The “Best of…” list is required this time of year. The calendar is about to wrap up, so the timing is natural, and frankly writers are not too eager to put in serious work around the holidays.
But while most are eager to collect their opinions on the top films, shows, performances, etc., notable misfires also took place in the past year. There was plenty of wreckage by the side of the road in the entertainment industry.
Here is a listing of the people, companies, and trends that performed poorly, suffered greatly by audience apathy, or had other reasons to be grateful to purchase a brand-new calendar this week.
While operationally everything is sound with the revolutionary streaming giant, this year was full of foreboding news. Subscribership plateaued for the first time in company history, and significant competition has reared up.
In November both Disney and Apple debuted competitive streaming services, and more are on the horizon, with NBC/Universal starting one in the spring and WarnerBrothers-HBO also joining the fray. Not only is this a threat competitively, but also to content.
Disney has pulled much of its own library from Netflix, and that of 20th Century Fox. Netflix is losing the “Friends” catalogue in a matter of days, and it paid a massive $100 million to retain the rights to “The Office,” its most popular show, for just one more year.
The biggest challenge is that of the top ten most popular items for streaming on its platform, eight have the rights with other competitors. Up ahead is a crowded marketplace and a diminished vault of programming.
2. Jussie Smollett
While many celebrities can deliver a pathos-filled personal story, Smollett’s race-based attack hoax was notable for how long it lasted and how widely it affected. It became a national story, involving the recording industry, television, news, and even politicians running for the presidency.
For weeks after it was recognized as a hoax, the story continued to run. Now the man who is believed to have staged it to save his job on “Empire” has been written out of that show, and his career is regarded in limbo.
3. Feminist-Foisted Films
While it is noble to want to see more women in the industry, that is a far cry from force-feeding feminist ideology to audiences. Instead of simply featuring females, this year there was a direct effort to loudly announce the female-centric aspect in titles, and audiences largely avoided these.
It began with Brie Larsen using her “Captain Marvel” platform to lecture men on toxicity, leading to off-screen strife. “Miss Bala” was a reworked female-action piece that was disparaged, and “Black Christmas” was an ignored horror reboot that addressed misogyny and Me Too.
In summer a female version of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” delivered little in the way of interest. Meanwhile, a reboot of “Charlie’s Angels” — which has feminism in its DNA already — was trumpeted by the production as even more of a feminist lecture and essentially told men the movie was not for them. Of course, when it bombed, it was blamed on the men.
4. Franchise Failures
While complaints about Hollywood becoming bereft of original content have long been voiced, this year in particular saw a flood of derivative offerings. Despite Hollywood’s reliance upon pre-existing audience interest, a number of very well-established franchises flamed out.
“Terminator” was a massive loser, and “Charlie’s Angels” was cast into purgatory. Sony Pictures saw little interest in its attempt to reinvigorate “Men In Black,” which failed to break $100 million this summer.
“Godzilla: King Of The Monsters” did about one half of the business of the 2014 hit, and only with a healthier foreign response it just might break even. “Shaft,” “Child’s Play,” and “Hellboy” were other attempts at reestablishing properties that ticket buyers cast aside.
5. Jared Leto
When “Suicide Squad” was in production in 2016, the actor strove mightily to create his own version of the iconic DC villain, his attempt to follow the Oscar-caliber portrayal by the late Heath Ledger. But Leto took it to extremes. While he worked to make “Squad” his movie, he later found his character was despised, and his screentime cut to only 10 minutes.
This year, while he had been promised his own stand-alone film, Warner Brothers also gave director Todd Phillips the greenlight to make an origin story for The Joker. Leto opposed the idea and fought with everyone—the studio, his agency, the press—to stop the film.
Warner cut Phillips’ budget, hoping to dissuade him, but he instead made a rich backstory for Joaquin Phoenix and “The Joker” grossed more than $1 billion globally. Jared ended up switching agencies after burning through four different agents during his fight. The upcoming Harley Quinn movie “Birds Of Prey” has no Joker involved, and Leto’s film now seems to have fallen away completely.
6. Poor Resolutions to Series
Dozens of titles that wrap some of the big names did so this year with unsatisfying departures. “Game of Thrones” left fans debating the merits for weeks. The Fox culmination of its “X-Men” run, “Dark Phoenix,” was so widely derided it led to a chorus of fans saying “Thank God the rights will be back with Marvel.”
The once-powerful Sylvester Stallone franchise “Rambo” managed to go out with an embarrassing whimper. And currently there seems to be a collective sigh in The Force, as the last entry in the Star Wars saga has met ambivalence and diminished business. Sure, it is going to make a ton of cash, but for what is arguably the most beloved cultural offering here to conclude after 40 years in such tepid fashion is rather remarkable.
