It is no secret that modern day blockbusters have grown significantly in scale. Compare just the opening shots of the first and latest X-Men movies. Both directed by Bryan Singer, the 2000 original shows a frightened Magneto just testing his mutant abilities as he’s being ripped apart from his family in a concentration camp. By comparison, X-Men Apocalypse kicks off with crumbling pyramids, cryptic dialog, a mind-body transference, and an entire mutant power struggle. And that’s just the first five minutes.
The films of today have become louder, more aggressive, and bigger in every sense of the word. The reviews for Suicide Squad are in, and it seems that the newest comic book juggernaut has fallen into the same trap that has ensnared so many others in recent years. For a ragtag team of evildoers turned good guys, the narrative of Suicide Squad bit off more than it could chew. The DC team of antiheroes were given the remarkable task of saving the entire world, which in terms of storytelling and universe logic (we know Batman’s off recruiting, but come on, where is the Justice League?) doesn’t make much sense.
Sometimes it’s okay to tone down your movie’s scale. We don’t need to always see a huge climactic battle with skyscrapers tumbling over to grab our attention. A more confined plot means you can get better acquainted with the characters, and we’d take character building over mindless action any day. The next 15 films on this list crank it all the way up to 11 but don’t exactly benefit from their excessive mayhem. They are prime examples of what happens when you add too many characters, too many set pieces, too many explosions, and too many headaches. Here are 15 Films That Prove Bigger Isn’t Better.
For a movie based on the famous board game, 2012’s Battleship is a far cry away from its humble beginnings (not once does anyone say “You sunk my battleship!”). With a plot that features a fleet of ships duking it out with an armada of giant aquatic spaceships, Battleship is about as large scale as it gets. Written by the guys who gave us the surprisingly witty Red, Battleship is loud and annoying, and has its best actor (Liam Neeson) in a glorified cameo while its worst (Rhianna) in way too big a role.
This adventure story set on the high seas didn’t need to be an apocalyptic battle of epic proportions. Audiences would have been just fine on seeing a submarine film like The Hunt for Red October, not something more along the lines of Independence Day in the ocean. For all its flashy effects and giant alien ships, the most entertaining part of the film involves a gag with a chicken burrito. If only someone from the production company could have foresaw this. They could have saved a ton of money – and maybe even made some.
14. Transformers: Age of Extinction
Despite making enough money to support a small country, the Transformers franchise has been kicked around by critics and fans for years. It’s the series that moviegoers love to hate, with whole Youtube videos dedicated to bringing director Michael Bay down a peg or two. With the massive heaps of harsh criticism, you might start to feel bad for Bay. You might even start to think that his films are being unfairly judged. Then you actually sit down and watch them. You realize that the unrelenting backlash is well reserved, that this franchise is indeed bloated and incoherent, and that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the most bloated of them all.
Age of Extinction sacrifices all sense of storytelling in favor of dull, uninspired action sequences and set pieces. In fact, you could walk away from this movie still unsure of what the plot really entailed or why it was important. Character motivations take a back seat to gratuitous giant robot fights, which may have been awe-inspiring in the first movie but by this point have lost their luster. Bay takes the formula from the original and makes everything louder and larger with no sense of direction or worth in Extinction, which makes us all the more nervous to see how the The Last Knight will turn out.
13. The Hobbit Trilogy
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy will certainly leave its mark on cinematic history. A complete realization from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, they are each visually stunning and narratively riveting. The same could not be said about Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy, which at the end of the day stretched a 330-page book into three separate movies when it wasn’t called for. Originally set to be just two movies, and even that was stretching it, the Hobbit gave us battle scenes which go on for far too long, new characters that offer little substance, and resolutions which test our patience.
While the massive scale in Lord of the Rings seemed unquestionably necessary, the Hobbit’s comes across as nothing more than overindulgent. An Unexpected Journey, Desolation of Smaug and especially Battle of the Five Armies each seem to throw in one exhaustive battle or derivative set piece after another. What should have started out as a simple tale chronicling how Bilbo gained the One Ring turned into off-rhythm collective united by its sloppy narrative.
