Alex Proyas and Basil Iwanyk, the producers of Gods of Egypt, could be having a better month. First of all, Deadpool aside, February is the low point of the winter slump, the period where studios release films in which they have very little confidence… and here they are, releasing on the 27th. The $140 million-dollar blockbuster may have to fight just to make back its budget, if early ticket sales are any indication. Reviews have been bone-crushing, with the Rotten Tomatoes score flirting with single digits. And worst of all, not only is the film getting some controversy it doesn’t really want, but its director and stars have addressed its worst criticisms – the whitewashing of Egyptian characters by casting white actors to play them – and essentially said, “You know what? You’re right.”
Trashing your own movie, in jest or not, is a rare act in Hollywood. Even some of the most awful, awful films – or the worst financial failures – have directors who will defend them to this day. And good for them, if they really still believe. But a special few films have moved their directors to risk their public relations and the goodwill of the studio to say sorry, for one reason or another. Did Gods of Egypt bring more shame to its makers than any other film? Let’s count down the apologies and see how it stacks up.
Here are 12 Movies So Bad Their Directors Apologized For Them.
12. Frozen (2013)
Wait, Frozen? Biggest animated movie of all time Frozen? Why would any director see Frozen as anything but a sign of a life well-lived? Well, it makes more sense if you’re the parents of small children, and know that they’ll sing their favorites over and over and over and over and over and over. Jennifer Lee, who co-directed the film with Chris Buck, found social gatherings a little awkward a year or two after the film’s release.
“A year ago, I’d meet people who, when they found out who I was, they’d say, ‘Oh, we love the songs! We sing them all the time.’ Now they’re like, ‘Yep, we’re still listening to those songs’ [laughter]. I’ve gone from, ‘Thank you’ to ‘Sorry!'”
Penance Score: 2 out of 100 Hail Marys. Let’s face it, this is essentially apologizing for making a great musical movie that kids continue to love for years. If the rugrats have to sing something ad infinitum, better this than Barney.
11. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Steven Spielberg came down hard on Shia Labeouf for Labeouf’s own negative words about the film, but Spielberg himself was less than fulsome in his praise for the script:
“I sympathize with people who didn’t like the MacGuffin because I never liked the MacGuffin. George and I had big arguments about the MacGuffin. I didn’t want these things to be either aliens or inter-dimensional beings. But I am loyal to my best friend.”
It was Spielberg that came up with the moment where Indiana Jones escapes a nuke by hiding in a refrigerator – “That was my silly idea” – and when “nuked the fridge” started to replace “jumped the shark” in popular culture, he found himself proud of that.
Penance Score: 8 Hail Marys. Spielberg’s no idiot. He knows full well that Crystal Skull will never be as beloved as Raiders or Last Crusade. But even as he admits that, he’s largely upbeat about the job he did and can even see “nuking the fridge” as a kind of victory. It got into the language, didn’t it?
10. Hostel (2005)
Eli Roth took a lot of heat from Slovakia and the Czech Republic for his torture-porn thriller about a Slovak inn more dangerous than the Bates motel, but it was Iceland he felt like apologizing to, for the exaggerated Icelandic character Oli. By his own account:
“We had a premiere there and the Minister of Culture threw me a huge dinner, just me, Quentin, and Eythor, and I got to issue a formal apology to the Minister of Culture for ruining Icelandic culture, which he accepted. Then we met the president of Iceland and I asked him for a presidential pardon for ruining Iceland all over the world and he actually said, ‘Well, you know, your character is pretty accurate so I’ll give you the pardon.'”
Penance Score: 11 Hail Marys. There were no witnesses to this story, but whether Roth actually got a pardon or “don’t worry” from Icelandic politicians or not, he does seem sorry about the whole stereotyping thing. But not really that sorry. “Iceland said we’re okay, guys! And, uh, Slovakia could not be reached for comment! It’s cool!”
