So you’re just done watching an ok-alright movie, you don’t regret seeing it it was fine. Right afterwards you find yourself saying to yourself “I really only wanted to know more about this character, why wasn’t the story about her/him?” Filmmakers sometimes just miss the target in terms of who to emphasize in the film, whether it be because a big-star was playing the main character or because that’s just the way it was written in the script. For what ever reason the film just didn’t quite grab you enough. What you did take away was, if anything, was a secondary part that was much more intriguing and compelling than the lead. They had the tougher choices, had nuances and subtlety and got the scraps of screen-time.
“If only…” is one of the worst things that can derail an effective movie. So much potential wasted, what could’ve been, could’ve been great, groundbreaking even. Well, these ten films represent that concept in full. If only these ten would’ve been about the supporting player who grabs the audience, it would’ve been creative masterwork. But for now these films make this list for what could’ve been, lost potential at its most egregious.
10. J Edgar – Make Clyde Tolson the Lead/Narrator
Clint Eastwood was hoping this biopic of one of the most enigmatic figures in American history would put him and its star Leonardo DiCaprio back into Oscar consideration. Well, suffice to say it didn’t quite work that way. Making only a modest profit at the Box Office, audiences were turned away by lackluster marketing and very mixed reviews by critics. Now, making a film about the mysterious and shady J. Edgar Hoover would’ve been a major undertaking for even the seasoned veteran director. The film’s main problem is the framing device of Hoover narrating his career’s achievements to a ghost-writer (Original), see the head of the FBI for fifty-years isn’t exactly the most charismatic narrator. The story-telling here is bland as can be. DiCaprio does his best with the material, oh does he try, but really there is just not that much to go on here.
Who does stand-out in the film (one of the few) is Armie Hammer’s Clyde Tolson, who remains Hoover’s right-hand man (and perhaps much more) for decades. He is a stalwart in terms of sticking to the beleaguered FBI director though his most famous trials and tribulations. So, why don’t we just make the film from his prospective as Hoover’s #1 in charge? Charming and loyal, he was even able to woe the emotionally detached Hoover (supposedly). SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the film, it is even Tolson that reveals that Hoover has been lying to his ghost-writer about his involvement in cases throughout the years. So, if it was indeed Tolson narrating his time with Hoover we even would’ve gotten a less slanted version of historical events.
A critical and commercial miss for Eastwood, he probably would’ve been better served trusting the narrative focus on the more relatable character in the pairing.
9. District 9 – Make the Prawn Father the Lead
In the first half of the Sci-Fi Thriller District 9 we have to, unfortunately, get to know Sharlto Copely’s Witkus, an operative for Multi-National United who oversee the Alien Refugee Camp District 9 near Johannesburg, South Africa. 27 years ago the Alien Ship mysteriously appeared in the skys above the city. Since then their technology have been exploited by Multi-national united and the “Prawns”, as they’ve come to be known, have been herded into ghetto-like District 9. Mistreated and oppressed the Alien population seeks a way off the planet. However, the focus for the film is Witkus the repugnant and unsympathetic MNU agent who relishes in inflicting pain on the refugees. The audience is supposed to relate to this character’s journey of self-discovery as he, ironically, changes into a Prawn, when all we’re thinking is he had it coming for a long time.
In stark contrast is an alien Prawn trying to raise a child in unimaginable conditions, whilst trying to free his people. We feel for the plight of the two of them. The film is confusing in its stylistic choices, a faux documentary with talking head interviews at times and a regular sci-fi film the other. Which leads me to believe they didn’t understand the emotional core of the story, the Prawns serving as the a symbol for human intolerance. So how about making the Prawn the narrative focus as we see him and his species try to just survive in a human world. Since these aliens exhibit the best in humanity; family bonds, compassion and resourcefulness, there is no need for a repugnant human lead to guide the audience in this Sci-Fi story.
8. Robin Hood – Actually Make It About Robin Hood…
One of the most Prolific fictional characters of all-time on film, the Ridley Scott take on the character turned into be an over-long convoluted and above all head-scratching movie. The story is more about a prequel to the legend of Robin Hood than it is about stealing from the rich and giving to the poor and bands of merry men. Russel Crowe is Robin Longstride, a crusader returning from Richard the Lionheart’s most recent campaign in the middle-east. After the King is killed in battle he and his band of un-merry men sneak off and take the place of a convoy sent to give the crown to the King’s brother, John. They are in turn mistaken for the men that they are pretended to be in the village of the man Robin is impersonating. Then they must stop a band of traitors in the kings court from allowing French forces to invade England. Ok that all clear? He isn’t Robin Hood until the end scene.
The whole thing plays as more Gladiator 2: Men in Tights than the character this movie is named for. It is a convoluted, full of endless exposition and odd piece especially from the visionary of someone like Ridley Scott. The thing here is that everyone knows Robin Hood, we really don’t want/need need a backstory to fill-in what he was. Doing the origin story sounds good on paper, the execution was just extremely poor. So, here’s an idea, just make the movie with Crowe already as Robin Hood: the Prince of Thieves. Russell Crowe redistributing wealth to the masses, now that’s entertainment.
