Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops


In Fiasco, longtime industry insider and acclaimed Hollywood historian James Robert Parish goes behind the scenes to tell the intriguing stories of 15 of the most spectacular movie megaflops of the past 50 years, including Cleopatra, Popeye, The Cotton Club, Shanghai Surprise, Last Action Hero, and Waterworld. He recounts, in every gory detail, how enormous hubris, unbridled ambition, artistic hauteur, and bad business sense on the parts of Tinsel Town wheeler-dealers and superstars such as Elizabeth Taylor, ...
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Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops

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In Fiasco, longtime industry insider and acclaimed Hollywood historian James Robert Parish goes behind the scenes to tell the intriguing stories of 15 of the most spectacular movie megaflops of the past 50 years, including Cleopatra, Popeye, The Cotton Club, Shanghai Surprise, Last Action Hero, and Waterworld. He recounts, in every gory detail, how enormous hubris, unbridled ambition, artistic hauteur, and bad business sense on the parts of Tinsel Town wheeler-dealers and superstars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Clint Eastwood, Francis Ford Coppola, Madonna, and Warren Beatty conspired to engender some of the worst films ever.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* "James Robert Parish identifies them neatly in 'Fiasco'...He gives a high-minded rationale for his project." (Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2006)

"A gleefully readable, well-researched study of hubris in Hollywood" (Publishers Weekly, October 17, 2005)

Publishers Weekly
A film hit or miss often forms two sides of the same coin, notes veteran entertainment observer Parish (The Hollywood Book of Scandals) in this gleefully readable, well-researched study of hubris in Hollywood. Parish's 15 choice box-office busts since 1963's Cleopatra demonstrate how "the combination of ill-matched personalities and tangled situations can result in chaos during the making of a must-succeed, extremely costly Hollywood feature." Parish's criteria in choosing his stinkers include the toppling of major stars (such as Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1993's frenzied Last Action Hero); wild overspending and lavish promotion that don't translate into a noteworthy product (Paramount's extravagant 1969 Paint Your Wagon); and a shaky idea that would never have taken off if not for the overweening enthusiasm of a big name, e.g., Warren Beatty's protracted albatross, Town and Country (2001). Occasionally, Parish's insider snooping lends some intriguing tidbits, such as the literary history behind the making of Merchant Ivory's 1975 The Wild Party (starring Raquel Welch) and director Elaine May's costly detail obsession as evidenced by the bulldozing of Moroccan sand dunes for the Beatty-Hoffman loser Ishtar (1987). While most of these film disasters have been well documented elsewhere, Parish depicts an industry in harrowing transition. Agent, Stuart Bernstein. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
What actually constitutes a flop? According to Parish (Katharine Hepburn: The Untold Story), films that are flops have big-name stars (Cleopatra), an idea without substance (The Last Action Hero), or a lot of hype prior to release (Showgirls). Examining a broad selection of bombs, from Shanghai Surprise to Ishtar, he profiles 14 films and furnishes detailed background on their production history, along with entertaining anecdotes. This is a good source for information on The Wild Party (1975), Popeye (1980), and The Cotton Club (1984); different genres are represented, including science fiction (Waterworld), swashbucklers (Cutthroat Island), and musicals (Paint Your Wagon). Ishtar was considered a "modern-day successor to road pictures" and known as "Warrengate," alluding to Heaven's Gate and Warren Beatty. A bit of a novelty, this book will mainly interest cinephiles. Recommended for libraries serving their ranks.-Barbara Kundanis, Batavia P.L., IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471691594
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 1/11/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

JAMES ROBERT PARISH ( is a former entertainment reporter and publicist and the author of numerous books on Hollywood, including The Hollywood Book of Breakups and It's Good to Be the King.
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Table of Contents

1 Cleopatra
2 The chase
3 Paint your wagon
4 The wild party
5 Popeye
6 The cotton club
7 Shanghai surprise
8 Ishtar
9 Last action hero
10 Cutthroat island
11 Showgirls
12 Waterworld and The postman
13 Battlefield Earth : a saga of the year 3000
14 Town and country
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2006

    'Oh, the humanity!'

