There were plenty of movies from this year that I absolutely loved and others that I absolutely hated, but there’s a very special category that exists between both of those ends: the ones that left me utterly disappointed. While I always enter a movie theater hoping to love the hell out of whatever I’m watching, the truth is that there are some films that I spend a lot of time thinking about and anticipating, only to be left frustrated at the end.
So what were the movies from 2011 that I found to be the most disappointing? What were the movies that I went in expecting to love and walked out of feeling disgruntled and hating the world? Expectations can sometimes help a film, but for the 10 movies below that wasn’t the case.
Super 8 isn’t a bad movie by any definition, and, in fact, is actually quite good. Writer/director J.J. Abrams set out to create a film that would capture the essence of Steven Spielberg’s work from the 1980s and that’s exactly what he did. What ended up hurting the film, though, was the incredible expectations we had for it that sadly made it a shoo-in for this list even before it came out. The movie has more than a few great elements working for it – namely it’s stellar young cast – but walking out of the theater it was hard to say that you didn’t wish for more. The alien, which the cast and crew went to great measures to hide before opening weekend, was dull and generic looking while the ending felt unearned and rushed. Super 8 wasn’t one of the worst projects of the year, but what makes it disappointing is that it wasn’t one of the best.
Clint Eastwood is a brilliant director who, in previous years, has brought us brilliant films like The Outlaw Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter, Unforgiven and Mystic River. He’s a four-time Oscar winner, and while he’s always been a talented actor, all of those awards have come from his work behind the camera (two for Best Director, two for Best Picture). So what the hell happened with J. Edgar? While the founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was, by most accounts, an interesting individual, Eastwood’s biopic was a complete and utter mess. The entire film was an overdone slog that featured no real plot to speak of and while it did a great job to illustrate that J. Edgar Hoover was a total asshole, it never made a case for why he was an interesting one deserving of a biopic. J. Edgar is a truly bad film from a director who is capable of doing much more.
Going by the trailers alone, Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch should have been a wicked fun ride. It actually had an interesting premise – girls escaping the reality of a mental institution through imagination – and the previews featured some great looking action pieces and design. The problem is that Sucker Punch ended up being all style and absolutely no substance. While the battle scenes involving dragons, robots, and World War I soldiers were cool, everything else about the movie was a total letdown. Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya failed to make solid connections between the real world and the two fantasy levels, which was devastating for anyone who was watching the movie for anything more than live-action anime-style visuals and young girls in short skirts. There was potential in the story behind Sucker Punch, it could have been Inception set in a mental institution, but the movie we got was a complete disappointment.
We’ve come to expect a lot from Pixar. Since making their feature debut in 1995 with Toy Story, the animation studio has produced hit after hit, year after year and has introduced us to some of the most inventive, amazing filmmakers that Hollywood has to offer, from Andrew Stanton to Pete Doctor to Brad Bird. Unfortunately their 16 year win streak came to an end this summer with the release of Cars 2. A sequel that nobody really wanted – the first Cars movie was seen as being the worst of the Pixar line prior to 2011 – the new film felt like little more than a cash grab (the first one was insanely successful from a marketing standpoint) and failed to succeed in the ways that all other Pixar movies have. From the strange amount of violence to the unneeded toilet humor, Cars 2 simply wasn’t up to the standards that we expect from one of the greatest studios on the planet.
After years of waiting, it was finally happening: Warner Bros. was finally realizing that there was more to the DC Comics universe than Batman and Superman and decided to move forward with a new character property, Green Lantern. Sadly, things didn’t work out nearly as well as everyone thought they would. Despite having a terrific director at the helm in Martin Campbell (a filmmaker who had successfully rejuvenated the James Bond franchise twice) and an interesting choice to star in Ryan Reynolds (who always has charm and charisma to spare), the movie was dead on arrival thanks to its utterly bizarre sense of story and pacing. Explaining the origin story of the character, the entire film was convoluted and all over the place tonally. While Green Lantern did have its bright spots, namely the villainous turn by the always-excellent Peter Sarsgaard, it wasn’t even close to the movie that we were hoping for or expecting.
