5 Classic Movies That Ruined Their Makers' Careers

The dream of every artist is to create something that touches the lives of people for generations to come, and to become disgustingly rich in the process. Unfortunately, this second part doesn't always work out so well in show business -- in fact, sometimes the same successful movies that the artists worked so hard to make end up ruining their lives.

So before you quit your day job and move to LA, let us tell you about the filmmakers who put their blood, sweat, and tears into something great, only to be rewarded with nothing but a middle finger.

#5. Life of Pi Bankrupted the Special Effects Studio

Rhythm & Hues/Fox 2000 Pictures/20th Century Fox

Life of Pi is the philosophical journey of a teenager stranded in the middle of the ocean with a tiger. It's not hard to see why, for a long time, the novel was considered unfilmable -- obviously, director Ang Lee couldn't just put a real tiger on a boat with an actor, and the last time he did a movie with an all-digital character, it didn't go so well.

Against all odds, Life of Pi was released in 2012 and turned out to be critically and commercially successful. A huge part of that was thanks to the work of visual effects company Rhythm & Hues, who animated the fully digital tiger and, well, everything else. Without them, Life of Pi would be the story of a half-naked guy standing in the middle of a water tank.

Rhythm & Hues/Fox 2000 Pictures/20th Century Fox
Still looks better than Hulk.

The Damage:

Even though the movie grossed over $600 million and won four Academy Awards (including special effects), Rhythm & Hues went bankrupt shortly after its release. Remember during the Oscars ceremony when that one guy tried to say something but got cut off by the theme from Jaws, and everyone laughed? Yeah, he was trying to tell you that the same company that created those impressive visuals is now in the gutter.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Probably should have started with that part.

How is this possible? Well, it's mainly because visual effects is a flawed industry with a business model that is impossible to succeed in. In order to save money, movie studios tend to contract VFX companies on a "fixed fee," meaning that after a certain amount of takes, the VFX guys are forced to cover the costs. So, when an unfilmable picture like Life of Pi requires extra work, the visual companies end up "paying for the movie." In the end, Rhythm & Hues didn't see a penny from those $600 million.

Rhythm & Hues/Fox 2000 Pictures/20th Century Fox
"No, no, do it again! What part of 'whiskers that flow like air from the shrubs' don't you get?"

R&H isn't the only company in this situation -- remember how the Hologram Tupac company went under? This is an ongoing trend. Working at a visual effects company is apparently one of the worst jobs in Hollywood, slightly behind the guy who shaves Adam Sandler's pubes. The working conditions are grueling, the teams are forced to work several all-nighters and never earn overtime, the jobs have no benefits or retirement plans. On top of that, they have to compete with foreign studios subsidized by their governments.

So why does anyone still work in visual effects, then? According to VFX veteran Scott Ross, many of these guys aren't doing it for the money, but because they're geeked out about getting to work on Star Wars or Avatar.

Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox
"Yep, this was worth it."

#4. Charlie Chaplin's Greatest Film Got Him Kicked Out of the Country

Charles Chaplin Film Corporation/United Artists

In The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin was making fun of Hitler before making fun of Hitler was cool (that's what Adolf gets for stealing Chaplin's mustache). The movie was a huge financial success, and it's been said that it even "helped shape American public opinion in favor of the war." Today it's widely considered to be Chaplin's masterpiece -- the epic four-minute speech at the end still sounds relevant 70 years later.

The Damage:

Sure, the film gained Chaplin the acclaim of most of the public, but it also got him the attention of the FBI, who labeled him a "premature anti-fascist" for daring to rally people up against the Nazis. History would side with Chaplin on that one, but at the time, this was the beginning of the end for his career -- he was called to testify in front of a Senate subcommittee, and once his left-wing views became known, conservative journalists started calling him an anti-American commie. His next movie, Monsieur Verdoux, was a commercial flop, and was actually booed on its opening night.

First National/Warner Home Video
They couldn't prove he actually ate babies, but they couldn't prove he didn't, either.

Meanwhile, Chaplin was being investigated by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his sex scandals didn't help his reputation a whole lot. When Chaplin went to London for the premiere of his next film, Limelight, the U.S. kindly invited him to stay in Europe indefinitely by revoking his passport, effectively exiling him from the country. Limelight was heavily boycotted by the American public and pulled from most movie theaters before people could actually see if there was any commie propaganda in it. America wanted nothing to do with Chaplin, and at this point, the feeling was mutual: He vowed never to return and continued making movies in Europe.

Attica Film Company
Original title: Giant Chaplin Farts on New York.

Chaplin did win an Academy Award for Limelight ... in 1973, when the government was too busy beating up hippies and breaking into hotels to give a crap if some retired comedian came back to the country. Because of the boycott, the movie never played for longer than a week in Los Angeles back when it first came out, so the Academy was able to put it up for consideration on a technicality and gave Chaplin his apology Oscar, plus a record-breaking 12-minute "We're really, really sorry" standing ovation.

#3. It's a Wonderful Life Destroyed the Director's Career

Liberty Films/RKO Radio Pictures

It's a Wonderful Life is one of the most watched movies ever -- it was seen by 5.6 million viewers last Christmas Eve alone, because watching the damned thing for the 20th time is still better than looking at your drunk uncle arguing politics with a lamp. It's also by far the best known film in the career of one of the most respected directors in classic Hollywood, Frank Capra.

See? IMDb wouldn't lie to us.

The Damage:

Too bad the film destroyed Capra's career. Before It's a Wonderful Life, Capra was one of the biggest names in Hollywood, and people "flocked to the theaters" to see his movies. Capra had so much influence that in 1945, he and other directors founded one of the first independent studios ever, Liberty Films. It's a Wonderful Life was the first movie Capra released through Liberty ... and the last, because the "beloved holiday classic" actually bankrupted the studio.

Liberty Films/RKO Radio Pictures
And that's why you've never seen this logo in any other movie.

We've pointed out before that the movie was originally a box office disappointment and only became a Christmas tradition by accident (someone forgot to renew the copyright and it went into the public domain). The film was expensive as hell to make, and when it didn't even make back its budget, it crippled Liberty Films and forced it to be sold off or face bank foreclosure. Capra called it "fatal to my professional career," as most of his future films would be low budget or on TV.


According to one of Jimmy Stewart's biographers, studios learned through It's a Wonderful Life "that Capra was no longer capable of turning out the kind of populist features that made his films the must-see money-making events they once were." Sure, his idealistic films had helped Americans pull through the Great Depression, but now that that was over, those things seemed corny as hell (even to 1940s audiences).

As if that wasn't bad enough, the film also got Capra in trouble with the FBI -- they sent out a memo calling it communist, and, like Charlie Chaplin, Capra was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, because apparently back then everything else ran so smoothly that the feds had nothing better to do than complain about movies and call everyone a communist.

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