    It¿s like watching a terrible accident in slow motion - - so fascinating that you can¿t look away, as much as you want to. Does anyone besides Max Bialystock ever start out to make a really horrible movie? Certainly not, and yet, as Fiasco chronicles, the seeds of disaster are often firmly planted before the cameras roll. Too much money spent - - or not enough. Too much greed and ego - - or not enough. Too much passion and vision - - or not enough. And, as you try to formulate dictums for success in the uneasy marriage of art and commerce called film, every ¿must not¿ stimulates an inner voice saying, ¿but what about this or that classic film where that was also true?¿ The research necessary to put together these highly readable ¿accident reports¿ must have been enormous, but the author avoids pedantic details and makes each complex case history read like a thriller. An invaluable look behind the scenes of some of the screen¿s biggest bombs.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2006

    Death by Interference: 14 Hollywood FIlms Murdered

    Ever wonder why some of those Hollywood extravaganzas touted in advance as ¿sure-fire hits¿ turn into abysmal flops? James Robert Parish¿s new book ¿Fiasco: A History of Hollywood¿s Iconic Flops¿ details why. Parish turns his keen eye and strong writing style on how over-paid, egotistical stars, meddling studio execs, directors whose vision has the opaque clarity of a tennis ball, and just plain ¿bad-timing¿ can sink a strongly anticipated film faster than the Titanic went down. In Fiasco, Parish has chosen fourteen Titanics to muse upon. Yes, Cleopatra, The Cotton Club, Ishtar and Battlefield Earth are included, along with some you may have missed, like The Wild Party ¿ a thorough miss by the usually highly regarded Merchant-Ivory duo ¿ and Shanghai Surprise, another Madonna film crucifixion, accompanied in her writhing agony by then-hubby Sean Penn. Don¿t misunderstand me Parish words are written more in sorrow than in anger. He truly loves Hollywood, as his many other books attest. But Parish does not like the film colony¿s big messes, and he rakes all the partners in these fourteen disasters over the coals for their participation in foisting such abominations off on the public. Good for him! Parish is an excellent writer, and there are juicy tidbits in almost every sentence: lots of behind the scenes drama warning signs ignored egos stroked when they should have been squashed. Personally, I¿ve seen all fourteen of these films and I already knew each one was a disaster. Some of them are legendary, so it was hard not to be aware of them. But I never knew the ¿back-story¿ on any of the films: exactly what made it mis-fire so badly. Viewing most of these films is like arriving at the scene of a murder you can see the victim, but have no clue as to who committed the murder and what was the motive. Thanks to Parish¿s Fiasco, you not only discover the murderers ¿ the slaughter of all of these films was assisted by more than one person, rest assured ¿ you also understand their motives, which were misguided in all cases. Another excellent book by James Robert Parish. Fun to read informative well-written and actually a bit sad, given that all the mistakes could have been so easily avoided.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2006

    Hollywood Schadenfreude

    Somebody once said that everyone has two business: the business they are in and the movie business. That means that just about everyone should love James Parish's new book 'Fiasco'. It is delicious to read these stories about some of Hollywood's biggest disasters. And when you couple people's fascination with Hollywood backstories with our natural inclination to enjoy other people miseries -- especially people with these over-inflated egos -- then it's hard to see how someone would not enjoy this book. The chapter on Madonna's 'Shanghai Surprise' is worth the price of admission -- she apparently only picked up the script in the first place because she liked the color of the cover. So sit back, grab some popcorn, and revel in the schadenfreude.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2006


    Hollywood box-office disasters can be fun, particularly to read about. But Jim Parish's Fiasco is such an engaging read you might even be encouraged to re-watch some of these Iconic Flops as you read along. It is also an informative addition to the business of Hollywood, addressing the very central issue of the contribution and fallout from the old studio system. Fiasco is a book I have been recommending to a variety of interests- academic and research colleagues for the case studies and appendix, fans of movie history, as well as those of us who just love a good story behind the story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2006

