Sometimes, a screenplay comes out of Hollywood that is so original and exciting, its premise alone should be enough to get butts in seats. Occasionally, these high-concept hooks translate into fantastically entertaining pieces of art that not only live up to their premise, but surpass it.
However, not all screenplays are this lucky. Sometimes a great idea can become a forgettable film, despite the star power and behind-the-scenes talent that is thrown at it. We’ve chosen a handful of movies that had potential to be amazing based on their concept, but turned out to be forgettable at best. Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily bad movies; rather, they’re movies that had a brilliant, engaging hook, but for whatever reason, weren’t able to fully translate that hook into a classic film. Sometimes ideas are better on the page than they are on the screen.
For the purpose of this list, we avoided sequels and prequels, as those come with a set of expectations dealing with much more than just the plot. Now let’s dive in! Here are 15 Great Ideas That Became Forgettable Movies.
2008 was a key year in superhero filmmaking. Iron Man and The Dark Knight both changed the way we look at superhero movies. Another superhero movie was released that summer that had the potential to be just as game-changing and memorable. Hancock starred Will Smith as an alcoholic, selfish, lazy superhero. He was a superhero who was more interested in getting wasted and having fun with his powers than in saving mankind or defeating villains.
Hancock sounded like a breath of fresh air for the superhero genre, turning its tropes on their head and exciting fans of the genre with its complete disregard for following trends. While the film showed promise in its early scenes (the prison yard sequence hits the exact balance of darkness and hilarity), the film quickly devolved into a standard, uninspired summer blockbuster. The introduction of Charlize Theron’s superpowered character distracted from the hook of the film, and eventually forced it into being a melodramatic, dull affair. Fans would have to wait for Deadpool to be released in 2016 to be treated to the glory of a cocky, selfish, and hilarious superhero.
14. Repo Men
In the near future, artificial organs have been perfected, and they’re available to purchase for anyone in need of a transplant. The downside is that if you’re unable to keep up with your medical payments, the agency that sells the organs will send its repo men to track you down and personally take it back. And when the company’s top repo man starts falling behind on his artificial heart payments, his former partner must hunt him down.
With a storyline this inventive and original, you would expect a new sci-fi classic to be born. With elements of Blade Runner, Brazil, and Minority Report, Repo Men sounds like it could be a brilliantly satirical, darkly comic thriller of two badass mercenaries pitted against each other. Throw in Jude Law and Forest Whitaker as the titular repo men, and you’ve got what’s sure to be the sleeper hit of the summer.
Unfortunately, the film that was released was nowhere near as original and exciting as the storyline suggested. Bogged down by poor dialogue, questionable character motivations, and a baffling cop-out of an ending, Repo Men wound up destined for the bargain bin at the local grocery store.
13. The Loft
Five morally corrupt young men hatch a plan to cheat on their wives without being caught. They’ll pool their money to rent a beautiful loft in the city where they can indulge in adultery without fear of being discovered. The plan goes awry, however, when an unknown young woman is found murdered and chained to the bed in the loft that only they have access to. Suspicions and paranoia run rampant as the men realize one of them is not who he seems.
No, this isn’t the plot of an unproduced Alfred Hitchcock thriller. This is the storyline of the already forgotten 2014 film, The Loft, starring James Marsden and Karl Urban, though you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a discarded idea by the Master of Suspense. The premise is a brilliant modern day whodunnit, focusing on five untrustworthy, duplicitous men. Even the marketing campaign for the film evoked the Saul Bass designs of Hitchcock’s iconic film posters, such as Vertigo and North by Northwest.
12. The Ward
Ghost stories tend to follow a pretty simple premise: take likable people, put them in a scary location, and add ghosts. Scariness ensues. So when horror fans heard about The Ward, it sounded like a no-brainer. An institutionalized young woman (Amber Heard) begins seeing frightening apparitions of a woman in the psych ward of a mental hospital. In other words, this was a ghost story set within a psych ward! Add to this creepy premise the fact that this would be John Carpenter’s return to filmmaking after a long hiatus, and it sounded like we had a new horror classic on our hands.
Sadly, The Ward came and went with barely a “boo.” The film failed to mine terror out of its simple, spooky premise, and inspired more derisive chuckles than legitimate scares. The Ward underperformed at the box office, only making $1.2 million in its entire run. The film was quickly forgotten, and John Carpenter sadly hasn’t made another feature film since.
