Hollywood history is littered with huge highs and lots of lows, big successes and crushing failures. The words ‘bomb’ or ‘turkey’ have been coined for some of the worst disasters, which include the likes of Heaven’s Gate (1980), Ishtar (1987), Waterworld (1995), The Postman (1997), Battlefield Earth (2000), John Carter (2012), and The Lone Ranger (2013). Nearly all big stars have at least one turkey in their career, and Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks are no exception.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) included such a litany of poor decisions, from inception to its release, that a whole 440-page book was written about all of the many things that went wrong with it – The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco. Based on an amazing and critically-acclaimed novel by Tom Wolfe, it’s baffling just how bad the movie ended up being.
One of the fundamental flaws of the movie is that both Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis were miscast, and at the very least – they should have swapped roles. Hanks plays a rich and callous Wall Street finance guy, and Willis plays the journalist (who is British in the novel) who investigates the hit-and-run crime that Hanks is involved in.
In a 1996 Playboy interview, Willis expressed his regret about making the film; “The only movie I would not do again, given the opportunity, is Bonfire of the Vanities. It was stillborn, dead before it ever got out of the box. It was another film that was reviewed before it hit the screen. The critical media didn’t want to see a movie that cast the literary world in a shady light.”
Willis acknowledges that the casting was an issue, but has some choice words for the critics too; “In the reviews, they were recasting the film. They were saying, ‘If we were doing this film, we would cast William Hurt instead of Tom Hanks,’ or whatever. Well, if you were doing the film, then that might mean you had some fucking talent and knew how to tell a story instead of writing about what other people are trying to do.”
“But they were right. I was miscast. I know that Tom Hanks thinks he was, too. The movie was based on a great book. But one problem with the story, when it came to the film, was that there was no one in it you could root for. In most successful movies, there’s someone to cheer on.”
If you want to find some alternatives to Bonfire of the Vanities that are definitely not turkeys, check out our guide to the best drama movies and the best movies based on books. You can also check out our guides to the best Tom Hanks movies and the best Bruce Willis movies.