Often considered one of the worst films of all time, Battlefield Earth was released back in 2000 to scathing reviews, an abysmal box office performance, and a swirl of controversy surrounding its origins.
Since then, the film has become somewhat of a cult classic, strangely admired for how consistently bad every aspect of the movie turned out to be.
Battlefield Earth is based on the 1982 novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and it takes place 1,000 years in the future when the human race is on the verge of extinction thanks to an evil race of aliens known as Psychlos. Berry Pepper may play the human hero, Jonnie Goodboy, but it’s ultimately John Travolta’s show — as the actor suited up to play the grotesque nine-foot Psychlo known as Terl.
The film was immediately blasted by critics, who were in awe of how such a big-budget action movie could go so horribly wrong. Travolta ended up taking the brunt of the beating, as Battlefield Earth had been a passion project of his for nearly two decades.
But Battlefield Earth isn’t just your run-of-the-mill bad movie, as the behind-the-scenes controversy proved to be even more outlandish than the story on the screen.
Here are 15 Mind-Blowing Things Behind the Disastrous Battlefield Earth Movie.
15. Major studios wouldn’t touch the film
Scientology has been an extremely controversial organization, all the way from its inception to the recent outpouring of former Scientologists denouncing its manipulative practices. Therefore, it appeared as though no major studio wanted to embrace a movie based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard while also casting a prominent Scientologist as the film’s star.
In fact, John Travolta’s interest in adapting Battlefield Earth started back in the 1980s after Hubbard sent him a signed copy of the book. But it wouldn’t be until after Travolta’s career revitalization following Pulp Fiction that plans for a film even seemed plausible.
While Travolta tried to lure in larger studios, former head of 20th Century Fox, Bill Mechanic, even reported that Scientologists would approach him randomly and express their excitement over a Battlefield Earth film.
But the tactic was far from enticing, with Mechanic saying that he was seriously creeped out instead.
14. It won every Razzie it was nominated for
It’s usually a good thing when your movie cleans house during awards season. Unless, of course, the awards happen to be from the Golden Raspberries.
Battlefield Earth was nominated for a whopping seven Razzie awards the year after its release, including Worst Movie, Worst Director, Worst Actor, Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Supporting Actress, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Screen Couple.
The film ended up winning in every category, with only Forest Whitaker remaining unscathed for Worst Supporting Actor (but only because Barry Pepper won the award instead).
At the time, Battlefield Earth was tied for the most Razzie wins alongside Showgirls — another cult classic that falls into the “so bad it’s good” sub-genre. As if that wasn’t already enough, the film also went on to win an eighth and ninth award for Worst Picture of the Decade and Worst Drama in 25 years.
13. People were afraid the film would brainwash their kids
Aside from drawing criticism for just being an all-around terrible film, Battlefield Earth was also blasted by many who maintained that the film would have never been made without being backed by Scientology.
This was further illustrated when Travolta went on a promotional tour that involved him signing copies of L. Ron Hubbard’s novel and giving them away — a highly unusual move for any actor to make after starring in an adaptation.
Some parents and journalists were even afraid that Battlefield Earth was a backdoor recruitment tool to get their kids interested in the teaching of Hubbard, going so far as to say the film featured subliminal messages.
But after actually seeing Battlefield Earth, other critics responded that pulling off any form of subliminal advertising would have been far too sophisticated for the likes of this film.
12. The production company was sued for lying about the budget
Since no major studio seemed interested in developing the film, the task eventually fell to Franchise Pictures, an independent production company that was well-known for rescuing actors’ passion projects.
However, Franchise had developed a reputation for pulling off unusual deals which left larger studios puzzled as to how they could make such “big budget” movies at a fraction of the cost.
The truth was eventually revealed during an FBI investigation, which found that Franchise Pictures had falsely inflated its budget in order to scam investors, including Intertainment AG — a company that had helped finance the film.
