12 Great Movies That Were Supposed to Fail

Mad Max: Fury Road named best of 2015 by National Board of Review

For every Jaws, Star Wars or Back to the Future, there are a ton of movies that are destined for the bargain bin from day one. Troubled film productions usually churns out a bad product...except when it absolutely does the opposite. These are of course the hopes fans have for films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film mired in controversy and shrouded with rumors of on set problems and numerous script rewrites. With its release date less than a month away, DC fans everywhere are hoping BvS soon earns a place alongside the films on this list.

Here are 12 movies that had everything stacked against them, but managed to claw their way to greatness anyway.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

The Guardians of the Galaxy whole team
Start Now

12 Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

The Guardians of the Galaxy whole team

“No one wants to watch a movie with a talking raccoon!” cried an indignant faceless mass who’d apparently never heard of Disney. But it was true: Guardians of the Galaxy was predicted by many to be Marvel’s first true flop by virtue of no one having heard of the characters, and its overall silliness. Even if Iron Man and Captain America weren’t hot properties before their solo films, people had at least heard of the characters. The same couldn’t be said of The Guardians, who were an obscure space team who’d fallen in and out of popularity amongst comic book readers. Zoe Saldana might look great all dolled up in green makeup, but that didn’t mean much when she showed up in the trailer and was mistaken for She-Hulk.

A lesser problem was the inherent silliness and lack of relatability around the whole affair, with talking animals and cheesy '80s music stacking up against the exploits of the Avengers, who at least got up to their shenanigans on Earth instead of random places in space that no casual viewers had ever heard of.

The Result: GotG took in $773 million worldwide and cemented itself a hotly-anticipated sequel. Meanwhile, Chris Pratt went from pudgy sitcom actor to Hollywood hit, and it became the fondest wish of many a cinema-goer to own either a Rocket Raccoon plushie or a baby dancing Groot. Both, if possible.

11 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max Fury Road Max screenshot

If any movie was a product of raw, unprocessed '80s grit, it was probably the original Mad Max (or possibly Robocop, but more on that later). Neither had much of a plot, mostly featuring Mel Gibson knocking around in the desert and getting himself into overblown car chases. They were beloved at the time, but thoroughly believed to be a product of their time and nothing more, hence why the announcement of Mad Max: Fury Road was met with such vigorous head-scratching. It was essentially reviving a franchise that had lain dormant for decades and expecting today’s audience to throw their money at it en masse.

To make matters worse, production was a gigantic pain for all involved, with Gibson quitting the project, critics decrying Tom Hardy’s ability to take up the role, and Hardy apparently being kind of a jerk in the role (supposedly refusing to talk to his co-stars due to intense method acting). And that was before the entire production had to be moved from Australia to Namibia after the filming location received so much rain, it caused the entire area to erupt into a flowery oasis that didn't quite fit the tone.

The Result: Fury Road became an instant hit, with critics and audiences appreciating it for the gratuitous spectacle that it was. It made stacks of currency worldwide, revived the franchise and gave us some of the strongest female characters in recent fiction. All without Mel Gibson and his special brand of crazy that we all know and love.

10 The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix poster

The Wachowski Brothers might have Hollywood’s most confusing reputation in today’s world, but before the release of The Matrix, they were just a couple of weirdos who’d scrounged together a single, unknown film.

Not a great deal of attention was given to the original Matrix movie, given that its directors weren’t big names and the whole thing was a confusing jumble of philosophy and Eastern kung-fu scenes. Aside from a few diehard action fans, nobody thought the film would amount to much, despite the presence of some fairly big names (Laurence Fishburne, Keanu Reeves).

The Result: The Matrix wasn’t just a successful film; it became a cultural phenomenon. Never before in Western cinema had fight scenes been presented and choreographed with such detail, or at least not with the same level of success. The film is now studied as an example of metaphor and filmmaking, and no one ever is able to say anything about kung-fu ever again without Keanu Reeves’ breathy voice drifting through their mind.

9 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White with Dwarves

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs might not quite hold up in the enlightened world of 2016, what with its ultra-fast, unbelievable romance and passive heroine (who cleans like a boss, but whatever). The general consensus of the film wasn’t too different before its release. Disney had’t yet made the plunge into full-length animated films, and most of their features were only a few minutes long, made to introduce bigger live-action movies. Snow White was deemed ‘Disney’s Folly’ by the Hollywood industry due to its level of ambition, and also the fact that Walt Disney had to mortgage his home just to get the thing made.

