenting in criticizing the racism of the film, Gibson became very angry, resulting in a few breakdowns and moments when unfortunate things were said, significantly reducing his persona in the eyes of the public.
10. Lady in the Water (M. Night Shyamalan, 2006)
Perhaps the most definitive filmmaker for this list’s topic, M. Night Shyamalan’s profile rose in Hollywood as fast as any director’s had when his breakthrough film The Sixth Sense captured audiences attentions and earned numerous Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
He followed it up with another brilliant film, Unbreakable, and a handful of other decent films like Signs and The Village. It didn’t take long for people to notice, however, that all of Shyamalan’s films shared one distinct thing in common; they all featured twist endings that blew audiences minds. While the surprise factor was incredible in his first efforts, the more people noticed it the more ridiculous the twists seemed and it became more of a trope than a good plot.
While the first several films of Shyamalan’s career were, at the very least, compelling enough to make audiences care about the plot twist to come, Lady in the Water is significantly less engrossing. This fully-fledged fantasy tale stars Paul Giamatti as a handyman at an apartment building who discovers a mermaid-like creature named Story in the building’s pool.
Story, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, tells the handyman that she came to find an author who s going to write a very important book and she must protect him from an assassination. She further explains her backstory, complete with a lot of mythology that starts Giamatti’s character on a mysterious journey quest to save both the author and the mermaid.
As Shyamalan’s plot progresses it becomes even more muddled, throwing in creatures and characters that no one can, or cares to, keep track of. Following this bust, Shyamalan made three more maligned films that sunk his reputation deeper. Still, he has not stopped making movies and his latest film, The Visit, showed some promise suggesting that maybe the filmmaker can make a comeback.
Author Bio: Matthew Benbenek is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has a passion for film, music and literature and, when not watching movies, is an amateur director and violin player.