Director David Ayer recently reflected on Suicide Squad. Though a commercial hit, the superhero flick got panned in part for hyping up Jared Leto's Joker, but delivering precious little of him. “I love the movie and believe in it,” he wrote in a letter posted to Twitter. “Wish I had a time machine. I’d make Joker the main villain and engineer a more grounded story.”
Film's a divisive medium, and a movie can take a thousand different wrong turns. A remake of a much-loved original can make diehard fans groan, blockbusters can shatter the box office without winning over critics and a true work of art can fail to find an audience at all.
When it comes to these disappointments, directors don't always get the opportunity to explain themselves. Here, we’ve assembled defenses from directors (and one producer) on ten of their most infamously disappointing movies—from humble regrets to the bold, “no, you’re just watching it wrong.”
13 Hours (2016)
What disappointed people: With this action film, Michael Bay turned his eye to the 2012 Benghazi attacks on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Libya four years after it happened. Bloody and graphic, it got flack from some for how it handled such recent events.
In her review, TIME’s film critic Stephanie Zacharek said, “there is something unscrupulous about the way it interprets and presents a real-life tragedy for the delectation of movie audiences.” It was based on a historical account, but did the movie catch the realities? See the film fact-checked right here.
Director’s defense: Bay insisted that politicizing the movie interfered with the heartfelt tale.
"It avoids the politics. It gives you the facts, but at the end of the day it’s an inspirational story," Bay explained to Bill O' Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor. “Here’s the thing: The politics got in the way of this great human story that happened, and this is really to honor these type of men that do this every day — that put themselves in harm’s way — that’s what this movie is about."
How it fared since the release: Audiences didn't come out for this film as much as they had for movies that championed military heroes like American Sniper and Lone Survivor, and it just nearly missed its box office expectations, according to Forbes. So Paramount Pictures sought an audience by partnering with conservative media outlets; political private screenings gave it a boost, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
What’s next: Bay directs Transformers: The Last Knight, out in 2017.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
What disappointed people: In the movie, DC Comics’ swolest heroes square off. What’s to criticize? Everything, according to reviewers who almost universally dismissed the story as heavy-handed. They weren't alone. Moviegoers also felt the intense blockbuster was crying out for a dose of levity. Nonetheless, audiences were clearly into the idea of a superhero fight club; it was the seventh biggest superhero movie in history at the world box office.
Director’s defense: Speaking on the Hall of Justice podcast, Zack Snyder addressed some of the fans who blasted the movie for reinventing Superman.
People are always like, ‘You changed Superman’ If you’re a comic book fan, you know that I didn’t change Superman. If you know the true canon, you know that I didn’t change Superman. If you’re a fan of the old movies, yeah I changed him a bit. That’s the difference. I’m a bit of a comic book fan, and I always default to the true canon.
How it fared since the release: Despite the lackluster critical response, the superheroes will cross paths again in a number of upcoming films, including Wonder Woman, Justice League and Aquaman.
What’s next: Snyder's Justice League hits theaters Nov. 17, 2017.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
What disappointed people: Ridley Scott's big-budget movie about Moses featured a predominately white cast playing Egyptians, causing thousands to boycott the epic on social media before it came out.
It opened to a chorus of takedowns, which mostly cited the story itself. TIME critic Richard Corliss wrote, "racial sensitivities aside, this Exodus is a stolid mess, bleakly laughable without being an entertaining hoot like De Mille’s camp classic." It also didn't help that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies dropped the same weekend. Exodus' opening box office was merely mediocre.
Director's defense: When asked to address people who criticized the movie's casting during an on-camera interview with the Associated Press, Scott responded bluntly:
"I say get a life, get a break, but other than that, I've got to cast the best I can cast at that particular time, who's available, who makes sense, who can act the part on a budget of this scale."
How it fared over time: The United Arab Emirates, and Egypt and Morocco reportedly banned it over historical and religious concerns. On the biblical epic front, two years later, the Alex Proyas-directed Gods of Egypt, was also criticized for its predominantly white cast acting in a story about ancient Egypt. Lionsgate issued a longer explanation, but the movie still tanked at the box office, thus killing the studio's plans to turn the story into a franchise.
What's next: Scott will direct Alien: Covenant, out in 2017.
The Lone Ranger (2013)
What disappointed people: From the team who brought you the Pirates of Caribbean franchise, this Disney adventure remake starred Johnny Depp as the Native American warrior, Tonto, opposite Armie Hammer as his partner, the Lone Ranger. (For the role of Tonto, Depp said he studied up with elder chiefs and aimed to portray the leader "the right way.")
