On January 25, 2007, I began an online blog project called “My Year Of Flops.” I had a simple goal: to lay down the foundation for a series of lucrative PowerPoint presentations that would show small-business groups how life lessons from failed films could help them maximize efficiency, exploit multiple ancillary revenue streams, and explosify profits. To qualify for My Year Of Flops, a film had to meet three unyielding/slippery criteria: It had to be a critical and commercial failure upon its release. (Domestically, at least.) It had to have, at best, a marginal cult following. Lastly, it had to facilitate an endless procession of bad jokes, facile observations, and labored one-liners.
On a financial level, the project was a failure. Not a single business group contacted me. The PowerPoint presentation I slaved over for months is currently gathering dust in some forgotten corner of My Year Of Flops Manor. But in a veritable replay of The Music Man, what began as a cynical bid to lighten the wallets of suckers and rubes quickly took on a life of its own. Before I knew it, I had brought music, laughter, and a band fronted by 76 trombones to the good people of River City, Iowa, and found love with a pretty librarian.
I also found acceptance from readers who cheered me on throughout my quixotic quest. Internet commenters, those nattering nabobs of negativism, magically transformed into perspicacious proponents of positivity. An online community that often resembles a lynch mob turned into a band of angels. For I had created not just a blog project, but an entire weird world of failure, regret, and bad ideas to get lost in, a floposphere for pop-culture rubberneckers and schadenfreude enthusiasts. In the fulfillment of my wildest dreams, My Year Of Flops steadily grew to become that rarest and most wonderful of creatures: a moderately popular ongoing online feature. Then it became something even rarer and more wonderful: a book. That you can purchase!
My Year Of Flops: One Man’s Journey Deep Into The Heart Of Cinematic Failure represents the culmination of my work on the column. It’s an exploration/defense of some of the most notorious disasters in cinematic history that combines favorites from the column with 15 new Case Files, interviews with some of the talent involved, an introduction, illustrations by Danny Hellman (who also provided the illustrations for last year’s Inventory book), a minute-by-minute account of the three-hour-long director’s cut of Waterworld, and more.
As a special treat for avclub.com commenters, I’ve convinced Scribner to leave an inch or so blank at the bottom of each page so they can scribble in their thoughts, quips, and in-jokes involving the storyboards of Frank Darabont. But doesn’t every book contain blank space at the bottom, you might ask? Sure, I suppose so, but I insisted that this space be left extra-blank solely for My Year Of Flops fans addicted to the instant feedback of the Internet.
A little less than three years ago, I wrote an essay called “Pee-Drinking Man-Fish I Have Known: My Year Of Flops, The Year In Review” that delineated the project’s goals while offering 10 life lessons gleaned from the very first annum of MYOF. I’ve written 84 more Case Files since then, so I figured it was time to update the essay with 10 more MYOF lessons.
1) If you’re going to cast John Wayne as Genghis Khan in a sleazy biopic, don’t film it downwind from a nuclear test site.
Teacher: The Conqueror. Producer Howard Hughes decided to film the ill-fated 1956 Genghis Khan biopic The Conqueror not far from a Nevada nuclear test site. Perhaps not coincidentally, stars John Wayne and Susan Hayward and director Richard Powell died of cancer. And yet remarkably, exposing the cast and crew to nuclear radiation only constitutes the film’s fifth or sixth biggest miscalculation.
2) Coca-Cola can bring the dead back to life
Teacher: Mac And Me. In the feature-length 1988 McDonald’s infomercial Mac And Me, there’s no problem McDonald’s and/or Coke can’t solve. This includes death, as we learned when the hero and his wheelchair-bound sidekick literally brought their alien friend’s family back to life by pouring caffeinated sugar-water down their throats.
3) Don’t leave the casting of your film to the perverse whims of television audiences.
Teacher: From Justin To Kelly. America loved girl-next-door Kelly Clarkson and Sideshow Bob look-alike Justin Guarini. But did they want to see these awkward amateur actors text their way to love in the ill-fated American Idol cash-in movie From Justin To Kelly? No, they did not.
4) If you make a lambada movie, don’t release it the same day as the other lambada movie.
Teachers: Lambada and Forbidden Dance. In the late ’80s, the only people doing the lambada were people in exploitation movies about how everyone was doing the lambada. Yet that somehow didn’t keep legendary schlockmeisters Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan—the geniuses behind the B-movie juggernaut Cannon—from simultaneously releasing competing movies. That turned out to be two more lambada movies than the world wanted.
5) If you’re making an earnest message movie about the dignity of little people, don’t cast Gary Oldman as a dwarf.
Teacher: Tiptoes. Little people can do just about anything, except play little people in movies about how little people can do anything. That’s the message the makers of Tiptoes unwittingly sent when they cast Oldman as a little person in their notorious 2003 comedy-drama. The miscasting is even more egregious considering that actual little person Peter Dinklage has a big supporting role as Oldman’s justifiably angry best friend.
6) Don’t release a maudlin tribute to yourself after being exposed as a boozy, financially rapacious public-urination enthusiast.
Teacher: Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage. Kitsch icon Thomas “Painter Of Light©” Kinkade made an ill-fated play for big-screen glory with his laughably hokey 2008 semi-autobiographical drama. Unfortunately, it came out at the tail end of a decade rife with scandal, controversy, and lawsuits for Kinkade, who didn’t salvage his reputation with his recent drunk-driving arrest.
7) If you set out to make the ultimate hippie love-in/cinematic freakfest, don’t populate your cast with the geriatric likes of Groucho Marx, Mickey Rooney, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, and Carol Channing.
Teacher: Skidoo. Glowering, much-feared director/sometimes Batman villain Otto Preminger tried to plug into the anarchic energy of the free-love movement for his 1968 mob acid comedy Skidoo, but erred in recruiting much of its supporting cast from Hollywood nursing homes.
8) Do not transform Scarlet Letter into a girl-powered exploration of interracial homoeroticism and female masturbation with a happy ending.
Teacher: Scarlet Letter. What if Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic story was less a stone-cold bummer than a sexy, bloody tale of proto-feminist empowerment? That was the beautiful, idiotic dream of the 1997 film adaptation, a travesty that gave audiences the happy ending Hawthorne never wanted.
9) Do not expect audiences to embrace a tragedy about the development of ether as an anesthetic, even if it’s directed by Preston Sturges.
Teacher: The Great Moment. Like the protagonist of Sullivan’s Travels, the great writer-director Preston Sturges longed to make an important, socially conscious drama. But audiences that flocked to Sturges’ comedies had little interest in watching a downer about a lowly dentist who helped save the world from pain, yet died alone and disgraced.
10) Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!
This is less a life lesson learned than a sincere request that you pick up My Year Of Flops: One Man’s Journey Deep Into The Heart Of Cinematic Failure. I hear it’s quite good.