12. Spider-Man 3
In 2004, Spider-Man 2 was crowned the best adaptation of the famous webslinger yet. It won praise from loyal comic book readers to film critics like Roger Ebert, and when a sequel was set for 2007 anticipation was at an all-time high. How could director Sam Raimi falter this magnificent franchise from the first two installments? By adding too much too quickly, that’s how. Spider-Man 2 gave us more heart with a good story. Spider-Man 3 gave us more villains, more useless subplots and far more emo Peter Parker than anyone wanted.
A wow factor can do wonders for a movie, but not when that wow factor is going in a hundred different directions at the same time. There is simply too much going on in Spider-Man 3 to form a cohesive whole. Yes, the action scenes are entertaining, but what good are dazzling effects when they aren’t backed up by a well written story? There are too many subplots in Spider-Man 3 to count, ranging from the Sandman’s complicated past, the tattered relationship between Peter and Harry, Eddie Brock’s revenge plot, and Peter and MJ’s strained romance. Granted, with everything going on you couldn’t say that the finale to Raimi’s trilogy is a dull affair, but it’s not much fun either.
11. Terminator Genisys
The first two Terminator films are nothing short of action classics. The first was dark and brooding, while the second was an adrenaline filled thrill-ride full of heart. James Cameron knew how to direct these movies to captivate the minds and imaginations of movie goers, while the newest addition, Terminator Genisys, knows how to string together a collage of uninspired shoot ‘em up sequences and not much else. Genisys relies on the nostalgia factor from the earlier movies with the only original contributions being a muddied plot and uninspired characters.
The biggest question still remains: did we really need a fifth Terminator film? After the lukewarm reception of Rise of the Machines and the messy production of Salvation, most were content with simply re-watching Cameron’s first two episodes. Director Alan Taylor gave us yet another sequel this past year which was jammed pack with so many time travel paradoxes and unanswered plot twists it made our heads spin. Making a plot of a movie harder to follow doesn’t make it better, just more confusing. And nothing’s more confusing than a movie that somehow misspelled the word “Genesis.”
While it’s not the epic disaster that some were predicting, the highly anticipated Ghostbusters reboot isn’t exactly the best movie of the year, either. Some would say that if a remake isn’t better than the original, then that remake has failed. You would be hard-pressed to call Ghostbusters a complete failure, but it certainly isn’t as captivating as its predecessor. The 1984 became the cultural phenomenon that it is thanks to the undisputed chemistry between the four leads. Yes, the special effects were huge for the time, but it was a rare example where the multimillion-dollar production didn’t outweigh the creative vision.
While there is undeniable chemistry between Kristen Wigg, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, the movie is bogged down by a disjointed third act. The ghostbusting team is seen blasting ghouls left and right through a series of through the air cartwheels that just doesn’t feel believable. Though the movie starts strong, there’s far too much going on in the third act, which unfortunately buckles under its own weight. While we ain’t afraid of no ghosts, we are afraid of a hypothetical (now unlikely) sequel that tries to cram even more in than this one.
9. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
On paper, a standalone Wolverine movie should have been amazing. A look into Wolverine’s early life, in particular his time with Team X, would have provided the perfect backdrop to dive into the character’s psyche like never before. We would finally have answers to the questions about his mysterious past, and why he suffers from a worse case of amnesia than Jason Bourne. We soon realized that those questions were better left unanswered as X-Men Origins: Wolverine turned out to be a jumbled production from start to finish.
Co-written by David Beinoff (yes, the same co-creator of Game of Thrones) the script to Origins is severely underdeveloped with far too much to flesh out for a two-hour movie. Multiple characters, including Gambit and a legendarily misused Deadpool, are tossed by the wayside with little to no justification to advance the plot. Instead they are thrown into a production which cares less about making a personal connection than it does showboating how big its budget was. What should have been a personal story about Wolverine was an over bloated and harsh disappointment. We’re hoping that the upcoming Wolverine 3 finally delivers on a great standalone film we should have gotten years ago.
