Actors are a funny old breed. You would think that getting paid millions of dollars to stand in front of a camera and read words written by somebody else would satisfy anyone. You would think that being adored by thousands upon thousands of people you have never met would make you happy with your lot in life, but for many of the filthy famous it’s not enough.
Once becoming famous, actors must compete, stay relevant, stay famous.
For actors there are a few sure-fire ways to increase your fame, for example; going to rehab, giving money to poor people, or simply marrying another actor. But the easiest means of garnering more respect is to prove that you have skills outside of acting. That’s where the vanity project comes in.
Essentially the vanity project is any kind of undertaking, by a rich and/or famous person, usually an actor, which is designed to show how good they are at other, non-acting activities. Some actors write books, others play in bands. Some paint pictures. Heck, James Franco did all three. But by far the most common, and expensive of these undertakings is the movie vanity project, whereby the actor makes a movie themselves, ostensibly to get more famous.
Vanity projects have been a part of Hollywood tradition since Hollywood had a tradition. This is how it usually goes down; an industry-accredited actor decides that there is a movie that he/she (usually he though) wants to make. Said star also thinks that there are no actors and/or directors out there who can fulfil their unique artistic vision. So they end up doing it all by themselves. Some of them are good movies, most of them are not, but the one common trait that they share is, vanity.
Kirk Douglas was obviously pissed off when he was rejected by William Wyler for the lead role in Ben Hur. And being the huge-jawed little baby that he is he decided to out-epic Wyler by making his own gladiatorial masterpiece. He optioned the rights to Howard Fast’s novel Spartacus with his own money, got a bunch of his famous friends like Laurence Olivier and convinced Universal to fund the project.
As well as getting an Executive Producer’s credit Douglas decided to cast himself as the titular character, a slave who leads a rebellion against the Roman Empire. Although he didn’t direct the film, he might as well have. He fired Anthony Mann a week into filming then clashed with new director Stanley Kubrick for the remainder of the shoot. Kubrick was highly critical of the script that Douglas had produced, worrying that the character of Spartacus was too perfect, and contained no quirks or faults, which is precisely what Douglas wanted.
While the film is quite solid in parts (nothing directed by Stan the Man could actually be called bad) the character of Spartacus is mind-numbingly flawless, a kind of Christ-like he man who keeps showing off his pecs and saving people and generally trying to make Kirk look like a really great guy. Thankfully though Kubrick disowned the film and Douglas never won an Oscar and everything worked out OK.
Back before he was planning pogroms, Mel Gibson directed and starred in some pretty terrible movies, the worst of which is this bag-piping by numbers action flick Braveheart. Throughout the film Mel hooks up with hot chicks, kills nasty Englishmen and takes his clothes off whenever possible. Mel spoke of Spartacus as an influence for the movie, and there is that same sense of self-serving pomposity to Gibson’s characterisation of the Scottish rebel William Wallace. Mel seems satisfied to sacrifice any degree of historical accuracy to make sure that not there is not one second of the film where Mel, um I mean William isn’t doing something amazing. It’s historical revisionism at its most narcissistic and yet it still managed to win five Oscars. Mustn’t have been man Jews in the Academy that year, eh Mel?
Cool As Ice (1991)
How many musicians can actually act? Sinatra, yes. Jamie Foxx occasionally. Will Smith at a pinch. This movie shows why musicians shouldn’t try to act. Although Vanilla Ice isn’t really a musician, so where does that leave us?
The tagline for this movie says; “When A Girl Has A Heart of Stone, there’s only one way to melt it. Just add Ice.” The producers of this film do not understand anything about thermodynamics, nor do they understand anything about entertainment. Cool As Ice is “musical romance” about a motorbike riding, crime fighting, bad boy rapper played by Robert Matthew Van Winkle, a.k.a Vanilla Ice and it’s just as ludicrous and mind-numbingly bad as it sounds. There are lots of scenes of Ice rapping and lots of scenes of Ice riding a motorbike and kissing the not particularly hot female lead. This movie was supposed to enshrine Ice as a big star, but thankfully it all went down hill from there and he’s now middle aged with a bunch of bad tattoos and a long rap sheet of assault and drugs charges and two kids called Dusti Rain and KeeLee Breeze and a wallaroo named Bucky (seriously check out his Wikipedia page). Ice, Ice, Baby.
Beyond The Sea (2004)
There’s always been something about Kevin Spacey that I didn’t trust. He’s a fine actor and everything, but I always knew somehow that he was a little off, and I think this movie confirms it. Spacey co-wrote, directed, co-produced and starred in this mealy-mouthed biopic of crooner Bobby Darin. Kevin Spacey must have really wanted to show off his singing voice because that is the only reason that I can fathom that this movie was made. Put short Spacey is not a good singer, he was way too old to portray Darin at the age he is depicted in the film, and I don’t know, does the world need another fucking biopic of another fucking singer?
Middle Men (2010)
Not many people had heard of Christopher Mallick before the release of Middle Men a couple of years ago, and, hopefully nobody ever does. In one of the most outrageous vanity projects in Hollywood history Mallick paid over $32 million to make a star-studded biopic, of, you guessed it, himself. James Caan, Giovani Ribisi, and slew of other sellouts appeared as well as Luke Wilson playing Mallick, a businessman who makes a whole heap of cash selling porn on the internet, while still managing to be a really great guy. And for all his trouble, this giant ego exercise netted Mallick less than $1 million at the box office.
The best part of the story was when it came out that Mallick had borrowed capital from his business ePassport and used it to fund the film. The company went bust and Mallick and is now defending a $15 million class action lawsuit from the thousands of customers that he defrauded. And when he is wanking away his days in the jail cell of his minimum security prison, Mallick can be safe in the knowledge that he is solely responsible for one of the biggest wastes of money in cinematic history.
The Room (2003): The magnum opus of Tommy Wiseau, the strange accented, very veiny auteur/actor who scraped together $6 million selling trench coats in South Korea to make The Room, the best worst movie to end all best worst movies.
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