Workplace romances are a common occurrence, if not necessarily a good idea. Nowhere is this more evident than in Hollywood. When you put two ridiculously good-looking people together – sometimes naked – it’s not surprising when nature runs its course. This can mean the beginning of a long-term relationship, marriage, or at the very least a sexy tryst. Either way, canoodling co-stars can benefit the studio if the off-screen romance is fodder for the tabloids. This generates buzz and that can boost ticket sales.
A movie may bomb for a lot of reasons: bad writing, bad direction, bad acting, bad marketing or just because people simply don’t like it. There are times when a real couple starring in a film together results in movie magic, and other times not so much. Physical attraction doesn’t always translate on celluloid, and the pressure to deliver steaminess on command, because an audiences knows the leads in a movie are together when the cameras aren’t rolling, can end in disaster for the filmmaker and the relationship.
Here are 12 movies where pleasure didn’t make for either good business or a very good movie (or both).
12. Drew Barrymore and Justin Long in Going the Distance (2010)
Barrymore and Long had known each other for seven years before co-starring in the forgettable rom-com He’s Just Not That Into You (2009). Friendship blossomed into something more. They dated for a year, broke up, stayed “friends” and reunited romantically while filming Going the Distance in 2010.
Erin (Barrymore) and Garrett (Long) meet in NYC, but Erin’s headed back home to San Francisco in six weeks, so they agree to keep the relationship casual. As Erin readies to board her flight to the West Coast, they decide they’re crazy about each other and want to figure out a way to keep their love alive, even if it means doing it long distance. The couple faces the subsequent-and predictable-challenges: sexual frustration, conflicting schedules, trust issues and following misguided advice. It’s your typical boy meets girl, gets girl, loses girl formula.
Going the Distance has a talented supporting cast including: Christina Applegate, Jim Gaffigan, Charlie Day and Jason Sudekis. Long and Barrymore are cute together and share far better chemistry than Barrymore and Adam Sandler, who should have stopped their professional association after The Wedding Singer. But this movie fails to distinguish itself from the deluge of mundane romantic comedies that studios release every year. Never Been Kissed and Fever Pitch are better Barrymore outings with much more charismatic male leads (Michael Vartan, Jimmy Fallon).
11. Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck in Bounce (2000)
Bounce is a film about a slick, fast-talking ad executive named Buddy Amaral (Affleck) who falls in love with a widow, Abby Janello (Paltrow), whose husband, Greg (Tony Goldwyn) is killed in a plane crash. When filming began, Affleck and Paltrow’s romance had cooled, but they were on-again not long after the cameras started rolling.
Buddy, suffering from survivor’s guilt, goes into a tailspin, drinking his way right into rehab. It’s after he gets clean and sober that he seeks out Abby. He fails to mention his connection to her late husband, but all is revealed in a way the audience can see coming in the first 10 minutes of the film.
Going brunette and dressing like a dowdy school teacher does not a believable suburban mom make, and Affleck’s transformation from an insensitive womanizer to an earnest man of integrity – thanks to a convoluted sub-plot – conveniently gets him off the hook for his deception.
Miramax films dealt more in prestige than high returns at the box office. The studio used to go into award season with a cache of critically-acclaimed projects, but Bounce proved the exception to the rule.
10. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Days of Thunder (1989)
Tom Cruise has made many films where he plays a prototypical alpha-male whose ego gets in the way of him reaching his full potential. Days of Thunder relies on that formula. Cruise plays Cole Trickle, a race car driver who doesn’t know squat about cars or the intricacies of racing.
After sustaining injuries from a wreck, Cole meets Dr. Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman) who is initially neither a fan of Cole nor racing. She’s eventually won over by Cole’s limited charms and plays her part, along with veteran racer-turned-mentor Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall), in making Cole a better man.
The movie got pummeled by critics, and it only brought in $166 million worldwide – a disappointing intake, considering Cruise’s star power at the time. Cruise and Kidman’s next collaboration, Far and Away (1992), earned even less ($138 million). The couple’s third film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), earned a meager $22 million during its opening weekend, but remains their best-reviewed film.
9. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Cleopatra (1963)
On all accounts, Cleopatra should have been the Ishtar of its time. The movie was plagued with production problems, resulting in a shooting schedule that spanned on and off for over two years. Elizabeth Taylor, paid a record-breaking one million dollars, almost died from pneumonia during filming, and the whole thing was a logistical nightmare. The budget capped off at a whopping $65 million, also a record number.
This is one example of how the personal lives of the actors gave the movie a boost. The affair between Richard Burton (Mark Antony) and Taylor (Cleopatra) was scandalous. Taylor was married to actor Eddie Fisher at the time. When Cleopatra was finally released in 1963, people couldn’t wait to see it, and Cleopatra was the highest-grossing movie of that year. That wasn’t enough to fully recoup the losses 20th Century Fox incurred, and they unsuccessfully sued Taylor and Burton, alleging their exploits negatively affected the quality of the film.
