Radio Flyer (1992): You have Richard Donner to thank—or, if you will, blame—for the trend toward painfully serious comic book movies. It was he who insisted Superman: The Movie treat the story of Jor-El as mythic pomp, boldly breaking from the campy stylings of, say, 1966’s Batman: The Movie. That’s all you have to thank him for. Safe to say, the man responsible for Ladyhawke, Timeline and the epically ill-considered Richard Pryor vehicle The Toy—and, for what it’s worth, The Omen, The Goonies and the first Lethal Weapon—should never, ever handle the subject of child abuse. But he did anyway.
Patch Adams (1998): To Tom Shadyac, “serious” connotes a scene where his rogue doctor hero is dissuaded from suicide by a butterfly. Still, not the film’s worst moment.
Tigerland (2000): Not long after making three of the worst films ever made in a row—A Time to Kill bookended by Batman atrocities—Joel Schumacher tried to woo burned critics by making a “gritty” war film. Employing Darren Aronofsky’s ace cinematographer Matthew Libatique early in his career was a wise idea—ditto casting Colin Farrell—but the good looks mask a hotbed of cliches that are anything but seriously serious.
The Quiet American (2002): The Aussie thriller Dead Calm thrusted Phillip Noyce into Hollywood, and he made a pretty penny helming slick inanities like Patriot Games, Sliver and The Saint. But after The Bone Collector, he’d had enough! To show his true self, he took on first Graham Green’s classic novel, then Rabbit-Proof Fence. But both were, like his Hollywood fare, slick and shallow. He’s since returned to the fold with Salt.
We Are Marshall (2006): Who cares if the maniac behind Charlie’s Angels has a soft side? McG thought you did, so he made a rote inspirational sports weepie that’s neither accomplished enough to move audiences nor shitty enough to amuse chuckleheads.
The Devil’s Double (2011): Whose idea was it to hand the story of Saddam Hussein’s hugely psychotic son to Lee Tamahori, the man responsible for Along Came a Spider, Die Another Day and Next?
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"