When you work in the movie industry, you think it’s quite easy to spot a movie turkey from a long way out. Maybe it sounds like a shameless rip-off. Or maybe it’s remake of film that no-one asked for. Or maybe the plot just sounds total bobbins.
Sometimes though, these films defy expectations and turn out to be brilliant. We like to call that: the Phil Lord and Christopher Miller effect.
The two American filmmakers who wrote and directed the phenomenally successful ’21 Jump Street’ and ‘The LEGO Movie’ seem to have the golden touch when it comes to turning bad ideas into good ones right now.
In celebration of Lord and Miller’s achievement, here’s a look back on the films that should have been terrible, but were totally awesome.
‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’
Why it should have sucked: The ‘Apes’ franchise was dead and buried after the release of Tim Burton’s critically mauled reboot in 2001.
Why it was awesome: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s script took the ‘Apes’ story right back to the beginning, focusing on the rise of Caesar, the ape leader of ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’. It was grounded, it was real, and the special effects were spectacular. This summer’s sequel ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ was even better, cementing ‘Apes’ as one of Hollywood’s most innovative franchises, 46 years since the release of the first film.
See also: ‘Star Trek’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘X-Men: First Class’
‘The LEGO Movie’
Why it should have sucked: People expected a 90-minute-long commercial for the Danish toy firm.
Why it was awesome: Lord and Miller were given free reign by Warner Bros. and LEGO to be as playful and anarchic as they wanted to be. Their freewheeling approach to the subject that mashed up LEGO’s multiple licensed brands into one movie allowed Batman and Han Solo to cross paths, something every kid with LEGO does without even thinking. They realized that when you have LEGO anything is possible, and as it turned out, everything was awesome.
See also: ‘Transformers’
‘21 Jump Street’
Why it should have sucked: The series, which launched Johnny Depp’s acting career, was hardly a fondly remembered show; in fact, I’d wager most people in the UK hadn’t even heard of it before the film.
Why it was awesome: Lord and Miller again here. They took what was essentially an utterly daft concept for a TV show (cops go undercover at high schools to solve crimes) and sent it up mercilessly. With Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in the lead roles, this tongue-in-cheek comedy plays out like a rom-com between its two leads rather than a straight crime thriller, and it’s a laugh riot.
See also: ’22 Jump Street’, ‘Starsky and Hutch’
Why it should have sucked: Michael Mann’s crime show was so typically 80s a modern reboot could never work.
Why it was awesome: Although it received a lukewarm reception upon release, the big screen ‘Miami Vice’ is now being reappraised as an underappreciated action gem. Yes, it may not have had the dapper fashion and quick wit of its small-screen counterpart, but the Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx thriller had plenty else to offer, including some incredible set pieces, beautiful cinematography, and a tragic central love story that tugged at the heartstrings.
Why it should have sucked: Studio execs initially baulked at this Steven Soderbergh drama, inspired by Channing Tatum’s early stripping career. They asked: who would want to watch a two-hour movie about cheesy male strippers?
Why it was awesome: It turns out, a lot of people wanted to watch a two-hour movie about male strippers. In fact, there’s even a sequel ‘Magic Mike XXL’ currently in production at Warner Bros.
Channing Tatum is incredibly charming in the title role, playing a stripper with an entrepreneurial dream and rock hard abs, and although the plot may be fairly predictable, it was just so much fun, it proved to be irresistible to audiences.
See also: ‘Pitch Perfect’ – who would want to watch a film about competitive a cappella?
‘Dawn of the Dead’
Why it should have sucked: George A. Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is one of the best zombie films ever - period. A remake was not warranted, especially one with fast zombies.
Why it was awesome: Zack Snyder’s directorial debut was a slick reimagining of Romero’s original that arguably had more scares than most of the original ‘Dead’ films combined. Ok, so it may lack the biting satire on America consumerism that the original is fondly remembered for, but the 2004 remake (along with ‘Shaun of the Dead’) was a shot in the arm for the moribund horror genre.
See also: ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’, ‘The Fly’
‘Olympus Has Fallen’
Why it should have sucked: You wait years for a “White House Under Siege” movie to come along, and then two arrive at once. Everyone expected the flashier, more expensive ‘White House Down’ to wipe the floor with ‘Olympus Has Fallen’.
Why it was awesome: It may have lacked the star power of Sony’s ‘White House Down’, which boasted Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, but ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ had Gerard Butler and buckets of tongue-in-cheek fun. The White House invasion sequence was genuinely breathtaking and no one does gruff, head-stabbing brutality quite like ‘300’ star. Most crucially though, ‘Olympus’ beat ‘WHD’ to the cinema by months, so by the time it was finally released, audiences had “White House Under Siege” fatigue.
See also: ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’
‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans’
Why it should have sucked: Abel Ferrara’s 1992 neo-noir crime drama was hardly crying out for a remake, let one alone with a terrible new title and Nic Cage in the lead role.
Why it was awesome: Werner Herzog’s 2009 thriller is neither sequel, prequel, nor remake; it’s its own beast altogether and what a weird, hypnotic beast it is. Seriously, if you haven’t checked out Werner Herzog’s masterful 2009 reimagining you are missing out big time. It’s genuinely one the best films of the 21st century so far and it features one of the mercurial Cage’s most impressive performances in years. It also features lots of iguanas, Eva Mendes, and a sympathetic portrayal of life in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina.
See also: ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, ‘True Grit’
Why it should have sucked: Many films have tried to retell the Titanic story and failed, mainly due to the incredible costs involved with shooting at sea. Lew Grade famously remarked, “it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic” than make his film ‘Raise The Titanic’. James Cameron’s film was the most expensive ever made at the time and most expected a huge flop.
Why it was awesome: People should have trusted Cameron. His ‘Titanic’ was a sweeping epic with a tender love story that captured the hearts and minds of audiences around the world. The stunning visual effects were just the cherry on the top for the film that quickly became the most successful film of all time.
See also: ‘Avatar’
‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’
Why it should have sucked: A film based on a theme park ride you say? What sir, have you been smoking?
Why it was awesome: The short answer is Johnny Depp (no offence Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley et al). His hilarious portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow (a character purely fabricated for the movie lest we forget) captivated audiences young and old ensuring the film’s success. Production on a fifth film in the franchise is about to get underway and although the laws of diminishing returns have impacted the quality of the movies, Depp’s appeal as Sparrow has endured.
Are there any more films that defied your expectations that we missed? Let us know below
Image credits: Disney/Fox/Lionsgate/Entertainment Film/Universal Pictures