It's the middle of summer movie season. These days, that means tons of movies, designed to bring in the broadest audience to justify their $100 million-plus budget. And sometimes, you can tell these films, deep down, want to be "B" movies. Here are 10 huge-budget movies that would have been more fun with less money.
1) I, Robot
The only thing anybody remembers from this film is the army of CG robots smashing stuff, which basically turned it into a standard-issue apocalypse/disaster movie. But at times, this movie seemed to want to be a weird little thriller about robot consciousness, with Alan Tudyk grappling with his identity and Asimov's Three Laws. This film could have been a lot more fun if it had the budget of the average Cronenberg outing, and the studio had let Dark City director Alex Proyas go nuts.
2) The Golden Compass
Not every fantasy book adaptation needs to be Harry Potter, or to reach a Potter-sized audience. This was a classic case of studio interference getting in the way of a feature — there were several script drafts for this movie that were truer to the Philip Pullman book, including one by playwright Tom Stoppard. But the studio wanted something shinier and happier. This film could have been a lot darker if it had spent less money on cool-looking CG polar bears, and maybe just had a few "money shots."
3) The Incredible Hulk
Of all the Marvel movies, this feels like the biggest misfire. Well, this or Iron Man 2. I've never seen a big action tentpole that wanted more badly to be a small art film, thanks to Edward Norton's brooding and talky performance as Bruce Banner. And maybe that's not the movie that Marvel wanted — understandably — but it's the movie they were getting. The surprising thing is, this movie had a bigger budget than Iron Man, when it probably should have had half the budget and more introspection. It seems as though all that money went on the big Harlem smackdown in the final 20 minutes, which felt utterly predictable and devoid of real excitement.
4) Quantum of Solace
How did this movie manage to spend $200 million? All I can even remember about it is the one rooftop footchase, and Daniel Craig skulking around a series of opera houses and luxury condos. Oh, and a woman getting covered with crude oil. This film seemed like it was afraid to come out and say anything, or do anything interesting with James Bond — and all of its instincts seemed to pull it in the direction of being a low-budget spy thriller. The story of Bond taking down the organization that killed his girlfriend could have been done for Jason Statham money, and it might have been kind of nuts and no-holds-barred, instead of the every-hold-barred movie we got.
The first half of this movie was a zany comedy about a superhero with an attitude problem (and a drinking problem.) The movie's heart comes from Jason Bateman trying to give Will Smith's character a new image, and Will Smith fucking up again and again. It was sort of a demented concept — and then this movie randomly changes gears and turns into a big action movie, unspooling a massive backstory about gods and dysfunctional god marriages. It's as if everybody remembered this is a summer tentpole. What if Hancock had just been made for Judd Apatow money?
6) Terminator Salvation
This is still one of the most expensive movies ever made, even after Avatar and various Chris Nolan joints. Also, this and Terminator 3 were both massively more expensive than the first two Terminators — the ones actually made by James Cameron — even after you factor in inflation. And to the extent that Terminator Salvation had any potential for greatness (or goodness), it was as a dark post-apocalyptic movie, something in which survivors forage in the wasteland and hide from killer robots. Not so much Transformers with Helena Bonham-Skynet.
7) G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra
Hard to believe anyone thought this movie was worth spending $175 million (in 2009 dollars) on. The sequel had a lower budget, and approximately 1000 percent more fun. And honestly, as the first movie in an untested new franchise, this should have been a lean, low-budget romp in which half the fun is just establishing Duke and the rest of the crew and watching them run around their secret base fighting Cobra. You didn't need power suits or Paris being destroyed, just the kind of goofy shoot-em-up fun the cartoon was known for. Plus ninja fights. If any summer movie ever really wanted to be a "B" movie, it's this one.
8) Oz The Great and Powerful
We actually said in our review of this one that it should have been a "B" movie, so I'm just going to quote from that: "As you watch the plodding action in Oz unfold, you'll find yourself wishing it had a bit more of the anything-goes spirit of a B-movie. There is a lot to love in this prequel to the famous 1939 movie, but the whole thing feels strangely defanged. Which is a problem in a flick that needs some darkness to fuel its light."
Like Terminator, the Alien franchise started off relatively small, and then grew into a behemoth. In today's dollars, Alien's $11 million budget would be about $36 million. And maybe if Ridley Scott had spent a fraction of Prometheus' massive purse, he would have felt freer to make a creepier venture into the heart of H.R. Giger-land, with more horror and less portentousness. This movie had enough money to look really, really beautiful, and to act as though it was going to ask Big Questions about where humanity came from and why we're here. Instead of just being fucking scary and insane.
Like Oz The Great and Powerful, this was another lavish origin story for a great fantasy character. And much like Oz, Maleficent was slathered in CG insanity — but this time around, the result looks even more muddled, and the story is even more defanged. The only special effect that really works in this film is Angelina Jolie's incredibly animated face, as she watches a baby grow up. If this movie had been more low-fi, it might have been able to give us a Maleficent with real darkness in her, one that lived up to the original film.