7. Batman (1989) – Actually Make It About Batman…
What is it with false advertising in movie titles? Tim Burton’s attempt at bringing the Caped Crusader to the screen was a major hit that helped solidify his career as the go to director for the dark and macabre. However, it is a real mess of an adaptation of The Dark Knight. Michael Keaton’s Batman comes off like a secondary character to Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Burton is obviously more interested in the villains in the comic book series than its titular hero, which becomes more apparent in the sequel Batman Returns. To his credit Nicholson plays the role doing the best Jack Nicholson impersonation he can, the Joker is dark, funny and charismatic antagonist. However, this all comes at the expense to developing Batman as the most human of superheros.
This is low on the list because we finally got the Batman that we “didn’t need but deserve” in Christopher Nolan’s recently completed trilogy. Batman Begins especially gave the blue-print for telling the story of the Dark Knight. Having the hero stand-out above the villains, Nolan intentionally used lesser known Batman antagonists (Scarecrow, Ras Al Ghul) in order for him to make a stronger impression. Tim Burton’s Joker completely overshadows our favorite grim vigilante, in end we didn’t want to see more of Keaton’s Batman we just wanted to see Jack being Jack.
6. Harry Potter Films – Make Them About Hermione
Now, there wasn’t much they could do here, because they’re based off of the book series and would cause quite a stir if they diverged an inch from the source material. Because hey, Harry is “the chosen one” of course, poor Hermione is only just the friend of the savior of the magical world. However, lets do a little analysis here. Emma Watson’s Hermione Granger is the smartest witch of her time, hard-working, loyal and more than a little snobbish. She’s the one who does all the work to aid Harry in his heroic ventures. And at the end of the day, she comes off as the most three-dimensional of the leads. It may be due to Watson conveying Hermione better than Daniel Radcliff’s Harry Potter, but nonetheless Hermione works the hardest and is rarely thanked in kind for doing her part.
It would have been a radical departure, but Hermione has the more interesting story arc in retrospect. A sheltered youth who has to overcome her capacity for being a know-it-all in order to connect with her less magically inclined peers. Isn’t that more intriguing than a boy praised literally from birth and accepted as the second-coming in the magical world, when he gets there? What we got was a bland and oddly passive main hero, seemingly just going through the motions of having his destiny already known to him the whole time.
5. Avatar – Make It About The Na’vi
James Cameron’s all-time money maker wowed audiences with the effects and the integrated 3-D. However, even the most ardent fans agree the story was formulaic borrowing elements from other well-known films about the white-man coming into a different culture and then becoming part of it (Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Fern Gully). Sam Worthington has never been the most relatable actor on-screen either, lacking the charisma needed to keep the overlong story engaging. Instead the focus should’ve been on Neytiri, played wonderfully by Zoe Saldana, and her people’s struggles with unwelcome neighbors. Just as with District 9 on this list the Na’vi display enough human traits, and have human features, in order for audience to relate to their plight. What should’ve been The New World in space instead is a watered down Dances with Wolves, not really a good trade-off.
In addition, the human characters just seem out of place on Pandora, it isn’t much a metaphorical statement as the special effects of the Na’vi and their world don’t mix well when going back to the real-looking humans. So, lets just stick with the Na’vi and their struggles with a technologically superior foe. No need to follow Worthington, blandly narrating his time turning into a giant blue-feline alien.
4. Kick-Ass – Make It About Hit Girl and Big Daddy
Kick-Ass was supposed to be a “realistic” take on the super-hero genre. If someone were to dress-up and take on crime what would actually happen? Well, billed as a dark comedy the end result is entirely too much of former with almost none of the latter. Dave Lizewski, Aaron Johnson, becomes Kick-ass a Nun-chuck wielding wanna-be vigilante. The focus is his journey of self-discovery and the pitfalls there of. The problem being is that Dave is a typical movie high-school nerd, something we have seen thousands upon thousands of times before. Aaron Johnson doesn’t bring anything new to the role either, playing Kick-ass as the lovable wimp, as un-engaging as possible.
What does stand out is the father-daughter vigilante duo of Big Daddy and Hit Girl. From birth Nick Cage’s Damon Macready has trained his daughter Mindy to be a unstoppable killing machine, bent on dispensing hard-justice. The two especially Chloe Grace-Moretz’s Hit-Girl completely steal the show. The whole film should’ve concentrated on their dynamic, not some High-school nerd completely out of his league.
