Universal Chief Unloads on Wolfman, Cowboys & Aliens

In an industry that begins spinning a box-office flop before the movie even opens, it’s refreshing when an executive is honest — in this case, brutally honest — about his studio’s failures. Of course, Ron Meyer is pretty secure in his job as president of Universal Studios, a position he’s held since 1995, so he probably doesn’t give a second thought to surprising confessions like, “We make a lot of shitty movies. Every one of them breaks my heart.”

According to Moviehole, that admission only scratches the surface of his spectacular appearance this week at the Savannah Film Festival, where he opened up about some of Universal’s most recent disappointments, peppering his comments with words like “crappy,” “mediocre,” “shittiest” and, um, “crap.”

On Cowboys & Aliens, Jon Favreau’s big-budget adaptation of the Platinum Studios graphic novel:Cowboys & Aliens wasn’t good enough. Forget all the smart people involved in it, it wasn’t good enough. All those little creatures bouncing around were crappy. I think it was a mediocre movie, and we all did a mediocre job with it. [...] Certainly you couldn’t have more talented people involved in Cowboys & Aliens, but it took, you know, ten smart and talented people to come up with a mediocre movie. It just happens.”

On The Wolfman, which even director Joe Johnston hated: “We set out to make good ones. One of the worst movies we ever made was Wolfman. Wolfman and Babe 2 are two of the shittiest movies we put out [...] It’s one of those movies, the moment I saw it I thought, ‘What have we all done here?’ That movie was crappy. We all went wrong. It was one of those things… like I said, we make a lot of bad movies. That’s one we should have smelled out a long time ago. It was wrong. The script never got right … [The cast] was awful. The director was wrong. Benicio [del Toro] stunk. It all stunk.”

On Land of the Lost, the 2009 Will Ferrell bomb:Land of the Lost was just crap. I mean, there was no excuse for it. The best intentions all went wrong.”

On Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, director Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels:Scott Pilgrim, I think, was actually kind of a good movie. [Addressing a small section of the audience, cheering.] But none of you guys went! And you didn’t tell your friends to go! But, you know, it happens. … Cowboys & Aliens didn’t deserve better. Land of the Lost didn’t deserve better. Scott Pilgrim did deserve better, but it just didn’t capture enough of the imaginations of people, and it was one of those things where it didn’t cost a lot so it wasn’t a big loss. Cowboys & Aliens was a big loss, and Land of the Lost was a huge loss. We misfired. We were wrong. We did it badly, and I think we’re all guilty of it. I have to take first responsibility because I’m part of it, but we all did a mediocre job and we paid the price for it. It happens.”

(via Vulture)

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Comments

  • http://profiles.google.com/nickmarino Nick Marino

    I really enjoyed Land of the Lost! Had lots of great jokes in it.

  • 13

    Respect that he has the balls to own up to the mistakes his company makes, not enough suits are willing to do that. Glad to see his feelings on Scott Pilgrim mirror mine for the most part. I thought it was a great movie, but one with a very limited appeal.

  • kalorama

    An honest man in the kingdom of liars.

  • nailsin

    It happens.

  • Rollo Tomassi

    Wow. His observations on those films mirror my own exactly! It’s gratifying to know I have a future as a studio mogul.

  • Mr. M

    Good stuff.  Oddly enough, I haven’t seen any of the Universal movies he discusses, although I’ll probably check out C&A in home release

  • Anonymous

    Wow…much respect to Ron Meyer!  That was so refreshing that it was like a punch to the face!  Great comments on Scott Pilgrim.

  • LDJ

    I respect this guy for saying these “VERY TRUE” things even though he’s just saying “I messed up.”   Scott Pilgrim was great, and its our fault for not helping getting the word out.

  • R_s_jones22

    One thing about the wolfman and that’s it for me: GO FUCK YOURSELF!!!!!!

  • Da_ninja_06

    meaning??

  • Riothamus Pendragon

    I really enjoyed Cowboys and Aliens. I thought the performances were solid and the story was good. It was a great popcorn movie that didn’t go the easy camp direction.

  • Darin

    I rather liked “The Wolfman.” It was everything I wanted it to be.

  • Anonymous

    I tend to agree. 

    Cowboys and Aliens drew on a comic book that was weird and obscure. Those two things do not make for box office gold. Because even if the source material is good if no one has ever heard of the original comic no one will be interested in the adaption. If you adapt an unknown comic then it must have plot that any fan can like and that doesn’t immediately make you think of a comic book like The Road to Perdition or A History of Violence. I’d bet real money right now that no one walked into Cowboys and Aliens saying “I hope it’s as good as the comic.”