    On The Road to Runaway Hubris

    The great screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky once said, ¿You start out to make a great movie. Then you settle for a good movie. Then you just want to get it finished.¿ That¿s what happened to almost every cinematic disaster chronicled in ¿Fiasco.¿ James Robert Parish, who is known for his fine attention to detail, reveals the tortuous path taken by fifteen of Hollywood¿s iconic flops¿from concept to crash landing. He reveals story after story of egos gone wild, scripts meddled with until they morphed into morass, money thrown haphazard into the rat holes of hopeless projects Parish knows his stuff, and his lively writing style makes for a fascinating read as he digs into the downward spiral of film after film, from ¿Cleopatra¿ to ¿The Postman.¿ He tells the tale of how ¿Ishtar¿ became perhaps the most reviled film in Hollywood history (which could also be said about John Travolta¿s ¿Battlefield Earth,¿) how the nearly-pornographic ¿Showgirls¿ came to be an embarrassment to all who had anything to do with it, and how a real-life murder tainted ¿The Cotton Club.¿ ¿Fiasco¿ is an engaging chronicle of Hollywood¿s runaway hubris. It should be required reading for anyone with aspirations to get into¿or smart enough to stay out of the movie business.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2006

    A must have book for movie lovers/haters

    At first Jim Parish's FIASCO seems to be about only 14 major movie flops. But actually the text involves hundreds of films, as the index shows. In addition, about a thousand films are listed chronologically in a comprehensive appendix of box office failures. There are several surprises on that list, probably including some of your favorite films. As in all of the many of Hollywood books by Parish, each page is packed with insightful information and 'insider' data. Parish links many data in the way only a very expeirneced writer can. He builds on whatever you know and takes you into other related topics. Reading his books is to have a guided tour through the rarely seen world of movie-making. IN this book we see how bad decisions rarely if ever lead to good movies. Everyone, especially everyone in the movie industry, should read and learn from Parish's unique insights into movie history so as not to repeat such fiascoes again. But realistically, 'More Fiascoes' is very likely a title from Parish in the future.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2006

    The Best of the Worst

    Jim Parish has written one of his best movie books yet with this overview of several key box-office and critical flops. While I would have enjoyed reading about more than 15 entries and I might even quibble with a couple of the choices, there is no doubt that FIASCO makes an enthralling read. The 15 films Parish has chosen for scrutiny (from Cleopatra to Town & Country) are accorded thorough and detailed histories, from the high hopes of pre-production to the critical drubbings of the final products. In addition to being more entertaining than the films themselves, these in-depth investigations illustrate the changes within Hollywood since vertical integration has quashed the more artistic and professional aspects of the mainstream film industry. The Cleopatra, Popeye, and Ishtar chapters are particularly great examples of how talented people get caught up in and overwhelmed by front office conglomerate politics. Perhaps, someday, Parish will write a sequel about some of the many other film flops listed at the back of the book. Surely, they have interesting backstories, too! In the meantime, FIASCO more than satifies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2006

    Turkeys of Tinseltown

    Hollywood has always thought big. From time to time, it has failed big too. 'Fiasco' profiles some of Hollywood's most notable failures (and Parish explains what makes them worthy of note). 'Fiasco' profiles the minds and the money behind the worst of the worst and, what's more, explains how and why these projects went off the rails. It's fascinating to read how Elizabeth Taylor, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, and Geena Davis each were involved their own 'errors in judgement.' Both box-office and creative flops are chronicled here, and each story is as unique at the film itself. An appendix of failures, from 1960 to the present, appears at the end of the book. 'Fiasco' is great fun for movie fans and industry insiders alike.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2006

    Oh, the hubris!

