This was originally a two-part feature on filmic vanity projects. One was ‘straight’ and the other was specifically about films made by musicians and bands. Since Empire has migrated to a new site, however, the first seems to have been lost, and only the musical version survives. So this is that.

And here’s what was in the companion piece:

The Alamo (1960)
Ego trip for: John Wayne (producer, director, star)
What’s the story?
For years, directors like John Ford and Howard Hawkes had been making him into an icon. But by 1960, John Wayne reckoned he was ready to go it alone. After 15 years in development, Wayne’s cameras finally rolled on The Alamo: an epic Western based on the 1836 siege during the Texas Revolution. The massive spectacle he brought in ran to three hours (considerably more in its ‘Roadshow’ cut) and racked up an absolutely colossal-for-the-time budget of $12m.
Was it a success?
Critics were divided between loving the massive spectacle and finding the whole thing overblown and patience-testing. It actually did respectably at the box office, but had cost so much to make that nobody turned a profit. Thanks to Wayne’s own intense lobbying it was nominated for several Oscars, but only won for sound. Wayne would never direct single-handedly again – although people that worked on The Alamo said he was quite good at it. The legend that it was really directed by John Ford is just that.

Battlefield Earth (2000)
Ego trip for
: John Travolta (Producer, star)
What’s the story?
Travolta had been trying to adapt Scientology-creator L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi doorstop for years, with no interest from wary studios. Indie production company Franchise Pictures eventually came to his rescue and the film went ahead with Star Wars production designer Roger Christian directing. Travolta played the leader of the evil alien Psychlos enslaving the human race, and Barry Pepper led the rebellion.
Was it a success?
It cost $70m to make and took a bit less than $30m at the box office. So no. It was essentially laughed off screens for its general all-round awfulness (plotting, dialogue, effects, performances) and is regularly listed as one of the worst films of all time. It was only an adaptation of half the novel, the other half being saved up for the sequel. Ah, hubris.

Beyond the Sea (2004)
Ego trip for: Kevin Spacey (Producer, director, co-writer, star)
What’s the story?
A biopic of the singer and actor Bobby Darin. Barry Levinson had once been attached to direct, and when he dropped the ball, Kevin Spacey picked it up. Clearly a huge Darin fan, Spacey had the support of the Darin estate, but remained determined to play Bobby himself, sticking to his guns even when studios turned the project away because of Spacey’s age. Darin was 37 when he died. Spacey was 45 when he played him.
Was it a success?
No. The Darin family approved it, and Spacey was praised in some quarters, especially for doing his own singing. But the feeling remained in most circles that he had mis-cast himself. Beyond the Sea cost $23m to make and earned only $8.4m worldwide.

Bolero (1984)
Ego trip for: Bo Derek (Producer, star)
What’s the story?
Following the surprise blockbuster success of the Dudley Moore sex comedy 10, Bo Derek and husband John scored a three picture deal with MGM to make, basically, anything they liked. The first result of that was Tarzan, The Ape Man in 1981, and the second was this: a softcore fantasy about a young woman travelling the world to find the right man to take her virginity. John Derek, as with Tarzan, directed and photographed, and this time also wrote the screenplay.
Was it a success?
Arguments over the sexual content broke up a long-standing relationship between MGM and Cannon, and Cannon eventually released it themselves, with no MPAA rating (it was too strong for an R, and NC17 didn’t exist yet). Like Tarzan it was critically derided but made its money back. Only just though.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001)
Ego trip for: Tom Green (director, writer, star)
What’s the story?
Comedian Green had risen to prominence with his own MTV comedy show and started breaking into movies, appearing in Road Trip and Charlie’s Angels. And then there was this wilfully bad taste gross-out comedy, and suddenly he wasn’t quite so hot anymore.
Was it a success?
Not at the cinema – although it did just about break even on its theatrical run. But it became a runaway cult hit on video and DVD and has enjoyed something of a re-evaluation. It’s still shit though. Green has said for ages that he’d like to release a director’s cut. Studio Fox have apparently been recalcitrant in helping him do this.