Buried is the perfect example of a film that can generate buzz and excitement just from its logline: A man is buried alive, and the entire film takes place inside the coffin with him. That concept alone inspires claustrophobia and thrills, as well as makes us wonder how the film could even be possible. Films have taken place entirely in confined spaces before (12 Angry Men, Lifeboat) but nothing this extreme had ever been attempted. Buried promised to be an unprecedented moviegoing experience.
While the film delivered on its promise to never leave the coffin, somehow it still managed to be underwhelming. Part of this can be attributed to the casting of Ryan Reynolds as the man who is buried alive. Reynolds is an undeniably charismatic performer, but he doesn’t quite have the range or dramatic chops to justify spending a full 90 minutes in a box with him. Few actors could pull that off. What could have been a historic cinematic achievement winds up being nothing more than an interesting filmmaking experiment.
Fanboys tells the story of a group of nerdy friends who concoct an elaborate heist to steal an early screener of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, so that their terminally ill friend can see it before he passes away. In the pantheon of great comedic film ideas, this is near the top. It’s the type of story that, as outrageous and insane as it is, sounds like it could actually have happened back in 1999.
Fanboys languished in post-production hell for several years, it’s release date continually being shuffled and pushed further back on the calendar. The Weinsteins ordered many reshoots, even up to a year and a half after initial filming had already been completed.
The end result left us with an uneven comedy that failed to deliver on the fantastic premise. Even great comedic actors like Jay Baruchel and Kristen Bell couldn’t save the sometimes lazy writing and uninspired jokes. From interviews, it sounds like this was a case of too much studio meddling, which is a shame, because this is too great a story to not be told.
9. Cowboys and Aliens
Cowboys! Aliens! Fighting! How could this go wrong? The premise is the perfect blend of silly and awesome. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, this movie had insanely high expectations going in. And honestly, all it had to do was deliver on the two things in the title. It was almost a guaranteed success.
Except it wasn’t. For a film about aliens squaring off against cowboys in the wild west, the movie is surprisingly dour and humorless. What should have been an exciting, ridiculous romp winds up being dull and painfully slow. The excessive CGI lacks any real weight, and the one dimensional characters fail to generate any sense of stakes for the audience. The greatest crime a film called Cowboys and Aliens can commit is fail to be fun.
8. The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain is a divisive film. The one thing that most everyone can agree on, however, is that the plot summary sounds like it has the potential to be life-changing. Taking place over the span of several centuries, a man (Hugh Jackman) searches for the secret to immortality so that he can save the woman he loves (Rachel Weisz) from death. Told in nonlinear fashion, the story jumps from the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century, to modern day, to deep space in the distant future, meditating on life, loss, and love.
The final product is less life-changing than head-scratching. The film clearly has ambition in spades, but it’s message becomes muddled through baffling set pieces and an almost defiant unwillingness to be coherent. This could be because it’s budget was slashed in half when Brad Pitt dropped out and was replaced with Hugh Jackman. Upon its release, audiences rejected the movie, and it was deemed an enormous flop. The film has found a small cult following in recent years, but the majority of moviegoers have gladly let it become lost in the annals of time.
7. In Time
Another science fiction thriller set in the near future, In Time had the potential to be incredible. Set in a world where time is the international currency, Justin Timberlake stars as a young man whose biological clock is almost up. In this world, people stop aging at 25, and if you want to live longer, you’ve got to gather as much time as you can.
Like Repo Men could have done with health care, In Time seemed like it had the potential to be a scathing commentary on the nature of wealth and the 1%, all while being a pulse-pounding action thriller. In Time succeeded in neither case, resulting in a confusing film overrun with cliches. The best sci-fi films analyze the present by looking at the future. In Time couldn’t fulfill the promise of it’s logline, and so its been left in the past.
6. 88 Minutes
Many filmmakers have attempted to make movies that take place in real time. Generally, the results are unsuccessful. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth both come to mind as cinematic experiments with time (and confined locations) that ultimately fail to deliver on thrills. One of the most recent and disappointing real-time efforts was Jon Avnet’s 88 Minutes. The premise is simple: a forensic psychiatrist (Al Pacino) is told that he has only 88 minutes to live before he will be murdered. The rest of the film plays out in real time, as he must race the clock to find his potential killer.
