Disney is well known for creating their own film trends. They practically invented the template for feature-length animated movies in the 1930s, released the first movie about video games with 1982’s Tron, and made pirates cool again for a brief time with Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, just to name a few. But they’ve also had their fair share of times they’ve tried to chase others’ success with varying degrees of success.
Long before Disney started gobbling up other film studios and incorporating their film franchises into their own, they took a different approach to profiting off of others. Here are 10 times it happened.
The Devil and Max Devlin
The 1970s witnessed the popularity of The Exorcist and many other films about the occult. It also saw the unlikely pairing of John Denver and George Burns in 1977’s Oh, God! That film proved to be a big hit, and apparently Disney tried to combine the two and the result was the Bill Cosby-starring The Devil and Max Devlin in 1981. Like pretty much every other Cosby movie, this one didn’t do well at the box office or with critics. He was great at standup comedy and at making hit TV shows, but for some reason his humor never translated to the big screen. Oddly enough, a second sequel to Oh, God! came out in 1984, and it was called Oh, God! You Devil.
The Cat from Outer Space, Unidentified Flying Oddball, and The Black Hole
Star Wars caught everyone off-guard, and it shows because a lot of the films that tried to ape off its success were forgettable at best. For every Alien, there were a number of films along the lines of The Cat from Outer Space and Unidentified Flying Oddball, which were both released by Disney in 1978 and 1979, respectively. However, I can’t knock Disney too hard because they also released The Black Hole in 1979, and that is a great movie.
Superman: The Movie
Popeye and Condorman
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the gold standard when it comes to comic-book franchises today, but there was a time when comic-book movies were seen as a joke. Even after the success of Superman: The Movie, Hollywood had no idea how to recreate its success. In 1980, Disney co-produced a live-action Popeye movie, which starred Christopher Reeve’s friend Robin Williams. But its budget was too high, and it failed to turn a profit. They tried again in 1981 with Condorman, but even though its budget was less than a quarter of Popeye’s, it still lost money.
Dick Tracy and The Rocketeer
The next time comic books became popular was in 1989 with the release of a little movie called Batman. Disney had more success this time around when they released two solid films that actually turned a profit in 1990 and 1991. Dick Tracy almost got its own theme park attraction at Disneyland, but it wasn’t quite popular enough to warrant it. And The Rocketeer is a personal favorite. I saw it in the theater nearly 30 years ago, and it continues to be a great throwback to classic cinema. Neither film inspired their own franchises, but at least they earned back their costs.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
The Three Musketeers (1993)
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is one of those movies where everything in it could have gone horribly wrong, but somehow it all manages to work out brilliantly. So much so that studios have been trying to make Robin Hood movies ever since, and they’ve all been disappointments. In fact, Disney uses the main theme from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves over its logo on a lot of its DVDs, even though they didn’t produce that movie. They did, however, make a pretty successful successor in the form of 1993’s The Three Musketeers. Here are a few of the similarities between them: Michael Kamen wrote the score, Bryan Adams sang a memorable song, actor Michael Wincott plays a memorable second-in-command villain who gets stabbed in the chest, and no one cares about having the right accents.
3 Ninjas, Blank Check, and Man of the House (1995)
Disney tried three times to capitalize on the success of Home Alone. The first was 1992’s 3 Ninjas, which was produced by Touchstone Pictures. It actually got three sequels, each of which was financed by other companies. Blank Check came out in 1994 and was quickly forgotten while 1995’s Man of the House at least has the novelty of starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Chevy Chase.
Rookie of the Year and The Sandlot
Angels in the Outfield and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court
As I’ve said before, the early-to-mid-1990s were the golden era for children’s baseball movies. We got gems like Rookie of the Year in 1992 and The Sandlot in 1993. Disney vied for some of that sweet success with Angels in the Outfield in 1994. That movie has an amazing cast, and I still remember it fondly. A Kid in King Arthur’s Court came out the following year, and it was obviously trying to be like Rookie of the Year with its main casting choice and box art. Oh, and it’s based on the same Mark Twain novel as Unidentified Flying Oddball.
The Brady Bunch Movie, McHale’s Navy, and Sgt. Bilko
My Favorite Martian
A lot of old TV shows were brought to the big screen in the 1990s. Some examples include The Brady Bunch Movie and its sequel, McHale’s Navy, and Sgt. Bilko. Science fiction was also becoming hot again with the success of Independence Day and Men in Black. So I guess Disney thought it would be the best of both worlds to release My Favorite Martian in 1999. If you don’t even know that movie existed, that should tell you how successful it was upon release.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Wayne’s World, and Dumb and Dumber
Meet the Deedles
There was a time when dim-witted duos were all the rage. Bill and Ted, Wayne and Garth, and Harry and Lloyd are still remembered today as comedic icons from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But by the time Meet the Deedles debuted in 1998, that ship had sailed, and this new attempt at recreating those films’ earlier success was seen as a pale imitation.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The most recent time I remember Disney blatantly chasing others’ success was after the release of the three Lord of the Rings movies. They were huge blockbusters, and they were incredibly popular with critics, too. And wouldn’t you know it, J.R.R. Tolkien’s good friend C.S. Lewis had written seven equally popular novels, collectively known as The Chronicles of Narnia, which were aimed at a younger audience. Disney started with the most famous book of the bunch, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, in 2005. It was a gigantic hit, but Prince Caspian did significantly less business in 2008, and Disney didn’t produce The Voyage of the Dawn Treader two years later. They never completed The Silver Chair, The Last Battle, or either of the prequel-ish entries.
Disney isn’t the only one to chase others’ success. I might give the same treatment to other movie studios down the line.
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