Harlem Nights (1989)
Ego trip for: Eddie Murphy (Producer, director, writer, star)
What’s the story?
At the height of his power (coming off Beverly Hills Cop, 48hrs, Coming to America and so on) Murphy talked his way into realising his long-cherished ambition to make a period gangster comedy and work with Richard Pryor. The result was… uneven: misguidedly in thrall to Murphy’s vision of himself as a romantic lead, and crucially, just not funny enough.
Was it a success?
Financially yes, with an eventual worldwide haul of nearly $100m from a budget of $30m. But it fared terribly with reviewers and had the reputation of a disaster. Murphy would never direct again, and spent the ‘90s in movie jail (Another 48 Hrs, Beverly Hills Cop 3) until his comeback with The Nutty Professor in 1996. Harlem Nights was a personal disappointment for him too: it turned out he didn’t get along with Pryor. Never meet your heroes, kids.

Heaven’s Gate (1980)
Ego trip for: Michael Cimino (Writer, director)
What’s the story?
Cimino was given carte blanche after the success of The Deer Hunter to go all-out for his epic Western about the Johnson County War. This he did, indulging his meticulous artistic vision to the extent that the cost and production schedule spiralled wildly out of control. Eventually released in a cut-down 150-minute version (70 minutes shorter than the director’s cut), it played for just a week and, famously, destroyed its studio, United Artists.
Was it a success?
It was critically lambasted and eviscerated, and audiences stayed away (although they didn’t have much chance to catch it, given its short release window). It originally made just $3.5m. Its final budget was $44m. For years it was the benchmark for cinematic disaster, but history has been kind to it, and it’s been much reassessed in the 35 years since. It’s still divisive, but more people now think it’s a classic than they used to. It was restored and reassembled for a Cimino-supervised director’s cut release in 2012.

Swept Away (2002)
Ego trip for: Guy Ritchie (Writer, director) and Madonna (star)
What’s the story?
After Lock Stock and Snatch, Ritchie, of course, opted to make a romantic comedy as a vehicle for his lovely new wife Madonna. Matthew Vaughn produced, proving that he didn’t always have the golden touch he now enjoys. A remake of the 1974 Italian film, it involves Madonna and Adriano Giannini shipwrecked together on a desert island. They don’t like each other at first. And then they do.
Was it a success?
It went straight to video in the UK, and only earned back 10% of its modest $10m budget worldwide. Critics and audiences alike gave it a kicking, and Ritchie returned to British gangsters for his next two films, Revolver and RockNRolla, before his Hollywood breakout Sherlock Holmes.

South of Heaven, West of Hell (2001)
Ego trip for: Dwight Yoakam (Writer, director, composer, star)
What’s the story?
Country singer Yoakam had displayed some laconic acting chops in the likes of Red Rock West and Sling Blade during the ‘90s. Maybe that was enough to convince investors that he could pull off an indie Western in which he called most of the shots. Just before production, those investors backed out, and Yoakam financed the thing himself. Yoakam plays an Arizona marshal in 1907, who receives a surprise visit from his outlaw father at Christmas. Billy Bob Thornton, Vince Vaughn, Bridget Fonda, Peter Fonda and Paul Reubens co-star. The finished product feels like nothing so much as Yoakam and his friends enjoying an amateur Western roleplaying weekend.
Was it a success?
Very much not. It barely got a release, playing on just nine screens in the States, and earning back $28k of its $4m budget. Yoakam lost his Malibu home, and his production company had to file for bankruptcy while fending off lawsuits from disgruntled unpaid crew. Even Yoakam’s soundtrack failed to win over the country-music faithful. Yoakam continues to act (he’s in both Crank films, for example) and perform, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever direct again.

After Earth (2013)
Ego trip for: The Smith Family (Producers, writers, stars)
What’s the story?
Will and Jada Pinkett Smith were among the producers setting up this would be sci-fi spectacular. Will Smith and, even more so, son Jaden Smith starred in it, and Will got a story credit (the screenplay was by Gary Whitta and director M. Night Shyamalan, himself not a stranger to vanity projects in the past). Will and Jaden crash their spaceship on an alien planet, and with Will injured, Jaden has to go it alone to save the day.
Was it a success?
It didn’t do badly, but its budget plus its massive estimated $100m marketing spend meant it only just broke even. Spin-off novelisations and comics suggested an intended multi-media franchise, but interest in After Earth wasn’t nearly sufficient to sustain that. Will Smith compared it to Wild Wild West as among “the most painful failures of my career”.