7. Paramount Pictures
It would be tough to find a studio that suffered more in 2019. While it had a smattering of small hits, like “Rocketman” and the reboot of “Pet Sematary,” netting a small profit, it sustained substantial losses.
“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” failed to launch a franchise in August, followed by two huge setbacks. The Will Smith action piece “Gemini Man” failed here and abroad, making for an estimated $75 million loss. That was immediately followed by the failure of “Terminator: Dark Fate,” which has been estimated to be in the red from between $100-130 million.
This means that within a matter of weeks Paramount took losses in excess of $200 million.
8. John Travolta
The actor has fallen quite far from his A-list days. He is producing little more than direct-to rental fare these days. Last year saw him star in the widely ridiculed “Gotti,” a DVD-quality film wrongfully released into theaters. This year saw him in laughably bad titles that would not even inspire casual Amazon Prime clicks.
“Trading Paint” posed Travolta as a car racer in a meandering family drama with country singer Shania Twain attempting to become an actress. In another bizarre music connection, he later starred in “The Fanatic,” directed by former Limp Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst. In this mess he was a mentally challenged street performer harboring an unhealthy obsession with an action star. Bad movie lovers were thrilled to invest $1.50 at RedBox to behold these fiascos.
Speaking of “Gotti,” the sole reason it saw theaters was MoviePass making a strained attempt at movie distribution. The infamous cinema subscriber outfit offered movie viewers a flat monthly fee to see as many movies as they pleased. Understandably, this became a financial catastrophe.
The company attempted numerous versions of its offering, from limiting viewings to once per day, and making blockbuster hits ineligible for the service. It suspended its annual pass option last year, telling customers they had to subscribe on a monthly basis, as well as other limitations.
In February a customer class-action lawsuit was brought against the company, claiming it operated a bait-and-switch. By April, its subscriber base had fallen to just 10 percent of its peak, and finally in September it ceased operations entirely.
10. STX Children’s Failures
Upstart distributor STX Entertainment has been having a rough patch, and this year was brutal. Amid some other underperforming releases, the company was especially focused on a summer family release, an animated film based on the Ugly Dolls toy line. STX really swung for the fences—only it was batting with a broomstick.
First it acquired the worldwide rights to the toys, then lined up more than 100 partner companies globally to aid in promotion, and set up an animated series to play on Hulu. A budget of at least $50 million was nearly matched with as much promotional dollars. The result was a dismal $8.5 million opening weekend and a paltry $20 million total run in North America. That return completely undermined the global rollout.
Then just a few weeks ago STX released “The Playmobil Movie.” It became one of the worst openings for a film released into 2,000 theaters of all time. These disasters have led to the company holding back on future releases due to budgetary problems.
11. Rebel Wilson
It has been a tough year for properties involving the zaftig comedic actress from “Pitch Perfect.” She began on Valentine’s Day with the lightly regarded “Isn’t It Romantic” that barely achieved a heartbeat in theaters.
During the summer she was in the reworked “The Hustle” with Anne Hathaway that was easily overlooked, and then she closed out the year is the widely ridiculed musical monstrosity, “Cats.” It included a much-ridiculed musical number where she dances with cockroaches.
12. Honorable Mentions
Worst Title: Tough to do worse than the limited release anime feature: “I Want To Eat Your Pancreas.”
Worst Song: While not nearly as bad as Pitbull on the “Aquaman” soundtrack last year, the remake of “Pet Sematary” by Starcrawler was a weak attempt to duplicate The Ramones, much like the movie itself.
Worst Hair: As remarkably bad as “The Fanatic” is, Travolta’s tonsure compounds the problems.
Worst Weekend: Despite the release of the successful “Detective Pikachu,” it overshadowed the releases of “The Hustle,” the cheerless alleged comedy “Poms,” and the completely ignored biopic “Tolkien.”
Whiplash Effect: Keanu Reeves was in one of the worst titles of the year with “Replicants,” but also was in the smash hit “John Wick 3,” as well as voicing the stunt toy Duke Kaboom in “Toy Story 4.”
Audacious Marketing Award: While opening against “Toy Story 4” proved a fatal mistake United Artists had a gutsy poster campaign for “Child’s Play,” where a Chucky doll was shown exterminating various characters from that film.
Most Niche Category: The curiosity “Lords Of Chaos” was in limited release, about heavy metal music in Norway. It is described as being from the very specific sub-genre, “Biography Drama Horror Music Thriller.”