Selling a movie concept in just a few words is hard. Hollywood studios are famous for buying, or passing on, movies based on an elevator pitch, that can last only as long as it takes for the elevator doors to close. Movie executives are short on time and hard to impress, so often respond best to pitches that reference other movies.
Particularly profitable movies.
Some films, of course, are impossible to describe in 10 words or less.
For other films, however, those 10 words are the best bit of the movie—usually big budget action movies, where the concept is more important than the plot, assuming there is one, and the explosions are more important than the dialogue.
Some of these film pitches would have done better to have just stayed in the elevator.
10 Top Gun. With Aliens.
A gigantic alien mothership orbits the earth, and releases more gigantic ships that hover over the most populated cities on earth. Then they begin the countdown to an attack that will destroy the earth. What does humanity do next?
Independence Day was a fairly standard ‘alien destroying life as we know it’ type blockbuster. In many ways it had a lot going for it. Cool alien ships, overwhelming odds, and a couple of maverick pilots. It even had a bit of humor in there.
What puts it in the terrible list, though, is the scriptwriter who thought that an alien shoot em up was just the vehicle for a jingoistic movie about the real meaning of Independence Day. You have to feel sorry for Bill Pullman. I’m sure he did his best, but the lines he was given were awful.
Awful, served with an extra-large helping of cheese.
The film, which was released on Independence Day 1996 in the US, seemed to forget that Independence Day is only a thing in America, which meant that the rest of the world was kind of like, ‘Huh?’ And even Americans cringed at the sight of the President misquoting poetry off the back of a truck, at full volume, to a group of bemused soldiers, before he climbs into the cockpit of plane and takes off to shoot down some aliens.
9 Earthquake. With A Helicopter. And The Rock.
A gigantic earthquake hits San Francisco, and a helicopter pilot races against time to rescue his family before the city is engulfed in flames or drowned by a tsunami.
The 2015 movie San Andreas seemed to have everything going for it. It starred Dwayne Johnson. It had a massive CGI budget. And it had a great elevator pitch.
But the film was ridiculous. Johnson is working as a helicopter rescue pilot, when news comes that the San Andreas fault is shifting and is about to cause an enormous earthquake that will devastate San Francisco and cause catastrophic loss of life. On hearing this news, Johnson abandons his post, and steals his helicopter, thus condemning countless citizens to death. He then joyrides round the collapsing city, ignoring more people in need of his help, while he searches for his wife and daughter.
Not so much action hero as action douchebag.
Perhaps the producers hoped that audiences wouldn’t care much about the story line, if the explosions were big enough. The film is certainly heavy on action and effects. And some of them are pretty impressive. But, however showy they are, they are connected by only the most tenuous links to the alleged plot.
There are many, many, really stupid moments in the film, but Dwayne Johnson riding the crest of a tsunami in a tiny speedboat probably takes the biscuit. But it’s all going to be OK, because just when you think all is lost, the American flag unfurls itself on the remains of the Golden Gate Bridge.
And a long shot reveals that all the other rescue pilots are still hard at work.
8 Die Hard. On A Plane.
A prison transport plane crashes on its way to a supermax prison. A drug lord, a rapist, and a criminal mastermind are on board, along with a snitch, a diabetic and One Good Man. When the inmates take over the plane, can that good man save the diabetic, protect the snitch and make it back to his family alive?
Remember Con Air? In the pitch, it had it all. An all star cast, a great premise, and a big budget. Things started to go bad around the time Nicolas Cage was given long hair. It spent much of the film waving seductively in the breeze, which was distracting. Not to say disturbing. And then there was his accent. What kind of accent? Hard to tell.
Definitely, probably, Southern.
Southern what? Who knows.
And then there was the toy bunny.
The movie wasn’t a total dud. Steve Buscemi was a highlight, and John Malkovich was clearly having a good time. But the plot, like Cage’s accent, was all over the place, and audience incredulity, which was already strained by Cage’s hair, was about to get a whole lot worse.
OK, maybe you can disguise some hijackers as guards. And maybe you can disguise some guards as inmates. Maybe you can take over the plane. And land it. And write a message on a dead body before throwing it off the plane. And maybe, just maybe, that message will still be readable after plummeting through the air at a hundred miles an hour, and landing on top of a truck.
But asking viewers to believe that after 2 hours of running, jumping and killing people wearing nothing but a wife-beater T-shirt, Nicolas Cage still has that stupid bunny, is straining credulity too far.
Why couldn’t he just put the bunny back in the box?
7 Die Hard. In Space.
A meteoroid the size of Texas is heading towards the Earth. The only people who can save the world are a group of maverick oil drillers that the military that wouldn’t trust with a potato gun.
In 1998, Armageddon was the year’s highest grossing movie. It easily out-earned Deep Impact, which was released around the same time and was also about a giant meteoroid smashing into the earth. The makers of Deep Impact took the trouble to make it scientifically accurate. Armageddon took the trouble to ask Aerosmith to write the theme song.
Deep Impact went for meaningful stories about what people do when the end of the world is nigh. Armageddon went for laughs. So, is Deep Impact a better film than Armageddon?
No. They both suck.
Armageddon eschewed all science. No matter how many times they were told you can’t have explosions in space, they just kept on blowing things up. Bruce Willis played John McClane in a spacesuit and his crew were mostly motley.
