After filming, editing, and distribution, intense fan backlash is seemingly just a part of the cinematic process these days. Whether it's justified criticism or pissy overreactions, the internet is basically the magic mushroom to outrage's Mario. But somehow, even before social media made screaming at filmmakers as easy as checking the weather, movie backlashes were a thing. And they got pretty damn intense ...
You may have heard how some comic connoisseurs didn't think that Michael Keaton was up to the task of beating up an elderly clown in a black rubber suit for 1989's Batman film (now considered a landmark in "superhero movies that don't suck" cinema). Frankly, that's an understatement. When Keaton was cast, the public freaked out like the Scarecrow had dosed the water supply with some kind of hissy fit chemical. Fans sent 50,000 angry letters to Warner Brothers -- like, actual letters they had to physically write out, seal in an envelope, and stick in the mail with the proper postage. That's how pissed they were.
Part of the problem was that Keaton was known mostly for comedic roles like in Mr. Mom (an '80s movie with the hilarious premise that a man, with a penis and everything, would somehow try to care for his children). One fan wrote to The LA Times to complain about how Batman is supposed to be dark and edgy, not all mom-like:
The Wall Street Journal published an article ridiculing Keaton's height, hairline, and "less-than-heroic chin," concluding that "The Caped Crusader may turn out to be a wimp." Meanwhile, comic-based magazine Amazing Heroes' coverage of the 1988 Chicago Comic-Con prominently interviewed fans freaking out over Keaton and the weirdo who directed Beetlejuice being involved. Apparently, Bat-fans "had that sense of sitting in a deck chair on the Titanic." A later issue even employed the most devastating weapon in the critical arsenal: a snide cartoon.
A petition even circulated, gathering real human signatures to "stop this ridiculous decision before filming starts" and "bring the folks at WARNER BROTHERS FILMS to their senses!!!" (You know it's serious when there are all-caps and multiple exclamation marks.) This cycle of outrage was eventually repeated when Ben Affleck donned the cowl, prompting fans to circulate over 30 online petitions, presumably fearing that Gotham would be overrun with crime while Batman was busy watching the Red Sox or getting embarrassing back tattoos.
There's been a lot of talk lately about how Star Wars fandom has become, like a certain Britney Spears song, toxic. Disgruntled fans have kept busy bullying stars off of social media and announcing their own The Last Jedi remake, presumably one in which Luke Skywalker survives but also lives in a more budget-friendly ancient Jedi two-room condo.
But to think that Star Wars fans were united in their opinions up until this moment would be flat-out wrong. Even The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the greatest entry in the series, prompted a multitude of angry reactions. Many have been immortalized in the pages of Starlog Magazine, and some complaints seem to run parallel to the Last Jedi hate. While today's fans rejected the idea that Rey's parents were nobodies, people back then didn't believe Vader was really Luke's father:
Some fans were "downright resentful" of the film's now-classic cliffhanger ending. One letter highlighted the litany of unanswered questions -- not just Boba Fett loading Han into his space-trunk like a piece of IKEA furniture, but also what the hell happened to Bespin? Is Lobot OK?
Speaking of Lando, today his inclusion is generally considered a positive step (a baby step, but still) toward better representation in blockbusters, but not everyone saw it that way:
Han Solo's chauvinism didn't go unnoticed by female fans, either. One woman specifically thought Leia should get with "nice guy" Luke instead of "hot-lips" Han, which is apparently how people talked in the early '80s:
And the iconic "I love you" / "I know." exchange between Han and Leia? Another woman pointed out what a total dick move that was:
It's also worth noting that Starlog's review was titled "The Empire Strikes Out," so you can probably guess how it went. And speaking of Starlog ...
Before he boldly declared himself the head of Earth's new monarchy, James Cameron wasn't above engaging with the fans -- specifically, the ones who friggin' hated Aliens. Though it seems surprising now, given that Aliens is regarded as one of the greatest sequels of all time, back then, some audiences took issue with discrepancies between the first and second film. And because the internet in the '80s was still mostly being used by Matthew Broderick to manipulate his school records and stop World War III, fans once again took to the pages of Starlog to voice their disapproval.
