25 Movies That Actually (And Fail To) Live Up to the Hype

Wonder Woman 1984

Hype is a massive part of fan culture, especially when it comes to movies. Whether they’re the newest entry in a franchise or the first cinematic adaptation of beloved material, movies generate a significant level of anticipation and excitement.

Studios play a part in building that excitement. Sometimes, they do a great job developing hype for movies that are worth it. Or, they do a great job hyping up movies that only disappoint. So, what are the movies that have lived up to their hype? What are the ones that utterly failed? 

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Tom Holland as Spider-Man
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

While the multiverse was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in Doctor Strange, it wasn’t until 2021 that its potential was realized. The marketing for Spider-Man: No Way Home teased fans with a meeting that would bring villains and at least one other Spider-Man into the MCU, leading to fervent anticipation from fans. Then, the movie delivered more than just a meeting of characters. It offered surprising emotional heft and wonderfully charming interactions between the three Spider-Men.  

2. Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Topher Grace as Venom confronts Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man
Image Credit: Sony Picture.

Over a decade before No Way Home delivered on its promise, Spider-Man 3 left Spider-Man fans less than thrilled. The movie introduced beloved Spidey antagonist Venom but fumbled the narrative. Now, instead of being remembered for any of its sometimes genuinely scary horror elements, the movie is best remembered for the mostly just uncomfortable dance scene.  

3. Batman (1989)

The Batman Movies in Order (and Where to Stream Them)
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Tim Burton’s Batman rode into theaters on a wave of excitement engineered by studio Warner Bros. using various marketing tools, including an iconic poster that only showed the Bat symbol and the film’s release date. Lucky for the studio, Burton’s distinct vision of Gotham, along with the fantastic performances from Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, made the film a hit and one of the most beloved cinematic iterations of the Dark Knight. 

4. Suicide Squad (2016) 

Jared Leto and Ike Barinholtz in Suicide Squad (2016)
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Picture.

By the 2010s, DC was looking to expand its movie output and somewhat surprisingly went with an adaptation of the Suicide Squad team-up. But when the first trailer for the movie dropped, offering a glimpse at an energetic and sharply funny take on supervillains, the hype train left the station. Yet when the movie arrived in theaters, viewers discovered something very different from what the trailer had promised. Instead of a joyous, edgy action comedy with bad guys as heroes, audiences got a slow, poorly written, and overly sentimental movie that no one wanted. That didn’t stop it from winning an Oscar, though.    

5. Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The year after Suicide Squad, DC won back some goodwill with the first big-screen adaptation of Wonder Woman. The excitement about the film began early with the decision to have Patty Jenkins direct it. With Jenkins in the director’s chair, Wonder Woman would be the first major comic book movie directed by a woman.

The hype paid off, and Wonder Woman became a major box office hit and one of the most critically beloved superhero movies. 

6. Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Three years after Wonder Woman wowed audiences and critics alike, Wonder Woman 1984 squandered nearly all the goodwill the first film had engendered. Fans of the first film were looking forward to another Wonder Woman adventure from Jenkins and new collaborator, celebrated comics writer Geoff Johns. But they got a morally messy movie with action scenes that were more confusing than thrilling. 

7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800 in Terminator 2
Image Credit: Tri-Star Pictures.

Between the release of The Terminator in 1984 and Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991, James Cameron had made one of the best sequels of all time with Aliens, so the expectations for the Terminator sequel were sky high. But with an astounding performance from Linda Hamilton and some of the most memorable action set pieces in action movie history, Terminator 2: Judgment Day exceeded expectations. 

8. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Terminator 3
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

More than a decade after Judgment Day exceeded the hype, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines arrived in theaters without the involvement of James Cameron. Fans were excited about the possibility of extending the franchise after the fantastic success of the first sequel. But Rise of the Machines didn’t nearly reach the highs of Judgment Day or the first film. While the movie was a box office success and garnered decent reviews upon release, it’s too silly and too much of a retread of Judgment Day to be memorable. 

9. Terminator: Salvation (2009)

Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Terminator: Salvation sought to mix things up in the Terminator franchise. Instead of telling another story about an android traveling back in time to murder John Connor (played by Christian Bale in Salvation), Terminator: Salvation takes place in the future.

