The pure nature of cinema is that oftentimes films don’t live up to our expectations. It’s tough for audiences to wait interminably for a movie they’ve wanted for even longer only to be disappointed by a sub-par effort. Sometimes it’s Hollywood’s fault, where a studio will step in and muck up the original vision. Other times, it’s just the result of shoddy craftsmanship; writers, directors, and actors have all been known to phone it in from time to time, with a movie suffering as a result. Whatever the reason, many films suffer as the victims of lost potential, and we’re left to dream of what could have been.
Sometimes it’s a small tweak that would have made for an instant classic, while others it would have taken a complete overhaul. Whatever the reason, we can imagine a world where some of the worst movies could have potentially been quite the opposite of what we ended up with.
1. Hancock (2008)
Starring Will Smith and Charlize Theron, Hancock began with such promise. It followed the story of a deadbeat, alcoholic, super-powered amnesiac looking to repair his public image, but it quickly devolved into a nonsensical mythos that was altogether baffling. The base concept itself is wonderful: What if the world had a superhero who was a complete loser and didn’t care about doing his job well? That idea combined with the story of hiring a PR guy played by Jason Bateman to rehabilitate his image made for what should have been a fresh take on a tired genre. It was even written by Breaking Bad visionary Vince Gilligan and had all the pieces to make a truly great film.
But the rabbit hole it dove down in the end made for disappointment. Our title hero is in fact an immortal angel or a god or something unspecified sent to Earth to protect humanity, but also can’t be in the same city as Charlize Theron (who is also the same breed of immortal angel-god), lest he lose his super powers. All this movie would really need to take the next step would be to scrap the second half and further explore the themes of the original concept. Alas, not even the creator of Walter White could save this one.
2. Spider Man 3 (2007)
Coming off Spider Man 2‘s 94% Rotten Tomatoes score, things seemed promising for Sam Raimi’s sequel to the wildly popular web-slinger franchise. Both the first and second installments cracked $370 million at the box office as fun comic book movies that possessed heart, and there was really no reason to think the third wouldn’t be more of the same. Sam Raimi made for Hollywood’s least likely super-hero director as the mind behind the campy cult-classic that was the Evil Dead trilogy, offering a fresh angle in a pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe world. With Venom, one of the greatest comic villains of all time, set to debut in Spider Man 3, it had all the pieces for a truly great film. But, oh God, were we wrong on this one.
Spider Man 3 took some weird turns, as Sam Raimi appeared to indulge almost too much in his own strangeness, including a bizarre sequence where Peter Parker dyes his hair black, goes goth, and dances through the streets of New York. Screen Junkies, in their typically spot-on and hilarious way, summed up all three movies in the trilogy pretty perfectly in their Honest Trailer.
Settle in for two fun, innocent romps about a teenaged super hero, and a massive turd that managed to ruin Peter Parker, Venom, Gwen Stacy, and the entire franchise in one go.
3. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
In this day and age, we’ve found out the hard way that stunning visual effects can’t make up for a lack of coherent storytelling. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is the poster child for this, boasting some truly breath-taking CGI that was unfortunately paired with a far less thought-out plot. What’s truly disappointing is that all the pieces were in place: It’s set in a steam-punky 1939 where giant robots exist hand-in-hand with gum-shoes detectives. The trailer even makes it seem like a noirish harkening back to the days of cheesy radio serials, just set to modern technology.
Visually, the universe is incredible and immersive. However, if you dig below the surface to try and find any semblance of an intriguing story, Sky Captain falls tragically short. Even a little more TLC put into the script could have had this one remembered for generations to come.
4. I, Robot (2004)
Back in 2004, anything starring Will Smith was a virtual lock to be a hit. That star-power was adjoined to I, Robot, the adaptation from the celebrated collection of sci-fi short stories from Isaac Asimov. And with a novel from the father of robots in sci-fi as the source material, what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, the answer is “quite a bit.” Almost all of the original source material was scrapped for a newer, more Hollywood-friendly version, leading to a movie that lost track of the novel it was supposed to be based on.
Nowadays you’ll likely see I, Robot relegated to a status as the FX network’s go-to movie whenever they have two hours to kill in their programming: a fate deserving of a film that didn’t take advantage of the gigantic potential of its source.
5. The Golden Compass (2007)
Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has long been thought of on the same level as Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia as a classic fantasy series deserving of its own movie franchise. In the first trailer for the initial installment that was The Golden Compass, New Line Cinema even advertised it as the next Lord of the Rings, likely in hopes that it would spawn a similarly successful series of films. With a source material containing the big questions concerning religion intermingled with engaging fantasy and sci-fi elements, it practically begged for a big screen adaptation.
Complaints from religious groups, combined with fear from the studio that a series with a decidedly atheistic lean would alienate audiences all led to the eventual dumbing down of The Golden Compass. Not even a cast featuring talent like Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Sam Elliot, Eva Green, and Derek Jacobi was able to dig this one out.