Book Article

Big-Screen Turkeys

Big-screen flops exposed -- James Robert Parish's new book highlights the history of Hollywood's biggest disappointments

Big-screen flops exposed

In Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops (Wiley, $24.95), entertainment scribe James Robert Parish chronicles highlights of film's lowest moments. While there's not enough Howard the Duck, here's the dirt on some of the studios' biggest duds.

The Cotton Club (1984) Pitch Harlem crime musical with a real-life murder backstory. Pomposity Producer Robert Evans boasted, ''Gangsters, music, and p—y—how could I lose?'' Penny Pinches With few bigwigs interested in backing a ''black-themed'' film, Evans appealed to a Saudi arms supplier, a drug dealer's moll, and a guy with Jersey Mob ties. P.S. The Mob ally was shot dead before filming began; the moll was later convicted of the crime.

Shanghai Surprise (1986) Pitch Marital woes of a miscast couple (Madonna and Sean Penn) undermine international drug-trafficking comedy. Pomposity Madonna hoped a trip to the Far East for a film could assuage hubby's stalkerazzi frustrations at home. Penny Pinches Local gangsters turned off the set's power generators and blocked roads for ''ransom'' fees. P.S. The script cover was yellow, which first attracted Madonna (who loved the color).

Waterworld (1995) Pitch Producer Brad Krevoy asked scribe Peter Rader to ''write a rip-off of Mad Max.'' Adding water and Kevin Costner to formula brewed a vicious curse. Pomposity Did we mention Kevin Costner? Penny Pinches With filming in Kawaihae (meaning ''rough waters''), Hawaii, plus rain delays, sinking sets, and Costner's pricey yacht, the budget skyrocketed past $200 million. P.S. During postproduction, Costner ordered digital fixes to his thinning hair.

Battlefield Earth (2000) Pitch Scientology + pet project + 820-page source material = apocalypse now. Pomposity Star/producer John Travolta called the film's first draft of this L. Ron love letter ''the Schindler's List of science fiction.'' It wasn't. Penny Pinches A money-skimping producer cut costs by exploiting the fact that this was Travolta's dream vehicle. P.S. Battlefield action figures were reportedly recycled from older space movies' toys that hadn't sold.

Originally posted Jan 27, 2006 Published in issue #861 Feb 03, 2006 Order article reprints