    The Wolfman wasn’t so bad but adapting such an old story doesn’t always translate even under the best of circumstances. And Benicio del Toro didn’t stink, he was miscast. His dry approach to acting wasn’t a good approach for this character.

    Land of the Lost? Oh c’mon! In what world did anyone think that this was a good idea?

    I personally enjoyed Scott Pilgrim. I saw it in theaters and I own the blu-ray. It was discounted. Anyway, some movies never do well in theaters but clean up in dvd sales. I wager that will be the case here.

  • lead_sharp

    HEY Babe 2 was a sweet little movie. Wolfman and C&A well…yeah ok.

  • kalorama

    “Cowboys and Aliens drew on a comic book that was weird and obscure. Those two things do not make for box office gold.”

    The makers of Men in Black would disagree.

  • Anonymous

    Men in Black had Will Smith who had done Independence Day one year earlier. He is known for these kinds of movies. When was the last time Harrison Ford did a sci-fi movie, Blade Runner? Besides, Men in Black was simply a better movie.

  • Joe Kerr

    feels like he was making this speach in front of geeks. there’s no way ANY movie exec. would think Scott Pilgrim was good. it’s such a different mindset to what movie execs. gravitate to.

  • Joe Kerr

    also i’m suspiscious of this guy shitting on movies cause it’s easy to say stuff like that when movies are not successful. yet not adressing the WHY they were not good.

  • xtop

    Babe 2 is amazing. Otherwise I agree with everything he said.

  • Jeff Frost

    I believe R_s_j is implying that, for unknown and unimaginable reasons, they actually (passionately) enjoyed the horrible and endlessly meandering abortion of a movie known as The Wolfman. Each to their own, I say.

  • pablo

     i know right?
    i was very surpriced when i hear everibody attacking the movie!
    but yeah. cowboys vs aliens was not only a letdown. but it was a very bad movie (ripping off Battelfield: earth it just unnnexcusable.

  • Jeff Frost

    A blemish on the record of all parties involved? How did you feel about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? (jk!)

  • Anonymous

    Pretty much all on point EXCEPT for the rip on Babe 2.  Is he nuts???  I thought that was well known as a misunderstood gem (like he says Scott Pilgrim was)???

  • BK

    You should seriously watch Scott Pilgrim instead.

  • kalorama

    All true, but not relevant. Your comment implied that there was something inherent in being based on a “comic book that was weird and obscure” that hurt  Cowboys and Aliens’ chances for success. The success of Men in Black directly disputes that because, like C&A, it was also based on a “comic book that was weird and obscure” and it was one of the biggest box office hits ever.

    In other words, the fact that it was based on a comic book (of any kind) was irrelevant to Cowboys and Aliens’ failure. It failed because, as Meyer said, (and you yourself supported) it simply wasn’t a very good movie. Its comic book origins “weird” “obscure” or otherwise, had nothing to do with it. (And, for that matter, neither did the number of years since Harrison Ford had starred in a sci-fi movie.)

  • John

    Would Meyer be calling these movies shitty if they had made money? I seldom hear these industry types badmouth top earners. Money =/= good.

  • Paul Huyter

    Hey….  I went out and bought the Blu-ray of ‘The Wolfman’ AFTER seeing it in the theatre!  I guess I have no taste… or, I just really enjoyed the GREAT effects, as well as the earnest attempt by Benicio del Toro and company to capture some old-time Universal monster-movie magic!!!  I thought a lot of it worked just fine, thanks (not withstanding Anthony Hopkins’ grizzled elder wolfman)!

  • DrNobody

    I enjoyed The Wolfman, Land of the Lost, and Scott Pilgrim… I have yet to see Cowboys Vs. Aliens… Could Wolfman have been better? Sure, but I didn’t think it was so overly flawed as to call it as the chief did… Del Toro should probably not have been cast as Talbot… But what can you do?!? I know… Make yet another remake in 10 years… ;^)

  • Beacon

    Cowboys & Aliens is a good “shut off your brain and just
    enjoy it” movie. It’s Independence Day as a western. There’s nothing wrong with
    that. Not everything has to be great cinema.

     

    Having said that, seeing a executive admit to creative
    failures really boosts his credibility especially when lamenting commercial failures.

  • Anonymous

    My favorite part of The Wolfman was how I was supposed to think that Benicio Del Toro was Anthony Hopkins’ son. I mean come on.

