Why are bad movies called “turkeys?” The turkey is a noble bird. In letter written to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin ruminated that in comparison to the eagle, the turkey “is much more respectable…and withal a true original Native of America…a bird of courage.”
People love turkeys; granted that’s more in regards to the way they taste, but still.
Maybe movies that are greeted by critics and the public with indifference or derision are called turkeys because, like the turkey, they could not fly and instead, plummeted to earth with a thud.
What constitutes a movie turkey? In considering some of this year’s flock, we find several films of great ambition and singular vision. We see vehicles tailor-made for popular stars. We see critical and commercial flops. And we see “Jem and the Holograms.” Actually, we didn’t see “Jem and the Holograms,” which earned just $1.3 million in its opening weekend, one of the worst movie debuts of all time for a major studio film in wide release. It was pulled from theatres after just two weeks.
We are not assigning “turkey” status to the likes of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.” Did you really expect that to be any good? Rather, we are considering movies by distinguished directors, ill-conceived franchise reboots, and star vehicles that crashed and burned. Hope you’re hungry; Hollywood produced heaps this year. Here’s a sampling:
Aloha: The writing was on the wall for “Jerry Maguire” director Cameron Crowe’s first film since 2011’s “We Bought a Zoo.” Before the film’s release, hacked Sony emails from studio head Amy Pascal presented a dismal forecast for the romantic comedy starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray: “It never. Not even once. Ever works.” Many critics pounced on the casting of Emma Stone as a character of Hawaiian and Asian heritage.
Fantastic Four: Anything but. Problems on the set reportedly cost director Joseph Trank his shot to make the new “Star Wars” movie. The resulting movie was reviewed so poorly (it has a 10 percent Tomatometer score on the aggregation site, Rotten Tomatoes) and dismissed so thoroughly by audiences. It earned just $26.2 million in its opening weekend against a production budget was $120 million. Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations, told Variety, “Everything that could go wrong went wrong and the whole thing fell apart.”
Jupiter Ascending: When the Wachowski siblings aren’t in “The Matrix,” the results can be less than stellar (“Speed Racer, ”Cloud Atlas”), but their champions praise their resolutely original vision. And then came this $175 million outer space epic, which only took in $50 million domestically. Mila Kunis was cast against type as—yes—Jupiter Jones, a cleaning woman who discovers that she is a princess of a faraway planet. Channing Tatum costars as a half-human-half-canine former soldier who comes to her rescue.
Mortdecai: You’re only as good as your last picture. Fortunately for Johnny Depp, his is “Black Mass,” for which he has generated Oscar buzz for his ferocious performance as Whitey Bulger. But before that, he starred in “Mortdecai” as a hideously mustached shady art dealer and swindler. The alleged comedy generated some of the year’s worst reviews and was his worst opening for a film that debuted on more than 2,500 screens.
Pixels: No list of the year’s movie turkeys would be complete with a contribution from Adam Sandler. His usually forgiving fans are starting to get wise. “Pixels” earned just $24 million in its opening weekend against an $88 million budget. Game over in the States, but it did earn most of its profits overseas.
Pan: Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman famously observed that in Hollywood, “nobody knows anything.” But come on; no one knew that a prequel to “Peter Pan” was a bad idea? No amount of pixie dust could make audiences believe. It earned just $15.3 million in its opening weekend. First critics and then audiences gave “Pan” the hook.
Steve Jobs: Again Goldman. This bio-pic boasted a script by Aaron Sorkin, a certain Oscar-nominated performance by Michael Fassbinder as Steve Jobs, and some of the year’s most rapturous reviews. And then it crashed at the box office.
Strange Magic: A pet project of George Lucas, this animated fantasy made only $12.5 million and suffered one of the worst wide openings in history.
Tomorrowland: Disney reportedly stands to lose upwards of $140 million on this big budget fantasy adventure directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) and starring George Clooney. Even China, a burgeoning market for American cinematic spectacles, gave it a pass (it was beaten there at the box office by a Japanese animated film, “Stand by Me Doraemon”). Weak reviews ensured that there would be no tomorrow for “Tomorrowland.”
The Walk: With “Steve Jobs,” another confounding stumble. Good reviews and IMAX weren’t enough to lure moviegoers to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt recreate Frenchman Phillipe Petit’s ultimate high-wire act: walking on a tightrope between the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
Your turn: What were your biggest disappointments at the movies this year? What were the films you think didn’t get a fair shake? Let us know in the comment section below.
Happy Thanksgiving, and hopefully all your turkey will be on the table and not on the screen.