8. The Lone Ranger
We all know the famous story of The Lone Ranger, and in 2013 Disney decided to capitalize on that brand awareness with their very own update of the 1950s masked hero and his Native American partner. In efforts to duplicate their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Johnny Depp aka Captain Jack Sparrow was cast in the role of Tonto, and an estimated $215,000,000 budget was thrown at the movie for good measure. Even after all of that, The Lone Ranger still couldn’t make half of its budget back, resulting in one of the worst financial bombs in history.
What should have been a fun summer romp turned into an uneven adventure with a vast array of digitally-assisted chase shootouts and explosions that did little to service the plot. At two and half hours The Lone Ranger takes far too long to get going by spending too much time on an origin story. By making everything bigger, The Lone Ranger is absent of any charm from the show. It’s an exhausting movie that well make you want to say “Hi-ho Silver, away!” halfway through watching.
7. Fantastic Four 2015
After four botched attempts of bringing this comic book troop to the big screen (yes, we’re counting the 1994 train wreck) we’re starting to think a good adaption is nearly impossible. For some reason, as cool as they are in the comics, the Fantastic Four can’t seem to get their film career off the ground. Last year marked the latest attempt with Josh Trank in the director’s chair and all sorts of young talent on the roster like Miles Teller, Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan.
Sadly, with all that talent at their disposal Fantastic Four still turned out a complete mess, and perhaps the most clustered one yet. The movie moves at such a clunky pace because every piece of dialog is bogged down with some form of exposition. Almost every other scene in this movie is meant to set up something up for an eventual sequel, so much so that the movie forgets to form a cohesive story on its own. Awesome and cool things are promised for the future, but thanks to the abysmal box office returns this generated, that future most likely will never come. If Marvel ever acquires the rights, let’s hope they give Mr. Fantastic and the gang the adaptation they deserve.
6. John Carter
Based on the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and with a budget of $250 million, John Carter is certainly ambitious in scope. In fact, it’s too ambitious for its own good. Despite its mega-budget this outer space epic never leaves orbit. The movie has everything from giant airship battles to alien gladiator matches, yet all of the dazzling visuals are reduced to sweet nothings. John Carter is filled with breathtaking special effects but they are sadly inhabited by characters and a story we barely care about.
Most of the blame should be placed at the writing and direction of Andrew Stanton. Though he wrote Pixar classics like Finding Nemo and Toy Story, here he resorts to a hodgepodge of thematic tropes that have already worn out their welcome in Hollywood. Ironic considering this is based on Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars” which was crafted over a hundred years ago and has influenced everyone from DC and Marvel to Star Wars. John Carter however won’t be considered an inch as influential ten years from now thanks to its overblown production that was too much to take in.
5. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Zack Snyder’s long awaited Batman V Superman hit theater earlier this year, and opened to huge box office results on opening weekend. Though it initially soared, the following weeks saw a huge drop off in audience attendance. Most would suspect that this decline was followed by negative word of mouth that while the titular matchup was fantastic, Batman v Superman suffered from a slew of other problems.
The titular fight that most moviegoers cared about was almost glossed over in favor of countless setups for the upcoming Justice League movie, and an overblown climactic battle with Doomsday. Snyder decided to go big or go home, but honestly we didn’t need a movie like this to go so big. What made the matchup between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight in the comics so good was that it was personal. You had a good sense of each character’s motivations. Snyder’s movie is filled with so many subplots and random scenes it’s hard to get a readout on a lot of characters. While the Ultimate Edition clears up some of these inconsistencies, it’s still far from a perfect film for how much it struggled to encompass.