    I think Scott Pilgrim illustrates a reality, which is that geeks don’t spend as much money as they pretend to. They talk a lot, and they focus really well on what they hate, but when it comes to supporting things, groups of women like the ones that go see Twilight over and over again are a lot more bankable. Then they wonder why Fringe, Chuck etc. get moved to Friday nights.

  • Anonymous

    The last thing movies need is for movie execs to get involved deeply in the creative process. AS a movie exec however he’s perfectly qualified (more than us probably) to say whether or not a movie is good, that’s sort of his job. He’s not a script fixer.

  • R_s_jones22

    And for the record. If you people think it’s such a piss poor movie, then it’s rather stupid to keep mentioning long after it’s been made.

  • Blackadam

    I thought Land of the Lost was great , i really enjoyed and had no idea it flopped at box office because i randomly rented it on DVD

  • Jmcreer

    I liked The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as a film – it was a good action adventure IMO.  Sean Connery was great.  Hyde was pretty good.  Cinematography, sets etc were all top notch.  I’ve got it on DVD and don’t regret it.

    However, it was a very poor adaptation of the comic.  But I’m judging it as a film, not an adaptation.

  • Jmcreer

    As did I.  Sure, it was completely predictable, but aren’t all those Universal Monster flicks supposed ot be?  It was a romp, pure and simple.

    I think it’s pretty easy to jump on the bandwagon and criticise it, especially using sarcasm.  However, I’d love an honest critique of the film highlighting exactly why someone didn’t like it.

  • Jmcreer

    Land of the Lost is a very divisive film.  If you don’t love Will Ferrel, you likely loath the film.  If you’re a fan of the obscure TV series you likely loath it as well. 

    I’m a Will Ferrel fan, and can forgive him for most of his films (except Semi-Pro, can’t get into that one).  As a result I really enjoy Land of the Lost as well – particularly the “drenching myself in piss” scene and the “I do, I really do” one. 

  • Jmcreer

    Definition of “honest” in the context of the internet – someone I agree with and agrees with my opinion.

    Not sure if it’s the actual truth though…

  • Jmcreer

    “It failed because it simply wasn’t a very good movie.”

    Using that logic, please explain the success of Transformers 1,2, 3, Clash of the Titans, and Avatar.

  • Jmcreer

    I agree – I remember similar executives wetting their pants and gushing over how great Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was, and then after the lacklustre reception all the backpedalling began.

    Is Meyer “honest?”  Hardly – he’s just pandering to the majority, and IMO treating the people who worked on those films in a disrespectful manner. 

  • AdarBlue

    What is the problem people seem to have with Wolfman?
    It’s a werewolf movie and pretty good one at that, but if you went in expecting the greatest movie ever made then no wonder you were disappointed.
    Pulp ain’t for everyone.

  • http://tobinelliott.wordpress.com/ Tobin Elliott

    It’s all lovely that he’s being honest about how crappy these movies are…but where’s the accountability?  When they see the movie sucks, why are they still foisting this garbage out to the public?  Why are they not demanding more of their scriptwriters, actors and directors?  Why, after all these years, are they not more in tune with what makes a good movie.  Yes, I know that’s subjective, but there’s still benchmarks of quality that they should be hitting.  A movie can’t just “look” good, it’s got to be good.  Avatar looked good, but it was a crap movie.

    The only thing that I find admirable is that these were (with the exception of Land of the Lost), new movies, not the 14th sequel of an idea that was tired in the first reel of the first movie.

    Finally, if Meyer was smart, he’d never let Ferrell work in movies again.

  • Ghost

    I didn’t know that Scott Pilgrim was considered a flop in terms of sales. I thought it did well. With DVD sales its gotta have ended in the positive, doesn’t it? I gotta say I really enjoyed it, and I was expecting it to be mediocre. Totally hoping they make a sequel.

    I haven’t seen the others mentioned, but I WAS wanting to see The Wolfman. Mainly for actress Emily Blunt – who has been great in everything else I have seen her in. Is it really that bad?

  • Ghost

    I loved LOEG! Was that a flop? Great characters, action and effects. It was good mindless fun! They should of made a sequel to that too! :)

  • RunnerX13

    I want to say that this man is an a-hole, but I respect his honesty.  But it’s funny that he kept on saying “we failed’, I wonder if this man ever spend one day on set of Cowboys and Aliens, or sat in on a script reading of Wolfman.  But it’s no secret that studios need to produce a certain number of movies each year, and knowingly produce crap, so that is really Meye’s fault.

