Universal Studios President Admits to Making Crap Movies

Earlier in the month, Movieline got a major exec to spill his real feelings about a few of his studio’s recent flops. What he said was not only surprisingly honest, but somewhat brutal to the filmmakers and actors who made those movies, and perhaps shocking for film fans to hear.

Ronald Meyer has been the president of Universal Studios since 1995. If you thought that his job and the purpose of his studio was to make good movies… well, you’re wrong. “It’s great to win awards and make films that you’re proud of and make money, but your first obligation is to make money and then worry about being proud of what you do… That’s the sad part.”

This shouldn’t come as news to anyone, but it seems odd for the head of a major studio to make such a blatant confession. It’s interesting to hear him deem this as “sad.” Even as the head of the studio, he still doesn’t have any power to change things for the better by trying to make consistent quality films. With this bleak talk coming from the top of the ladder, it’s clear that the Hollywood studio system will never change. Money will always win out over quality. Until now, I was under the misconception that studios strove to make good movies (even if that doesn’t always work out) that would receive critical acclaim and accolades. It turns out that those things are simply viewed as an added bonus on the rare occasions that they happen.

“We make a lot of shitty movies… Every one of them breaks my heart,” Meyer says. He then went into a film-specific bashing session that makes me wonder if he’ll be around for much longer. “One of the worst movies we ever made was Wolfman… The script never got right… [the cast] was awful. The director was wrong. Benicio stunk. It all stunk…”

About recent dud ‘Cowboys & Aliens‘, Meyer says that the film… “wasn’t good enough. Forget all the smart people involved in it, it wasn’t good enough. All those little creatures bouncing around were crappy. I think it was a mediocre movie, and we all did a mediocre job with it.”

He’s even more blunt about ‘Land of the Lost‘: “[It] was just crap… I mean, there was no excuse for it. The best intentions all went wrong.”

While we all probably agree with his thoughts, it’s still strange to hear the man ultimately responsible for the work trashing it like this. But amidst his negative confessional, Meyer talks about one flop that he believes simply failed due to the public’s close-mindedness. Scott Pilgrim, I think, was actually kind of a good movie. [Addressing a small section of the audience, cheering.] But none of you guys went! And you didn’t tell your friends to go! But, you know, it happens.”

In closing, Meyer gives the closest thing to an apology: “Cowboys & Aliens didn’t deserve better. Land of the Lost didn’t deserve better. Scott Pilgrim did deserve better, but it just didn’t capture enough of the imaginations of people, and it was one of those things where it didn’t cost a lot so it wasn’t a big loss. Cowboys & Aliens was a big loss, and Land of the Lost was a huge loss. We misfired. We were wrong. We did it badly, and I think we’re all guilty of it.

President Meyer, if you should get fired for these statements, I want to thank you for going ‘Jerry Maguire‘ all over Hollywood and laying it out like it is. While this may not change a thing, at least you weren’t afraid to speak your mind and show some integrity. May success follow you into the indie movie market!

You can read the rest of the interview at Movieline.


  1. Random Commenter

    Next time, someone should ask him why they’re incapable of putting a catalog movie out with a good transfer.

  2. JM

    ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ is an enjoyable, action-packed thrill ride.

    – M. Enois Duarte

    The production budget was $160M. Worldwide box office was $175. Is Ronald offended by the movie’s lack of quality, or by it’s lack of profit?

    Only 12 Universal movies have made real money in the last 7 years.

    Fast Five, Despicable Me, Robin Hood, Little Fockers, Fast And Furious, Mamma Mia!, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Wanted, The Bourne Ultimatum, American Gangster, Knocked Up, Mr. Bean’s Holiday.

    How exactly is Universal still in the movie-making business?

    • M. Enois Duarte

      I like and enjoyed ‘Cowboys & Aliens,’ as did many others, because it’s mostly due to watching the extended version. The theatrical release feels choppy and the tone is very odd. Still, and I admit this openly, it is far from quality filmmaking. It could actually be better. Only a handful of the many movies the studio releases every year are decently well-made and entertaining. Take ‘Larry Crowne,’ ‘Robin Hood,’ ‘Wolfman’ and ‘Land of the Lost’ for example. Then ‘Fast Five,’ ‘Bourne Ultimatum’ and ‘Mamma Mia!’ are reasonably good. Versus ‘Scott Pilgrim’ for quality and originality, Universal doesn’t make enough movies which are worth remembering.