The Result: The film became a stupendously successful critical darling, enjoyed by adults and children worldwide and pretty much guaranteeing that Disney would reign supreme over the animated feature film market for all of eternity, no matter how many Home on the Ranges they’d eventually unleash upon the world. Snow White went on to win an Oscar (or eight, to be precise; one full-sized and seven dwarf-sized statues) and the title character still finds herself stamped across lunchboxes and pink backpacks almost a century later.

8 Jaws (1975)

Jaws famous poster

As hard as it may be to believe now, there was a time when Hollywood had no reason to trust this "Spielberg’" person. He was a rookie director with precisely one feature film on his resume, and that film had completely tanked. Despite Jaws getting greenlit, the animatronic shark proved to be so incredibly malfunction-prone that it almost would’ve been easier to breed an actual, monstrous killer shark and just film it eating people. Production on the film went way over budget, and deadlines had to be stretched. As a final boot to the teeth, Richard Dreyfuss was cast in one of the lead roles despite poor performances elsewhere.

The Result: Jaws became an instant hit and changed the cinematic landscape forever, ushering in a new era and catapulting Spielberg to his long-held position at the top of the directing game. The problems with the shark ended up working in the film’s favor, as Spielberg made the decision to keep it largely off screen, allowing John Williams’ infamous score do its work to ratchet up the tension. Jaws became the highest-grossing film in history at the time, had a profound effect on pop culture, and was responsible for igniting unreasonable phobias of beach swimming the world over. Probably forever.

7 Star Wars (1977)

Star Wars New Hope cast screenshot

There’s no real way to tell at the time if you’re making a box-office hit, and this was certainly true for the original Star Wars. George Lucas didn’t have much experience as a writer or director, and the movie was given a fairly low budget for the time; certainly not quite enough for the space epic it was meant to be. 20th Century Fox was fairly sure that Star Wars would tank, and had to essentially blackmail theaters into accepting the movie, threatening to withhold another, supposedly more successful film (the incredibly not-famous The Other Side of Midnight) if they didn’t show it. Lucas himself even went on holiday before the release and forgot that Star Wars was even going to be making its in theaters.

The Result: Lucas was reminded that the movie he’d spent so much time on was showing when he encountered massive cues of people all trying to crowd into the cinema…to watch Star Wars. The rest is truly history, given the mark that Star Wars made and continues to make on the world. It practically revived 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy, became the first true blockbuster, began one of the largest (if not THE largest) franchises in the world, and made George Lucas a truly insane amount of money, since he’d agreed to trade in part of his salary for a cut of the merchandising profits. Yes, the Star Wars merchandising profits, worldwide. Not bad for a cheesy, B-movie space flick that was meant to be a Flash Gordon movie.

6 Apocalypse Now (1979)


You know things are bad when your movie has such a troubled production, the making-of documentary is almost as interesting as the movie itself. Apocalypse Now had almost a textbook troubled production, with almost everything that could go wrong doing just that. The cast and crew spent most of the filming at the mercy of extreme weather conditions that wrecked the sets, production eventually went millions over budget, Marlon Brando showed up to the set utterly unprepared and overweight, and lead actor Martin Sheen capped things off by having a severe heart attack.

Even after all this, production time greatly increased as Coppola had to cut miles of footage, and the film received a thoroughly mixed reaction when it was screened at Cannes.

The Result: Apocalypse Now is now universally beloved by critics and has been named as one of the greatest war films of all time. It’s won Academy Awards and appeared on numerous lists of the best films ever made, and the documentary about its production, Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, has won awards of its own, all of which is a fair effort for a movie that the very universe itself seemed hell-bent on stopping.

5 Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow screenshot

Pirates of the Caribbean was adapted from a Disney World ride. As adaptations went, that didn’t exactly leave it overflowing with plot or character inspiration, and an attempt to do a similar thing with The Country Bears the year before had utterly failed. Johnny Depp showed up to the role of Captain Jack Sparrow and brought his own…unique interpretation, which studio executives thought would ruin every scene in which he appeared. Perhaps most damning, the pirate genre had been box office poison for decades beforehand, and Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t seem like it was set to break the trend, let alone pave the way for an entire franchise.