Ben Affleck jumping his moon buggy over a canyon and almost floating into outer space is only one of the ludicrous plot points.
But John McClane did save the world again. So there’s that.
6 Mad Max. On the Ocean.
The polar ice cap has melted, and the sea has risen by 25,000 feet. Which pretty clever of it, since science would indicate it could only rise a maximum of 230 feet.
But this is the movies, so who knows, anything is possible.
The last humans group together on some man-made atolls, trying to survive the hunger, the weather and the pirates. Into their world sails The Mariner. He’s not quite as cool as Mad Max, and his hand cranked sailing boat is not a Ford Falcon XB GT. This road warrior is, in fact, Kevin Costner. With gills.
Waterworld is famous for 2 things. First, it lost the studio a LOT of money, and second, it’s a bit of a stinker. The director, Kevin Reynolds, even quit.
The sets are pretty cool, and the action sequences are OK. The script was dodgy from the start, but the worst part of the movie is definitely the acting. Kevin Costner is not Mad Max. He’s more like Mad Max’s boring dad.
And gills are never sexy.
5 My Fair Lady. With A Crocodile Wrestler. No Songs.
Back in 1986 it was still OK to make fun of people from other countries, apparently, especially if they spoke with a ‘funny’ accent.
Crocodile Dundee was a film about an American reporter who travels to the Australian outback to meet a bushman who wrestles crocodiles, and whispers with water buffalo. He is brave, he is rugged, but mostly he is uncouth. He is also the comedian Paul Hogan. The reporter, played by Linda Kozlowski, brings him back to New York with her, so that we can all admire his bravery, marvel at his ruggedness and snigger at his lack of couth.
That’s pretty much the entire film, although of course she does end up falling for him, which proves that women prefer ‘real men’, and that Hollywood loves a stereotype.
4 Escape From Alcatraz. This Time, They’re Breaking In.
There have been plenty of movies about escaping from Alcatraz. The Rock, however, had a couple of tough guys trying to sneak in without being noticed.
Why? Oh, well, some guff about tourists being held hostage and a threatened nerve gas attack on San Francisco.
But none of that matters. What matters is there are some Navy Seals, and Sean Connery is a former SAS captain in a worse-than-normal wig, while Nicolas Cage is an FBI agent/chemical super-freak, and the pair of them are sent in to disarm the nerve bomb. In other words, it’s a bunch of men running round Alcatraz pretending to be Navy Seals.
They do throw in some stuff about service men who died on combat missions whose families never got the compensation they deserved, but nobody really cares about that. The studio got permission to film on The Rock itself, and seemed to be so pleased about it that they forgot that they were supposed to be shooting an actual film. One with a plot.
3 Like Mission Impossible. But With Nukes.
When you have to devise a code name for that situation when someone steals your nukes, something is very wrong. And that is just the first wrong thing.
Broken Arrow has a plot so convoluted that it is almost impossible to understand, but it goes something like this. There’s a good guy and a bad guy and they are flying a stealth bomber loaded with nukes. The bad guy releases the unactivated bombs and ejects. The special stolen nuke team, or Broken Arrow team, is sent to retrieve it, but one of the team is working for the bad guy who is threatening to nuke America.
The good guy, who also ejected from the plane, is briefly arrested but then sets out in search of the bad guy, and then…
Oh who cares. Stolen nukes. Everyone is lying. No one is who they say they are. Except the good guy, of course. There are lots of crashes, gun fire and explosions, and no one worries about what will happen if the nuke goes off. The whole thing is stupid.
The movie starred John Travolta as the bad guy and Christian Slater as the other one. The film had lots of plot twists but no plot. Travolta is so clearly crazy that no one would even allow him to get on a plane, let alone be the pilot of the world’s most deadly secret stealth bomber.
2 Planet of the Apes. In The Jungle. On Steroids.
Deep in the rain forests of Congo lies a lost and ancient city with a terrible secret. There is also an evil megalomaniac, some scientists, an earnest primatologist, a blue diamond and some vicious talking gorillas that make Planet of Apes look like a chimps tea party.
Plus there are some polystyrene ancient ruins, a volcano, a missing son/lover, a backpack that translates ape sign language into voice recordings, a corrupt local militia, hostile native tribes, rampant hippos and the Eye of Providence.
The plot for Congo was, well, ridiculous.
And the constant references to a ‘mythical grey gorilla’ were just silly. The grey gorilla was not, as you might think, a silver back gorilla. It was more like an ordinary black gorilla dusted liberally with talcum powder.
The film was panned everywhere and was nominated for 7 Golden Raspberry awards
1 Snakes. On a Plane.
Sometimes the elevator pitch is the entire movie. It’s the title. It’s the plot. It’s even most of the dialogue.
What’s it about? It’s about snakes. On a plane.
Do you need more information than that?
Oh, you do. Well, Samuel L Jackson is in it. And there is a thin kind of storyline involving the FBI, a mob informant, and a crate of venomous snakes.
It’s difficult to get a gun through airport security, but a crate of venomous snakes is just easy.
And to make sure that the snakes don’t sleep through the in-flight movie, some idiot sprays them with a kind of chemical McGuffin that makes them extra aggressive and extra venomous.
Of course, snakes aren’t that good at facial recognition, so in order to kill the right snitch, they have to kill everyone else too.
Was it any good? Of course not. It stunk. Even Sam Jackson couldn’t save it. But the elevator pitch was great.