Box Office Failures Week: Inchon (1981)

The lesson of this box office failure: Don’t hire a psychic as a consultant and don’t allow a church to finance your film. Did John Travolta learn nothing from this film before embarking on Battlefield Earth?

The Sun Myung Moon, the head of the controversial Unification Church, and one of the church’s members, known as “Moonies,” Japanese newspaper magnate Mitsuharu Ishii, wanted to get into the film business.

At first, they wanted to shoot a biopic on Jesus or Elvis Presley. (Jesus or Elvis??) They also wanted make a war movie depicting the Battle of Inchon, a decisive 1950 battle that shifted the Korean War in favor of U.N/U.S backed forces.

What film did they choose?

Thanks to one of the twentieth century’s best known, self-proclaimed psychics and astrologers, Jeanne Dixon, who served as consultant on the film, the “spirit” of General MacArthur “endorsed” the production of the film. And, the spirit guides told Dixon that Moon should hire director Terence Young, best known for the James Bond films Dr. No, Thunderball, and From Russia with Love. (Hey, be sure to join us for our “James Bond Week,” coming in April.)

Now, if you’re an executive at MGM Studios and you’re told a film that you’re going to distribute is financed by a controversial religious leader and consulted by a psychic, what do you do?

You sign on the dotted line. Amen, brother! Or is that Amen, MacArthur?

It’s unknown if the spirit guides suggested his hiring, but Robert Lowell, Jr., who wrote 1968’s The Green Berets for John Wayne and William Friedkin’s 1971 blockbuster The French Connection, penned the screenplay. (Friedkin has his own “Box Office Failure,” Sorcerer*, which we reviewed this week.) And Sir Laurence Olivier was paid $1 million to portray General Douglas McArthur. His roughly $50,000 a day salary was augmented with a weekly $2,500 Per Diem.

The film’s total production cost: $46 million.

The film’s total box office: $2 million in the U.S with a worldwide take of $5.2 million.

The film’s total loss: $41 million.

Where’s Enzo G. Castellari, when you need ’em? Right. Inchon makes his (excellent!) The Inglorious Bastards look like an Oscar winner.

Thanks to required extensive reshoots—and with no funds to shoot the scenes properly—scenes featured cardboard cut-outs of fighter planes held up with string. Another critical gaffe in the film features a digital watch—a technology that would not be invented until 25 years after the film’s timeline. Ironically, the spirit guides never warned Jeanne Dixon that star Jacqueline Bissett would develop laryngitis and require extensive dubbing. Or that co-star David Janssen would die during production and all of his scenes would have to be reshot.

Inchon—a 140 minute (almost 2 ½ hours) behemoth—is not only cited as the biggest box office bomb of 1982, it is also ranked as one of the worst movies of all time. Released in September of 1982 in the U.S and Canada, the film was quickly pulled from release due to its poor performance. While it was never shown again in theatres, it did appear on U.S cable television on the defunct Goodlife Television Network that, ironically, the Unification Church owned. While the film was never released on video, VHS grey market bootlegs taped from the TV broadcast circulate on the web.

The film swept the awards—the Razzie Awards. It won the awards for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Actor for Sir Laurence. Ben Gazzara (The Neptune Factor; Brad Wesley from Roadhouse) was nominated for his supporting actor gig. Our beloved Richard Roundtree (Q: The Winged Serpent; Shaft) came out of it unscathed, almost: then he went and did Theordore Rex. Why Richard? Why?

You can watch a rip of the VHS Goodlife TV bootleg on You Tube. I’m going to watch it and relish the memories of seeing this at the local twin cinema back in the day.

* Join us for our “Exploring: 10 Tangerine Dream Film Soundtracks” featurette.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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