Private Parts (1997)
Ego trip for: Howard Stern (Writer, subject, star)
What’s the story?
An autobiopic of American shock-jock Stern, starring Stern as Stern – amusingly even as a young man at university. His co-conspirators Robin Quivers and Fred Norris also played themselves, with a seething Paul Giamatti as long-suffering radio station suit Kenny Rushton (dubbed “Pig Vomit” by Stern). The narrative thrust was Stern’s journey from zero to hero, via a dip when he started believing his own hype and self-sabotaging his career and relationships. It’s all very meta, and its vanity project status is all part of the joke.
Was it a success?
Not bad at all. Your response to it pretty much depends on how you feel about Stern to begin with (if you have any concept of who he is), but critics generally enjoyed it, and it raked in $41m on a budget of $28m. A modest hit then, but it was a reasonably modest production – Stern’s ego nothwithstanding.

On Deadly Ground (1994)
Ego trip for: Steven Seagal (Producer, director, star)
What’s the story?
It’s hard to remember a time when Seagal was considered a massive box office draw. But in 1994 he was fresh from a string of juggernaut video hits and a genuine blockbuster in Under Siege. That lead to a deal with Warner Bros where he got to choose his own projects and even direct. On Deadly Ground was his passion project: an environmentally conscious film where he blows up Alaska; a violent film espousing peace. Seagal plays a hard case with a spiritual side: a specialist in tackling oilrig fires, called Forrest Taft (intended as an older sort of Red Adaire character in the original version of the script). Michael Caine plays a villainous Texan oil baron. Seagal makes an impassioned speech about pollution at the end.
Was it a success?
It lost money on its original release, although it’s certainly in profit by now after years on video and DVD. Seagal was an efficient enough director according to Empire’s sources, but the critical reception was a sort of stupefied disbelief at the truly wonky concept. Undeterred, Seagal continued with the eco-action angle in Fire Down Below and The Patriot – but he didn’t direct either of those.

W.E. (2011)
Ego trip for: Madonna (Producer, writer, director)
What’s the story?
Madonna’s second directorial effort (following Filth & Wisdom) intertwined the stories of two women: a New Yorker in the late ‘90s (Abbie Cornish), and Wallis Simpson negotiating her relationship with Edward VIII (Andrea Riseborough) in the 1930s.
Was it a success?
Nope: it was critically savaged and made a loss of about $28m. It had its defenders though: notably us! Empire’s Damon Wise saw it as Madonna commenting on 20th Century celebrity, and a better, more interesting film than it was being given credit for. It’s a brave man that stands alone.

Dick Tracy
Ego trip for: Warren Beatty (Producer, director, star)
What’s the story?
On the surface it looks like a reaction to Batman, but Dick Tracy, based on the Chester Gould comic strip, was greenlit the year before Tim Burton’s comicbook juggernaut in 2008, and Beatty had been trying to get it going since 1975. Still, the success of Michael Keaton’s dark knight must have made everyone feel that the iron was properly hot. Beatty’s primary-coloured gangster adventure buried everyone in grotesque make-up… apart from Beatty himself, of course (and Madonna, when she took off the mask – seriously, we’re not deliberately trolling Madonna with this list; she just keeps showing up). Proving typically uncontrollable, Beatty went over his agreed $25m budget by almost 100%.
Was it a success?
Yes – Beatty got away with it. Not quite the unprecedented runaway success that Batman was, it still made a healthy worldwide haul of $163m. But Beatty didn’t direct again for eight years (with Bullworth), and hasn’t now made a film at all since Town & Country in 2001.

The Brave
Ego trip for: Johnny Depp (Writer, director, star)
What’s the story?
15 years before The Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp played another Native American in this adaptation of Gregory McDonald’s novel, also directing and co-writing the adaptation. It follows Depp’s desperate Raphael, who volunteers to star in a snuff film to provide money for his family. Marlon Brando, Depp’s co-star in Don Juan De Marco and the abandoned Divine Rapture, agreed to play Depp’s would-be killer.
Was it a success?
It was never released at all in the US: legend has it that Depp, miffed at the negative reactions to the film from American critics in Cannes, withdrew it himself. Others suggest he simply couldn’t get distribution (although it’s available in many other territories, including on DVD here in the UK). In recent years Depp has mused going back to it for a re-cut, admitting that it’s far from perfect, but claiming it was Brando’s best and most intense performance since Last Tango in Paris. Depp’s only other directing credit is a just-completed documentary about Keith Richards.


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