9. Fantastic Four (Fant4stic) (2015)
A nominee and strong contender for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Film of 2015, Fantastic Four managed to disappoint even the modest expectations created by the previous two movies and a general fatigue in superhero movies. It was an incoherent mess, seemingly two uninspired versions of the same movie intercut at random, and on the eve of its release, Josh Trank took to Twitter to offer a partial explanation and blame the studio:
“A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
Penance Score: 17 Hail Marys. This is a hard one to rank, because on the one hand, Trank basically admitted his movie was bad, and may have ended his own career in doing so – The Hollywood Reporter claimed the tweet may have cost its opening weekend as much as $10 million, and no one has heard of any Trank projects since. On the other hand, saying “if only I had found a way to protect my movie from those idiots at the studio” isn’t quite in the spirit of a “mea culpa.”
8. Mallrats (1995)
Kevin Smith took a moment in the 1996 Independent Spirit Awards to apologize for Mallrats, his second slacker epic. “I don’t know what I was thinking.” It was a well-timed apology, as Smith then had two films under his belt: the critically and commercially successful Clerks, and the not-really-either-of-those Mallrats.
While he still had enough indie cred to be speaking at the awards, critics were watching to see which of the two films would end up looking like the fluke, and this show of humility may have convinced some of them to give it another look. (His Chasing Amy won two Independent Spirit Awards the following year.)
Penance Score: 22 Hail Marys. Smith later claimed that he was joking, and perhaps he was, but the joke landed because it rang with truth and self-awareness. It’s just hard to see Smith making the same statement about Chasing Amy or Clerks.
7. Armageddon (1998)
“I will apologize for Armageddon, because we had to do the whole movie in 16 weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could. But the studio literally took the movie away from us. It was terrible. My visual effects supervisor had a nervous breakdown, so I had to be in charge of that. I called James Cameron and asked ‘What do you do when you’re doing all the effects yourself?'”
No, you’re not hallucinating – that is a quote from director Michael Bay, who has made some of the most, ahem, unapologetically blow-uppiest blockbusters of the last decade.
Penance Score: 23 Hail Marys. Several qualifiers here. Bay later claimed the remark was taken out of context and he never “apologized” for the film. Also, like Trank, even in his original comment, he shifted plenty of responsibility to the studio. Even so, this display of humility is rare, but not his only one: he also apologized for producing a film that showed footage of an actual plane crash in its advertising, and will cut the footage from the film itself.
6. Aloha (2015)
Emma Stone’s nearly unassailable popularity took a ding when she was cast as Allison Ng, the daughter of a half-Chinese, half-Hawaiian father and white mother. Director Cameron Crowe responded to the controversy with a well-reasoned, lengthy comment that balanced defense of his original idea for the character (a woman who looks white but deals with a blended heritage, “based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that”) and “a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice.”
Penance Score: 40 Hail Marys. While he did do some of the usual deflections – “you see, what I really meant was” and “one of my best friends is” – Crowe also did seem to really get the issue of whitewashing and the feelings of those moved to comment on the film, and while his thoughts don’t retroactively make Aloha a good movie, they do make us a lot more interested in Crowe’s next picture.
5. At Long Last Love (1975)
This homage to 1930s musicals was very poorly received upon its release, although director Peter Bogdanovich released a recut version for later consumption on television, which did much better. He also paid to take out a letter of apology in the newspapers, which simply has to be read to be believed:
“In order to suppress my enemies my work will continue to be from one end to the other, a succession of violent, audacious, unfathomable, and subversive wonders that will embrace more mystery, more poetry, more madness, more eroticism, torment, pathos, grandeur, and the cosmology of synthesis because there is no point in bothering to see films that are not sensational!
Thus in accordance with this manifesto of my imaginative autonomy, one could subsequently try to bankrupt systematically the logical meaning of all mechanisms of the rational, practical, and effete form emerging from the ‘new’ and ‘new new’ Hollywood who are nothing more than snotty apologists of youth, of revolution, undulation, fossilized excrements of preservation and those who support the collective and therefore opposed to the individual!”
