As screenwriters, the specter of insecurity and doubt is never more than a step or two away. We’re our own harshest critics, as they say – and even when the going’s good, it can be hard to take a step back and appreciate all the progress we’ve made.
Of course, 'progress' doesn’t always proceed in a straight line. Sometimes we’re forced to wake up and small the coffee. Sometimes we’re forced to tear off the Band-Aid – to admit that an idea, or an entire screenplay, is not quite working the way we imagined that it would. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes.” It comes with the territory, after all.
Still, nothing is more daunting to a writer than staring down a long list of grand-sweeping revisions. It's times like these, dark times, that can put a signifcant damper on the entire writing process. Leaving even the most chipper of screenwriters in desperate need of a pick-me-up – a silver lining, so to speak.
That's where this list comes in.
Because, do you know what’s even worse than the sobering realization that 90 percent of your latest screenplay belongs in the pacific-ocean? Not realizing it, only to have it dawn on you in one fell swoop once that single digit Tomato-Meter is already set in stone.
So, in the spirit of silver linings, let’s take a look at a few films that were in desperate need of another draft (or twelve). So much so in fact that they each prompted apologies (in one form or another) from their creators.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course. The important thing is this: if your screenplay has issues, then rejoice! Because at least you still have time to fix them. The following filmmakers weren't so lucky.
The infamous “third installment” curse. Few franchises have avoided its wrath. From X-Men: The Last Stand and Alien 3, to the disappointing conclusion to the Godfather trilogy – there’s seemingly no shortage of humdrum finales to otherwise beloved Hollywood franchises. Spider-Man 3 (which incidentally turned ten this past weekend) was burdened with following-up the most critically acclaimed comic book adaptation up to that point. The odds were against it from the start, but still, to say it fell flat is an understatement (unless you’re fond of dance numbers).
Here’s what director Sam Raimi had to say about the third film’s execution:
“I think [raising the stakes after Spider-Man 2] was the thinking going into it, and I think that's what doomed us. I should've just stuck with the characters and the relationships and progressed them to the next step and not tried to top the bar… I tried to make it work, but I didn't really believe in all the characters, so that couldn't be hidden from people who loved Spider-Man. If the director doesn't love something, it's wrong of them to make it when so many other people love it.”
Admittedly it's less of an apology than an acknowledgement, but that’s fine by us. Thankfully, Raimi chose to depart the troubled Spider-Man 4 rather than let history repeat itself.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect summer blockbuster than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade each have their respective charms, of course, but neither manages to fully live up to the incredible, face-melting original. Unfortunately, the much-anticipated fourth film in the franchise, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, jumped the shark (or nuked the fridge) with its inter-dimensional beings and over-abundance of CGI. Reviews were decent enough at the time, though these days the film is widely regarded as a disappointment on the level of the Star Wars prequels.
Here’s what Spielberg himself had to say:
“I sympathize with people who didn’t like the MacGuffin because I never liked the MacGuffin. George and I had big arguments about the MacGuffin. I didn’t want these things to be either aliens or inter-dimensional beings. But I am loyal to my best friend.”
Way to throw George under the bus, Mr. Spielberg. All jokes aside, this is less of an outright apology and more a bone-throwing gesture to disillusioned fans. Either way, we’ll take it. Lets hope it’s a sentiment that carries over into the upcoming fifth installment.
If there’s one thing horror cinema isn’t particularly well known for, it’s restraint. Nor should it be! But some might argue that the ‘torture-porn’ craze that came and went over the last decade pushed things a bit too far. Eli Roth’s Hostel in particular was no stranger to controversy, though not for the reasons you might expect. In terms of raw gore, Hostel isn't much worse than your average, run-of-the-mill SAW sequel. Instead, the film's release was marked by criticism over its insensitive depiction of Slovakian culture, which essentially simmerred an entire nation down to a "spooky foreign village" trope.