While filmmakers today respond to criticism with a snappy tweet or by simply avoiding comment sections like they're a plague-filled cesspool, young James Cameron decided to pen a lengthy article for the magazine, refuting each criticism point-by-point as if his monster movie was on trial for murder. First up, Cameron responds to the complaint by Peter Briggs (which we're guessing was the pseudonym used by a 20-something Neil deGrasse Tyson) that "planet" LV-426 doesn't have rings, as in the original. Cameron points out that the planetoid never had rings. That was a neighboring gas giant, but it was "out of frame" in Aliens.
Cameron also addressed the fact that none of the colonists of LV-426 found the derelict ship that was emitting a distress call in the previous movie (it was damaged), why the aliens are "lame" and "weak" compared to the original (they're fighting space marines!), and the introduction of the alien queen, which contradicts a deleted scene from the first Alien. Cameron patiently explains that he shouldn't be beholden to a detail that wasn't even included in the movie, then goes so far as to run down his "version of the Alien life cycle."
You may have noticed that this doesn't include anything about half-naked blue bodybuilders wielding magic goo. Another plot hole right there.
Harry Potter fans are obviously a passionate bunch, what with real-life Quidditch leagues, college courses, and turning every bookstore in the early 2000s into the Thunderdome. But in 2008, that passion went to a dark place after Warner Bros. announced they would be pushing back the release of Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince from November 2008 to July 2009 to compete in the summer movie season.
Now keep in mind, the book had been out for years, so everyone who really cared already knew how the story went. Even so, Potter fans flipped the hell out. There were online petitions and calls to boycott Warner Bros., with fans claiming that the "ridiculous" delay was "for no other reason than to make more money" -- which surely isn't how any of the nonprofit multi-million-dollar boy wizard franchises operate. Then there were the embarrassingly angry and dramatic YouTube videos:
There were plans to take to the streets and protest WB corporate headquarters as if they were committing war crimes, while a Facebook group unironically named "The Delay of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Has Ruined My Life" called for a boycott of the movie itself. Less quaintly, those fans who likely thought that Voldemort was a misunderstood eccentric started harassing studio executives, sending them messages claiming they'd "ripped out my heart," and even death threats. The YouTube trend of humorously editing subtitles in a clip from that movie about Hitler ominously found the dictator shouting "we are going to make Warner Brothers suffer." Despite these warnings, the movie still came out in July and made almost a billion dollars worldwide.
The only Oscar Best Picture winner in which a guy bites another guy's face off (though admittedly, it's been a while since we've seen The English Patient), The Silence Of The Lambs is now revered as a classic. At the time, though, the film was mired in controversy, and not undeservedly. Gay rights groups criticized the film for promoting homophobia, citing the Buffalo Bill character as another Hollywood villain imbued with gay stereotypes, right down to the poodle named Precious.
Bizarrely, the studio's attempt to smooth over the controversy was to loan "prints of the movie for AIDS fundraisers," which would be like if the producers of Arrested Development sent women's groups complimentary 8x10s of Jeffrey Tambor. Not surprisingly, this tactic didn't work.
In fact, the backlash grew so large that a pall was cast over the hijinks of Billy Crystal when there was a full-on protest at the 1992 Academy Awards. The protesters also highlighted the problematic depiction of LGBT people in JFK and Basic Instinct, and called out the Academy's lack of nominations for Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho while they were at it.
Less admirably, activists "tried to 'out' gay celebrities by distributing maps to their homes," including posters calling Jodie Foster "absolutely queer," and ten people were arrested -- one for kicking a cop in the crotch. A somewhat classier protest went down at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, where activists infiltrated the event dressed in tuxes, handed out pamphlets, and left quietly, like a very polite version of Fight Club.
The backlash was so intense that rumors surfaced that director Jonathan Demme picked his next project, the AIDS drama Philadelphia, purely to make amends to the gay community -- although Demme claimed that wasn't the case. And of course, Philadelphia took some heat for its timidity in handling gay content, though maybe we should all be happy that a movie called Philadelphia somehow wasn't about drunken louts booing Santa Claus.
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