This might be hard to believe, but most of the shiny and loud people who live in Hollywood don't actually want to make bad movies. That probably sounds like madness, because you've already seen many, many bad movies in your life and you haven't even seen Maleficent yet (it's very pretty dogshit). But it's true: Most writers, directors, actors, and producers want to make good and even great movies, the kinds of movies that people will love. And a lot of these people spend a bunch of time and money trying to get good enough at their craft so they CAN make these movies.
"Then why are there still so many shitty movies?" you ask. "Did you see the trailer for Dumb and Dumber To? It made me legitimately sad, like I was seeing a good friend of mine come down with some terrible illness."
Money. There is a lot of money invested in movies, especially big summer blockbusters, and here's what you can never forget: The likelihood that people will panic, go insane, and make bizarre, irrational decisions is directly proportional to the amount of money involved. If you shoot something in your backyard using a borrowed camera and your buddies, congratulations, you have total creative freedom. But if you want a big, loud movie with whatever actors the general population wants to have sex with at the time (currently Ryan Gosling, Jennifer Lawrence, and Flo from those Progressive Auto Insurance commercials), you're going to need someone else's money. And that someone else? He's got some notes ...
Let's take a look at the unquestionable failure that was Herbie: Fully Loaded from 2005. I know that we all know it's terrible, but I swear I'm not just picking on an easy target; remember, no one WANTS to make a bad movie, so let's find out how it happened. Our younger readers know Lindsay Lohan as a sort-of porn star and constant reminder of our society's sick and destructive relationship with pretty things, but before that, she was an actress who was paid lots of money to be in normal movies. In 2005, she was at the peak of her popularity and had signed on to a reboot of the Herbie franchise (a wildly popular property wherein a car has a soul and can communicate with humans and we promptly decide to make it perform free manual labor for us, because our society also has a sick relationship with magic cars), written by the impossibly hilarious duo of Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (The State, Reno: 911, Night at the Museum). Popular actress + popular pre-existing franchise + hilarious writers is, by all sense of logic, a formula that should yield a perfect summer blockbuster.
Have you seen that movie? It is just unwatchable.
That's because Lennon and Garant, the writers who were hired to write the movie, got fired after they'd turned in their first draft. According to their fantastic book, Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, they had pitched their take on the script to one studio head, who loved and subsequently bought it. When it was time to hand in their script, they were told to give it to a different studio head, one who didn't get the script, so he told them to make a number of changes, which they did. Then the original studio head came back and (rightfully) said, "Hey, this isn't the movie we discussed; you're fired." Then NEW writers were hired to "fix" it (these writers likely won't be mentioned in the credits, by the way). Then those NEW writers were fired by a DIFFERENT studio head, and ADDITIONAL writers were brought on, with a focus on pleasing some OTHER studio head and not getting fired.
Here's a visual representation of the whole process.
That's how a movie like Herbie: Fully Loaded happens. That's how Amazing Spider-Man 2 ends up feeling like a sprawling, scattered mess (one writer was hired, then fired, and two additional writers came in to fix it, where "fix" means "add a giant clock tower in the middle of an electrical factory because we already bought the clock tower and there's no return policy"). That's how Last Action Hero was never totally sure if it was an action movie or a parody of action movies (it went to at least nine different, mostly uncredited writers, including Carrie Fisher for no reason). That's how MOST big summer movies happen. Writers get fired and replaced constantly, and every new writer has a different agenda; maybe they're trying to please the studio, or maybe they're trying to focus on their own artistic vision. It doesn't matter. The point is that a movie that used to be the execution of the vision of one or two people is now suddenly the execution of the vision of a team of people who have never met and who have different goals and one of them might be even Carrie Fisher and some of them were almost definitely drunk when they made their rewrites.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Hey, have you noticed that Tom Cruise sounds almost exactly like Tom Cruise in all of his movies, with a few exceptions (auteur-helmed art movies like Magnolia and against-type comic movies like Tropic Thunder)? The same can be said about Will Smith; whether he's playing a cool young fighter pilot in Independence Day or a 19th century steampunk cowboy in Wild Wild West or a Converse-wearing Luddite in I, Robot, there's something distinctly ... Will Smithian about every piece of dialogue he delivers. All of the other actors in his movies are saying lines in the script that either further the plot or set up jokes, while Will Smith gets to say things like "Aw, hell no" and "Now that's what I'm talking about" and a variety of other "Will Smith lines," for lack of a better term.
"I'm about to slap some dicks!" never really took off.
The same could be said of Ben Stiller, who, despite having appeared in a ton of different movies with a ton of different writers, always seems to end up sounding exactly like Ben Stiller always sounds. Is it because these actors have such distinct voices that any writer can perfectly ape their style? Is it because they all ignore scripts and improvise on the day of shooting?
No. It's because when a movie signs Ben Stiller, they're also signing whatever writer Ben Stiller wants to bring on to punch up his dialogue. Established movie stars like Stiller or Adam Sandler or Will Smith can look at a script and say, "Wow, I want to do this, this movie looks great! The only thing that needs to change is literally every line I have. Just change them to the kind of lines that I sound cool saying." Hell, for Men in Black 3, Will Smith hired a Fresh Prince writer to punch up all of his dialogue, and none of the other writers on the project knew about it.
"Oh, they found out. A couple of times."
These actors aren't trying to torpedo a movie or anything, they're just trying to make sure that every line they have to say in the script is a good fit for their particular voice. That's understandable (they, like everyone, are just trying to keep their jobs and keep getting paid, after all), but it also supports the idea that any given script can have any number of writers, all with different intentions: Writer 1 is trying to tell a coherent story, Writer 2 is trying to make sure the script has the amount of explosions that the studio wants, Writer 3 is trying to support the director's vision, Writer 4 is trying to make sure none of Martin Lawrence's lines make him sound like an idiot, and so on. If you see a movie and it feels like each scene was written by someone who hadn't read the scenes that came before or after it, that's because that is a distinct possibility.