The new approach and setting, and a now-famous on-set outburst from Bale leaked to the public months before the movie came out, had fans looking forward to a gritty and visceral sci-fi war movie. While the movie’s aesthetic delivered grit, its plotting felt all too familiar as it hit cliche story beats.

10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) 

The Force Awakens Daisy Ridley
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

We’re big Star Wars fans here at Wealth of Geeks, so there was no way the prequel and sequel trilogies could avoid this list. While both trilogies have their highs and lows, it seems fair to say that the sequels started high, and the prequels started low. 

The Force Awakens succeeded as a legacy sequel by perfectly balancing its introduction of new characters and time spent with the iconic characters of the original trilogy. It also landed the tone of the original trilogy perfectly, offering humor alongside grandiose images and thrilling action scenes.

11. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Jar Jar Binks peers around the corner
Image Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.

George Lucas’ return to the director’s chair for a new Star Wars movie was more than enough to get fans giddy with excitement. There’s no denying Lucas’ ambition with The Phantom Menace, which hinges significantly on a conflict over trade. The missteps of the movie include a confusing plot about trade conflicts. Yet, the worst among the missteps remains centering much of the film on the annoying character Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best). 

12. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Lotso, Toy Story 3
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Returning to the world of Toy Story more than a decade after the first sequel was a bold move for Pixar. But the first two movies were so fantastic that fans had faith the third outing of the toys would deliver something worthwhile. No one could have prepared for the incredibly emotional and intelligent exploration of love, loss, and life that Toy Story 3 achieved. 

13. Mulan (2020)

Mulan (2020)
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Disney’s live-action remakes have been hit and miss, but none came with the same level of anticipation as Mulan. The 2020 remake of the 1998 animated classic promised to bring the adventure with martial arts performed by an all-star cast including Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and Gong Li.

The movie’s total lack of songs, including the beloved “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” and its disappointingly shot action that undercut good choreography made it a total disappointment. 

14. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Sean Astin, Elijah Wood
Image Credit: New Line Cinema.

Books have long served as fodder for movie adaptations, especially those with significant fanbases, so it’s no wonder we got cinematic adaptations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. What remains a wonder, though, is just how good the movies are.

The first film in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, immediately assured lovers of the book that they were in good hands with writers and a director who loved the material and had the talent to bring it to the screen. 

15. Eragon (2006) 

eragon
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Not every high fantasy book makes it to the screen in great shape, though. The bestselling young adult high fantasy novel Eragon by Christopher Paolini hit the big screen just four years after the book showed up on shelves, showing enough excitement from readers, and thus studios, to get the movie treatment. Sadly, though, for Eragon, that treatment meant a lot of awkward exposition as the movie tried to speed through the worldbuilding of the book with performances one critic called “lame.” 

16. The Hunger Games (2012)

Katniss Everdeen during the District 12 reaping
Image Credit: Lionsgate.

While Eragon stumbled, The Hunger Games proved that young adult genre fiction can gracefully leap to the big screen. Based on the bestselling series by Suzanne Collins, the first Hunger Games movie delivers the action and big ideas about revolution from the book thanks in large part to the phenomenal central performance from Jennifer Lawrence. The rest of the series was adapted in the following years, with each movie succeeding as much, if not more, than the one before. 

17. The Golden Compass (2007)

Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden Compass
Image Credit: Laurie Sparham/New Line Cinema.

While The Hunger Games books' big ideas and revolutionary politics are a huge part of what made the movies so successful, big ideas sometimes get young adult adaptations in trouble. The movie adaptation of The Golden Compass (also known as Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman watered down many of the novel’s themes about religion and social control to make the movie more palatable to a broader audience. Instead of satisfying a broad audience, the movie disappointed fans of the book and failed to gain any new fans of its own. 

18. King Kong (2005)

King Kong Andy Serkis, Naomi Watts
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Just two years after the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson’s King Kong stormed its way into theaters. Jackson began sharing production diaries online while remaking King Kong to keep Lord of the Rings fans curious and excited about his next project.

Fans remained engaged and were delighted by the movie that offered an epic reimagining of the 1933 original with stunning special effects and great performances from its cast, including Naomi Watts, Jack Black, and Adrien Brody. 

