10 Instances When Hollywood Misinterpreted the Message of a Film


In Hollywood’s rich history, numerous films have made an enduring impact, not just due to their compelling narratives, but also for their groundbreaking approach to filmmaking. However, despite certain movies sparking innovation and positive shifts, there have been instances where studio executives drew misguided conclusions from a film’s triumph, resulting in detrimental trends that persisted for extended periods.

These trends often yielded uninspiring replicas at their peak and opportunistic money-making endeavors at their worst. From misguided endeavors to emulate box office hits to misconstrued understandings of audience preferences, here are ten occasions when Hollywood misconstrued the lessons from a film’s success – all without resorting to

10 The Social Network Trailer and Pop Song Covers

The Social Network
Sony Pictures Releasing

The Social Network gets an asterisk because the movie didn’t start a trend, but the film’s trailer certainly did.

The teaser trailer for The Social Network showed the world that it wasn’t just going to be “that Facebook movie.” But the most memorable aspect of the trailer is definitely the angelic rendition of Radiohead’s classic song “Creep;” it perfectly captures the tone of the film, and is a reflection of the story’s deeper themes. It was, in short, incredibly effective.

But in the years since, it’s become common – some would even say required – to include a slowed-down, melancholic cover of a pop song in a movie trailer, regardless of whether it works. A wispy cover of “Every Breath You Take” was used in the trailer for the Blair Witch remake; The Beatles’ “Come Together” was used in the Justice League trailer; and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was featured in the trailer for, of all movies, Rambo: Last Blood. There are countless other examples, and it isn’t stopping: the new trailer for The Last Voyage of the Demeter features a cover of Smashing Pumpkin’s Bullet with Butterfly Wings.

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9 The Dark Knight and the Rise of Gloomy Superhero Movies

Joker in The Dark Knight
Warner Bros. Pictures

Christopher Nolan changed the way people viewed superhero movies with The Dark Knight, a film that felt more like a Michael Mann-inspired crime epic than a comic book movie. Unlike previous iterations of Batman, which ranged from campy to outright cartoonish, Nolan’s vision was exceedingly dark and gritty. His interpretation of the character and the city of Gotham was much more in line with the tone of the comics, which contributed to the film’s massive success and continued adoration.

But after The Dark Knight’s massive success, there was a notable rise in superhero movies that had a darker tone, even if it didn’t accurately reflect the source material; Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Justice League (which was re-shot to “lighten the tone”) were all criticized for their unnecessarily bleak atmosphere. And it wasn’t just DC properties: Fant4stic was a much more “serious-minded” approach to the comics, and 2016’s Power Rangers reboot may have taken itself a little too seriously.

Luckily the tides have started to turn, and it feels like studios are putting fun back into their big-budget superhero movies.

8 Guardians of the Galaxy and Nostalgic Pop Soundtracks

The Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is notable for, among other things, its uniquely nostalgic soundtrack. Composed of classic rock and pop songs from the 1970s and 1980s, the soundtrack complemented the film’s adventurous and irreverent tone, and clearly resonated with audiences of every age: songs that haven’t charted in 40 years were suddenly topping Billboard.

The success of the Guardians soundtrack inspired other filmmakers (re: studio heads) to add the same flare to their films. Soon it felt like every movie had a winking, pop-centric soundtrack: Ayer’s Suicide Squad, Captain Marvel, Thor: Ragnarök, Deadpool, Atomic Blonde, and Ready Player One all come to mind.

7 Harry Potter and the Curse of Two-Part Finales

Harry-Potter-and-The-Deathly-Hallows-Part-2 (1)
Warner Bros

The final installment of the astronomically-popular Harry Potter series – The Deathly Hallows – was split into two movies. And rightfully so; the book is a dense one, and the characters deserved more than 150 minutes to bring their decade-spanning story to a fitting conclusion. But after the success of both films, it seemed like studios were quick to split all of their final movies into two-parts, if only to make more money.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn was split into two films (arguably unnecessarily so), as were the finales to The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Avengers, The Hobbit, and Fast and Furious. And while the trend has certainly slowed down, it isn’t gone completely: 2023 saw the release of two Part Ones for Mission: Impossible and Across the Spider-verse. And of course Marvel is planning another two-hander to end Phase Five: Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars.

6 The Bourne Ultimatum and “Shaky Cam”

The Bourne Ultimatum Jason Bourne/Matt Damon running
Universal Pictures 

Paul Greengrass’s action-packed The Bourne Ultimatum is the third installment and arguably the best entry in the Bourne franchise. But one of the film’s most controversial aspects was its reliance on “shaky cam,” which utilized handheld cameras and whip-fast cuts to lend immediacy and realism to the action scenes. Given Greengrass’s journalist background, it gave Ultimatum a much more ground, almost documentarian feel, and made the action hit a lot harder.

After the film’s success, studios started using “shaky cam” as a way to add urgency and tension to their films. But it was also used as a way to hide poor stunt choreography and shoddy camerawork, resulting in a glut of films filled with indiscernible and nauseating action sequences.

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5 Avatar and Lazy 3D

Jake and Neytiri in the James Cameron movie Avatar
20th Century Studios

Following the massive success of James Cameron’s groundbreaking 3D epic Avatar, there was a massive influx in 3D movies. While some creatives saw 3D as a way to make their films more immersive (think Hugo or Gravity, for example), most studios embraced the trend for one reason only: they could charge more for tickets.

