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Geena Davis’ career barely survived one of the biggest flops ever

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Geena Davis’ career barely survived one of the biggest flops ever

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In the 1990s, Geena Davis was known for her famous feminist films and Oscar-winning performance, but now she’s mainly known for a failed TV return and a haphazard attempt at entering the Olympics. What has kept Davis hidden from view for so long?

Davis has had a tremendous career thus far. Davis has been a substantial box office attraction for decades, from top billing in commercially successful films like “A League of Their Own,” “Beetlejuice,” and “Thelma & Louise” to an award-winning performance in “The Accidental Tourist” (per The Numbers). But Davis isn’t immune to what may happen when a filmmaking risk doesn’t pan out the way everyone involved hoped, and she has one specific blemish on her long and famous career.

Here’s the movie that almost ended Davis’ career: Cutthroat Island.

On a $100 million budget, it made $10 million worldwide, making it one among the largest box office flops of all time. It’s now available to view on Amazon Prime, and a recent revisit validates my initial impressions of the film on December 22, 1995. It isn’t a masterpiece or an action classic, but it is a massively sized, amazingly realistic, and unpretentious piece of Hollywood junk food. For both Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and The Mummy, the whole thing feels like a shoddy first draft.

Many people are perplexed by the fact that Cutthroat Island always seemed destined to lose money. So, why was it made? The solution lies in Hollywood’s convoluted financial web and the downfall of Carolco Pictures, a firm that made over $2 billion from films like Rocky, Terminator 2, and Basic Instinct in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The film starred Geena Davis and Matthew Modine.

Carolco Pictures was on the verge of going bankrupt when this picture premiered to mainly empty theaters. MGM, the film’s distributor, was also in the process of being sold (time is a flat circle), thus it didn’t have much of a marketing campaign. Ironically, Carolco chose this film over the more expensive (but possibly more commercial) Crusade, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, only for it to go over budget. The financial problems were supposedly caused in part by director Renny Harlin’s preoccupation with casting a male protagonist who would play second fiddle to a female action hero.

When a film is offered with a $60 million budget, as Cutthroat Island was originally estimated to cost, hardly one in Hollywood blinks. Last year, the average cost of a Hollywood film, including production and marketing, was $54 million. Finance is frequently forthcoming if a film’s producers have a money-making reputation, as Carolco’s folks had thanks to their red meat blockbusters, even if the original script is terrible, as it was with Cutthroat Island.

Davis recovered, though, and went on to feature in the “Stuart Little” films, the first of which made an astonishing $300 million at the box office. While it may have tanked at the time, “Cutthroat Island” is currently undergoing a reevaluation. Forbes said that it deserved to be “rediscovered” by audiences for its “lack of pretension” and complex practical effect thrills on its 25th anniversary. Still, it caused more harm to Davis and her career at the time, and it possibly shattered studios’ trust in pirate-themed pictures until the tremendous success of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

 

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