- Downsizing (2017): A brilliant concept of shrinking people to save resources falls short in execution, losing its initial fascination.
- Bright (2017): The blend of social commentary, police drama, and fantasy fails to strike a balance, resulting in a disjointed narrative.
- In Time (2011): An original concept of time as currency becomes a generic action thriller, missing the opportunity to explore its premise fully.
Some movies have a fascinating concept, but their execution is so poor that it wastes their potential. Coming up with a brilliant idea for a movie can be half the challenge, and a genius concept can attract a lot of people to a movie even if they don’t know much else about it. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the same way in reality as they do on paper, and there are plenty of movies which let a good idea go to waste.
Sometimes, a concept is so clever that other considerations, such as characters and plot, almost seem like an afterthought. But no matter how captivating the initial idea is, movies can turn out to be horrible messes if there isn’t enough attention paid to the finer details. The sci-fi genre is a notorious offender in this regard, but there are plenty of examples of other movies with great plans and poor execution. In these cases, audiences can often feel cheated, as if they were sold on a smart concept which ended up being completely squandered.
12 Downsizing (2017)
Ecologically conscious science-fiction
Alexander Payne’s Downsizing imagines a world where a new technology can shrink people, reducing the resources that they require to survive. It’s an interesting concept that allows the movie to explore the prescient concerns of overpopulation, climate change, and resource scarcity. Unfortunately, Downsizing reaches frustratingly short of its full potential, and its brilliant first half gives way to a meandering second, which loses track of what made the initial concept so fascinating.
11 Bright (2017)
Dark urban fantasy
It doesn’t quite balance all of its conflicting elements into a cohesive and compelling narrative.
Will Smith had already nailed the role of a wise-cracking cop in both Bad Boys and Men in Black, so Bright looked like it would be a surefire hit. Bright is a blend of social commentary, police drama, and traditional fantasy, and it doesn’t quite balance all of its conflicting elements into a cohesive and compelling narrative. Using fantasy creatures as an allegory for racial inequality could have worked well if Bright had sorted out its tonal issues and avoided such obvious conclusions.
10 In Time (2011)
Time is money
In Time is set in a future where humans have been genetically engineered to live forever, but their remaining time is used as currency. Wealthier people are effectively immortal, while the working class struggle to stay alive. It’s a neat allegory for income inequality, but In Time devolves into a generic action thriller instead of committing to exploring its premise. Although the concept is original, it ends up being used as a ticking clock to heighten the stakes of shootouts and fight scenes.
9 The King’s Man (2021)
Global espionage in the Great War
The Kingsman franchise tells the story of a British secret service dedicated to perpetuating global peace, and the 2021 prequel The King’s Man offered the chance to witness the birth of the organization in the throes of World War I. Combining the stylistic action of the franchise with the grand scale of World War I seemed like an exciting concept, but the movie’s absurd historical revisionism and uninspired action scenes meant that it failed to live up to the rest of the franchise. It’s a wholly disappointing prequel in a franchise with an otherwise rich lore.
8 Bad Times At The El Royale (2018)
Stylish crime drama
Bad Times at the El Royale drips with 1960s style, both in its visual design and its retro soundtrack. The first act sets up a fascinating cast of characters assembled at a hotel in the desert, and the threat of the mysterious cult leader Billy Lee keeps the tension high. But the movie struggles to bring all of its threads together, and the ending of Bad Times at the El Royale doesn’t deliver on what it promises. The fantastic ensemble cast is ultimately wasted.
7 Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
Two icons face-to-face
Pitting two of the most iconic superheroes of all time against each other is an exciting concept, even for those who aren’t particularly interested in the genre. Unfortunately, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was hampered by its heavy-handed use of visual effects, and its grim tone. It could have been explosive and fun, but the movie’s humorless attitude made for a dreary affair, and it remains one of the most disappointing superhero sequels to date.
6 Waterworld (1995)
Climate change dystopia
Set in a future where sea levels have risen to envelop most of the land on Earth, Waterworld ditches the traditional post-apocalyptic social commentary for increasingly bizarre action set pieces. The pace is choppy and tediously slow at times, and the movie focuses far more on its action scenes than characterization. But Waterworld‘s concept could have made for a thrilling dystopian drama about marauders living on the edge. In reality, Waterworld is just another movie that wasted a good concept with terrible execution.
5 Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Bold genre mashup
It feels like a great western that is ruined by the presence of some bug-eyed monsters.
Genre mashups are nothing new, but the premise of Cowboys and Aliens is so simple that it seemed like a play on fanciful sci-fi B-movies. If Cowboys and Aliens had truly leaned into the fun, then the premise could have been enough to carry an explosive story filled with genre parody and sly industry satire, but the movie suffers from an overly serious tone. Cowboys and Aliens is better than some people think, but it feels like a great western that is ruined by the presence of some bug-eyed monsters, rather than a harmonious marriage of its two key concepts.
4 Detective Pikachu (2019)
A different approach to video game movies
Pokémon had already been producing movies for years, but Detective Pikachu was the first live-action movie from the franchise. Detective Pikachu was a surprising choice for a movie adaptation, as the game wasn’t as popular as the core series of Pokémon games, but it was a shrewd decision, as it provided a more accessible story for those who weren’t hardcore fans of the games. The visual style of the Pokémon is a delight, but the movie doesn’t show its human characters the same amount of care.
3 Army Of The Dead (2021)
Zombie heist thriller
It takes a lot to reinvigorate the zombie genre, and Army of the Dead’s solution was to cram a heist movie into a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas. Army of the Dead cleverly combines two genres which both thrive on a sense of entertainment and excess. But the heist elements of Army of the Dead don’t work. The joy that usually comes from an intellectual contest between thief and victim is completely absent when the victim is a brainless zombie. The zombie-killing also loses its novelty in Army of the Dead as shambling hordes are repetitively mowed down with machine guns.
2 Colossal (2016)
Twisty kaiju psychodrama
Anne Hathaway stars as an alcoholic writer in New Hampshire who discovers that she is unwittingly controlling a towering reptilian beast wreaking havoc on Seoul, South Korea. Colossal is a cleverly conceived metaphor for addiction and self-destruction, but the uneven tone is too jarring. There are elements of drama, comedy, horror, and sci-fi, all cut together without the requisite amount of finesse. The motivations and decisions of the characters are often puzzling, and this makes the plot feel contrived.
1 Passengers (2016)
Expansive sci-fi romance
Two passengers on an intergalactic journey wake from their cryogenic stasis 90 years before they are set to arrive at their destination. It’s a wonderful sci-fi premise, but the two characters aren’t fully developed. Jennifer Lawrence’s character in particular seems like a hollow representation of a male fantasy, and the movie never examines the ethics of Chris Pratt’s leading man. There are still some great elements, like the visual design, but Passengers suffers from a poor ending.