“Development Hell” is a term used by Hollywood to appropriately describe a film that’s stuck in limbo for an incredibly long period of time. Often, these are films that a lot of people would love to see, which can be one of the problems. High anticipation of a great movie can make producers nervous, which can lead to script rewrites, directors and actors walking off the project, and many other problems that might keep a movie from ever being realized.
Unfortunately, some of the highly-anticipated films find their way through the gates of Development Hell and into our lives when they should have been left to rot. Some folks may have liked these movies so please note that they’re on this list due to their overall failure in both the box office and in the hearts and minds of professional critics.
10. 47 Ronin
Sentenced to 4 years in Hell / 15% on Rotten Tomatoes
Like all of the movies on this list, 47 Ronin was expected to be a huge financial success. The film was stuck in four years of development hell, which isn’t a very long time compared to some on this list, but the results were disastrous. Going way over budget and having lost its original director due to a rough-cut that Keanu Reeves didn’t particularly care for, the film made only $38.3 million domestically with a budget of $175 million. The worldwide gross was just over $150 million, putting its total losses well over $300 million after taking in the cost for promotion.
Many of the production problems came from Universal Studios’ executives, who micromanaged the director, Carl Rinsch, so much that it became difficult for him to work. Hollywood insiders described the production as abysmal and Rinsch’s ability to direct as having “struggled to control the filmmaking process.” Due to the costs of production to include promotional costs, which are often close to the original budget, the film needed to make $500 Million just to break even.
9. Fantastic Four
Sentenced to 6 years in Hell / 9% on Rotten Tomatoes
The Fantastic Four had three previous disappointments prior to the 2015 attempt to reboot the series. The original film was never released and was only made so that the developers could maintain the rights. That happened again with some promise with two films that seemed a bit too campy for audiences who enjoyed better comic book films released around the time, like The Dark Knight.
Fantastic Four was immediately panned by critics and fans alike. The film was in the works for a little over six years and development problems persisted throughout its production. The director, Josh Trank, even Tweeted how he didn’t like the final cut, but lost the ability to put out the film he wanted to due to production issues. The film cost an estimated $120 million and will likely make enough money with foreign and domestic markets to at least break even, though it likely won’t come close to covering the costs for promotion. Unfortunately for fans hoping for a return of the film rights to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it looks like Fox will proceed with a sequel already amidst the poor reception of this film.
8. Beverly Hills Cop III
Sentenced to 7 years in Hell / 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
Fans of the series waited a little over seven years to get the third installment of the Beverly Hills Cop franchise. The production was plagued with rewrites and various issues that ended up with a rather poor example of a previously winning franchise. Eddie Murphy has spoken out against the film, calling it “garbage”. This is coming from the guy who made Norbit, by the way.
For a summer blockbuster, it did not do well. Though it ended up taking in a little more than two times its budget, the franchise suffered and Beverly Hills Cop IV has been stuck in development hell as a result since 1994. An attempt to do a series from writer Shawn Ryan, to be produced by Murphy, was all set to go on CBS but they declined to pick up the pilot, probably because they could still smell the stink coming from this 1994 cinematic turd.
7. The Postman
Sentenced to 10 years in Hell / 9% on Rotten Tomatoes
It took 10 years of development hell for writer David Brin to get his work made into a film. Kevin Costner was still a box office star and it was Brin and his wife who thought he could carry the movie. Unfortunately, Costner demanded several script rewrites that altered the story immensely. If you were to read the book and then watch the film, you might notice that the titles were the same, but that would be about it.
Fans ended up hating it, and the project was a major Hollywood flop. The Simpsons actually had a gag in one episode about the director’s commentary on the DVD consisting solely of Costner apologizing over and over for the duration. It eventually made enough money to cover costs when video sales and rentals were taken into account, but the damage was done. The Postman and Waterworld combined to do quite a number on Kevin Costner’s previously stellar career, and he would lose the ability to carry a movie as a result of the financial losses from these projects.
6. The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Sentenced to 10 years in Hell / 32% on Rotten Tomatoes
The fans had to wait for more than 10 years to get a sequel to the first film based on the iconic TV show The X-Files, which is a long time when you consider that so many people have to return to a project to make it happen for the fans. The film flopped domestically, but was able to break about even with the foreign box office receipts. Without making much money and failing to appease fans, the film may have come too late for a series that ended in 2002.
Most complaints about the film centered on the poor choices of director Chris Carter, who had previously produced the first film and was the executive producer and primary creator of the series. The story was sloppy and just didn’t live up to the quality of the previous incarnations of the X-Files. There’s a miniseries revival in the works set to release in early 2016 that fans hope will revitalize the series.
