Cover Story: Risky Business

Hollywood studios made some uncharacteristically bold moves this year

Dec 20, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Final Fantasy

For movie executives, taking a chance could be defined as ordering the lunch special at Los Angeles power restaurant, The Ivy. Well, that would be the case in a typical year. Looking back at 2001, it seems as though the heretofore gutless studio execs downed a glass of liquid courage before signing off on any number of risky moves. Non-traditional casting choices, unpredictable budgets, untested directors, bizarro stories and (gasp!) song-and-dance films all were given the go-ahead this year, to mixed results.

That's not to say that every film produced this year strayed from the time-honored formula. (Can you say, Pearl Harbor?) But there were enough decisions made this year that leave us scratching our heads. Perhaps it's time to thoroughly inspect the trend. Why did they do it?

And more importantly, did they pay off — artistically or commercially? Let's review the decisions in question.

Budget Risk
Enemy at the Gates

Paramount and a host of other companies pitched in to make what is reported to be the most expensive Euro film to date.

Did it pay off? A little over $50 million in domestic box office won't encourage more Hollywood collaborations with the Euro dollar.

Casting Choices

How do you replace an Oscar-winning actress in a role she made famous? You can't. But you plug in a second-tier star, and let Anthony Hopkins' monster drive the film.

Did it pay off? Cast Cher as Agent Starling and still this film would have eaten the competition.

Casting Choices II
Bridget Jones's Diary

Casting American Renee Zellweger as the titular Brit caused a shock wave through the English lit crowd. And then they saw the film ... again and again.

Did it pay off? In the light spring season, this film was a true hit.

Casting Choices III
Final Fantasy

Who needs real actors when you can have computer generated ones?

Did it pay off? Audiences can't be simulated.

Casting Choices IV
Training Day

Good guy Denzel plays the bad guy cop.

Did it pay off? Apparently we just had to see for ourselves.

Risky Boob Shot

At $250,000 per breast, Halle Berry might be the most expensive stripper on the planet.

Did it pay off? The word-of-mouth buzz and adolescent drooling over that one little scene made the film a meager hit.

Maverick Director
Planet of the Apes

They saw which direction Tim Burton took the coveted Batman franchise. It should have surprised no one that he was going to do something different with this promising franchise.

Did it pay off? Of course Apes was going to make money, with all that marketing behind it. But did anyone expect the unanimous panning?

Maverick Director II
From Hell

Imagine a period piece (albeit a bloody one) by the Hughes Brothers.

Did it pay off? In October 2001, no one wanted to see more bloodshed.

Maverick Director III
Spy Kids

Imagine a family film by Robert Rodriguez, the guy who made From Dusk till Dawn.

Did it pay off? There are over a 100 million reasons why this worked.

Musical Risk
Moulin Rouge

While it was made independently, the fact that this movie got a decent distribution has everything to do with the talent involved. What was the last non-adapted movie musical to make money? Keep thinking.

Did it pay off? A cultlike following (and early Oscar buzz) sings, "Hell, yes!"

Musical Risk II
A Knight's Tale

Not as glaringly musical as Moulin Rouge, this early summer film still proudly wore a Classic Rock soundtrack, going so far as to insert it into the storytelling in an anachronistic way.

Did it pay off? The teen audience that makes or breaks summer films ignored it.

Questionable Timing

It had to be assumed that people wouldn't want to see a romantic comedy set in New York less than a month after Sept. 11.

Did it pay off? You know what they say about assumptions.

Touchy Subject
Save the Last Dance

How will a teen film, hinging on interracial love, play in Middle America?

Did it pay off? With a $27 million opening weekend and MTV squarely behind it, the film was the first true hit of the year.

Wrong Director
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

A master auteur, known for his adult films, passes the baton on his pet project to a completely different master, known for his kiddie films.

Did it pay off? One could argue that Steven Spielberg improved this film's marketability. Too bad he couldn't save it cinematically.

Wrong Director II
Jurassic Park III

Another Spielberg gaff. He leads the first two installments into box office heaven, then abandons it for round 3.

Did it pay off? It may not have broken records like the other two, but $180 million is nothing to sneeze at. Guess those dinos really are the stars. ©