A lawsuit between the two companies ensued, which found that Franchise had previously claimed Battlefield Earth cost $75 million to make when it actually cost closer to $44 million.
11. Film critics destroyed it
The critical reaction to Battlefield Earth was truly one of a kind, earning the film a measly 3% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Since its release, critics have attacked virtually every aspect of Battlefield Earth — although the ugly production design and excessive use of the Dutch tilt often draw the most scrutiny.
Famed critic Roger Ebert began his review by stating the film was like “taking a bus trip with someone who needed a bath for a long time” while The New York Times wrote that “Battlefield Earth may well turn out to be the worst movie of the century.”
In fact, the movie is almost worth suffering through just to read the reviews of critics trying to puzzle out what they just watched — and how it was ever made in the first place.
10. Even the cast and crew blasted the film
You know a movie is bad when even the cast and crew feel compelled to bash it in a last-ditch attempt to salvage their careers — and Battlefield Earth is certainly no exception.
Actors Forest Whitaker and Barry Pepper have both expressed regret over starring in the film.
Pepper went so far as to say he would have personally accepted his Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor had he known he was going to win.
Meanwhile, the film’s cinematographer has said that the dismal color palate and the excessive use of skewed camera angles weren’t his doing, adding that the lighting budget was the smallest he’s ever been given.
However, John Travolta has continuously defended the project, saying that he would make it again if given the chance.
9. It’s one of the most expensive box office bombs of all time
Predicting which movies audiences are going to flock to see in theaters is far from an exact science, and it’s not uncommon for even the most anticipated movies to fall short of their budget in box office take. But once losses start dipping into the tens of millions, you can be sure that someone is going to have to answer for the massive miscalculation.
With an estimated budget of $93 million in production and marketing costs, Battlefield Earth would have needed to gross at least $100 million to be considered a modest success.
The film brought in just under $30 million worldwide.
Negative word of mouth was easily the number one factor impeding the film’s performance, as box office sales dropped from $11.5 to $3.9 million between the first and second weekend. After that, Warner Bros. pulled the film from most screens in an attempt to cut its losses.
8. Quentin Tarantino and George Lucas reportedly liked it
While trying to get a major studio to produce the project, Travolta reportedly called Battlefield Earth the equivalent to “Pulp Fiction from the year 3000.” So it makes sense that the actor’s first choice for a director would be Tarantino himself.
Of course, Tarantino declined the offer and the Academy Award-winning production designer of Star Wars and protege of George Lucas, Roger Christian, was eventually signed on to direct the film.
Coincidentally, while the film was being lampooned by critics it was Tarantino and Lucas who offered their support for the film, with Travolta stating that they saw it and “thought it was a great piece of science fiction.”
Of course, considering that these two iconic directors had worked with Travolta and Christian before, it’s impossible to know if they actually liked the movie, or if they were just trying to be nice to their friends.
7. There were plans for a sequel
Before the film lost an estimated $70 million, the groundwork for a sequel had already been laid, with Travolta, Pepper, and one of the film’s producers already signed on for a follow-up.
Since the first film only covered the first 400 pages of Hubbard 1,000-plus page book, Battlefield Earth 2 would’ve picked up with the film’s hero, Jonnie, restoring Earth to its former glory by using their mined gold to pay off the planet’s debts while also rehabilitating the surviving Psychlos.
However, after the film proved to be a massive flop and the production company went bankrupt within the following year, any plans for a sequel unsurprisingly fell through.
But with Battlefield Earth now considered a novelty by many, we can’t help but wonder what a follow-up film to this colossal disaster would’ve looked like.
6. A version of the script was leaked under a fake name
As if the trailers and critical reviews weren’t already enough of a deterrent, Battlefield Earth received additional bad buzz when a copy of the script was leaked prior to the film’s release.
