We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
There’s something fascinating about someone else’s failure, isn’t there? Watching as the hard work people have put into something turns into flaming wreckage. What better evidence is there than the movie industry. We box-office armchair quarterbacks check every week to see how films are performing. Do all films that tank deserve it? Of course not. Still, some have passed into legendary status as the biggest bombs in cinematic history. These are the subjects analyzed by Nathan Rabin, head writer of the Onion’s A.V. Club, in his 2010 book My Year of Flops. In 2007 he embarked on an Quixotic quest: a twice-weekly yearlong blog project exploring the biggest failures in cinema. (Of which our own Ben Gilbert wrote about.) The best entries are presented here, along with some book-exclusive new material.
Rabin sorts each film into one of three catagories: Failure, Fiasco and Secret Success. Any bad film can achieve Failure, but ambition and miscalculation can result in a Fiasco. Secret Successes, on the other hand, have been unfairly maligned by history and are worthy of redemption. Rabin runs the entire cinematic gamut when looking at flops. First came Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown among other dramas like Howard Hughes’s John Wayne-as-Genghis-Khan biopic The Conqueror and Johnny Cash’s Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus. Comedies such as The Cable Guy and Freddy Got Fingered. Super-heroic action flicks like Hulk, Last Action Hero and The Rocketeer. Purported “sexy” films such as Exit to Eden an The Scarlet Letter. The Real Cancun, the first “reality TV” movie. There are the floppiest of flops like Paint Your Wagon, Ishtar, Battlefield Earth and Howard the Duck. Finally he ends by rewatching Elizabethtown, the film he started with, to see if a year of failures cast it in a new light. As a bonus, he shares a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow viewing of the director’s cut of Waterworld.
We all know what it’s like to encounter a flop. I remember sitting in the movie theater, experiencing the debacle that was known as The Island of Dr. Moreau. Rabin doesn’t just tell you these movies are flops. He goes more in depth, examining why they’re flops and featuring a handful of interviews with people involved in making them. There was also a nice sense of cameradery, for me at least, whenever we agreed that a film is a Secret Success. For a fascinating read on cinematic failures, I recommend you check out My Year of Flops. The author’s cinematic self-sacrifice shouldn’t be in vain.