      I’ve been thinking about writing a blog article that traces where it all likely went wrong, and we see more garbage, such as remakes, than quality films. It’s part of a thought I’ve been musing over in preparation for a class I’ll be teaching in Spring — an intro to film art: the study and writing of film. Reading Luke’s article, maybe now is the perfect time to write it and see what everyone else thinks.

      • JM

        It all went wrong in 1993.

        ‘Jurassic Park’ raised the bar to $1 Billion worldwide. Filmmaking became a multi-media pole vaulting contest. It will probably last another 10 years.

        But I wonder if the death spiral in the quality of storytelling is cultural. Related to the fall of theater and literature, and the rise of cable tv and video games. After all, artists are inspired by the stories they consume in their formative years.

        And to be fair with Universal, in 2008 they did release ‘Frost/Nixon.’

    • Luke Hickman

      Did you see ‘The Thing?’ Are you a fan of the original? I only ask because I know that most fans of the original did not see it. Like most fans who DID see the prequel, I loved it!

      • I absolutely love the ’82 version and I did see the prequel the day it came out and thought it was garbage. The best part of the prequel was the use of the old school Universal logo and it was all down hill from there. I gave 1/5 stars in my review.

  3. Oscar

    I must be the only person who thought Land of the Lost was funny. :\

    I’m surprised Scott Pilgrim wasn’t considered a success. It seemed to be received very well within my circles.

    • It wasn’t considered a ‘financial’ success (because it didn’t turn a profit), but it’s very beloved by both the critics and the audience.

      ‘Scott Pilgrim’ played for one week in my theater. ONE WEEK. That’s ridiculous. I’m glad I did see it, though.

  4. motorheadache

    Very interesting to hear this. I don’t totally agree with his take on “Cowboys and Aliens” though– while not a truly great film, I would say it was above “mediocre.”

    Personally, I think part of the problem is that people just like to go see the “big movies” at the theater– and I’m not getting on my pedestal here, I do it too. It’s almost a habit ingrained in our consciousness.

    What’s to blame for that? I’d say it’s the cost of going to the movies more than anything. No matter how good some lower-budget indie film might be, hardly anyone wants pony up the dough to see it at the movies, and why would they, when they can wait a few months and netflix the Blu-Ray?

    • The catch-22 there is that the theatrical release is still the most important promotional vehicle for any movie. Films’ reputations are made or broken based on how they do in theaters, which directly affects how they do on video.

      Someone may decide to skip a movie in theaters and wait for video. Then, when the movie comes to video with a reputation of being a “bomb,” that same person will skip it again, reasoning: “If it wasn’t good enough to make me want to see it in theaters, why would I want to see it now?” Thus a small, perfectly good movie never gets seen.

      • Josh,

        Actually the real problem here is the easy access we have to huge amounts of reviews by professional critics, our friends, and strangers.

        Rotten Tomatoes alone has probably done more to create buzz and or destroy a movies ability to be seen if people were on the fence about seeing it to begin with.

        When me and my friends decide if we are going to spend upwards of $12 to $15, or in my case $15 TO $25 (Popcorn and something to drink are requirements for a good movie experience) I really need to know that I’m not about to throw away that money.

        I wear glasses so I hate dealing with good 3d much less the crap that’s been smeared on movie theaters since Avatar came out. I can count on one hand the amount of good 3D that’s been out since then, and I don’t need all the fingers on that hand either.

        The movie industry simply needs to hold themselves to a higher standard if they want to keep making movies. There are too many movies coming out as it is and if they rush them through production because of these lame ass tentpole dates then they have only themselves to blame.

        Here are a few pointers Hollywood.

        1. Make less movies

        2. Fire directors who can’t make good movies (Brett Ratner I am looking at you), Hell Ewe Bolle keeps getting money to make movies, WTF?

        3. Come up with a better profit sharing scheme for Movie Theaters, so that the experience we have at the theater can start getting better as opposed to worse. When I was growing up I could sit in a huge ass theater and watch Alien, without screaming babies and being raped over the price of coke and popcorn (two of the cheapest things on the planet if my 5th grade match suffices).

