Here is a small collection of some movie trailers for you. These are ones that I picked out because they represent, at least in my opinion, stories that were predicted to be failures. However, all of these beat the odds and became popular pieces of culture at the cinema. I can’t think of a more critical field than filmmaking when it comes to perceived quality before the finished film is even released, so whenever a film surprises me and connects with me – despite what the critics say – I take that as a great success.
Anyway, without any further ado, here we go.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Cures of the Black Pearl (2003)
A film based on a theme park ride? That was the thought running through everyone’s minds when this film, directed by Gore Virbinski, was announced. Up until then, the director was known only for the family film, Mouse Hunt, and the genre-changing horror film, The Ring. Not to mention the addition of Jonny Depp, who clashed for a brief time with the Disney execs over how he wanted to portray Captain Jack Sparrow. It was a risky bet, but one that a core of artists believed in. The result? The film launched a franchise of films for Disney and grossed over $654,000,000 worldwide. Not a bad reception for a film based on a theme park ride.
This one is a no-brainer in hindsight, but back when it was announced, most audience members were scratching their heads. It’s one thing to have a teenage wall-crawler on a comic book page. But, it’s entirely another to make that teenager into a flesh-and-blood character that is believable. The writers and director also had to make a villain that was worthy and also realistic for Spidey to fight. Could Sam Raimi, a director mostly known for his horror entries, pull this off? After the first trailer captured everyone’s attention with its photo-realistic take of Spider-man swinging through the busy streets of New York, it was obvious the film would be a success. The film grossed over $821,000,000 worldwide and reinvigorated the public’s hunger for comic books, bringing Marvel out of the red and starting it on the path to becoming the behemoth it is today.
Star Wars (1977)
Could audiences embrace an ambitious space opera on the big screen? George Lucas thought so and he encouraged his team to push the limits of technology and special effects to bring us his visions of dog fights in space, laser sword duels, and all assortment of alien creatures. The film struggled to stay under budget and on schedule, but the end result was more than worth it. The film grossed more than $775,000,000 at the worldwide box office and spawned a media empire that included beloved toy lines, television series, costumes and conventions, and now six sequels/prequels, with more on the way. Taking a risk definitely paid off in this storyteller’s case.
At the time, this film was the most expensive movie ever made. The passion project of James Cameron, then known for directing blockbusters such as Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, this film went over budget and over schedule, forcing another studio to step in to help cover the cost. Could this film make back its investment? At its core, the film was basically a classic Hollywood romance, which didn’t seem bankable as far as modern audiences were concerned. However, once released over the Christmas holiday season, the film went on the become the biggest box-office movie of all-time (before Marvel’s The Avengers and Cameron’s Avatar, of course). The film made over 2-billion dollars worldwide and was re-released in 2012 in 3D. This is my all-time favorite movie, and I’m certainly glad that the studios took Cameron’s gamble.
There are many more films with stories like these, but this was just a handful of some that have been on my mind lately. A good story is one that you have never heard before, one that sucks you in and makes you care about the characters and the stakes at risk. All of these films accomplished this for me, and by the numbers, also for many more people around the world. I would like to see storytellers challenge themselves as we move forward as artists – both in fiction writing and also in the movie business. After all, it isn’t a coincidence that Guardians of the Galaxy, the most creative and original film of 2014, became the highest grossing picture of the year.
Now, to capture some of that creativity on my next project!