Like the other examples, 88 Minutes works only as a curious cinematic experiment, not as a cohesive film. Films taking place in real time face an inherent problem: manipulation of time is one of the greatest tools in a director’s arsenal. Filmmakers are able to contract and expand time to enhance the audience’s enjoyment of a film. They can generate suspense, skip over dull moments, and ultimately create an experience completely unlike real life. When you take away this ability to contract and expand time, we’re often left with cinematic curiosities, not engaging films. 88 Minutes is no exception.
Devil had the potential to be a horror masterpiece. The plot follows five strangers who get stuck in an elevator in Philadelphia. As tensions mount, paranoia runs rampant, and they begin to suspect that one of them could be Lucifer himself.
Based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan, Devil manages to generate some tension and a few spooky moments. But overall, the movie fails to make much of an impact, which is a shame, since the idea is simplistically brilliant. This is a movie that could have explored the nature of man, religion, faith, and paranoia, all while delivering Exorcist levels unholy terror. If a talented dialogue writer like Richard Linklater or even Quentin Tarantino had worked on this project, we could have really dug into the fascinating notion that the devil could be any of us. Unfortunately, the movie settled for minor scares and a too-neat ending.
Looper is a good movie that had the potential to be great. Centered on one of the most ingenious movie concepts of recent memory, Looper had massive expectations from film-buffs everywhere. Set in the near future, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a “looper,” a hitman who must eliminate the targets sent to him from crime bosses in the future, thus closing the loop, and making it so that the target never existed. Trouble arises however, when Levitt is sent his future self (Bruce Willis) to eliminate.
This is such a clever premise, it could take an entire series of films to fully explore the details and nuances of this universe. Unfortunately, Looper abandons this fascinating concept fairly early on, and instead becomes distracted by the far less original, less interesting concept of a young boy who has magical powers. The telekinetic storyline feels shoehorned into the film, and is arguably unnecessary. Looper still holds up as a good film, but it’s hard not to think about the classic that it could have been, had it stayed focused on its brilliant premise for the entire runtime.
Gamer has a clever, albeit silly premise. In the future, death row convicts are forced to engage in a first person shooter, where teenagers can control the convicts as if they were videogame characters. If a convict survives 30 sessions, he is set free.
Gamer sounds like the perfect summer popcorn movie. It’s a clever hook that allows you to turn your brain off and enjoy pounding action and awe-inspiring spectacle for 90 minutes. Unfortunately, Gamer couldn’t even deliver on that. The film holds a 28% “Rotten” rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Critics blasted the film, complaining that it lacked any memorable or inventive action sequences, and that it gets bogged down in its own convoluted plot. Nowadays, Gamer is remembered by few.
2. The Adjustment Bureau
What if you weren’t in charge of your life? This is the fascinating question behind The Adjustment Bureau. Matt Damon stars as a man who accidentally wanders off the path that has been laid down for him by a shadowy agency. The Adjustment Bureau descends, and attempts to manipulate and force him into following his preordained fate.
An extremely clever idea is more or less wasted on this standard, by-the-numbers thriller. The filmmakers introduce the idea of an agency quietly guiding everyone’s destiny, then do little to explore or play with that concept. Remember the scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise is guided through the mall by the clairvoyant Precog, narrowly avoiding the police? The Adjustment Bureau could have been an entire film of scenes like this, thrilling chases making clever use of the idea of predetermination. Alas, it was not to be.
1. Jupiter Ascending
A common complaint among filmgoers is that there aren’t enough original blockbuster movies being produced anymore. Everything is based on a book, or a comic, or is a sequel or a prequel. But in 2015, The Wachowskis promised us a wholly original sci-fi, fantasy epic, calling to mind Star Wars and Dune. The siblings had created an entire universes of aliens, monsters, villains and heroes, and their unique vision would explode onto movie screens across the country, igniting the country’s imagination and wonder.
Unfortunately, the Wachowski’s reach exceeded their grasp. The film that made it to the screen was a muddled, confusing, often unintentionally hilarious trainwreck of a film. The movie seemed to have so much to say, that it stumbled over itself again and again in trying to say it. Immediately, Jupiter Ascending seemed destined for bad movie greatness, owing in large part to the excessive camp, over-the-top performances, and Channing Tatum’s fox ears. The next great sci-fi epic is still yet to come.
Any potentially great but disappointing films we left off our list? Disagree with one of these films being forgettable? Let us know in the comments below!
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