ByJohn Ross Mason, writer at
John Ross Mason

Every year there are a few films that, regardless of promotion or audience appeal, don’t live up to expectations. They aren’t bombs or unmitigated flops though. They are good films, in some instances quite so, but due to circumstances beyond them they don’t click when released and they end up not being the hits that studios banked on them being. So, instead of being staples of cinema that everyone adores, they get relegated to the Wal-Mart $5 movie bins and late night showings on FX. Some films, like The Wolverine, suffer this fate, but are able to shirk this stigma and find their audience, and acclaim, later, but such is not usually the case.

The 5 films detailed below are all films that, while flawed, are interesting and entertaining. A few made money, but none to the extent that they needed to earn a franchise. Still though, they are quality films that deserve a second look, as each has moments of greatness. Some have a certain cult acclaim, but by and large they have been forgotten to the annals of film history.

5. 47 Ronin- 2013

More than any film on this list, 47 Ronin was begging to be a franchise. It featured Keanu Reeves returning to form as the action star he was made famous as, a play on an interesting idea (it is something of a rip-off of the 2003 Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai, though enough time had passed that the idea seemed fresh), interesting locations, a good supporting cast and quality choreography.

Despite all of this, however, the film sagged at the box office when released during Christmas 2013. The main reason for this is due to it being released during, perhaps, the most crowded holiday season in recent memory. It came out when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was lighting up the charts, as well as Anchorman II: The Legend Continues and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. And there are at least 4 other big name films were still in the cinemas that I haven’t even mentioned. Simply put, there were just too many options that were more tantalizing than watching Neo fight evil samurai.

Critics destroyed the film, calling it “dull” and “unimaginative”. Audiences were more accepting, well, those who saw it anyway, with it earning a B+ at CinemaScore. But decent word of mouth wasn’t enough to save this film from obscurity, and it ended up about $20 million shy of making back its reported $175 million budget. In the end, it was a film that was too expensive that was released in too period that was far too crowded.

Still though, it is definitely worth seeing, as Keanu Reeves does an admirable job of elevating a rather weak, goofy script, and the action set pieces and choreography are all top notch. We may never get to see a 48 Ronin, but this film is better than the flop it is considered to be.

4. The Incredible Hulk- 2008

The Other Guy’s second big screen appearance had two things going against it. For starters, there was still a huge amount of ill will towards the property from the disastrous Ang Lee version from 2003. People were still having nightmares about gamma-infected, monster poodles and Eric Bana staring into mirrors and just weren’t ready for Round 2 with The Hulk.

Secondly, he wasn’t Iron Man. Logical thinking would lead us to believe that with ol’ Shellhead cranking out such a good film, and Marvel Studios garnering enormous good will as a result that audiences would more that want a second dose of the MCU. However, Marvel Studios was not the powerhouse that it is today and The Incredible Hulk was clearly not Iron Man.

It didn’t help that the film was released barely a month after Iron Man in 2008, and people were still filtering in to see what all the fuss was about. Forced to carry the weight of its awful predecessor and rest in the shadow of its more successful compatriot, the Hulk just couldn’t overcome.

Even so, The Incredible Hulk is actually quite good and actually set the foundation for Marvel Studios more than any of their other phase 1 films. It is the first superhero film to really cross genres, being more of a chase film in the vein of The Great Escape and The Fugitive than a traditional superhero tail. Again, it just wasn’t something that audiences were ready for at the time. But it showed Marvel Studios that they could successfully meld genres and it gave them the confidence to branch out with films like Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Incredible Hulk featured Edward Norton as a more than capable lead, with a great supporting cast, and a story that, while a little jumbled, was effective and led to the creation of one of Marvel’s more intriguing villains and some high quality fight scenes. Considered something of a misfire today, it is a quality film that deserves more praise than it is given, from both general audiences and fanboys.

3. The Rundown- 2003

Can you smell what The Rock is cookin'?
Can you smell what The Rock is cookin'?

In 2003, Dwayne Johnson was still known only as The Rock and he wasn’t the box office sensation that could carry a mediocre film to success (looking at you San Andreas!) that he is today. He was mainly known as “the jabroni-beating, la-la-la-la pie eating, trailblazing, eyebrow raising, step off the break, put your foot on the gas, always ready to whoop some ass, People's Champ” of the WWE, but he knew he was destined for bigger things, as did the WWE higher ups, who helped push this film through production.