While the film was in post-production, Mean Magazine got a hold of the shooting script and decided to send copies of it to larger production companies for feedback. To maintain some secrecy, the magazine opted to change the title of the screenplay to “Dark Forces” and swap out the writers’ names for “Desmond Finch.”
Unsurprisingly, feedback on the script was no better than it was for the film, with readers calling its story and dialogue utterly ridiculous.
Even screenwriter J.D. Shapiro maintained that his original draft was wildly different from the version that ended up getting made, resulting in Shapiro even trying to get his name removed from the final cut.
5. Travolta poured millions of his own dollars into it
When a big star shows up in the middle of a ridiculous blockbuster, most people would jump to the conclusion that they’re only in it for the paycheck.
In the case of Battlefield Earth, Travolta apparently felt so strongly about the story that he was willing to take a pay cut.
On top of that, Travolta reportedly put in $5 million dollars of his own money in order to get the film made.
But that still left the film’s production having to cut a number of corners to stay within their budget. So despite most of the story taking place in Denver, Colorado, the film was actually shot in Canada — making it the most expensive film made in the country at that time.
However, costs could have as much as doubled if Travolta and co. had chosen to make the picture in the States.
4. It bankrupted the production company
After it was discovered that Franchise Pictures falsely reported that its production costs were $31 million more than they actually were, the company was sued by Intertainment AG and forced to pay over $120 million in damages.
Franchise Pictures was an independent production company known for rescuing projects that had been in development hell.
Although Franchise turned out a number of cult classics, including The Whole Nine Yards and The Boondock Saints, many of its movies were critically disasters like Battlefield Earth, including the Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu action extravaganza Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever — which is notorious for being the worst reviewed movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes.
This lofty payout resulting in the production company filing bankruptcy shortly thereafter the suit, and this may have even been the reason that Travolta ended up firing his manager, who had originally fostered the deal Franchise.
3. Even Tom Cruise allegedly thought the film was a bad idea
If you had to guess one celebrity that would have been fully onboard with this film other than John Travolta, it would probably have been Tom Cruise. After all, Cruise is easily the most famous Scientologist in the world and an outspoken fan of L. Ron Hubbard’s work.
Not even Cruise’s devoted faith could blind him to the abysmal disaster that was Battlefield Earth.
Before the film was released, Cruise reportedly warned Warner Bros. about getting involved with the film — a statement that was eventually denied by a spokesperson.
However, a number of ex-Scientologists have attested that Cruise absolutely hated the movie after it came out, calling it bad PR for the church and claiming that Travolta’s actions were out of line with the teachings of Scientology.
2. The film was originally going to be made back in the ‘80s
The 1980s is a decade known for turning out a number of outlandish sci-fi and action films, including such cult classics as Escape from New York and Repo Man. The reason these films work is because they never took themselves too seriously.
Battlefield Earth was originally going to be made during this decade, and we can only imagine that a little intentional campiness could have desperately helped a film that is brimming with illogical plot holes.
After publication in 1982, Hubbard had hoped Travolta would be able to turn his book into the next Star Wars, and Travolta envisioned himself playing the story’s hero instead of the series antagonist.
A planned two-part film with a tentative budget of $30 million was even in pre-production, but after Travolta starred in a number of flops, plans for the film wouldn’t come to be for another 15 years.
1. The head of Scientology allegedly oversaw the film’s direction
Despite the Church of Scientology declaring multiple times that Battlefield Earth had nothing to do with their faith, former members of the church have reported that many higher-ups in the organization played a vital role in the development of the film.
Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun, two ex-Scientologist who appeared in the Emmy Award-winning documentary Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief, have stated that the leader of the church, David Miscavige, actually oversaw the daily footage of the film.
Allegedly, Miscavige even made creative suggestions throughout the course of production that were relayed to the director.
However, after the film flopped Miscavige reportedly placed all the blame on Travolta for taking too large of a salary which sabotaged the rest of the film.
Do you think Battlefield Earth is really as bad as the critics say? Let us know in the comments!
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