While Avatar was specifically shot with 3D in mind using state-of-the-art technology, most 3D films released in Avatar’s wake were simply converted in post-production, resulting in muddy (and occasionally nauseating) visuals. And if a movie wasn’t shot with 3D in mind, then the effect wouldn’t be as…well, effective.

Movies like Clash of the Titans, Men in Black 3, Captain America: The First Avenger, and World War Z were all converted in post to capitalize on the trend – and it showed. Studios were even re-releasing classics like Jurassic Park, Titanic, and E.T. in 3D. The new technology that Avatar revolutionized suddenly started to feel like a gimmick.

For a few years, it felt like every single blockbuster was being released in 3D, regardless of whether it was justified. Eventually audiences began to turn on the format, and more “premium” options – like IMAX and Dolby – started replacing 3D. For the most part, the trend has faded away, but the release of Avatar: The Way of Waterhas reintroduced the world to immersive capabilities of 3D technology (when used properly, that is) Let’s hope Hollywood learns the right lesson this time around.

4 Alice in Wonderland and Live Action Disney Remakes

Helena Bonham Carter in Alice in Wonderland
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Though it wasn’t Disney’s first live-action remake of one of their classic animated films, Alice in Wonderland was by far the most successful. Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of the 1951 animated film made over a billion dollars at the box office, and officially started the now-tiresome trend of Disney turning beloved animated classics into (mostly) bland live-action remakes.

Since the release of Wonderland, Disney has released 17 remakes, including Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, The Lion King, Aladdin, Cinderella, Pinnochio, and The Little Mermaid, just to name a few. And there are more on the way: The Lion King 2, Lilo and Stitch, Moana, and Snow White are all on the horizon. While many of these movies have been profitable for the studio, they’re starting to wear out their welcome among fans.

Paranormal Activity
Paramount Pictures

The story of Paranormal Activity’s success is a truly inspirational one. Filmed for under $15,000 in the director’s house on weekends, the self-funded movie became a breakout success thanks to a unique grassroots marketing campaign and strong word of mouth. It earned nearly $200 million at the box office, making it one of the most successful movies ever made, which in turn led to six sequels (each one worse than the last) and a slew of poorly-made, dirt-cheap found-footage horror movies from studios looking to cash in on a trend that seemed to promise lucrative returns on low investments.

For a few years, it seemed like you couldn’t escape found footage movies. There was As Above, So Below, The Devil’s Inside, The Gallows, The Pyramid, Phoenix Forgotten, The Last Exorcism, The Devil’s Due…the list goes on. Almost all of these films were totally forgettable, and felt like nothing but cheap cash grabs from the studio. Luckily audiences started catching on and stopped supporting these types of movies, leading to a steep decline in found-footage films in recent years.

2 Iron Man and the Dawn of Cinematic Universes

RDJ in Iron Man 2008
Marvel Studios

In 2008, Kevin Feige and Marvel forever changed the movie landscape with the introduction the world of “cinematic universes” with their first official entry in the newly-minted MCU, Iron Man. It took years of meticulous planning, but the pay-off was nothing short of massive: over the course of a decade, Marvel films have grossed nearly $30 billion dollars, and have dominated the blockbuster industry on a scale never seen before.

As a result of the MCU’s massive success, every studio in Hollywood started looking for their own “universe.” Disney obviously has Marvel and Star Wars; Warner Bros has DC Studios, the Harry Potter universe, the Monsterverse, and – oddly enough – a Conjuring shared universe; Sony has Spider-Man and his Rogue Gallery of Villains; Universal has Jurassic Park and Fast and Furious, not to mention the notorious train wreck that was the proposed Dark Universe. And Hasbro just confirmed that Transformers and G.I. Joe indeed share a universe, and a future crossover is all but inevitable.

The success of The Super Mario Bros Movie has led to Illumination partnering with Nintendo to create their own cinematic universe, and Barbie – as we’ve already discussed – has inspired Mattel to put sixteen films based on their toys into development. It seems that every successful film needs its own universe filled with spin-offs, prequels, and one-offs to capitalize on its initial success until it’s all but squeezed dry.

1 Barbie and the Mattel Cinematic Universe

Barbie Bench Scene With Elderly Woman
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Barbenheimer Phenomenon has taken the world by storm. Greta Gerwig’s surprise mega-hit Barbie is breaking records left and right, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down; as of writing, it’s well on its way to crossing a billion dollars at the box office.

As a result of the movie’s success, Barbie’s parent company, Mattel, has announced their plans to spearhead a “Mattel Cinematic Universe.” The toy company currently has scripts in active development for Hot Wheels (produced by JJ Abrams), Polly Pocket, American Girl Doll, Rock Em Sock Em Robots (which is essentially just Real Steel), and Uno. But it doesn’t stop there: the Magic 8 Ball is being turned into a horror comedy by Jimmy Warden (Cocaine Bear), Daniel Kaluuya is adapting Barney into a film that’s been described as a cross between Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.

Admittedly, a lot of these ideas are pretty outside the box, so Mattel at least deserves credit for taking risks. But the toy company also seems to be jumping the shark in a major way by announcing plans to release SIXTEEN movies based on their properties, one of which is a literal card game.

It’s way too early to tell if Mattel learned the wrong lessons from Barbie’s success, or whether any of their other films will be anywhere near as successful, but it still begs the question: do we really need a movie for the View-Master?

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