Smirk if you want, but 2016 was a very good year for movies.
Put aside blockbusters like “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Finding Dory.” The last 12 months featured a bevy of strong stories, from clever superhero romps (“Dr. Strange”) to compelling military thrillers (“Eye in the Sky”).
We even saw a movie musical (“La La Land”) that made us pine for Hollywood’s Golden Age anew.
And then there were the duds.
No year lacks a few cinematic debacles. But each of the following six films failed in different, but critical ways.
6. “Rules Don’t Apply”
Warren Beatty returned from an 18-year directorial hiatus with this colorful look at old-school Hollywood.
Yet many young moviegoers have little connection to Warren Beatty, movie star. Nor do they care about Hollywood’s past and all its morally dubious ticks.
More importantly, if you’re going to target an older, more sophisticated demographic, you’d better deliver a great movie. “Rules” is engaging and cute, but it’s barely a ripple in Beatty’s impressive screen career.
On the surface, this remake of the beloved 1984 comedy was a hit. After all, a $128 million haul is exactly what you want from a big-screen comedy. Only this particular romp cost a fortune and had to spark a whole new movie franchise/universe.
Spoiler alert — it didn’t.
We all know why. The team behind the film, aided and abetted by a deeply biased press, turned this comic event into a culture-wars battleground. These “lady” Ghostbusters were here to make us laugh AND inspire us. Anyone who didn’t get that memo was blasted as a sexist. Or worse.
If you alienate a large group of moviegoers, you simply won’t get a box-office bonanza. Period.
4. “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”
You could chalk this box-office disappointment up as a sequel that never should have been made. The Seth Rogen/Rose Byrne original was a hoot, but it didn’t have a story that needed an extension.
That’s not why the sequel stumbled.
The new comedy got walloped by politically correct storytelling. How did that happen? For starters, the filmmakers hired two women to observe the production to ensure it was both empowering and feminist.
Is it any wonder it flopped given that humor-free mandate?
Director Oliver Stone has never made a boring movie … until now.
The “Platoon” auteur let his personal politics get the best of him with this fact-based tale. The story of Edward Snowden, whistleblower extraordinaire, could have made a firecracker of a film.
His leaks shed new light on the way our government operates. But at what cost? And couldn’t Snowden have effected similar change by working within the system?
Instead, Stone paints him as a flag-waving hero, ignoring all the shades of gray in his complicated story. That yielded a drab feature, one made worse by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ability to capture the real Snowden’s dry speech patterns.
How do you compete with a film classic like the 1959 Oscar winner of the same name? You don’t. The new “Ben-Hur” simply couldn’t escape Heston’s shadow, and as a result, the film shed millions.
That’s a shame, since it’s a solid story bolstered by a fine chariot race and some subtle spiritual nods. Had the movie played up its faith elements, it might have drawn more Christians into theaters. Instead, it opted for a more balanced storytelling approach.
That kept the faithful at arm’s length. Others simply couldn’t imagine any film topping Heston’s feature.
1. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”
What happens when you deposit one of Hollywood’s most notable liberals into a war-zone comedy? Audiences stay away in droves.
That’s a shame, since Tina Fey’s dramedy is both sharply realized and pro-military.
Based on a true story, Fey plays an unlikely war correspondent who becomes addicted to the gig’s adrenaline rush.
Middle East-based war movies have been a tough sell in recent years, partially since many were either anti-Bush or anti-U.S. foreign policy. “Whiskey” couldn’t outrun that legacy, even though Fey is terrific and the film’s final moments offer a teary-eyed tribute to one U.S. soldier.