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Hops and Box Office Flops: ‘CUTTHROAT ISLAND – Drowned in a Sea of Mediocrity’

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The course has been set; there is no turning back; prepare your weapons; and summon your courage for the cinematic adventure of a lifetime—Cutthroat Island!

The majority of the words above come from the trailer for the epic shipwreck that is Cutthroat Island. Yet they could also serve as a warning. Once you start watching it, there truly is no turning back; and it is a film that lives up to its infamous reputation.

Cutthroat Island is a mess from start to finish. From the hammy acting, to the suspect dialogue, to the overabundance of poorly choreographed action and explosions, there is little doubt as to why it once held the Guinness Book of World Records‘ dubious distinction of being the biggest box office bomb in history.

With a production budget of over $98 million, it grossed barely more than $10 million. Adjusted for inflation, it lost upward of $147 million. There was no pirate booty to be found in the Christmas season of 1995. It’s loss was so traumatic that it helped bankrupt Carolco, the studio that produced it. 

Carolco, though, was not the only casualty. Careers were legitimately affected by Cutthroat Island‘s critical and financial drubbing.

Geena Davis as Morgan Adams and Matthew Modine as William Shaw in Cutthroat Island

Geena Davis, who starred as pirate captain Morgan Adams, worked sparingly for years after; this was also due in part to an acrimonious divorce from the director of this film, Renny Harlin. Her co-star, Matthew Modine as William Shaw, would see his days as a leading man float off into the sunset, a rudderless ship adrift.

Oddly enough, Harlin—who had become a commodity because of his work on Cliffhanger and on franchises like Die Hard (he directed Die Harder), as well as A Nightmare on Elm Street (he was at the helm of the abysmal, but successful The Dream Master)—would continue to get semi-prominent gigs. 

Despite evidence such as this to dispel the notion of his early promise, he’d be tapped to direct several other high profile films over the course of multiple decades—Deep Blue SeaDriven12 RoundsSkiptrace. Hollywood can be weird.

That said, Cutthroat Island did expose his myriad of flaws as a filmmaker. If given the freedom and the money to pursue his wildest desires, he couldn’t find a happy medium or produce a competent picture. Style over substance works if the style is actually interesting. Here, it wasn’t. Not even remotely.

In any event, this movie is a sight to behold. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll drink until it all makes some semblance of sense. So sit back, enjoy an aged barrel of Blackbeard’s Breakfast from Heavy Seas Brewing, and get ready set sail for turbulent seas. I, the Thunderous Wizard (@WriterTLK), Capt. Cash, and Chumpzilla are waging pirate war with Uncle Dawg for a fabled trove of plastic treasure!

This Week’s Segments:

  • Introduction – We drop anchor on one of cinema’s all-time disasters, examining everything from the best line of the film (is there one?) to the over-the-top brilliance of pod favorite Frank Langella.  (00:00)
  • Mind Boggling Questions and Pre-Mortem One-Liners – Well, we all had questions about what the hell happened with this movie; and after being subjected to its awful banter, Capt. Cash challenges us to identify who uttered some classic movie phrases and to whom they said them. (34:57)
  • The Cutthroat Island Drinking Game and Recommendations – Capt. Cash attempts to kill you all with a booze-filled way to watch this movie, and we offer our picks for the week. Next up: Run, baby, run … it’s Escape from L.A.! (1:04:29)

And, as always, hit us up on Twitter or Facebook to check out all the interesting factoids—the bizarre V8 Juice obsession, the video game tie-in, and more—from this week’s episode!

You can find this episode of Hops and Box Office Flops on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPodbean, and Spotify!

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Thomas L. Kelly

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