The Hangover: Part II
In retrospect, Todd Phillips’ 2009 hit The Hangover wasn’t the greatest comedy ever written, but it was a laugh riot that introduced great characters and comedic stars. The problem is that it was good enough that the filmmakers thought they could make the exact same film for the sequel and get away with it. It turns out that wasn’t true. While the darker approach and new setting was interesting, The Hangover: Part II simply did way too much of the same and the result was an unfunny mess. It was bad enough that the plot was about an important character missing before a wedding and it was stupid that they once again had Zach Galifianakis’ Alan once again be responsible for all of the problems. What really ended up driving the stake in, though, was how they reused the “I found the camera” gag from the end of the first film. We expected more.
The Rum Diary
Hunter S. Thompson was a drug-abusing, eccentric genius and putting his mind on screen will always be a challenge. It was really only done successfully once before, and that was Terry Gilliam’s batshit adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. That “once” includes the most recent effort, Bruce Robinson’s The Rum Diary. Stuck in development hell for years and stuck on a shelf once production had been completed, the project was a long time coming, but the end result was not 100% worth it. Johnny Depp once again seemed to have a lot of fun inhabiting the skin of his friend and author, but was unconvincing as an up-and-coming writer trying to find his way in the world. In fact, all of the performances were great, but the movie’s pacing was all over the place and it felt like 18 movies jammed into one. There’s a potentially great movie to be made from The Rum Diary, but this wasn’t it.
Your Highness is an excessively mediocre film, and while that by itself wouldn’t get it on the list, the problem is that director David Gordon Green’s previous film was the surprisingly awesome Pineapple Express. A send-up of adventure films from the 80s, the movie had a good number of laughs but was largely one-note and repeatedly used the same kind of gross-out gags over and over again. While Pineapple Express wasn’t brilliant, it was a deft mix of action and comedy, and Your Highness was missing that spark. You can show the audience a low-hanging minotaur penis and have it be funny, but it becomes less so when you cut it off and hang it around the hero’s neck. Perhaps now that both Your Highness and The Sitter disappointed both critically and at the box office we can start expecting less from David Gordon Green and he won’t show up on this list with his next project.
Drive Angry 3D
I know what you’re saying, “Eric, this was a Nicolas Cage movie, why the hell did you have the expectations necessary to be disappointed?” It’s a valid question, but an easy one to explain: there are bad Nicolas Cage movies, and then there are crazy Nicolas Cage movies. I’m of the ilk that likes the films in that second category (don’t get me started on my love for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), but Drive Angry 3D wasn’t what I was looking for. While the story and action in Patrick Lussier’s latest were nuts, the element that wasn’t was Cage’s performance. While he should have been bouncing off the walls and doing wild shit like screaming the alphabet, the Oscar winner was surprisingly and lamentably in control the entire time. It seems strange, but what Drive Angry 3D needed was more bear punching.
Hobo With A Shotgun
For this one all of the blame lands on the good people at the Sundance Film Festival. Because I am a super nerd, I read every single review of Jason Eisener’s debut feature film from Park City and I was floored. The film received near universal praise and it sounded like the movie was god’s gift to grindhouse fans. That it wasn’t. The movie features a great performance by Rutger Hauer and the intense saturated colors give whole thing an interesting aesthetic, but the whole thing is so over the top that it actually manages to become stilted. The point of the grindhouse and exploitation genre is gratuity and while Eisener’s movie certainly has that, all of the blood-letting isn’t done in a creative enough way to justify itself (particularly because it’s done in such a self-aware fashion). Let it be a lesson going forward: expectation is the enemy of reality.
For more of our end-of-the-year coverage, visit our Best of 2011 page.
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Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.