  • Tombseye

    I have to disagree regarding Wolfman to some extent, but with some reservations and specific criticisms. It ALMOST works and is great as mindless fare and ranks up there with the Hammer films of the 1960s. Maybe the director was wrong for it and the script could have done with some less derivative retooling, but Del Toro, I thought, was cast perfect (he has a wolf-like look and is a kind of hairy guy so I thought it was good casting) and I always like Anthony Hopkins. Hugo Weaving as the cop works too, but the weakpoint for me was ‘Gwen’ the love interest who lacks chemistry with Del Toro (when casting they should put the actors together and run a few scenes to see who fits). The original centered around a love story whereas here it was more of a girl loses fiancee and falls for his brother sort of routine. The ‘mystery’ part of the film isn’t that mysterious and isn’t handled well.

    Some good aspects of the film include the colorful villagers and gypsies (Roma actually).
    However, the use of American Werewolf in London style rampage is rather annoying to see as it felt like a ripoff of that film. Other aspects come from horror novels written about werewolves as well. What will be telling is whether the film holds up over time as I have a feeling it will become a staple every October. Silver Bullet was widely panned and it’s now constantly run. Most horror movies aren’t high art anyway.

    Meyer’s assessments aren’t that ‘brave’, but appear based mostly on box office appeal and his own personal tastes. Scott Pilgrim isn’t that much better than the other films mentioned. It’s got an unusual aspect to it with the comicbook style meets anime meets hipster angle, but that doesn’t make it that much more entertaining than the other films mentioned. None of these are that amazing and speaks to Universal’s poor leadership. Special effects driven films often forgo story and character development when they should focus on the latter. These films don’t quite do that in ways that are completely satisfactory, but, again, not bad as popcorn action films go.

  • RunnerX13

    “The makers of Men in Black would disagree.”

    But Scott Pilgrim would agree.  MIB was certainly the exception to the rule, and wasn’t promoted as a comic book movie, which I think actually hurts some movies these days.  Again, see Scott Pilgrim.

  • RunnerX13

    SP’s estimated budget was $60 mil, and it made $30 domestically. 

  • Eightiesologist

    Let’s stash this bowing down to this guy’s “refreshing honesty.” It’s so easy to have clear hindsight about failures like he noted and pretend you’re above it all like the rest of the critics. But the fact of the matter is he runs the studio and continues to develop sh*tty concepts. Let’s remember where the movie Battleship is coming from. What’s his excuse for that?

  • Alistair Hocker

    I found The Wolfman reasonably enjoyable. It wasnt great by any means but i didnt regret the £3 i spent on the DVD. Cowboys and Aliens i’ve not seen, and i didnt go anywhere near Scott Pilgrim because i cant stand Micheal Cera and his so called “acting”.

  • kalorama

    What “rule”? There is no “rule.” If there is, then please show me the long, detailed list going back several years of films based on  a “comic book that was weird and obscure” that failed so spectacularly at the box office. As far as I know, thre isn’t one. Some movies based on comics fail, some succeed. That doesn’t provide the makings of any kind of “rule.”

    MIB succeeded because a lot of people liked it. C&A failed because they didn’t.

  • kalorama

    Simple (and, really, rather obvious and self-explanatory). Regardless of you or I may have thought about them, the large number of people who saw them thought they were good, at least good enough to (A) spend their money on and (B) encourage others to do the same. Not enough people thought that about Cowboys and Aliens.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/YJU6CYIVLUW5DMIRVH5PPQP4VE Hypestyle the Hype Man

    If all of these movies are so bad, why doesn’t mr. Meyer resign?  But of course, like so much of corporate America, the blessed few are allowed to fail upward, and when you’re at the top, Failing means cash bonuses and stock options.

  • RunnerX13

    In the long list of comic book movies, there are a lot more Catwoman’s than The Dark Knight.  MIB at #8 is the only comic movie based only obscure book that is in the top ten grossing comic book movies.  Clearly there is no real “rule”, it’s just a turn of phrase.  And please don’t ask me how one turns a phrase.

    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=comicbookadaptation.htm

  • DF

    I disagree with him about Wolfman (it wasn’t great, but it was good) and especially Cowboys & Aliens which was VERY good imo. But he is totally dead on about Land of the Lost being awful & Scott Pilgrim deserving better (it was an awesome movie!).

  • Jmcreer

    My point was that the “quality” of a film doesn’t mean it will do well at the box-office.  Cowboys and Aliens was no worse, no better than Transformers, Clash of the Titans, and Avatar.  For some reason it didn’t do well – but it had nothing to do with it “not being a very good movie.”

  • Wyatt Samuel K

    I am not sure if you understand how the whole ‘comment and reply’ thing works.