5 Famous Filmmakers Whose Dream Projects Were Disasters

#2. Pirates

Cathargo Films/Cannon Films Distributing

Speaking of dressing respectable actors up like assholes, Roman Polanski originally wrote the script for Pirates right after he finished work on Chinatown, with the idea that Jack Nicholson would be the star. Nicholson approached the project with his usual negotiation tactic, which was to demand all of the money in the known universe while stabbing his agent in the eyes with toothpicks, so Polanski was forced to rethink his casting decision, which is a phrase that inexplicably translated to "He hired Walter Matthau instead." Production had to be put on hold, however, when Polanski was forced to flee the United States to escape prosecution for having sex with a 13-year-old girl, robbing us of his pirate masterpiece.

Cathargo Films/Cannon Films Distributing
"Shit, the cops are here! C'mon, Walt!"

After spending several years scaring up some financial support, Polanski resumed production of the movie in Tunisia, which looks just like the Caribbean, only much less expensive. Polanski needed that extra money to build an $8 million pirate galleon just for the film, which is confusing considering that pirate galleons probably didn't cost that much to make back in pirate times, and I assumed shipbuilding techniques would have improved over the subsequent 300 years. But he needed to construct a believable set for his important film, which features Walter Matthau drinking pee and threatening to kill and eat his first mate.

Cathargo Films/Cannon Films Distributing
"I'm not joking, I'm literally going to tear your head off and chew the marrow from your bones like a desperate, dying wolverine."

Pirates was finally released in 1986, 12 years after Polanski first started working on it. The film was almost universally hated, though it did manage to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup, a distinction it shares with Bad Grandpa, Harry and the Hendersons, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and The Nutty Professor, which was justly nominated for Eddie Murphy's dazzling fat suit (his later effort Norbit went surprisingly unrecognized by the Academy, although I assume Murphy was wearing the exact same fat suit). Despite the heartbreaking failure of a movie he had spent over a decade of his life working on, Polanski still found time to heroically have sex with another teenager, because the man apparently just cannot help himself.

Cathargo Films/Cannon Films Distributing
"Nobody saw that coming? Man. This telescope is a piece of shit."

#1. Howard the Duck

Lucasfilm/Universal Pictures

George Lucas galloped into the 1980s on a stallion made of diamonds and the tears of lesser men. After pummeling into submission everyone who ever told him his ideas were "terrible" and "unprofitable," Lucas had Hollywood literally holding its breath to see what he would come up with next. What new gilded nugget of merchandisable inspiration would erupt from his bearded skull like an oblong T-shirt cannon?

After birthing juggernauts like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, anything was possible. When George stepped down as president of Lucasfilm in 1984 to focus on producing, the imagination peddlers of the world blasted holes in both ends of their underpants in violent, unrestrained anticipation. This was going to be a whole new era of moviemaking -- now that he was no longer responsible for an entire company, Lucas was completely free to weave the tapestry of his dreams, which apparently began with the invention of fried milkshake balls and the decision that he would eat nothing else to sustain his life force.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Studio heads were prepared to battle each other on nitro cycles in Thunderdome just to see what Lucas was going to bring to the table. And Howard the Duck was what he came up with. Universal jumped on the project the instant it was announced, which makes me 100 percent certain that they didn't actually read any of Lucas' proposal. Either that, or the proposal was simply the words "Howard the Duck" overlaying a picture of George Lucas jumping rope with a braided string of $100 bills.

Lucasfilm/Universal Pictures
"'More adventure than humanly possible'? Oh, because he's a duck! Haha, that's great!
Give us some more of that magic, Mr. Lucas!"

Despite the initial idea being that the film would be animated (because it is about the intergalactic adventures of a humanoid duck), Lucas insisted that the movie could be done live action, with dazzling special effects and creature construction from the same group of people who handled Star Wars and Indiana Jones. This normally would've been music to a producer's ears, but the film in question was about a perpetually horny giant duck from space.

LucasFilm/Universal Pictures
There's no way that duck isn't about to start masturbating.

You see, despite its PG rating, Howard the Duck is weirdly sexual, with Lea Thompson being forced to make innuendo-laced conversation with a 2-foot-tall duck who is so stammeringly awkward about her obvious interest in him that I assume his fully erect duck penis must be an antlered, bone-crushing homunculus of arcane magic, and he dare not awaken it from its slumber. The movie also features Tim Robbins as a hang-gliding bumblefudge and Jeffrey Jones as an odious, horrifying alien, which must have been the most powerful challenge of his acting career. It's like someone deliberately set out to make the worst George Lucas movie they could possibly think of as a goof, only George Lucas actually made it.

Lucasfilm/Universal Pictures
He is truly a master storyteller.

The wallet-immolating failure of Howard the Duck may come as less of a surprise to us now, in the year 2014, because Lucas famously has the self-awareness of reheated spaghetti. But back in the golden 1980s, Howard the Duck's cataclysmic release was the first terrifying sign that the Bearded One might not actually have any idea what the fuck he is doing.

Tom is trying really hard to get his Jaws musical off the ground. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.

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