3. The Shawshank Redemption – Make It Completely Red’s Story
In this Stephen King adaptation Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne a wrongly convicted man sent to Shawshank prison on the charge of killing his wife. Over the course of twenty years behind bars he befriends Morgan Freeman’s Red, a charismatic, compassionate and of course unfathomable wise fellow inmate. He in fact narrates the story, but it is not his own oddly enough. Make no mistake this is Andy’s story of him preserving through the brutal and unforgiving prison system. The problem is there is no real story arc for the man, Andy is a good man going into Shawshank Andy is a good man as he escapes Shawshank. It is the one character trait that he falls on when times get rough at Shawshank, making for not that much of a dynamic for him. The audience knows he is going to win out in the end, because he is just such an amazingly smart, resourceful and ‘boyscout’ of a man (unrealistically so…), and everything will work out for him in the end.
On the other hand, Red is an evolving character. He really did commit murder, as far as we know, he was a misguided lost soul coming into Shawshank. Over the decades he’s been in prison he had to learn the bonds of friendship and compassion, without the aid of a ‘Red’ character to guide him along I might add. That’s a character arc there, one that we never got to see from the start. As we only meet Red through Andy’s arrival at the prison. We only get hints of Red when he was young which is a great shame and wasted chance at a more engaging and compelling story.
2. Matrix Sequals – Make the Villain the Merovingian
In the follow-up to the surprise hit the Matrix the Wachowski’s Matrix Reloaded continued exploring the world after the machines take over. At times meandering with over-bearing pseudo-philosophically loaded dialogue, but never failing to deliver on the action aspects expected from the first installment. Not nearly as original or mind-bending as the first Reloaded nevertheless succeeded in building up a good set-up for the third film. Until one actually saw the Matrix Revolutions that is, a unholy mess of philosophy, religious overtones and bad scripting. One of the problems is that both the machines and humans had to unite somehow in the end, in this case to fight a common enemy in Agent Smith and his powers of ctrl-c. We’ve already seen Smith do his duty in the first installment, he was a menacing foe that took Neo everything he had to defeat. Bringing him back for the sequels kills the purpose of the ending to the first film, while just giving us more of the same points from the original.
What’s more we had an interesting Villain in Reloaded with Lambert Wilson’s The Merovingian, a calculating, charismatic and threatening presence. He holds the keys, literally, to the hero’s goal and fights tooth and nail to prevent them from getting them. His speech about causality was easily one of the highlights from Reloaded, showing us that he is no mere program at the whim of the machine world. Coming into the third installment one would’ve expected that Merv would at least be a big part of the finale. Alas he is a glorified cameo in Revolutions, the directors squandering a chance at a dynamic battle between the two strongest characters from the machine and human worlds.
There was no need to bring back Smith, have him stay where all deleted programs go. Merv seemingly can corrupt other programs, as evidence with the Oracle, so have him go on rampage threatening to control the Matrix and it’s inhabitants. The machines would want the runaway program destroyed and Neo would need to fight him for all the people still trapped in the matrix. There, isn’t that better than Smith coming back and covering most of the same ground as the first movie?
1. Titanic – Make It About Any Of The Crew Members or Passengers Who Actually Died On The Ship
Hey look James Cameron again. This mega-hit, much like Avatar 12 year later, won audiences world- wide for it’s stunning visual effects and tragic romance story. Some will agree it was more of the former than the latter that drew them in. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet do their best, but all in all can’t generate enough to make us feel for these people when thousands of others, real people in history I should add, are dying around them. The want and needs of these two fictional characters really don’t amount to a hill of beans, in the scheme of things. Romance is all well and good but in the face of such a horrific and real disaster it just doesn’t hold-up. If someone like Cameron is going to put-forth so much effort and budget into a project like this, how about making it as a tribute to those that died that tragic night?
This could’ve been made about anyone of the real-life characters on the ship. Thomas Andrews was the Titanic’s architect and seeing his creation sink into the Atlantic causing so much death is arguably much more tragic and reasonat than Rose and Jack. 2nd officer Lightoller doesn’t even get a proper characterization in the film, as a money grubbing confused officer who accidentally shoots an innocent passenger. From all historical accounts he remained calm, cool and collected as he valiantly led the evacuation of the ship, paying for it with his life by eventually going down with it.
Of course, probably the most egregious missed opportunity has to be the ship’s band members, though portrayed truthfully as playing on through the unimaginable chaos, it shouldn’t have been just a footnote in a Titanic movie. The band did play on, serving as a singular calming element in a night of sheer terror, only doing what so many others failed to do: their job. They weren’t asked to, they didn’t need to, they just did. None of the eight band members made it off alive. In tribute here are their names:
Theodore Ronaldo Brailey (Pianist),
Roger Marie Bricoux (Cellist),
John Frederick Preston Clarke (Bassist),
Wallace Henry Hartley (Bandmaster),
John Law Hume (Violinist),
Georges Alexandre Krins (Violinist),
Percy Cornelius Taylor (Cellist),
John Wesley Woodward (Cellist)
So there you are, ten examples of unrealized potential and missed opportunities, not outright bad just disappointment. Cheer up, I’ll try to recognize the best next list, I promise.