Critics didn't go for the western's hyperactive pace, even though this movie had Helena Bonham Carter as a PG-13 Madam with a wooden leg gun. Disappointing box office receipts made this one of Disney's hugest box office flops to date.
Director’s defense: The most passionate defense came from the film's producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, who discussed what he and Depp viewed as unwarranted bad buzz in an interview with Yahoo UK:
I think (‘Lone Ranger’) is going to be looked back on as a brave, wonderful film....This is the deal with American critics. They’ve been gunning for our movie since it was shut down the first time, and I think that’s probably when most of the critics wrote their initial reviews. I think that they were reviewing the budget and not reviewing the movie. The audience doesn’t care what the budget is. They pay the same amount to see the movie whether it cost a dollar or $20 million. It’s one of those movies that, whatever critics missed it this time, will re-review it in a few years and see that they made a mistake.
How it fared over time: In the end, Disney couldn't recoup its losses, thanks to weak subsequent releases and action figure sales. People still revisit the film, but the warmest review came from Quentin Tarantino who surprised people by declaring it one of the top movies of 2013 long after the movie could have used his endorsement.
What’s next: Director Gore Verbinski will direct A Cure for Wellness, and Bruckheimer will produce Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, both out in 2017.
John Carter (2012)
What disappointed people: Andrew Stanton directed this CGI-heavy adaptation about Civil War veteran John Carter's attempt to save Mars, which critics found both confusing and dull. Once the film failed at the box office—it brought in just a quarter of its budget, which had ballooned to unprecedented heights—Disney ditched the two John Carter sequels the company had planned.
Director’s defense: Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Stanton essentially said the answer is blowing in the wind.
We didn’t always agree on which direction to take every step of the way, but there was never serious contention. The truth was everyone tried their very best to crack how to sell what we had, but the answer proved elusive.
What’s next: Stanton will be on the writing team story for Toy Story 4, out in 2019, and he recently directed Finding Dory.
Cowboys and Aliens (2011)
What disappointed people: In Jon Favreau's alien fable, invaders descend on a Western town to yank the villagers into space. Detractors called out the movie's mysterious marketing: Ultimately it was a sci-fi movie wrapped in a package that screamed comedy. So everyone banking on the laughs was in for a letdown, proving that the movie may have just been too misunderstood to merit all the hype. Opening weekend, it tied with The Smurfs at the box office, but that wasn't enough to save Cowboys.
Director’s defense: In an interview on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast, Favreau admitted Cowboys & Aliens should have gone with a different tone.
With so many [actors] associated with it, it was seen as the big dog, and we felt we were underdogs with how obscure the material was …The name that was so interesting made everyone think it was going to be a comedy and maybe it would’ve been better served with a different vision … It’s always a trick of ‘how can you get the big summer movie, with the big budget, where you can play with all the toys yet do something interesting with it… [Looking at Iron Man] part of me felt that it was going to bomb and part of me felt like this is going to be the best movie in the world.
How it fared over time: The genre-mixing story has since landed on a list of criminally underrated blockbusters.
What’s next: Favreau will direct Jungle Book 2 and The Lion King, both Disney.
Mars Needs Moms (2011)
What went wrong: How’s this for a premise that reinvents the alien takeover? In this one, aliens are abducting moms from Earth to raise their alien babies in outer space. The movie suffered from a low turnout. BoxOffice.com analyst Phil Contrino blamed the oversaturated market, and others suggested the word “moms” in the title turned off young male fans.
Most decisive of all? It looked weird, with audiences notably rejecting the movie's motion-capture technology which made the cast look drastically different. It was one of the biggest money-losing movies of all time, and TIME observed the bust made John Carter’s devastating results "pale in comparison."
Director’s defense: Asked why it failed and why people should give the DVD a chance, director Simon Wells told Movie Web about its virtues.
It's much more of a movie than I think people thought it was. The sad thing is, it didn't perform terribly well in cinemas, but that was from the get-go, people just didn't buy tickets. There was just something about the way it was presented in the marketplace that didn't give people the sense of adventure and fun and real emotion that is in the movie. This is a thing that you'll want to watch with your kids and you'll want to watch over and over again. You won't watch it once and go, 'Gee, I wish I hadn't bought that.'..For families, I think it has a lot more in there for them than they knew at the time it was coming out.
