Every year, huge movie productions go to Comic-Con and other events to court the fans, because they know fan love will help make a movie successful. But sometimes, a movie can still make a billion dollars even in the face of blistering fan hatred. Here are 10 insanely successful movies that the fans couldn't stand.
[Update: Swapped out World War Z for Iron Man 3, because people convinced me that there's not that much hate for the Iron Man sequel. And fans of Max Brooks' novel were very vocal about seeing the film as an unworthy adaptation.]
I feel as though the hit movie that pisses off the fans is a fairly recent phenomenon. Back in the 80s and 90s, the films fans hated also bombed at the box office — for example, Batman and Robin was a box-office disaster. Also, the most reviled Star Trek movies of the 80s and 90s were also the least successful, by and large. Plus Robocop 3, Judge Dredd, and assorted other 80s and 90s bombs that fans also loathed.
It's arguably only in the last 15 years that studios have learned to make franchise pictures that appeal to a wide mainstream audience — without necessarily pleasing the fans. Plus fan communities are much more active on the internet, and much more likely to come to a consensus online about films that commit sacrilege against beloved institutions.
Oh, and it should go without saying that no group of fans has never been unanimous about anything, in the history of fandom. And it can be hard to tell the difference between "the majority of fans" and "a large and vocal minority of fans" sometimes.
So here are 10 movies from the past 15 years that made insane amounts of money, and in many cases garnered positive reviews, but which armies of fans seemed to despise:
Kind of an obvious choice — but also arguably the first movie ever to rake in loads of money at the box office while leaving Star Wars fans unhappy. This film has raked in a billion dollars worldwide, and got mixed but respectful reviews. Roger Ebert wrote, "If it were the first Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace would be hailed as a visionary breakthrough... [Phantom Menace] is an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking." But fans like author Cecil Castellucci camped out for days to see this film, and came away nauseated. As Castellucci wrote on io9, "It was horrible. It was not the movie I had waited an eternity for. No Jedi Mind trick could convince me that it was good."
This movie is usually regarded as one of Will Smith's string of hits, and it got lukewarm but generally respectful reviews. Alan Tudyk's turn as a robot questioning his identity was singled out for praise in particular. But fans of Isaac Asimov's robot stories launched petitions and websites attacking the movie. They saw the film as a predictable robot movie with the name of Asimov's famous story collection added on and references to the Three Laws of Robotics shoe-horned in. Typical quote: "The producers and studio deserve a heap of blame for attempting to associate such a film with Isaac Asimov, whose stories, even at their worst, were far more intelligent and interesting than the I, Robot film." See also: I Am Legend, the film with the same writer and star which takes major liberties with Richard Matheson's novel.
This superhero vehicle did well enough that a sequel was rushed into production just two years later — although the sequel underperformed, which is why we're getting a reboot next year. But fans of the comic never seemed to like the first movie, with its "man in a suit" version of the Thing and its misunderstanding of the basic dynamic of the Fantastic Four. Here's a pretty detailed run-down of all the essential things this movie got wrong, including Reed Richards' personality and the origin of Doctor Doom.
According to Box Office Mojo, this remains the most successful X-Men movie of all time — although that might not hold true if you adjusted for inflation. (And it had a much higher budget than the others.) The film also managed to convince nearly 60 percent of critics to give it a decent review. But I've never met a fan of the X-Men who could tolerate this film — from Scott Summers' bizarre off-screen death to the total mishandling of the Phoenix storyline to the general way the heart and soul of the X-Men gets drained out and replaced with mindless action. Oh, and the misuse of Joss Whedon's "Gifted" storyline, too. This movie took insane liberties that pleased almost no X-fans.
And then there's the other "three-quel" that still gets held up as an example of how not to do a superhero sequel. This movie pulled in $891 million worldwide and is still among the top ten opening weekends, ever. But it took the Venom storyline, which generations of fans revere, and turned it into a tale of Peter Parker becoming a fame whore who dances annoyingly in nightclubs. The story felt overstuffed and also weirdly empty, and fans still complain abouthow this film handled favorite characters like Gwen Stacy — not to mention, what kind of world is it where everybody loves Spider-Man?
Collectively, the first three Michael Bay Transformers movies have made two and a half billion dollars at the box office. The second and third films have been lambasted by critics, but the first movie is still pretty well regarded, as a solidly constructed if overlong action movie. But fans of the toys and classic G1 cartoons talk derisively about "Bayformers," the bastardization of the transforming robots. This term has become so widespread, it has its own wiki page, which states "It is usually used in a negative manner specifically toward the choices made in Michael Bay's films concerning the physical designs of the Transformers in the films, as well as their personas, unique attributes, and other various aspects that some claim to make the Michael Bay movies worse than they otherwise should have been. The term is also used in even broader terms to express distaste for the Michael Bay Transformers films altogether."
Similar to X-Men 3, this is the most successful movie in the Indiana Jones series (not adjusted for inflation). It made nearly $800 million worldwide. Critics also gave it a pretty upbeat set of reviews, which ranged from lukewarm to positive. But fans of the Indiana Jones series objected violently to Mutt, Indy's son played by Shia LaBoeuf, and the sequence where Indy survives a nuclear explosion by getting inside a refrigerator. Not to mention the long, long monkey sequence. And the fact that this movie steals its ending from the first movie but throws in aliens instead of God.
Not to open a whole can of worms again, but the J.J. Abrams Trek films definitely seem to belong on this list. Both movies were quite successful at the box office, although the second one did better overseas and slightly less well domestically. Critics pretty much universally adore both films. But a large number of Trek fans, especially old-school fans of the Original Series, have been very vocal in condemning these movies emphasis on action over philosophical discussions. Kevin Smith sums it up best, "Now J.J. Abrams, a big fan of Star Wars as a kid, grows up to make a Star Trek movie that is less like the Star Trek TV show. They don't really philosophize in the J.J. Star Trek movie, they're just like, "Run, Spock! Things are dying!" It's very active, very action-oriented."
Like the other Nolan Bat-films, this one made a gajillion dollars and was pretty universally acclaimed among critics. And at least some Batman fans saw it as a fitting end to the trilogy, in spite of some plot holes. But a lot of fans have become more and more vocal in criticizing how this film adapts the "Knightfall" storyline, in which Batman's back is broken, along with arguably mishandling the fan-favorite character Talia al-Ghul.
This Brad Pitt zombie movie made a respectable $540 million worldwide and garnered mostly happy reviews — but fans of the book were not pleased with the way it took Max Brooks' oral history and... basically threw away all of it. The only way to be happy with the World War Z movie was to stop thinking of it as an adaptation of the novel, basically. They could have called it Night of the Zombies, and people would have been happier.
Thanks to Genevieve Valentine for the input!
Further reading: Hit Movies That Everybody Thinks Were Flops