The Most Self-Indulgent Movie Star Vanity Projects

Ben Falk
Contributor

To be a successful movie star, you’ve got to have a pretty big ego. But that can cause problems when the actor has a film they’re just desperate to make and they’ve managed to convince the moneymen to back them, purely to cater to their whim. Here are just some of those vanity projects – the results, unsurprisingly, are mixed.

John Travolta – ‘Battlefield Earth’

Any list of this kind would be remiss without Travolta’s grand faux pas which stunk up the box office in 2000. Adapted from Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard’s epic novel, Travolta stars as a dreadlocked alien who is on the receiving end of a human rebellion in the future. Or something.

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As an ardent Scientologist, the ‘Pulp Fiction’ actor tried for years to get it made, before convincing production company Franchise Pictures (whose business model relied on megastars doing their passion projects for minimal fees) to get on board. The sci-fi flick, which also features Barry Pepper and Forest Whitaker, cost a fortune and became one of Hollywood’s most notorious flops.

Bill Murray – ‘The Razor’s Edge’

Desperate to showcase his dramatic abilities, comedy genius Murray tried to get this adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s classic story off the ground to no avail. It was only when the studio making ‘Ghostbusters’ decided they wanted Murray as one of the leads that he had some leverage. He offered to play Peter Venkman if ‘The Razor’s Edge’ was financed as part of the deal.

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He filmed the latter in France, India and Switzerland before ‘Ghostbusters’, although it didn’t come out until afterwards, when it flopped. Disappointed, the actor ended up taking a four year break from Hollywood.

Martin Lawrence – ‘A Thin Line Between Love And Hate’

Much of Lawrence’s oeuvre is basically an exercise in self-indulgence, but this movie takes the cake. Lawrence’s name appears so many times on the credits, it’s almost as if no-one else helped make the film, which is a shame because it’s dreadful.

Starring the actor as a playboy who gets his comeuppance thanks to a woman he’s wronged, it’s difficult to know if it’s misogynistic, or an apology for chauvinism. Either way, even if you’re a Lawrence acolyte it’s almost unwatchable. If you’re not a fan, it’s cinematic torture.

Madonna/Guy Ritchie – ‘Swept Away’

In the mists of time, Guy Ritchie and Madonna were married. Unfortunately, as well as showing everybody how in love they were by drinking bitter in London pubs, they also decided to make a film.

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This is the result, a movie which took the worst elements of Madge’s acting capabilities and pulled the director out of his movie comfort zone to embarrassing effect. We’re more inclined to believe they did it just to have a nice beach holiday.

Steven Seagal – ‘On Deadly Ground’

When Seagal produced a film he thought worthy of awards, I doubt he was hoping for a Golden Raspberry. But the Razzie for Worst Director is what he got (the film was nominated for two others) – though Steve decided not to attend the ceremony to roundhouse kick the organizers in the face. ‘On Deadly Ground’ is Seagal’s ode to environmentalism and includes a super-long monologue from the man himself on why we should all take care of the planet. Which is valiant, kind of, but sounds mildly idiotic at the climax of an action movie. Other features include a clearly-phoning-it-in Michael Caine and a few seconds of early-career Billy Bob Thornton. This film is mainly included because Seagal’s entire filmography must surely be the self-indulgent vanity project of a movie god who enjoys watching hypocritical pony-tailed actors whisper badly-written threats to anonymous henchmen in Bulgaria.

Vincent Gallo – ‘The Brown Bunny’

There probably isn’t enough tape in the world to measure Gallo’s ego. After positive critical reception to his 1998 filmmaking debut ‘Buffalo ‘66’, Gallo thought long and hard (until 2003) to make his sophomore effort.

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The result is ‘Brown Bunny’ – most notable for co-star Chloe Sevigny performing an explicit sex act on her director and co-star, who was more than keen to show off his junk on-screen. Critics and audiences hated it, which shows that maybe sometimes an auteur shouldn’t be their own: actor, writer, editor, set designer, make-up artist, cinematographer, (deep breath), camera operator, costume designer, producer, production designer and set decorator. Delegate, Vince, delegate.

Warren Beatty – ‘Reds’

It’s difficult to argue with the result here, because ‘Reds’ was nominated for 12 Oscars and won three. But the sheer magnitude of the project was only possible due to the utter devotion of Beatty, who tortured his cast with dozens of takes and filmed forty times more footage than he needed for the finished product. Production took almost two years and the star had wanted to film it since 1966. Dealing with John Reed, a real-life radical journalist with Communist sympathies and someone Beatty strongly admired – this ambitious but cerebral epic clocked in at three hours and fifteen minutes. Phew.

Sylvester Stallone – ‘Paradise Alley’

Stallone did a Dennis Waterman with this 1978 misfire, singing the theme tune to the story of three Italian-American brothers who are involved in (shock twist) not boxing but wrestling! Much as we love Sly, his rendition is utterly hilarious. Should have got his singer brother Frank to do it.

Kevin Spacey – ‘Beyond The Sea’

The Oscar winner has long been a fan of the singer Bobby Darin, admitting to singing along to his songs from the age of 11. After getting the rights to Darin’s life in 2000, it took him four years to bring the story to screen as writer/director, also choosing to portray the crooner through many years of his life, despite the fact he died at the age of 37 and Spacey was already 45.

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The ‘American Beauty’ star pulled off the songs okay, but the reverence for his subject meant the film never truly got under Darin’s skin.

Kevin Costner – ‘The Postman’

Everyone thought that ‘Dances With Wolves’ would be a folly, but it won Costner Oscars. Then came ‘Waterworld’, which did actually make money. So it was third time unlucky for Kev, who pleased posties everywhere by making them heroic – unfortunately no-one else in the audience bought it, bringing the actor’s reign at the top of the box office to an end. On top of that, it’s almost three hours long, Costner’s kids are in it and he sings a duet over the end credits. And enough of those epic shots of yourself riding a horse. There’s only so many times you can paint yourself as a god-like saviour of mankind.

Tom Green – ‘Freddy Got Fingered’

Green is something of a lost cultural artifact these days, but at one point, he was a big comedy star who dated Drew Barrymore. With that fame, he chose to write, direct and star in ‘Freddy’ – a gross-out and often downright bizarre movie which offended people left, right and centre and essentially ruined Green’s Hollywood career. More recently, it has received some revisionist praise, mostly focusing on its unflinching approach and bombastic ambitions. But if a vanity project is the definition of one person’s unstinting, unilateral vision, then ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ may be it.

Honourable Mention

Tommy Wiseau – ‘The Room’

Yes, he’s not a movie star – unless you count being beloved by lots of bad film fans who flock to interactive screenings of the film. But we had to mention ‘The Room’ because it’s the pet project of the mysterious Wiseau, who paid for a billboard of his own face to hang over Sunset Boulevard for five years. No-one quite knows where the money came from, or what his intentions for the film were other than to showcase his non-existent talent for writing, acting and directing. But the film has grown its own cult, thanks to its, well, spectacular rubbishness If you haven’t seen it already, it’s worth a watch.

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