4. A Good Day to Die Hard
John McTiernan’s 1988 classic Die Hard is one of the most popular action movies of all time. While that popularity spawned some promising sequels, each new installment seemed to dip in quality, and in 2013 the series hit an all-time low with A Good Day to Die Hard. Bruce Willis returns as NYPD’s John McClane, but this time he’s making a trip to Russia to free his son from a gang of thugs, and that’s about the extent of the plot. The rest of the movie only concerns itself with relentless action sequences that never allow the audience to catch their breath. A cavalcade of guns, helicopters, explosions and car chases flash across the screen in such rapid succession it’s near impossible to know what’s going on at any given time.
What’s worse is that John McClane is transformed here to a near indestructible killing machine, which totally contradicts the spirit of the original. In the first Die Hard he was an average NY cop that could get hurt and beat up. In A Good Day to Die Hard McClane is reduced to an invincible gun toting jerk who likes to shoot people for fun. Except it’s not fun, not in the slightest. When his character is told “not to make an even bigger mess of things,” by the film’s end, we find that almost impossible to do.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Making a story bigger doesn’t always mean you have a disaster on your hands; just look at Captain America: Civil War. We cared about the outcome in that movie because so much time was spent in developing the characters. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, decided to go a different route and simply cram as many villains, heroes, subplots and themes that it could into a two-and-a-half-hour movie. The result was not as successful.
Due to massive studio interference, director Mark Webb was forced to add a whole stable of new villains into the mix so they could each have their own spinoff movie. The result was chaotic, leading to a cartoonish Electro and a very forced Green Goblin. Say what you will about Spider-Man 3, but we ranked that film lower on this list because at least Sam Raimi spent enough time and effort to show us Harry Osborn’s motivations. Here they just seem rushed and unfocused, like a lot of other things in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Let’s hope that Marvel redeems the webslinger’s theatrical reputation with next year’s Homecoming.
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
There were certainly doubts among moviegoers when Disney released a feature length adaptation of one of their most famous theme park rides in 2003. To everyone’s surprise, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl turned out to be a bona fide hit, with five Academy Award nominations including one for Johnny Depp for his portrayal of the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow. Following its massive success Dead Man’s Chest quickly followed three years later, and while it was entertaining most critics agreed it wasn’t as strong as the first outing. Still, it wasn’t quite the mess that At World’s End turned out to be a mere year later.
With a runtime of 168 minutes, World’s End is a bloated voyage featuring a huge cast of ensemble characters and plot devices that just don’t come together. Whereas Curse of the Black Pearl was an entertaining thrill-ride which was essentially a ghost story, World’s End crams as much nonsensical gibberish as it can at the audience including a mythical Land of the Dead ,and a pirate that turns into a giant. It has no narrative throughline, and misses that emotional punch that made the first installment so good. At World’s End is so bombastic and jarring, not even Depp’s swashing buccaneer can save this overstuffed film from falling off the plank.
1. Independence Day: Resurgence
There’s probably nothing more revealing of the biggest problems in modern blockbusters than the comparisons between Independence Day and its recent sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence. More of a twisted necromancy than a revival, Resurgence turns into a zombie on autopilot while forgetting what made the original so full of life: the characters.
Sure, it was cool to see giant alien ships disintegrate the White House and blow up U.S. capitol buildings, but what good would that mayhem have been if we didn’t care about any of the people at risk of being blown up? Will Smith’s Captain Hiller, Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson, and Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore aren’t the most nuanced movie characters, but they did have enough charisma to make them instantly likable.
Resurgence is completely void of characters we care about, so when the shooting starts we’re not interested in the outcome. Every new character introduced is so bland and so rushed along we barely have any time to remember anyone’s faces. To compensate, director Roland Emmerich just decided to make everything bigger. There’s bigger guns, bigger battles, and far bigger spaceships adding up to one big disaster. It all amounts to a joyless ride that squanders what potential it had. “That’s definitely bigger than the last one,” Jeff Goldblum snidely remarks about an alien warship spanning half the planet. It certainly is, Mr. Goldblum; we’re just bummed this movie’s not half as good as the last one.