The Result: It totally paved the way for an entire franchise. The quality might have slipped in future installments, but The Curse of the Black Pearl was a surprise hit, dominating the box office for almost two months and going on to make well over $600 million worldwide.

What’s more, Johnny Depp’s performance as Sparrow was universally beloved and made him a household name, as well as cementing him firmly in the role for every sequel that will ever be made. Which we’re sure he’s just thrilled about. Probably.

4 Titanic (1999) and Avatar (2009)

Avatar and Titanic screenshots

Both Avatar and Titanic share a lot more in common than just a director. Both were subject to a lot of bad press before their release, mostly due to the prevailing belief that James Cameron had bitten off far more than he could chew and was floundering with a movie far bigger than his skillset. Both went way over budget, with Titanic going down as the most expensive film ever made at that point, and Avatar viewed as a CGI-infested nightmare. Stories abound from the sets of both movies of Cameron flipping the berserk switch due to the stress of the huge production and turning into a raging taskmaster, complete with his own evil alter-ego named "Mij." No, really.

The Result: Metric tons of money, basically. Titanic took the world by storm and became the first film in history to make over $1 billion at the box office. Avatar…took the world by storm and became the first movie ever to make $2 billion at the box office.

Both were beloved by critics and moviegoers, and while the latter might not have made as much of an impact on cinema history (except perhaps in the realm of CGI), you can’t exactly complain when your movie about blue space cat people equals the approximate GDP of several small nations.

3 Paddington (2014)

Paddington Promotional Image with bath

Paddington Bear might have been a British icon for decades, but there wasn’t a lot of goodwill floating around his big modern feature film. Mostly, critics were focused on the fact that Colin Firth was meant to be providing Paddington’s voice, yet dropped out halfway through, as the studio didn’t feel he was right for the part. The marketing went into meltdown, and we got a host of trailers with a silent Paddington, loads of toilet humor and not really much else. Even with Ben Whishaw (aka Q from the recent Bond films) being cast in the title role, Paddington seemed destined to be a distraction for the little ones and nothing more.

The Result: Somehow, the movie went on to be extremely popular with both critics and audiences alike, staying true to the spirit of the original icon while just being an all-round, feel-good comedy to be enjoyed by all ages. The casting of Ben Whishaw was praised along with the film’s positive message, and a country full of older Paddington fans gave a great sigh of relief.

2 Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future screenshot

Four years: that’s how long the script for Back to the Future bounced around various major studios, all of whom rejected it for various reasons. Its original commissioner, Columbia Pictures, didn’t want the film due to it not being as raunchy as many of the teen comedies of the time. Back to the Future eventually found its home at Amblin Productions. Universal Pictures, who traded the kind-of-famous-and-beloved-but-not Double Indemnity for the rights to the movie, agreed to handle the distribution. Even then, production was subject to meddling from Universal executives, with the directors having to fight for the right to use the word ‘future’ in the title, and the whole affair was expected to be a teen comedy that didn’t quite tick the right box for audiences. And let's not forget about the film's lead, Eric Stoltz, having to be replaced during filming by up-and-comer Michael J. Fox.

The Result: Back to the Future smashed records and remained at the number #1 spot for eleven weeks, eventually raking in $383.87 million (in 1985 dollars) worldwide and presumably causing a load of executives from other studios to kick themselves for rejecting the film. It also spawned a franchise that kept itself decent until the end and has left a towering legacy, both for its quirky predictions of the future and revival of skateboarding as a national pastime. Sadly, that only included boards that kept their wheels firmly on the ground. But hey, self-lacing shoes!

1 Robocop (1987)

Robocop screenshot

The premise of Robocop was considered over-the-top, even by '80s standards, and it was even rejected by its own director at first. With a relatively small budget and a seemingly ridiculous plot, it seemed destined to be a gimmicky B-movie, maybe one that film websites in 2016 would one day point at in scorn as an example of just how silly the '80s were. A movie about a robotic police officer with gratuitously hilarious levels of gore and violence? Who greenlit that?

The Result: A surprisingly deep film that’s considered one of the best movies of the era. Director Paul Verhoeven was suddenly a sought-after director, and Robocop was soon considered a sci-fi classic due to its themes of human nature, dystopia, violence and many others. And all of this while it still manages to be a fun movie about a cyborg shooting people and blowing things up. It all depends on the viewer.


What's your favorite would-be bomb of all time? Know of any more fails that went on to greatness? Let us know in the comments!

More in Lists