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.
Life of Pi Bankrupted the Special Effects Studio
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.
Still looks better than Hulk.
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.
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.
"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.
"Yep, this was worth it."
Charlie Chaplin's Greatest Film Got Him Kicked Out of the Country
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.
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.
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.
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.
It's a Wonderful Life Destroyed the Director's Career
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.
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.
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.
A Trip to the Moon Made Everyone Rich Except the Director
A Trip to the Moon is a short science fiction film from 110 freaking years ago, back when things like putting people in space or brushing your teeth every day were nothing but crazy futuristic pipe dreams. The short featured mind-blowing visual effects for its time, like this iconic image of the man in the moon with a rocket in his eye:
You don't even want to know what orifice Apollo 11 was aiming for.
Its director, Georges Melies, is held by many as one of the pioneers of cinema -- his influence extends to everyone from Martin Scorsese (who compared him to George Lucas and James Cameron) to the Smashing Pumpkins (who ripped off Melies for the clip of their song "Tonight, Tonight"). Even in its own day, the technical innovation and surreal storytelling made A Trip to the Moon a huge success ...
... for everyone except Georges Melies.
Melies, a Frenchman, had big plans to distribute his film in the growing American movie market for a buttload of cash. Unfortunately, American inventor and Cracked archenemy Thomas Edison had other plans. Keeping with his usual modus operandi of getting rich on other people's ideas, Edison decided to make pirated copies of the film and distribute them without giving Melies any royalties. Oh, did we mention that Edison was a pioneer of copyright law at the same time?
"Hear that deafening rush of air? That's the sound of how much I suck."
The movie was a hit in America, and everyone who showed it made a huge profit from it, while Melies made jack shit. Edison's dickishness had persuaded Melies to create Star Films, his American studio, but when Edison monopolized the film industry with his Motion Picture Patents Company, Melies had to sell Star Films to his rival. Melies struggled with the strong grip Edison had on his company, eventually losing the studio and being forced to abandon filmmaking. His films were melted and turned into shoes, and most of his best work is now lost.
"I've got two right here! Hahahahahahahahaha."
Melies lived the rest of his life in obscurity on a meager income, working at a toy stand at a train station. Fortunately, one day an adventurous young orphan discovered who he was and reunited Melies with a magical robot he created, which ... uh, wait, no, that's the movie Hugo. In reality, Melies did receive some recognition toward the end of his life, but could never make another film again.
The Misfits Ruined (or Ended) Everyone's Lives
You may not have heard of it, but The Misfits has one of the most impressive credits lists of any film ever made: It's written by playwright Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman), directed by Hollywood royalty John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), and stars ultimate leading man Clark Gable (Gone With the Wind) and Miller's wife at the time, some lady called Marilyn Monroe (One in Every Four Sex Dreams Since 1952).
It was a perfect recipe for a classic, and that's exactly what the movie became -- the writing, directing, and performances are pretty much universally loved, and the movie has a 100 percent Tomatometer rating.
At least until Armond White finds out.
Pretty much everyone who had a hand in this thing ended up miserable or dead. Arthur Miller called it the lowest point of his life -- his marriage to Monroe was falling apart as the movie was shooting, and they divorced before it premiered. Oh, and speaking of Monroe, she had a drug overdose on the set. Huston sent her to detox for two weeks, then resumed shooting, even though she was clearly still a mess. The studio had already invested heavily in the film, so they couldn't let a little thing like their big star almost dying stop the production. As you may know, Monroe fell into a huge depression and finished what she had started a year later. The Misfits was her last film.
"Marilyn? Marilyn who?"
Huston himself was no saint, though: He often showed up drunk and gambled so much that he ended up losing quite a bit of the production company's funding. Still, he got off easy compared to Clark Gable, who insisted on doing his own physically demanding stunts, including dangerous scenes with horses and being dragged by a truck for 400 feet. He died of a heart attack a few days after filming ended due to the stress.
It was no fucking picnic for the horses, either.
Then there's Montgomery Clift, the third biggest star in the film, who somehow escaped the shooting unharmed and went on to make other films. He avoided the curse of The Misfits! One day, a few years later, his friend informed him that the movie was playing on television and asked if he'd like to watch it. "Absolutely not!" Clift responded. Then he died of a heart attack. He was 45.
But, hey -- at least the movie is pretty cool.
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For more celebrities who just sort of lost it, check out 9 Awesome Directors Who Temporarily Lost Their Mind and 12 Classic Movie Moments Made Possible by Abuse and Murder.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Reasons Real Heroes Tend to be Weirdos.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how to walk like Chaplin.
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