Movie stars have always been the bread and butter of the film industry. It’s why, under the studio system employed during Hollywood’s Golden Age, famous actors were kept under contract. It’s why certain performers can command enormous salaries for each picture in which they appear. Even today, when movies without major stars are just as likely to conquer the box office (Get Out) or the Oscars (Moonlight), studios still seek out the star factor.
And if one star can conceivably make a movie a hit, then how about multiple stars crammed onto the screen? That’s always been the logic behind movies featuring all-star casts, and it’s been a winning formula for decades. The 1932 drama Grand Hotel, with its star-packed roster led by Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, not only emerged a box office hit but also nabbed the Best Picture Oscar — ditto 1956’s Around the World in 80 Days. All-star casts were routinely assembled for war movies during the 1960s (e.g. The Great Escape, The Longest Day) and the disaster flicks of the 1970s (Earthquake, The Towering Inferno).
Of course, all-star casts don’t always guarantee financial riches. Some films are so bad that even seeing a lineup of familiar faces couldn’t lure paying audiences. Some quality productions packed with name actors also fall flat, often due to the subject matter or even the studio’s own erratic release patterns.
With that in mind, here are 16 Movies With All-Star Casts That Flopped.
16 MOVIE 43
The maxim about strength in numbers certainly applies to 2013’s Movie 43, since it took the combined efforts of 12 directors (including Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn), 18 writers, and 22 above-the-title stars to come up with a film as monumentally awful as this one. Yet even a potent cast was no match for the toxic word of mouth that immediately hit the streets, as the film grossed less than $10 million.
Trapped amidst its collection of scatological skits, it’s not surprising to find turkey pros Gerard Butler and Johnny Knoxville. And younger stars like Emma Stone and Chloë Grace Moretz can be forgiven for taking part in whatever projects were thrown their way. But the presence of Hugh Jackman (as a bachelor with testicles hanging from his neck), Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Richard Gere, and Terrence Howard boggles the mind.
The only one who comes off looking like a winner is George Clooney — when asked by the producers if he would appear in this train wreck, he flatly stated, “No f---ing way.”
15 THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU
Armed with an all-star cast, Wes Anderson’s 2001 effort The Royal Tenenbaums more than doubled its $21 million budget at the box office, leading Disney to pony up $50 million for the writer-director’s next at-bat. But despite a similarly impressive assemblage of actors, 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou only made back half its budget.
Another heady rush of whimsy from the singular Anderson, this one stars Bill Murray as the title character, a Jacques Cousteau-style oceanographer who sets off to track down the Jaguar Shark that devoured his partner. The stellar cast also includes Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, and Michael Gambon (Dumbledore to all you Harry Potter fans), although it’s Willem Dafoe who arguably earns the most laughs as Zissou’s overly protective German engineer.
14 GANGSTER SQUAD
The screen team of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone might seem like money in the bank, thanks to the box office returns generated by 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. and especially 2016’s La La Land. But sandwiched between these successes is the 2013 flop Gangster Squad, one of those movies which claims to be inspired by a true story but turns out to be about as authentic as The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.
Set in 1949 Los Angeles, this lackluster cross between L.A. Confidential and The Untouchables finds the city’s chief of police (Nick Nolte) deciding that the best way to stop gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) from taking over the entire city is to organize an elite team to work outside the law in an attempt to bring him down. Josh Brolin plays the outfit’s leader, while Gosling and MCU stalwarts Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña are among its members. Stone, meanwhile, plays Cohen’s moll, who ends up preferring Gosling over Penn’s hammy acting.
13 THE COUNSELOR
No other movie released in 2013 was as nihilistic as The Counselor, an overheated curio in which bad things happen to bad people, worse things happen to good people, good things happen to the worst people, and Cameron Diaz's body parts are compared to a "catfish."
Despite Ridley Scott as director, this was mainly touted as the first film written directly for the screen by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy, then enjoying sustained exposure thanks to the Coens’ masterful 2007 adaptation of his novel No Country for Old Men. Unfortunately, McCarthy spends so much time focusing on hip dialogue that he critically neglects the plot. This lack of focus often moves the movie past appreciable ambiguity and into unacceptable incoherence.
As a drug-dealing lawyer and his innocent girlfriend, the turns by Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz pale in comparison to the more colorful antics offered by Diaz, Brad Pitt, and especially Javier Bardem (his hairstyle alone deserved a special Oscar). Yet not even this high-caliber lineup could entice audiences to see the film.
12 THE SWARM
Beginning with 1970’s Airport and through such smashes as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, the disaster flick was one of the durable genres of the period, as audiences flocked to see all-star casts combating death and destruction on a massive scale. But the fad ended along with the decade, as latter entries like Avalanche and Meteor proved to be costly bombs.
The most notorious of these underachievers was Irwin Allen’s heavily hyped 1978 epic The Swarm, in which a mass of African killer bees descend upon the state of Texas. Even by disaster film standards, the cast is incredible, with no less than nine Oscar winners and nominees on board. Michael Caine is the top-billed star, but the talent runs deep: Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Olivia de Havilland, and many more.