Penance Score: 50 Hail Marys(??). “Sure, it’s awful,” Bogdanovich seems to say, “And all my films are going to be either awful or awesome – NO IN-BETWEENS, because in-between is COMPROMISE! Sometime awfulness is just THE PRICE OF ART!” We think that’s it, anyway.
4. Midnight Express (1978)
Oliver Stone was only the screenwriter for this one, not the director, but since he was considered the auteur behind it, we’ll make an exception. This Oscar-winning Turkish prison movie was based on a true story, and you know how untrue such movies can be. It is true that Billy Hayes was an American student who paid a serious price for trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey, and the movie follows the outline of his autobiography, but its portrayal of Turkish prison and the Turkish people were, as Stone put it 26 years later, “over-dramatized.”
Most notoriously, Hayes in the movie escapes prison by killing a guard preparing to rape him; in reality, Hayes was moved to another prison from which he conducted a daring escape in a sea storm, and never suffered any sexual violence.
Penance Score: 52 Hail Marys. Stone does add that “the reality of Turkish prisons at the time was also referred to … by various human rights associations,” but for Oliver Stone of JFK and Nixon, admitting to over-embellishing reality at any point is a pretty big accomplishment.
3. Batman & Robin (1997)
This film needs little introduction. Not only was it the low point in the film career of cinema’s most successful superhero, but it was very possibly the worst superhero movie ever made. All this despite a formidable cast of people who have done much better work elsewhere: George Clooney, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alicia Silverstone. Perhaps they were miscast, perhaps the studio didn’t know what it wanted, but Joel Schumacher blamed only himself.
“If there’s anybody watching this that, let’s say, loved Batman Forever and went into Batman and Robin with great anticipation – If I disappointed them in any way, then I really want to apologize, ’cause it wasn’t my intention. My intention was just to entertain them.”
Penance Score: 67 Hail Marys. Apparently there are people who loved Batman Forever, though they can be hard to find sometimes. But even those who hated it generally agree that Batman & Robin kind of makes it look good by comparison.
2. The Brown Bunny (2003)
Of all the apologies on this list, none are so emotional as what Vincent Gallo had to say about The Brown Bunny after its release in Cannes, a very personal film about a man grappling with guilty memories. It’s famous or notorious for an unsimulated scene of oral sex, but most critics simply felt it was boring. At Cannes, Gallo agreed, tears in his eyes:
“I accept what they say. It’s a disaster and a waste of time. It was never my intention to make a pretentious film, a self-indulgent film, a useless film, an unengaging film. I thought I had something beautiful that I could share with other people. I can only apologize to those who feel they have wasted their time.”
Penance Score: 89 Hail Marys. After Cannes, Gallo recut the film twice, defending the first cut against Roger Ebert’s continued criticism (in an entertaining war of words between them) and actually winning Ebert over with the second version. All this weighs against his apology somewhat, but it was sincere enough at the time, and he never retracted any statements about the Cannes cut.
1. Gods of Egypt (2016)
Aloha may have attracted controversy by casting lily-white Emma Stone as a figure with a complex background, but at least she was logically supposed to have that background and at least she was only one character in an otherwise fairly diverse picture.Gods of Egypt is a film about ancient Egyptians set in Egypt with a 0% Egyptian cast. While most directorial apologies embarrass or shift blame onto the studio, Alex Proyas stood united with Lionsgate Films in getting out in front of the issue.
“The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables,” read Proyas’s statement, “but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse. I sincerely apologize to those who are offended by the decisions we made.” Lionsgate added, “In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity, for which we sincerely apologize. Lionsgate is deeply committed to making films that reflect the diversity of our audiences. We have, can and will continue to do better.”
Penance Score: 94 Hail Marys. This apology emerged late last year, well before the picture was released and revealed that it had a lot of other sins to apologize for, but that’s neither her nor there, really. Proyas and Lionsgate took their medicine like grown-ups and both they and movies are better off for it.
Can you think of any other movies that you deserve an apology for having watched? Let us know in the comments!