5. The Lone Ranger
Sentenced to 11 years in Hell / 31% on Rotten Tomatoes
Gore Verbinski’s commercial and critical flop wasn’t first or the only film based on the popular character, but it did sit in development hell for more than a decade before it finally killed Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films… or it might have, anyway, if Disney hadn’t previously acquired Marvel Studios.
The script underwent numerous rewrites and gained and lost several directors before finally getting the green light with Verbinski in 2010. Verbinski brought Johnny Depp onto the set in the hopes of bringing along the success the two had on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but the film failed to please audiences. There were so many production problems throughout filming that Disney even cancelled it at one point. The movie lost millions on production costs and its box office receipts barely pushed above its gigantic budget of $225 million. Overall, the film lost around $115 million for Disney.
4. Alien vs. Predator
Sentenced to 13 years in Hell / 21% on Rotten Tomatoes
The original concept for Alien vs. Predator came about in a Dark Horse Comics story of the same name in 1989. By 1991, a treatment had been created and sold to 20th Century Fox, but the project ended up getting sidelined for other Alien projects like Alien: Resurrection. Other problems were related to the production rights of both the Predators and the Alien (Xenomorph) characters since many of the six different producers on those projects feared a financial failure if the two were paired on screen.
Unfortunately, they were correct and the film failed to please audiences and fans alike. Because the film made enough money in the foreign and domestic box offices, a sequel was produced and released in 2007. While that may seem like a successful outcome from a bad movie, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem was also considered to be a flop both financially and amongst critics and fans with only a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Green Lantern
Sentenced to 14 years in Hell / 26% on Rotten Tomatoes
The development for the Green Lantern film that was eventually released in 2011 started all the way back in 1997. The script was originally offered to Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, but both rejected the idea. Multiple writers were brought onto the project over the years, but it never got off the ground until they slapped together a script from three separate drafts and multiple directors. The script was actually a big concern when casting was announced because it simply didn’t exist yet. Ryan Reynolds spoke of how he read for a part that had no script, but felt it was “an opportunity of a lifetime.”
When it was finally completed, most fans just didn’t like it and the general audience wasn’t interested. Unlike other DC characters like Batman and Superman, the Green Lantern didn’t break into movies with much fanfare or critical acclaim and another attempt isn’t expected to hit the theaters until 2020. Green Lantern failed to make back its money in theaters in the United States or abroad. The film reportedly cost $200 million to shoot and it only took in an estimate $220 million; far below the overall costs for production and promotion combined.
2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Sentenced to 19 years in Hell / 78% on Rotten Tomatoes
This film is somewhat unique on this list because it was a commercial and critical success. Making just under $800 million worldwide, the fourth film in the Indiana Jones franchise was anything but a financial success, and while it enjoyed some decent early reviews, that was due mainly to nostalgia that has since withered away, letting people admit just what a bad movie it really is. The only problem is that while it was able to bring in a lot of money from eager fans who had spent the previous two decades pining for another installment, most were horrified to see what became of one of cinema’s most beloved characters.
The effects were cheesy, the story was terrible and made little sense, and the introduction of previous characters from past films as well as a new one via Shia LaBeouf seemed forced and contrived. The film was parodied on South Park with creators Steven Spielberg and George Lucas ‘raping’ the titular character at gun and knifepoint. While it’s true that it did make a good amount of money, there seem to be more than enough sites on the Internet devoted to how disappointing this film was.
1. John Carter
Sentenced to 81 years in Hell / 51% on Rotten Tomatoes
It seems crazy to think that a film could be in development for more than 80 years, but John Carter (based on one of the most famous and influential sci-fi/fantasy book series’ ever written) is such a movie. Not only did it take several studios and several decades to come to fruition, but it’s also one of the worst financial failures on this list. The film came nowhere near the $300+ million investment made by Walt Disney Studios. Much of the early production problems stemmed from the project being relatively ‘un-filmable’ with too much cost having to be put into effects. Animation was the first pitch to the company responsible for Looney Tunes back in 1931, but it failed to receive positive reactions after test-footage was shot. The project was later taken to Disney for a potential stop-motion animation feature, but it ultimately ended up back at Paramount, then again at Disney where it was finally made into the disappointing live-action film that was released.
The film ended up falling short of its $300 million dollar investment by only taking in just shy of $285 million at the worldwide box office. For a film that resided in Development Hell for so long, perhaps Hollywood should take notice and leave similar projects damned for all time.
Jonathan is a writer and artist who you can follow all over social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and Deviant Art. He’s also got a Kickstarter page, where he works on developing t-shirts and games.