Eli Roth said the following of his meeting with Iceland’s minister of culture:
“We had a premiere there and the Minister of Culture threw me a huge dinner, just me, Quentin, and Eythor, and I got to issue a formal apology to the Minister of Culture for ruining Icelandic culture, which he accepted. Then we met the president of Iceland and I asked him for a presidential pardon for ruining Iceland all over the world and he actually said, ‘Well, you know, your character is pretty accurate so I’ll give you the pardon”
Some “Minister of Culture” he was.
Cameron Crowe’s Aloha marks one of the first notable instances of Hollywood really taking a stand against the issue of whitewashing. In this case, pertaining to the decision to cast Emma Stone in the role of a young woman named Allison Ng. In a way, it’s an important film in so far as it served as a launching pad for a discussion that continues to this day. Other than that, it’s a mostly earnest, inoffensive romp that’s nowhere near as endearing as Cameron Crowe’s best. For lack of a better word, it sort of just… is.
Realizing the error of his ways, Cameron Crowe published the following statement, which offered an explanation as well as a concession.
“Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng. I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice.”
The full statement is available here.
Gods of Egypt
If there’s one thing Gods of Egypt deserves credit for, it’s finally turning the tables on the clichéd, outdated “it looks like a video-game” critique. Because the fact is, most video games manage to tell more thematically engaging, visually cohesive stories than this over-produced mess of overwrought special effects and creatively bankrupt ideas. Combine this with widespread accusations of whitewashing, and it’s no surprise the film was immediately dismissed upon release.
Gods of Egypt warranted not just one, but two apologies. The first comes from the film’s director, Alex Proyas (of Dark City fame):
"The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables, but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse. I sincerely apologize to those who are offended by the decisions we made."
The second comes direct from Lionsgate:
"We recognize that it is our responsibility to help ensure that casting decisions reflect the diversity and culture of the time periods portrayed. In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity, for which we sincerely apologize. Lionsgate is deeply committed to making films that reflect the diversity of our audiences. We have, can and will continue to do better. "
Batman and Robin
Batman Forever was a disappointing sequel. It took the macabre, art-deco sensibilities of Tim Burton’s first two Bat-flicks, and twisted them into a cartoon, neon-lit hell teeming with wacky performances and broad caricatures. So, when I say that the next film, Batman and Robin, makes Batman Forever look like The Dark Knight, well – you get the picture. If there’s one silver lining to be gleaned (aside from a multitude of puns involving ice), it’s that the fourth film’s profound failure paved the road for the excellent Batman Begins a decade later.
Director Joel Schumacher had the following to say in an interview with Variety:
“I was the problem with “Batman & Robin.” I never did a sequel to any of my movies, and sequels are only made for one reason: to make more money and sell more toys. I did my job. But I never got my ass in the seat right… There’s nobody else to blame but me. I could have said, “No, I’m not going to do it.” I just hope whenever I see a list of the worst movies ever made, we’re not on it.”
And if that’s not enough to wipe away the memory of those Bat-nipples, George Clooney has you covered:
“I think since Batman that I’ve been disinvited from Comic-Con for 20 years. I see the comment sections on all you guys… Sorry about the nipples on the suit. Freeze, freeze, I apologize for that.”
Remember the days of Blockbuster video? Back before you could stream anything from anywhere? When settling on a Saturday night rental meant really committing to your choice? I remember those days. And never have I felt the pangs of cinematic regret quite like I did after renting Battlefield Earth at age eleven. There’s not much else to say, really. The film, based on the works of scientology-founder L. Ron Hubbard, is infamously bad.
The less said of it, the better.
J.D. Shapiro’s apology for Battlefield Earth arrived in the form of an entire column of The New York Post. Penned by the writer itself, it is perhaps the deepest, most genuine expression of regret in film history, which is strangely fitting, given that the film is also among the worst ever made.
The entire piece is worth a read, but the following snippet should be enough to give you the general idea:
“It wasn’t as I intended — promise. No one sets out to make a train wreck. Actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn’t really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those.”
So, there you go! Next time you find yourself lamenting the shortcomings of your own script, take solace in the fact that at least you’ve got the time and the ability to put things right. Writing is rewriting, after all.