The film, which was helmed by Peter Berg and featured Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken in supporting roles, as well Seann William Scott as the second lead at a time when that was still a popular thing to do. Needless to say, the film had all the right pieces and everything going for it. It even sported a script that, while perhaps a little weak and not really doing anything new with the action adventure genre, did all the important stuff right and placed the action in an exotic and interesting locale. The choreography was on point and the action set pieces were fun. Walken was over the top as the villain, but in a good way, Johnson and Scott had a believable buddy cop type chemistry, and what’s more, The Rock’s natural charisma shined through and proved that he not only could he lead a movie, but that he should be. There was even a fun cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger that was hailed as a “passing of the torch”.

The real issue became that, at the time, The Rock hadn’t broken through enough to have broad appeal with audiences outside of the WWE; and to be honest, the stigma of being a pro wrestler was still all over him. It didn’t matter how good the actual product was, because Dwayne Johnson was still only The Rock. And while that might truly be an amazing thing and actually adds to his mystique today, in 2003, all it did was keep non-wrestling fans out of the theaters. Just watch this amazing fight scene if you are still skeptical.

2. In Bruges- 2008

In Bruges hit theaters in 2008. Of all the films listed, this one is the most cultish, having developed a small following, but nothing along the lines of true cult classics like Clerks or Tremors. It can also be considered more of a hit, due to doubling its relatively small budget (15 million). And add to that the fact that the film was critically lauded and won several awards, including a Golden Globe Colin Farrell. Still though, it has been largely forgotten to the sands of pop culture. It didn’t catch on with audiences in a way to make it a breakout hit, even though it has all the necessary pieces: great script, bankable leads, beautiful location, etc. Why, then, is this film not more cherished?

In this instance, it comes down to marketing. The trailers on the relationship between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, all while Ralph Fiennes screams and broods in the background. It appeared to be something of a buddy comedy. And while there are hints of that in the film, that is most certainly not what this film is about. It is an extremely dark tale about what living a life of crime is like and how things can go so wrong you don’t even remember when they first took a turn for the worse. People wanted two hours of chase scenes and one-liners, but instead were given a violent, existential crisis broken (frequently) by levity.

It just wasn’t what audiences expected, and so word of mouth, while good, indicated that this film is nothing that you would assume it to be, so people turned to other films to satisfy their comedy urges and In Bruges was filed into the masses mental list of great films they should see, somewhere between Milk and Philadelphia. Enjoy this clip of the most vulgar and amazing scene of the film.

1. The Punisher- 2004

In the wave of superhero films that came after Blade and X-Men proved that comic book characters that weren’t Batman could be translated well, and successfully, to the big screen, The Punisher was the first real risk. Blade, while rated R, wasn’t a particularly well-known character and played more as a genre film than a superhero film. The Punisher, however, basically owned the late 80’s/90’s as comic book fans go-to gun toting, bad ass vigilante. And as, similar to Spider-Man, there was more scrutiny given to the project. Fanboys wanted Frank Castle to be a hard-nosed and gritty as he was in the comics and would accept nothing less, and as such, every decision was over-analyzed beaten down.

The film itself did make a little money and has definitely earned a loyal fan base, but was largely ignored by audiences. Its first major roadblock was due to its R-rating. While the The Punisher definitely needs an R-Rating to be done right, the film was courting that Spider-Man audience and that age restriction meant it didn’t have the same broad appeal. And secondly, people listened too much to the constant criticisms from critics and fanboys alike: “Thomas Jane is too small!” and “John Travolta is too hammy!”

There are some legitimate gripes here. There are too many villains in what end up as glorified cameos and there is no real rhyme or reason. But there was a lot of good too. Sure, Thomas Jane is small, but he absolutely nailed the essence of who Frank Castle was and why he became a vigilante. And yes, Travolta was over-the-top, but he needed to be in order to make his transition into the villain Jigsaw believable. There needed to be some crazy underneath. But there were too many voices shouting about what should have been done, that audiences turned away and The Punisher has become little more than a blip. Watch this clip of Thomas Jane portraying a pitch perfect Frank Castle and straight not giving a you-know-what.

These five films deserve another shot from everybody. Sure, some of them have problems, but they are, to a one, entertaining. If you try to forget some of the negativity associated with these films and give them a clean slate, you won’t be sorry. Do you agree? Are there films more worthy of a second chance? Sound off in the comments and let me know!


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