With shoddy effects and risible lines like, “Houston in flames. Will history blame me, or the bees?” the critics had a field day with The Swarm. Even audiences couldn’t take the premise seriously, resulting in a colossal flop.
Rob Marshall’s 2009 adaptation of the Broadway musical (itself loosely based on Federico Fellini's classic movie 8-1/2) turned out to be both tone deaf and flat-footed. Sporting an $80 million price tag, Nine only grossed $54 million — and that figure includes foreign. Stateside, it couldn’t even crack $20 million.
The great Daniel Day-Lewis is curiously ineffectual as egotistical film director Guido Contini, who juggles all the women in his life (played by five Oscar winners and nominee Kate Hudson) while attempting to jump-start production on his next picture. Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, and Sophia Loren are all lined up against the wall and mowed down by the picture’s indifference to their characters.
While Penelope Cruz managed to snag a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, it’s actually Marion Cotillard, as Guido's long-suffering wife, who adds the only warmth to this otherwise clammy undertaking.
10 CRADLE WILL ROCK
Billed as “A (Mostly) True Story,” 1999’s Cradle Will Rock centers on the circumstances surrounding the controversial 1937 staging of The Cradle Will Rock, a leftist musical presented by Orson Welles (Angus Macfadyen) and John Houseman (Cary Elwes). While writer-director Tim Robbins uses this entertaining film to touch upon capitalism and class warfare, he’s mainly interested in championing artistic expression — no wonder so many A-listers agreed to take part.
In addition to Elwes and Macfadyen, others playing factual figures include John Cusack as millionaire Nelson Rockefeller and Susan Sarandon as Mussolini supporter Margherita Sarfatti. Among those playing fictional characters are John Turturro and Emily Watson, as a pair of defiant actors, and Bill Murray and Joan Cusack, as two lonelyhearts who come together to denounce the Communist influence they believe is poisoning the arts.
Despite a phenomenal cast that also found room for Hank Azaria, Vanessa Redgrave, Jack Black, and Paul Giamatti, Cradle Will Rock never broke out — after all, popcorn and politics rarely mix at the multiplex.
9 HEAVEN’S GATE
Michael Cimino’s 1978 Vietnam War saga The Deer Hunter cost $15 million and ran three hours, but since it grossed $48 million and won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, no one at United Artists thought anything of providing its helmer with $12 million to shoot his Western epic Heaven’s Gate. But Cimino’s fanatical attention to detail resulted in a production that ended up costing $44 million and a cut that ran close to four hours.
When Heaven’s Gate premiered in 1980, it was so utterly destroyed by critics and ignored by audiences that Cimino had it pulled, cut it down to 149 minutes, and threw it back into theaters the following year. It was all to no avail, as it grossed a measly $3.4 million, led to a nearly bankrupt United Artists being sold, and destroyed Cimino’s career.
Thankfully, the fallout didn’t hurt any of the terrific actors Cimino had cast in the leading roles, including Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, and Jeff Bridges.
8 SHORT CUTS
After spending the bulk of the 1980s making movies that were barely seen by anyone, Robert Altman came roaring back to life with 1992’s The Player, a Hollywood-insider piece that earned rave reviews, scored at the box office, and nabbed the maverick filmmaker an Oscar nomination for Best Director.
Altman earned another directing nod from the Academy for his next picture, 1993’s Short Cuts, but this time, even the stellar reviews and a superlative cast weren’t enough to attract audiences.
That’s a shame, because Short Cuts remains one of Altman’s most accomplished films. Working from Raymond Carver's short stories, he follows 22 middle-class people as they struggle with the harsh realities of everyday life. Altman pulls off an amazing feat, juggling a profusion of storylines which combined reveal a certain spiritual malnourishment at this nation's heart.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Julianne Moore, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Lyle Lovett, Lily Tomlin, and Huey Lewis (yes, that Huey Lewis) located among the all-stars.
7 SHADOWS AND FOG
One of Woody Allen's most expensive undertakings also proved to be one of his biggest box office flops. Upon its 1992 release, Shadows and Fog grossed a pitiful $2.7 million — that’s less than all but three of his other 47 movies to date.
If nothing else, the $14 million budget spent on the film can clearly be seen on the screen, in the magnificent cityscape built from scratch by production designer Santo Loquasto. Loquasto's sets and cinematographer Carlo Di Palma's black-and-white compositions are astounding, but the story, about a meek clerk (Allen, in full nebbish mode) forced to help search for a serial killer, is on the thin side.
Worse, Allen assembles a typically dynamite cast but gives the performers precious little to do — among those wasted are John Cusack, John Malkovich, Madonna, and, as a trio of chatty prostitutes, the compelling team of Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates, and Lily Tomlin.
In preparing his 2006 tribute to Robert F. Kennedy, it’s likely that director Emilio Estevez studied Oliver Stone’s JFK as well as the established MO of Robert Altman in such sprawling efforts as Nashville and The Player. In the same manner as those directors, Estevez also assembled an extraordinary cast to fill out the various roles.
