#2. Superman Returns
Bryan Singer spent a lot of money (somewhere around $175-200 million) on his mopey love-letter to Richard Donner's 1978 classic. Some of it went to creating digital Supermen to throw around Space Shuttles and stalk Kate Bosworth. Some of it went towards making dingy swimsuits with mankini underwear made out of recycled basketballs. But for all the money spent on Emoman Lifts Successively Heavier Things: The Vague Sequel, two of the biggest effects expenditures saw little to no screentime at all.
But they left in all the lifting.
Singer set about five minutes of his two- and a half-hour movie in Smallville, Kansas. Being that he was filming in Australia, there weren't that many cornfields on which to build the Kent homestead. Instead of studying his script, realizing that almost every scene in Smallville was completely unnecessary, and cutting the location out completely, Singer built a four-mile road outside of Tamworth, Australia, and grew a cornfield for four months to shoot on. He then deleted two-thirds of the sequences he shot with the cornfield, because after first viewing he realized his movie was really fucking boring and nothing happens.
"I'm just noticing this scene is pointless. Perhaps if we had you lift something..."
Another sequence he lost was a scene where Superman, in a spaceship (even though they show him meditating in space later in the movie) examines the shattered remains of Krypton. Shots of it could be seen in the trailers, and word was it lent the film a creepy, otherworldly vibe. Since Singer had creepy and otherworldly covered with the introduction of Superbastard, the Dead-Eyed Piano Slinging Asthmatic to the story, on top of the fact everyone knows Krypton exploded, he cut the sequence. He replaced it with white text on black background, which just as effectively brought the audience up to speed on why Supes left, and where he went. Cost of replacement? Maybe five bucks. Cost of deleted Krypton scene? $10 million.
#1. Independence Day
There's usually a couple observances a moviegoers make upon experiencing the orgy of 'splosion and flame that is ID4: 1) There's no way the fucking dog should have lived, and 2) That was some pretty good CGI, wasn't it?
While there were a few instances of computer generated airplanes, and laser beams, most of the $75 million budget went towards building models and miniatures, then blowing them all up with the sort of glee backwoods rednecks take in shoving firecrackers up some poor roadkill's pucker. And why not spend it on the 'splodies? Like they're going to spend it on the script? You only need one line, and it's "Welcome to Earf," which very well may have been ad-libbed since that's just how Will Smith says hello to everybody.
"I think I broke my hand on your exoskeleton."
Basically, if it got blown up onscreen, it actually got built and blown up. The most well-known example is the White House explosion. It cost well over $2 million alone once you factor in the construction of the 1/12th scale model, the nine cameras shooting the explosion in slo-mo, and the footage being turned into a Super Bowl commercial. They blew up so much balsa wood and plastic on set that even the deleted scenes were rigged with explosives, including a sequence where a replica of the bus from Speed crashes through a billboard for Stargate. This scene exemplified Roland Emmerich's concept of "subtlety," which is why it was cut from the final film.
Scene from Emmerich's unreleased remake of Grapes of Wrath.
This seems like a pretty inefficient method of wrecking the world, until you realize that the cost-cutting nature of CGI is largely a myth. Sure, movies like District 9 manage impressive visuals with a budget of $40 million or less, but look at something like Spider-Man 3: They spent about $300 million making Lowell from Wings into talking cat litter, and transforming Eric Foreman into the creamy nougat filling at the center of Venom. Suddenly $70 million worth of cherry bombs and models sounds (and looks) pretty damned good.
Check out Bobby's pop-culture mashups and remixes over at the Geek Remixed page one his site. For more cinematic WTF-ery, check out 20 Baffling Foreign Movie Posters and 7 Horrifying Moments from Classic Kids Movies.
And check out College Humor's trailer for Blue People.