19. Godzilla (1998) 

Godzilla (1998)
Image Credit: TriStar Pictures.

Not every reimagining of a classic cinema monster goes well. In 1998, Hollywood studio TriStar produced the first American Godzilla movie in the hopes that they’d be able to launch a franchise. Those hopes were dashed when the movie failed to win over fans of the giant lizard because of its ill-considered redesign and poor writing.

The film left fans more bewildered about the movie’s silly plot points than excited about the first Western outing of their beloved creature. 

20. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max Fury Road
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

2015 wasn’t the first year legacy sequels came out, but it may claim to be the best year. Months before The Force Awakens delighted Star Wars fans, Mad Max: Fury Road brought the Mad Max franchise roaring back to the big screen with one of the most thrilling car movies ever made. Add to the fantastic action scenes that Fury Road has something to say about climate change and gender relationships, and we’re looking at a modern masterpiece. 

21. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Harrison Ford
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Before Mad Max returned to the big screen, Indiana Jones attempted to revive its former glory with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with far less success. Fans highly anticipated the movie as original Indy writer George Lucas was working on the story, and Steven Spielberg was returning to direct. But the movie’s plot about Indy investigating a possibly supernatural or extra-terrestrial artifact feels like a weak and often goofy retread of the better movies that came before. 

22. Cloverfield (2008)

cloverfield, Odette Annable, Michael Stahl-David
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Not all hotly anticipated movies are based on pre-existing intellectual property (IP). Cloverfield boasted an exciting team of creatives and was marketed with a fantastic viral marketing campaign that had interested moviegoers investigating the world of Cloverfield before it was released. When the movie and its central alien finally arrived in theaters, it was so thrilling and thematically potent that it birthed one of the most unique franchises of the 21st century. 

23. Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

Battle: Los Angeles, Joey King
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

Three years after CloverfieldBattle: Los Angeles attempted to introduce audiences to another alien invasion with a movie framed like a more terrestrial war film in the unlikely warzone of Los Angeles. The gritty aesthetics and its cast, including Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, and Michael Peña, made it one of the most anticipated genre movies of 2011. But the film’s lousy writing and poorly shot action made it one of the most disappointing. 

24. Aliens (1986) 

Aliens (1986)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Battle: Los Angeles was also certainly not helped by the fact that movies about going to war with extra-terrestrials have such a rich history of iconic films, including Aliens. Seven years after the first Alien movie, James Cameron reinvented the franchise with the sequel, turning the perfect horror creature into the perfect action antagonist(s).

It’s a remarkable pivot for a sequel that was highly anticipated by the many people who adored the original film, and it’s also one of the best sequels of all time. 

25. Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus Scott Free Productions
Image Credit: Scott Free Productions.

Fifteen years after Alien Resurrection might have continued the Alien franchise one movie too long, Ridley Scott, the first film’s director, returned to create a prequel to the series. Or did he?

During the production and lead-up to the release of Prometheus, Scott, and writer Damon Lindelof fluctuated a few times about whether or not the film was part of the franchise. That prompted fan speculation and uncertainty on whether Prometheus took place in the same universe as Alien, which ensured fans were fascinated and excited to see the film.

But unlike most movies on this list, Prometheus remains one of the most divisive movies among both general moviegoers and devoted fans of the Alien franchise. It’s one of those movies that’s a major disappointment to some and entirely lived up to the hype for others. 

Author: Kyle Logan

Title: Contributing Writer

Expertise: Film, TV, Horror, Animation, Queer Cinema

Bio:

Film and TV Critic, Pop Culture Writer

  • Expertise: Horror, Animation, Queer Film
  • Education: Master's Degree in Philosophy from Boston College, Dual Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy and Political Science from Boston College
  • Organizer of Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd
  • Over 200 reviews, essays, articles, and lists across various sites

Experience: Kyle Logan has been writing about film since studying film and philosophy as an undergraduate at Boston College. Kyle began writing about film professionally in 2020 and has written for many sites including Screen Anarchy, Film Stories, and Fangoria. Kyle has also organized the Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd since 2020, highlighting the queer history of film and bringing attention to rising queer filmmakers. Kyle now works full time with Wealth of Geeks, contributing lists, reviews, and podcast appearances on topics as varied as film, travel, and Halloween candy.