Sometimes a movie sparks everybody's imagination months before it comes out. When a film gets talked about, that's usually a good thing — and it's an even better thing when it becomes the subject of memes and ideas. Unless those memes totally misrepresent what the movie's about, and wind up killing all interest in seeing it. Sometimes, memes can kill.
Here are 10 science fiction and fantasy movies that were decent, or even great, but got slaughtered due to memes. In roughly chronological order.
Note: These aren't necessarily the best films of all time, but they're at least decent. They range from "pretty good" to
"all-time greatest." Also, this isn't by any means the complete list of films that deserved better than they got or were marketed poorly — that would be hundreds of films — this is just ones that got tagged with a meme that made it hard for them to succeed. Still, please share your own candidates below!
This is one of my all-time favorite movies, and not just because I loved Joss Whedon's Firefly. There are only a relatively small number of great space adventure films out there, especially from the past decade, and Serenity hits the sweet spot in so many ways. It's also a great dystopian epic, in which the people who want to keep everything pacified and controlled wind up unleashing an unkillable force of chaos.
The Meme: You have to have watched every episode of Firefly to appreciate this film. I heard that a billion times before it came out, but it's not actually true. The movie does ask a lot of the viewer in its opening minutes — but that's because it's a smart movie, not because it assumes you've watched the TV show already.
2. Snakes on a Plane
Okay, so Snakes on a Plane is not a great movie — but it is a fun silly monster movie, where Samuel L. Jackson is stuck on an airplane with a bunch of critters. It definitely fits into the category of "decent," if you can appreciate it for what it is.
The Meme: This movie is actually a classic example of a film that is so popular as a meme, the actual film seems redundant. The entire internet was laughing about "snakes on a plane" for months before the movie hit. Pretty much no movie could live up to that kind of obsessive goofballery. And when Snakes on a Plane turned out to be just a pretty solid monster film, people lost interest. Plus the perception that the film was pandering to the internet — for example, by adding Jackson's famous line about motherfucking snakes — wound up causing a bit of a backlash.
Mike Judge's movie about a slacker who gets frozen and wakes up as the smartest guy in a moronic future has gotten a huge cult following and is frequently mentioned as a satire whose time has come. But when it came out in theaters, it was greeted with a massive shrug and failed to make any money at all.
The Meme: It's another Dumb and Dumber. That's the movie Entertainment Weekly namechecked in a photo caption next to its "D" review of this cryogenic satire. The perception that Judge's film was another Farrelly Brothers comedy about dumb people and pratfalls turned audiences away.
Whether you love the final act, you have to admit that Danny Boyle's stellar-recharge movie is a stunning film overall. It features some amazing performances and some startlingly real-looking space sequences. But it completely failed to conquer the box office in 2006, slipping through the cracks.
The Meme: It's a monster movie in space. The trailers overemphasized the final reel and made it look like there was a zombie on the spaceship — and the fact that this was pretty soon after 28 Days Later, with the same director and star, only added to that confusion.
5. Jennifer's Body
Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody crafted a sick, intense horror movie about female friendship, aimed at a largely female audience. We loved this film, but both audiences and most critics didn't seem to get it — because they'd already been turned off by a pervasive meme.
The Meme: It's Megan Fox being sexy and making out with Amanda Seyfried. This is a movie for horny boys. For months before this movie came out, we were seeing glimpses of Fox's kiss with Seyfried, or Fox's brief semi-nude scene. And Fox's notoriety in the wake of the Transformers movies didn't help, either. The perception of this film was all about it being, basically, softcore porn — when the reality was something a lot darker and smarter.
We still love this movie about superpowered mutants, with Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning bringing great performances, and a twisty script that keeps you guessing. Director Paul McGuigan really channels Hong Kong movies in this Hong Kong-set film.
The Meme: It's Heroes, the movie. This film hit just as Heroes was tanking creatively, and the perception that this movie was a film version of the show that everybody used to love was damning.
7. Let Me In
We actually wound up loving Matt Reeves' stark, intense take on John Ajvide Lindqvist's vampire story, which didn't pull any punches at all while commenting on Reagan-era America.
The Meme: It's a pointless remake of Let The Right One In, because American audiences are too dumb to watch the original film with subtitles. And yes, the original Swedish film is a masterpiece, and nine times out of ten a remake would be pointless — but this was the tenth time, when an American remake was actually worthwhile. (And nobody complained about the U.S. Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, at least not to the same extent.)
8. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Edgar Wright did a fantastic job of translating the Bryan Lee O'Malley comics to the big screen, with a lot of the kinetic feel of video games and a very loose, hyper-active style.
The Meme: This is a movie for hipsters. Because Michael Cera. Cera was being crowned as the king of mumbly hipster actors just as this film came out, and all the trailers made it look like a hipster romance along the lines of (500) Days of Summer, only with wacky video game stuff. People were feeling sick of hipster comedy, and this film paid the price.
9. John Carter
We still like this movie a lot — Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon took on the Herculean task of translating Edgar Rice Burroughs' epic to the big screen, and created something messy but beautiful. This film has some of my favorite moments of any 2012 movie, along with some clutter and some head-scratching decisions.
The Meme: This is Andrew Stanton's crazy ego trip and he needs to be punished. All of the discussion of this film prior to its release seemed to focus on how high-handed Stanton had gotten, as if his desire for creative control over his project was unforgivable hubris that needed to be punished with a box office flop of epic proportions. Nobody wanted to talk about the actual film, or the many things it was doing right.
And finally... one of last year's funnest action movies. It did the hard job of bringing the dystopian comic to life, on a relatively small budget, and Karl Urban owns the role of Judge Dredd.
The Meme: It's a remake of a Sylvester Stallone movie. Fans knew better, but the mainstream media and random filmgoers were under the impression this was just another Hollywood retread of a film that wasn't good the first time. This movie never quite got the Stallone taint off it.
Thanks to Lauren, Meredith, Rob, Esther and Annalee for the input! Thanks also to Genevieve Valentine.