    Fiasco is an endlessly readable cautionary tale of the misfortunes that may visit a movie in the making. Some problems are beyond human control (big weather), but most are the results of egos run amok (see Raquel Welch and Kevin Costner), cavalier attitudes toward money (Elaine May directing Ishtar), and colossally bad ideas (Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin in a musical). Each chapter offers a stunning history of a production destined for infamy. Parish is wise to distinguish between those movies that run way over budget (Cutthroat Island), those that eventually turn a profit (Cleopatra), and those so awful that they elicit a strange fondness from a corner of the population (Showgirls). A bonus treat of Fiasco is an appendix of movie box-office bombs over the last 44 years. Read Fiasco and be reminded that Hollywood has always been its own worst enemy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2006

    A Must Read

    James Robet Parish's Fiasco is a breezy, fact-filled look at some of Hollywood's biggest boxoffice flops over the past few decades. The reasons for a movie's failure can be many but essentially it comes down to super-sized egos be it the producers, directors or stars. This book's publication is timely since the most lauded movies of 2005 were such low-budget wonders as Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Good Night and Good Luck. Every movie lover should read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2006

    Fiasco a Success

    There's always a certain morbid pleasure in reading about films that were absurdly expensive and that failed to live up to their artistic and commercial pretentions. Without being mean-spirited or condescending, author James Robert Parish discusses a series of such films - from the 'Cleopatra' debacle that almost ruined 20th Century-Fox to recent misfires such as 'Town & Country' - in a manner that helps us understand the illogic that rules Hollywood studios, and by extension, big business everywhere. So much for the efficiency of the corporate mentality.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2006


    It struck me odd that I would enjoy a book about movies that I didn't enjoy, but the book is not about the fiascos themselves, but the people and events that made them. The book is a hard-to-put-down-start-reading-it-early-in-the-day affair because Parish always keeps you engaged in finding out what disaster happens next. That Parish is a reliable reporter is a plus in the Hollywood land of make-believe.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2006

    It's About Time We Got this Book!

    FIASCO by James Robert Parish is a grand concept, brilliantly executed. It is greatly amusing, utterly informative, a breeze to read and teaches us, hopefully, something about how to make better movies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2006

    Entertaining and Information A Must-Read!

    James Robert Parish, one of our leading film historians, has once again created a work that is engaging and entertaining, while also thorough, well-researched, and useful to film scholars, buffs, and novices. Parish gives over individual chapters to 15 of the biggest budget bombs of post-studio system Hollywood films, beginning with CLEOPATRA in 1963 and concluding with TOWN & COUNTRY in 2001. Other featured films include THE CHASE, PAINT YOUR WAGON, THE WILD PARTY, POPEYE, THE COTTON CLUB, SHANGHAI SURPRISE, ISHTAR, LAST ACTION HERO, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, SHOWGIRLS, WATERWORLD and THE POSTMAN share a chapter, and BATTLEFIELD EARTH. Parish's lively prose dishes the behind-the-scenes dirt about star and director egos, inflated budgets, nefarious producers, etc. while, at the same time, setting the films in the context of their times, exploring the qualities of each, and parsing the achievements of the individuals involved. This is a 'must-own' for anyone interested in contemporary film, as cinema history and as a cautionary tale. It is also a pure joy to read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2006

    Watching Hollywood's Train Wrecks

    If you've ever watched a movie and wondered how this train wreck ever came to be this is an enjoyable read. Filled with background and insight it shows how egos took over, how millions were squandered, often to no avail. Several infamous movies of recent times are profiled- the build-up, filming stories and the aftermath. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in movies and it even has the odd effect of making one want to see some of these movies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2006

    Tremendously entertaining.

    The incredibly prolific James Robert Parish has probably written more indispensible books about movies and moviemakers than anyone else, but never one more entertaining than Fiasco. Culling much new information, he tracks the agonizing rise and meteoric fall of 15 post-1960 box-office disasters, charting the crossroads between vanity and indecision, where highly experienced people commit one stupifying error after another. The anecdotes keep coming, and you wonder how any movie ever gets made with people like Warren Beatty demanding rewrites and then threatening legal action if anyone says that he demanded rewrites.

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