But Bobby is less interested in politics and more interested in melodrama. Set in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel in the hours leading up to Kennedy's assassination, the movie focuses on the escapades of various staffers and guests.
The hotel manager (William H. Macy) cheats on his wife (Sharon Stone) with a switchboard operator (Heather Graham); a former doorman (Anthony Hopkins) reflects on his past; a hippie (Ashton Kutcher) sells drugs from the comfort of his hotel room; a boozy nightclub singer (Demi Moore) picks fights with her manager-husband (Estevez); and so on.
Bobby was a nonstarter at the box office, presumably because viewers realized they could watch these types of storylines on daytime television for free.
William Shakespeare's immortal play has been brought to the screen on several occasions, most notably by Laurence Olivier, with his 1948 Best Picture Oscar winner. No one, however, had ever attempted to do what Kenneth Branagh managed in 1996: film the entire, uncut text.
Running a full four hours, Branagh’s $18 million production of Hamlet is a highly charged interpretation that paints the great Dane not so much as a melancholy, morally confused prince but rather a jock with a rapier wit and an unquenchable thirst for revenge.
The actors filling out the larger roles are excellent — Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Derek Jacobi as Claudius, and Richard Briers as Polonius are especially good — and the smaller roles are peppered with such marquee-friendly Yanks as Robin Williams, Charlton Heston, Jack Lemmon, and Billy Crystal. Yet the studio inexplicably elected to keep its release limited, meaning it only managed to eke out a $4.7 million gross.
4 TOWN & COUNTRY
Warren Beatty may have been involved with such great films as Bonnie and Clyde and Reds, but he’s also been involved with a few elephantine projects that lost their respective studios millions. There’s Ishtar, of course, and there’s also last year’s resounding flop Rules Don’t Apply. Nothing, though, can compare to 2001’s Town & Country, a troubled production that cost an astounding $90 million and bombed to the tune of $6 million.
In Beatty’s defense, he was only an actor-for-hire on this one — then again, it was reportedly his need for perfection that resulted in the budget ballooning to such an ungodly amount following numerous rewrites and reshoots.
At any rate, the cost is hardly reflected in what’s basically a big-screen sitcom about the various affairs of an architect (Beatty), his wife (Diane Keaton), their best friends (Goldie Hawn and Garry Shandling), an heiress (Andie MacDowell), and a cellist (Nastassja Kinski). And if that’s not enough wasted star power, Charlton Heston also shows up as MacDowell’s macho, gun-toting dad.
3 THE BIG WEDDING
Between them, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams have amassed a total of five Academy Awards and 20 nominations. One would reasonably assume that any movie bringing them all together would be a classic for the ages. One would be very, very wrong.
Presently sporting a dismal 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 2013’s The Big Wedding casts De Niro and Keaton as a divorced couple who pretend to still be married for convoluted reasons surrounding the marriage of one of their kids. Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace, and Ben Barnes play their offspring, Sarandon co-stars as De Niro’s girlfriend, Williams pops up as a priest, and Amanda Seyfried is the blushing bride.
The Big Wedding appeared in the wake of similar all-star idiocies like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. But whereas audiences turned out for those films, they opted not to RSVP to this one.
2 COLLATERAL BEAUTY
Boasting a premise that could only conceivably work with better scripting and the sort of honest sentimentality a director like Capra or Spielberg could have pulled off, 2016’s wince-worthy Collateral Beauty centers on Howard Inlet (Will Smith), a company head mourning his daughter’s death. His gloom is threatening the future of the corporation, so his three best friends/coworkers (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña) devise an icky plan that will result in him being declared mentally incompetent.
Even Wall Street's Gordon Gekko would find such a grotesque maneuver beneath him, and it’s mind-boggling that such a deranged premise could have attracted so many screen luminaries.
The cast also includes Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, and Helen Mirren as three stage actors hired to help convince Howard he’s losing it. Mirren has a few amusing moments as a thespian so conceited that she thinks she should play all the roles, but everyone else in this box office underachiever is hamstrung by the odious, idiotic or irrational characters they're playing.
1 ALL THE KING’S MEN
The solid 1949 screen adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King's Men garnered rave reviews and three Oscars (including Best Picture), but such niceties failed to materialize for this disastrous 2006 version.
The film's faults are many, starting with the grotesque miscasting of Sean Penn as boisterous, larger-than-life governor Willie Stark, a self-proclaimed "hick" politician whose folksy charms endear him to Louisiana's rural population. West Coaster Penn, who's about as folksy as a Malibu Starbucks, turns in one of his worst performances, but he's hardly the only one who was hired for name recognition rather than because he was right for the role. Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, and James Gandolfini seem bored; Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo seem lost.
Audiences clearly got the message, as this $55 million production tanked after earning only $7 million at the domestic box office.
Have you seen any of these all-star flops? What did you think? Sound off in the comments!
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