        4. Stop fighting the future. If I could watch some of these movies for a reasonable amount of money ($9.99 is probably my sweet spot) at home in HD with GOOD AUDIO (find a way to do DTS or lossless audio formats with Apple and Amazon and or Netflix (Netflix is your friend not your enemy dumbasses)) then you may find yourselves in a new golden age of movie consumption. Movies that I normally wouldn’t go out for I might have spent $10.00 on to watch at home. The Thing prequel may not have been good enough of a gamble to trek to the movie theater but it’s a no brainer on my couch on Friday night for $10.00. Oh and the most important part, DAY AND DATE WITH THE THEATER RELEASE. I got news for you, the people like me aren’t going to the theaters anyway for these films, but we might be tempted to watch them at home for money as long as it’s not some stupid ass $30 or more. Yes friends are going to join us. Yes you are not going to make the same amount of money as you would if we all WENT TO THE THEATER, but read back a bit, WE ARE NOT GOING TO THE THEATER FOR THESE CRAP MOVIES.

        • As a critic, I would like to believe that people read reviews and use that as a determining factor about whether to pay to see a movie or not. Unfortunately, the evidence has proven time and again that just isn’t true. Maybe it was once, many years ago, but not anymore. Not only do people not listen to critics, they have active contempt for them. Hence the reason why movies that receive unanimous scorn from critics make billions upon billions of dollars at the box office.

          Right now, New Year’s Eve is rocking a 6% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This movie is absolutely guaranteed to come in at the top of the box office this weekend.

          • JM

            Mass audiences ignore critics for one reason.

            People care about genre more than they care about artistry.

            If critics want to become more useful, they need to grade on a curve.

          • If audiences want to become useful, they should learn to develop better taste in movies. As it is, the more money they spend on movies that are absolute shit, the more shit the studios will contemptuously shovel down their gullible throats. This cycle has to end eventually.

          • JM

            Audiences don’t want to be useful. They want to eat.

            In almost every genre, there is starvation. Hollywood doesn’t make enough romantic comedies for rom-com fans to only see the good ones.

            You would understand this more clearly if your wife was a romance novel addict. Or if you were an RPG affectionado. Or if your kids eyes grew three sizes at the sight of kiddie crap.

            Are there any entertainment genres that you have sufficient enthusiasm for that you’re willing to pay money to consume the B and C level product?

            In the land of disposable wealth, and the home of poor impulse control, I very much doubt that Hollywood or audiences will evolve fast enough.

            Critics, on the other hand, who tend to have a higher level of intelligence, who respect an openness to new things, who are in the business of providing a service, will be the most likely party to evolve their usefulness.

            If critics graded on a genre curve, they could build audience trust, increase their impact on the box office, and force Hollywood to give more freedom to the artist.

          • EM

            Poor Josh! I presume that in his chagrin he has forgotten that Bonus View readers sometimes acknowledge reviews’ influence on their choices, and that he was not aiming to denigrate the truthfulness or very personhood of every single one of those readers.

            About a year and a half ago, a certain Bonus View discussion (http://www.highdefdigest.com/blog/spoiler-alerts/) revealed some strong dissension—particularly between reviewers and potential or actual readers, though also within each camp—about the role of reviews. If that discussion can be taken as indicative of attitudes in the world at large, it would appear that reviewers tend to write in opposition to the interests of the general public. If so, why should the general public read those reviews?

            While I would like to see the public become more discriminating in its movie habits, the refusal of the reviewers to write for the public will do nothing to further that goal. That’s not to say that an individual writer is wrong to write for a niche audience. After all, there is diversity in filmgoers; so, why not in reviews? But it’s precisely because of human diversity that I pick and choose which reviews to lend much weight to.

          • So, we’ve got Jane saying that critics need to “grade on a curve,” and EM saying that they need to “write for the public.” What you’re both saying is that critics should lower their standards and pander to an audience of increasingly unsophisticated and “uncritical” movie viewers. What purpose does that serve, exactly, other than the further devaluation of film as an artform worthy of analysis or discussion?

            Film critics already grade on a curve. They’re capable of distinguishing the difference between a good summer popcorn blockbuster (The Dark Knight, Iron Man) and a bad summer popcorn blockbuster (Transformers, The Hangover II). Why is it that audiences refuse to make the same distinction?

          • EM

            Josh, you have utterly mischaracterized what I wrote.

            1) I did not say that critics “need” to write for the (general) public.* In fact, I quite overtly validated critics’ writing for other concerns. What I did say was that not writing for the public will not further the goal of bettering the public’s movie habits. Do you disagree with what I actually said?

            *Probably critics ought to have some sort of public in mind; otherwise, they might as well begin their pieces with “Dear Diary”. But I think that you understand my last post’s use of “public” as referring to the overall general mass audience, which is indeed what I meant, as opposed to some subsection of that audience.