How it fared over time: Overseas, Mars didn’t compensate for its low American showing, and despite a heartfelt pitch from Wells, DVD sales were meager as far as Disney toons go.
What’s next: Wells hasn't directed a new offering since Mars.
Superman Returns (2006)
What disappointed people: Superman was taking flight after a long hiatus (since 1987), so the pressure was on. This sentimental take on a comic book movie imagined the caped savior returning to New York City after a break of his own to get back to his side hustle—saving humanity. Bryan Singer's movie enjoyed lukewarm success at the box office, but some found the Man of Steel's martyrdom overbearing.
Director’s defense: In an interview with VoicesFromKrypton.com, Singer explained why he felt the sentiments may have been tough pills to swallow.
I think that Superman Returns was a bit nostalgic and romantic, and I don’t think that was what people were expecting, especially in the summer...I’ve always felt that the origin of Superman is the story of Moses — the child sent on a ship to fulfill a destiny, and this was a story about Christ — it’s all about sacrifice: The world, I hear their cries. So what happens? He gets the knife in the side and later he falls to the earth in the shape of a crucifix. It was kind of nailing you on the head, but I enjoyed that, because I’ve always found the myth of Christ compelling and moving. So I hoped to do my own take, which is heavy s— for a summer movie.
How it fared over time: The overwhelming "no thanks" from critics didn't stop DC Comics from giving people more Superman. Case in point: Zack Snyder's Man of Steel (2013) netted more than $600 million and though some fans said Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) was crucially missing fun, it grossed more than $800 million globally.
What’s next: Singer will direct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, out in 2017.
What disappointed people: Elizabeth Berkley plays a showgirl who starts performing at one of the seedier establishments on the Vegas strip and ascends to stardom thanks to her mentor (Kyle MacLachlan), and also by pushing her rival down some stairs. Critics lambasted the over-the-top dialogue courtesy of Joe Eszterhas’s script. (A taste: in a famous scene, she mispronounces a fancy word.) But TIME's critic Richard Corliss saw potential for the greater good. “Showgirls….is one of those delirious, hilarious botches that could be taught in film schools as a How Not To.”
Director’s defense: Speaking to Rolling Stone 20 years after the film's release, director Paul Verhoeven admitted his moviemaking mistakes damaged his credibility and hurt Berkley's career. But he was proud of its merits:
There’s a lot of nudity; but it’s not exploitative. It’s not a porno movie. I think the nudity in Showgirls is not done in what you would call a “dirty” way....When I think of the movie, I see all these brilliant colors and of these beautiful movements — of the body and of the camera — and what stands out for me is the elegance. That sounds strange to people when I say this is a very elegant movie, but I think it is. It’s probably the most elegant movie I’ve ever done.
How it fared over time: The film’s endured thanks to the very reason people bashed it: the so-ridiculous-it’s-funny factor. The campy favorite is a midnight theater cult hit, and the DVD has reportedly been a top seller for MGM. It was even re-released in French movie theaters in 2016.
What’s next: Verhoeven may take the blame for hurting his lead actor’s career, but under his direction in Elle, Isabelle Huppert won several prestigious awards for her performance. Next up, Verhoeven will reportedly direct the French resistance movie, Lyon 1943.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
What disappointed people: The Dickensian story of a rich guy’s worst nightmare may have been a darkly funny masterpiece when it arrived in book form by Tom Wolfe, but the $45 million movie adaptation bombed. Detractors said that the actors (including Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks) were ill-suited for their roles. Worse, audiences felt the movie was too sarcastic about race and class divides, and the novel’s sophistication just didn’t translate to the big screen.
Director’s defense: Brian De Palma, who said people who haven't read the book might be able to see the film in a whole new way, said the casting was the movie's downfall.
The initial concept of it was incorrect. If you’re going to do The Bonfire of the Vanities, you would have to make it a lot darker and more cynical, but because it was such an expensive movie we tried to humanize the Sherman McCoy character – a very unlikeable character, much like the character in The Magnificent Ambersons. We could have done that if we’d been making a low-budget movie, but this was a studio movie with Tom Hanks in it. We made a couple of choices that in retrospect were wrong. I think John Lithgow would have been a better choice for Sherman McCoy, because he would have got the blue-blood arrogance of the character.
How it fared over time: The same bestselling novel was later adapted as an opera under the direction of Michael Bergmann in 2015. (One of the rare reviews in the New York Observer slammed it, writing it put the "corn" in "carnal.")
What’s Next: De Palma will direct Lights Out in 2017.