This summer, theaters will be graced with Battleship, a movie based on the classic board game. It’s unclear how well “you sank my battleship” will translate into a film about an alien invasion, but I’m willing to give it a shot. After all, this isn’t the first strange idea Hollywood has had over the years. We’ve seen strange movies come and go, and sometimes those odd premises pay off in ways we just didn’t expect. So before we write off Battleship as Hollywood running out of ideas (again) let’s look at some other movies that had people scratching their heads until they saw the finished copy.
The Premise: A movie based on the board game Clue
Why it was silly: It’s a movie based on a board game. How could it possibly be any good?
Why it worked: Because it was less about the mystery (who killed Mister Boddy?) and more about the characters. Each one was quirky, funny, and played brilliantly by the cast. From Tim Curry to the late, still great Madeline Khan, we got over the top performances in what is really a murder-mystery farce. If you think of the movie as more of a play, a satirical send-up of traditional mysteries, then you’ll see why this movie works.
The best part about Clue, when it came out, was the fact that there were three different endings to the movie, and you had to see it multiple times if you wanted to see all the endings. Theaters advertised which ending they were showing, and each ending resulted in a different murderer and changed the story entirely. Given that this was in the A.B.Y. (Age before Youtube) you didn’t have the option of just going online and watching the other endings.
While this movie didn’t break box-office records, it’s become a beloved cult classic that’s perfect for a family movie night, though some of the more grown-up references may go over your kids’ heads. Or not. We are living in an age with Youtube.
The Premise: Michael Keaton as Batman.
Why it worked: It was directed by Tim Burton, and it was the 80′s. Also, Michael Keaton is under-rated as a performer and was able to carry off dark and brooding quite well. yes, he got a little campy at times, but the live-action Batman everyone was used to was Adam West, so it was definitely an improvement. The Tim Burton directed movie was both dark and stylized, something he’s very good at, and Keaton fit right into that universe. (Especially since Tim Burton also directed Beetlejuice.) True, Michael Keaton not the most intense Batman, but we didn’t have to suffer through “Batman voice” like we have in the Nolan films.
Of course, this kind of questionable casting is still a part of the Batman franchise. Heath Ledger didn’t exactly scream “Joker” when he was cast in that iconic role, and many fans complained loudly about how he’d ruin the movie. Tom Hardy also has his doubters as a credible Bane, but given that Nolan has yet to steer us wrong, I think we’re in for a treat that will finally erase the awful, awful Bane in the 1997 Batman and Robin.
What definitely helped the film was Jack Nicholson as The Joker. While not thin and wiry like his comic book counterpart, Nicholson brought a sense of lethal camp to the role. Paired with Keaton, the two foils had a lot of chemistry that made this movie into an instant classic.
The Premise: Let’s make a movie out of a theme park ride.
Why it was silly: It’s a movie based on a theme park ride.
Why it worked: Johnny Depp. While it’s now hard to imagine a Halloween without running into someone sporting “Jack Sparrow Beard,” we have to remember that prior to this movie’s premiere, a lot of people thought the entire concept was silly. Pirates weren’t exactly a huge draw to the box office, and basing a movie on a theme park ride seemed like Disney was trying to lose money on purpose. What made this movie special was Depp’s portrayal of Jack Sparrow as the 18th Century version of a rock star, basing the character in large part on Keith Richards.
When a movie created an instantly iconic character, you know you’ve got a hit. Depp stole every scene he was in with his bouncy swagger, drunken shenanigans, and being slapped repeatedly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role now, but in the 1990′s people tried to get this movie made with either Steve Martin or Robin Williams as the title character. Disney squashed that idea, and I think the world is better for it.
You might argue that this movie’s success led to (at least) three more movies that didn’t live up to the high bar set by this one, but you can’t deny that they made Disney boatloads of money.
The Premise: Let’s make Bruce Willis an action star
Why it was silly: You mean the guy from Moonlighting? Him?
Why it worked: Have you actually seen Die Hard? If so, you know why it works so stop asking pointless questions. Die Hard is quite possibly the greatest action movie of all time, and it works because of Willis. This movie is why Willis became a giant action star. Before Die Hard, he was seen as a comic leading man, and the studio had serious doubts that audiences would find him believable in that role. (I know.) He was mainly a heartthrob in a will-they/won’t-they television show, famous for inspiring the term “Moonlighiting Effect.” He was funny, and he could do witty banter, but no one saw him as credible when it came to being a cop fighting terrorists led by Alan Rickman.
But that’s what worked in his favor. John McClane is a character who needed to play off good supporting characters (like