Many Hollywood executives probably want to forget that 2014 ever happened. The studios overstuffed the summer multiplexes with sequels — yet another “Spider-Man,” “X-Men,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Transformers” — which resulted in audience malaise at the box office (5% down from last year). The indies might have been better in terms of quality, but no title caught fire the way they used to, such as when sleepers like 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine” grossed $60 million. And the latest fad in filmmaking — crowdfunding — turned out to be a bust with the release of two high-profile Kickstarter projects (“Wish I Was Here” and “Veronica Mars”) that barely registered with audiences. If Hollywood wants the movie business to thrive against unprecedented competition (TV, video games, etc.), the industry needs to do better, especially when it comes to original storytelling. Here are the 13 most disappointing films I saw in 2014.
13. “Magic in the Moonlight”
Domestic box office: $10.5 million
Woody Allen’s 49th time in the director’s chair resulted in his most lackluster film since 2001’s “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” The script, which had Colin Firth investigating the practices of a phony clairvoyant (Emma Stone), felt forced even by Allen’s standards, and he did his film no favors by casting romantic leads who are 28 years apart in real life.
12. “Big Eyes”
Box office: $4.4 million (still in release)
This biopic about painter Margaret Keane was hyped as a return to Tim Burton’s ’90s prime (think “Ed Wood”), and bloggers were predicting it could finally win Amy Adams her Oscar. But “Big Eyes” is so bland, it doesn’t even feel like a Tim Burton movie. The story collapses under an over-the-top performance from Christoph Waltz, who plays dishonest husband Walter Keane like he’s channeling a Quentin Tarantino villain.
11. “Jersey Boys”
Box office: $47.0 million
Hollywood has been trying to get this Four Seasons musical on the bigscreen for almost a decade, but Clint Eastwood’s adaptation was pitchy. He should have cast movie stars in the lead roles — rather than banking on the stage actors like John Lloyd Young, who won the Tony for playing Frankie Valli. Another problem: Eastwood downplayed “Jersey’s” musical-theater elements. These are words I never thought I’d write, but I wonder what Rob Marshall would have done with the production.
10. “A Million Ways to Die in the West”
Box office: $43.2 million
How do you make people forget you bombed as host of the Oscars? You direct a movie that is even less witty than the lyrics to “We Saw Your Boobs.” Seth MacFarlane’s parody of Westerns — an idea as timely as its 1882 setting — squandered all the movie-making capital he earned from “Ted,” which grossed $219 million domestically.
9. “Grace of Monaco”
Box office: N/A
The Cannes Film Festival kicked off with this biopic starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly. But the screen legend’s extraordinary life story somehow felt small compared to all the backstage bickering between director Olivier Dahan (“La Vie en Rose”) and U.S. distributor Harvey Weinstein, who couldn’t agree on a final cut of the movie. Dahan’s version, which played at Cannes, was tedious. As a result, “Grace of Monaco” has yet to open in the United States, and it probably never will.
8. “Deliver Us From Evil”
Box office: $30.6 million
Jerry Bruckheimer produced this horror movie that was in development for years and underwent numerous script revisions. Eric Bana (who needs better material) plays a New York cop fighting demons, but he couldn’t bring this dreck to life.
7. “Men, Women & Children”
Box office: $705,908
It’s hard to believe that the same Jason Reitman who directed “Up in the Air” and “Juno” is responsible for this stilted meditation on how technology disconnects us from each other. Told in “Crash”-like vignettes, the movie speaks down to the Facebook generation rather than illuminating any new truths. And it earns the dubious title of the lowest-grossing movie of Adam Sandler’s career.
6. “Wish I Was Here”
Box office: $3.6 million
Zach Braff took to Kickstarter to ask his fans to chip in $3 million so he could make a follow-up to “Garden State” on his own terms. But this indulgent, meandering comedy about a thirtysomething dad experiencing a midlife crisis is proof most filmmakers need studio supervision. Somebody should have reigned Braff in, especially during the “Ally McBeal”-like montages of him in a space suit.
5. “Veronica Mars”
Box office: $3.3 million
This was another Kickstarter project that went off the rails. Director Rob Thomas collected $5.7 million from 91,585 loyalists to finance a movie based on his cult TV series that was cancelled by the CW in 2007, but the finished product — shot so darkly, it was often hard to tell what was happening — played like an inside joke. “Veronica Mars” made the “Sex and the City” movie look like “Casablanca.”
4. “Sex Tape”
Box office: $38.5 million
The idea of this R-rated comedy was basically ripped from a “Mad About You” episode, where Paul and Jamie Buchman accidentally returned a sex tape to the video store and race around town to retrieve it. In the 2014 bigscreen version, the married couple (played by Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel) upload their dirty video on the cloud by mistake, and visit their friend’s homes to delete it from their iPads.
3. “Inherent Vice”
Box office: $967,000 (opens wide in January)
Paul Thomas Anderson, like J.D. Salinger in the later stages of his writing career, has abandoned narrative. Instead, we’re left with beautifully shot scenes that feel like wandering in the dark, vaguely connected by a trippy performance from Joaquin Phoenix. I don’t know what “Inherent Vice,” based on the Thomas Pynchon novel, is trying to say, but I do wish the director of “Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights” and “There Will Be Blood” would return to telling stories with a beginning and an end.
Box office: $23 million
The least satisfying studio project of 2014 stars Johnny Depp as an artificial intelligence scientist who gets swallowed into a computer (allowing him to collect a reported $20 million paycheck for very little screen time). The script, which was once featured on the Black List, is incoherent in the hands of first-time director Wally Pfister (Christopher Nolan’s longtime cinematographer). “Transcendence,” which bombed at the box office, is this year’s “47 Ronin,” only not as entertaining.
Box office: N/A
Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut premiered to the biggest jeers at Cannes, which prompted Warner Bros. to slate it for only a day-and-date limited U.S. theatrical release. The bleak drama set in the future felt endless (at only 105 minutes) and plotless. But “Lost River” committed the worst crime of all by taking Gosling out of the leading man business, where his talents are most needed.