The first big flop I remember experiencing was 1998's Godzilla. From the duo of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (Stargate, Independence Day, and my personal favorite, The Patriot), Godzilla earned the wrath of fans even though technically it was a hit, and has struggled to find any love since.
I was in high school when it was released, and there was endless chatter about it. Then people saw it and all the chatter went negative. I only just saw (some of) it on TV the other day. My immediate reaction was, Wow, this is a Matthew Broderick movie. Broderick is in many ways one of Hollywood's throwbacks to a bygone era. (Every time George Clooney is sold that way, the movie tanks.) He hasn't really been relevant since The Producers. No, not the subsequent film adaption, but the smash Broadway run that helped revive the spirits of New Yorkers post-9/11. And in truth, Broderick has always been a tough sell outside of the '80s (Bueller?).
He sticks out like a sore thumb in Godzilla. Most criticism of the movie centers on the monster itself, but as far as I could tell, it's Broderick who dominates. I confess that Godzilla is one of those franchises/cult favorites that I've never managed to get into (in fact, I've never seen any Godzilla movie all the way through). As far as I can tell, Godzilla doesn't have as much of a story as, say, King Kong. It seems to be pretty much, Giant Monster stomp stomp stomp. And...that's it. Allegory for the dangers of nuclear power, sympathy for tall lizards. But very nebulous otherwise.
So what's the big hook? I don't know.
It seems to me that the movie might have been more successful if it featured Jean Reno in the lead role rather than as a supporting character. Back in high school I thought of the movie more in terms of Hank Azaria than anything else, except in the parts I saw on TV, there was very little Hank. (Everything's better with Hank Azaria.)
Were/are mass audiences really beholden to Godzilla lore? Or was it simply that Broderick's presence was too jarring? This was prime tall lizards time. Jurassic Park and its first sequel, The Lost World, had been captivating audiences. Maybe it was that Godzilla itself seemed benign compared to dinosaurs (plural) run amok.
Strangely (and maybe this explains far too much about me), I kind of want to watch the whole thing to find out if it really was Broderick who spoiled most of the fun...