Curiosity about the co-stars’ personal lives put butts in the seats – the two would go on to make 10 more films together – but critics weren’t impressed. Even Taylor considered Cleopatra to be one of her worst movies.
8. Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in Dream House (2011)
Daniel Craig plays an editor, Will Atenton, who quits his job in order to write a book and log more quality time with his beautiful wife, Abby (Rachel Weisz), and their two adorable daughters in their picturesque suburban home.
Prior to filming, Craig and Rachel Weisz had known each other for 20 years, even sharing the London stage at one time. Both were involved with other people when shooting began in Canada. Weisz was married to Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky, while Craig was engaged to an American producer. By the time Dream House wrapped, however, the two leads were in love.
If one positive thing can be said about Dream House, it would be that the movie is unpredictable. Plot twists come fast and furious, and Craig’s character goes from doting husband and father to a mentally deranged killer to grief-stricken hero over the course of 90 minutes. The movie suffers from a genre-identity crisis. Dream House takes bits and pieces from The Amityville Horror, The Shining, The Others and Ghost and mashes it together into one limp, supernatural thriller.
7. Penelope Cruz and Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky (2000)
Cruz and Cruise met on the set of this American remake of the Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes, 1997), directed by Alejandro Amenabár. There’s no evidence anything happened between them during filming, but Cruise must have caught a whiff of something he liked, because they hooked up just a few months after Cruise split from Nicole Kidman in 2001.
Cruz reprised her role from Open Your Eyes as the beautiful Sofia, Cameron Crow directed. Tom Cruise stepped in as the male lead, David Aames, a man whose idyllic life turns into a nightmare.
Vanilla Sky has an odd premise and a fractured timeline, making it hard to follow at times. Cameron Crowe is probably best known for writing and directing Say Anything, Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire, so making a sci-fi project was an odd choice for the wordsmith. Crowe has a gift for crafting complex love stores and memorable dialogue-conspicuously missing from Sky. He singlehandedly set the bar for romantic gestures unrealistically high for the average Joe after putting a boom box in the hands of a heartbroken John Cusack.
There is a romance of sorts between Sofia and David, but the viewer’s attention is pulled in too many directions to become emotionally invested in the couple. David is entitled, arrogant and handsome, until his friend with benefits, Julie (Cameron Diaz), goes full-on homicidal stalker and drives them off a bridge. Afterward, David isn’t quite so pretty, and what little personality he had prior to the accident goes down the tubes. A disfigured dude with a crappy attitude isn’t a likable protagonist or a believable Prince Charming.
6. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. in Scooby-Doo (2002)
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. found love while filming the horror hit I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). The movie is a mindless-but-entertaining update on the hook-hand killer urban legend.
Gellar and her husband paired up again in the big-screen adaptation of the popular animated series Scooby-Doo. The show chronicled the misadventures of a group of teenagers and a talking dog who solved crimes. Think a seriously stoned Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys high. The movie recreates the cartoon aesthetic well, but it’s not as clever as Disney and Pixar fare. Given the age of its supposed target audience and the source material, that’s an excusable offense.
The main problem, which is a doozy, is the plot. The members of Mystery Inc., including handsome Fred (Prinze) and the lovely Daphne (Gellar), head to Spooky Island, an oasis where the main attraction is a giant amusement park with a ghostly theme. For some unfathomable reason, the island is a hot spot for spring breakers. They show up horny and ready to party but leave sober and well-behaved college students. Try explaining that premise to a six or seven-year-old child.
5. Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland in Flatliners (1990)
Nelson Wright (Kiefer Sutherland), who hooked up with co-star Julia Roberts on set, and four of his medical school classmates: Joe (William Baldwin), Rachel (Roberts), Dave (Kevin Bacon) and Randy (Oliver Platt) conduct medical experiments where each member of the group dies or “flatlines” to determine if there’s an afterlife.
During their time flatlining, each of the characters revisit disturbing moments from their respective pasts. After being revived (some more easily than others), they continue to experience ongoing mental and emotional distress in the form of hallucinations, some violent in nature. Eventually, all five find redemption or resolution and go on with their lives. The takeaway from Flatliners is that if you’ve ever done anything remotely crappy in your life, it’s going to haunt you in the hereafter.
Reviews were mixed and tended to either convey extreme hatred or exalted praise, and the film grossed just under $62 million in the US. To put that number in perspective, another Roberts’ film from that year, Pretty Woman, earned roughly $178 million.
4. Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith in Automata (2014)
In Automata, a futuristic-dystopian mess, Earth has been decimated by “solar storms,” turning most of the planet into an uninhabitable radioactive desert. The population has been obliterated, and a meager 21 million people remain, living scattered throughout a few cities that make Newark, NJ look like Paris, France. Robots known as “Automatas” aid in keeping what’s left of humanity alive.
Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) is a disgruntled insurance investigator who works for the company that manufactures the Automatas. Vaucan discovers a “Biokernal” that enables robots to break the second protocol, a safety feature installed to prevent them from repairing themselves or other robots. Vaucan stumbles into a robot uprising of epic proportions, who want to go off and live as sentient beings, free from human control.
Melanie Griffith, married to Banderas for 19 years before divorcing in 2015, plays Dr. Dupré, whose expertise in robotics enables her to earn a living programming sexbots. After two brief scenes, Dupré is killed, but Griffith provides the voice for Cleo, a robot with whom Vaucan shares a bizarre emotional attachment.
3. Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony in El Cantante (2006)
Marc Anthony plays Salsa legend Héctor Lavoe in El Cantante, the story of Lavoe’s rise to worldwide fame, told from the perspective of Hector’s wife Puchi, played by Jennifer Lopez. Lopez and Anthony were friends for years and after the public debacle known as “Bennifer,” the two began dating and married in 2004.
Lavoe left Puerto Rico at the age of 16, moved to New York City and enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame, but like all great artists who are at the center of a biopic, Lavoe’s personal life was riddled with personal setbacks. Levoe struggled with depression and alcohol and drug abuse. His relationship with Puchi was both volatile and co-dependent. Lavoe contracted HIV, attempted suicide by jumping from a hotel balcony, failed in this endeavor only to succumb to AIDS five years later.
Unlike Ray and Walk the Line, El Cantante doesn’t dive too deeply into Lavoe’s personal demons, focusing more on the outcome than the root causes. Both Lopez and Anthony received mix reviews for their portrayals, although Lopez bore the brunt when it came to scathing criticisms. And despite working on the film as a consultant, Lavoe’s long-time friend and musical partner, Willie Cohon, thought the film failed to convey the professional obstacles Lavoe faced as a musical pioneer. It’s true that the music is overshadowed by the sadder and seedier aspects to the performer’s life. Other critics of El Cantante agreed the film painted a negative picture of the Latino community
2. Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend in Trapped (2002)
Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend began their nine-year love affair while playing married couple Karen and Dr. Will Jennings in the forgettable thriller Trapped. Will, a research physician, leaves town to attend a medical conference where he’s being honored for his ground-breaking work.
Not long after Will departs, a man, Joe Hickey (Kevin Bacon), enters Karen’s home and informs her that her daughter Abby (Dakota Fanning) has been kidnapped. Hickey is aided and abetted by his wife/punching bag, Cheryl (Courtney Love) and his dimwitted but kind-hearted cousin, Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vance). Bacon spends the night with Abby, waiting for the bank to open, Cheryl holds Will at gunpoint and Marvin babysits Abby.
More than a few unexpected obstacles pop up: Abby is asthmatic, Karen knows how to inflict serious damage with a scalpel, Will holds the patent on a paralytic that turns out to have promise as an interrogation tool. Karen and Will manage to divide the threesome, not an impressive feat, since Marvin and Cheryl aren’t fueled by the same anger as intensity as Hickey. His motivation is revealed, but the movie is no better or worse for it.
Karen, Will and Abby share very few scenes together, so their familial bond is superficial. Abby’s kidnapping is just an excuse for Karen to show off her excellent, yet unexplained, marksmanship skills and for Will turn into an action hero with the ability to land a small plane on a busy highway without managing to kill anyone. Bacon completely loses his mind as his foolproof plan falls apart and winds up screaming and ranting like a toddler having a tantrum.
1. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in By the Sea (2015)
Pitt and Jolie met while filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005). Paparazzi photos showed the twosome getting cozy on set, sparking rumors that Pitt was stepping out on his wife at the time, Jennifer Aniston. Pitt and Jolie denied any impropriety at first, but Jolie later admitted she and Pitt fell in love while making the movie.
Whereas Mr. and Mrs. Smith is filled with so much sex appeal, explosions and gunfire to ignite a decade-long romance, Jolie and Pitt’s second film, By the Sea, is so weighed down by uninspired melodrama, it sinks like a boulder dropped into the ocean.
The much-maligned Sea, also written and directed by Jolie, tells the story of a married couple, Roland and Vanessa, who travel to a small seaside town in a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, Jolie wrote the film in the wake of her mother’s death, and Jolie asserts Sea explores how the various characters process, and eventually overcome, grief.
Even if Jolie didn’t infuse one single element of her love affair with Pitt into her script, it’s hard to watch the beloved Brangelina tear each other to bits emotionally, and viewers can find it difficult to separate truth from fiction when an on-screen pairing is real.
Can you recall a movie starring a famous couple that turned out to be more of a miss than a hit? Leave a comment and tell us about it.