            2) I did not equate criticism that is written for the masses with criticism that must engage in low standards and/or pandering. That is your assumption. How sad that you feel that way. Critics and other experts can engage a mass audience without necessarily devaluing their subjects. I don’t want to get into an argument about particular film critics; so, for an example I will cite someone outside the film-criticism field. Carl Sagan was an astronomer who managed to connect with a wide audience (if not billyuns and billyuns) to popularize his field and science in general without dumbing it down. If you don’t have the imagination to do likewise, that’s fine; but don’t assume your limitations are everybody’s.

            I certainly hope this misunderstanding is an anomaly. I lend less weight to the opinions of critics who show themselves to have poor interpretational skills and discernment.

          • Didn’t I just give you a free Blu-ray the other week? Geesh, what gratitude! 🙂

            As with any other profession, there are good film critics and bad film critics. The good ones understand how to convey their opinions to a mass audience, whether that audience ultimately agrees with them or not. I may not agree with Roger Ebert’s taste in movies much these days, but he’s very good at what he does.

            I don’t think it’s fair to characterize the entire profession as a bunch of effete intellectuals who write only for the entertainment of their circle of Literary Society friends. (Which is what you’re doing, even if you won’t admit to it.)

            If you’re NOT suggesting that film critics dumb down their criticism and praise bad movies to pander to Joe Average, then what ARE you suggesting that they do?

          • EM

            You seem to have forgotten all those times I entered one of your contests and was awarded nothing. It’s payback time!! 😉

            Long-boiling imaginary slights aside, I disagree with the contention that “good [critics] understand how to convey their opinions to a mass audience”. Obviously that quality would be a sine qua non for a good mass-audience critic, but I think it’s possible to be a good niche-audience critic without being a good mass-audience one. But I suppose that this disagreement isn’t very important for this discussion, what with all the other disagreements flying about. 🙂

            I won’t admit to making the characterization that you described, because such admission would be utterly false. Even when I merely speculated that an earlier discussion might shed light on the broader topic now at hand—with a fairly emphatic if—I more than once indicated that I was not characterizing (provisionally) film critics as all alike. I shan’t delve into the specifics of your straw-man characterization, which came from you, not from me.

            To answer your question—“what ARE you suggesting that [film critics] do?”—well, strictly speaking, I wasn’t actually suggesting they do anything! But in a backdoor way I did suggest that more attention to writing for the public might help. I’m short on specifics. Jane mentioned grading on a curve, which in a single post you seemed to both decry as a road ahead not to be set upon and defend as a current and valid practice (I sincerely hope I’m not mischaracterizing too much). I might suggest more transparency and more awareness of the audience, in general. For example, I’ve run into reviews that have complained that we’ve seen all this before—but maybe audiences that see fewer movies than reviewers do haven’t seen it all before. And reviewers use shorthand that might be meaningless to their typical readers. You and I might have a fair idea of what a “Woody Allen comedy” is, but it’s entirely possible that a big chunk of today’s younger audience doesn’t.

            But to be fair, I think some of the change that needs to come isn’t necessarily incumbent on reviewers as a group or the filmgoing audience as a group. In a point that I accidentally edited out of my first post to this thread, I intended to say that perhaps the general public was not finding reviews that they could put stock in. By this I do not mean, necessarily, that there is a dearth of reviews that are written appropriately for the general public. Maybe there are too few, maybe there are not—I have no opinion. But even if the reviews are out there, maybe the public doesn’t find them. Maybe those reviews appear in newspapers—but newspaper readership is down. Maybe they’re on the Web—but they’re not on the sites the general public visits, or they’re buried with other reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. For whatever reason, maybe they’re not getting noticed.

            But along with accessible reviews or other criticism, you also need education and awareness. This can be part of criticism, as I mentioned when discussing transparency. One of the reasons I come to this Web site is the news (e.g., the film-camera-phaseout article this past October) and the general discussions (teal-and-orange “pops” into mind…). That sort of coverage does not appear in a lot of the sources people turn to for movie news and information. And how about formal education? Media literacy, as a legitimate topic in K–12 schools, was in its infancy when I finished high school back in the Stone Age. Where is it now?

  5. Dimwit

    Rather disingenuous of him methinks. He’s the one who greenlights these things. If, after 15 years, he can’t get it right, it’s obvious he has to go. Half baked scripts, bad casting, rushed productions, overbuying and overspending should be all laid at his feet.

    It’s rather obvious that the stamp of Universal Studios is the sign of crap.