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Movies & TV

11th Jul 2023

20 years ago, a movie flopped so bad that its big director and bigger star never worked again

Rory Cashin


It takes a special kind of bad to make some of Hollywood’s biggest names essentially quit the business.

Released in cinemas on 11 July 2003, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen – or LXG as the advertising team was hoping the cool kids would call it – had all the makings of a massive hit.

Coming from director Stephen Norrington, who was super hot in Hollywood off the back of his hit comic book adaptation Blade, it was based on a much-loved graphic novel by Alan Moore, the guy who had created Watchmen, V For Vendetta and Batman: The Killing Joke.

Set in 1899, all of the major characters just happened to be creations that were out of copyright and thus free to use within the public domain. So we got legendary hunter Allan Quartermain (played by Sean Connery) heading up the LXG crew, consisting of Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, the Invisible Man, and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, all trying to hunt down Professor Moriarty.

But then the movie arrived in cinemas, and performed just well enough at the box office to not be a complete financial dud: $179 million worldwide on a $73 million production budget. However, critics absolutely savaged it, landing with just 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, and even worse, those who made the movie seemed to hate it even more.

To the point that Stephen Norrington never directed anything again, and it was Sean Connery’s final on-screen performance…

Off the back of turning down huge roles such as John Hammond in Jurassic Park, Morpheus in The Matrix, Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (that last one would’ve reportedly earned him $450 million thanks to his potential cut of the box office), Connery decided to take a punt on a project that he felt was in a similar vein.

He was paid a whopping $17 million to appear in the movie, which drastically cut back on the budget allocated for other stars in the movie, leading to the other roles to be populated by lesser-known actors. Then, once production actually began, Connery and Norrington famously had many, MANY disputes on set. The full extent of their fallout isn’t known, but when Norrington didn’t appear at the premiere of the movie, a reporter asked Connery where the director was, to which the actor replied: “Check the local asylum.”

Following the movie’s release in 2003, Connery would go on to announce his retirement from acting in 2006, in between taking the time to tell the New Zealand Herald that he was “fed up with the idiots” he had to work with in Hollywood, and that it would “Almost need a Mafia-like offer I couldn’t refuse” in order to make another movie.

Rumours swirled that Spielberg had offered him to return as Henry Sr. in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, and Sam Mendes had wanted him to play a pivotal role in Skyfall in 2012, but Connery reportedly turned them all down. He passed away in 2020.

As for Norrington, his CV is filled with unrealised projects. Between Blade and LXG, he was offered Blade II and to direct an adaptation of either Ghost Rider or Shang-Chi, all of which he turned down. While making League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he was already working on developing his next project, a live-action adaptation of hit manga movie Akira, but following the disastrous reception to LXG, Warner Bros. cancelled that movie.

He was attached to big screen versions of Clash Of The Titans and The Crow, but dropped out of them both. In 2018, Blade star Stephen Dorff told Entertainment Weekly that Norrington is “making a movie at his house right now with miniatures, it’s gonna take him like 10 years I think.”

So we have that to look forward to in 2028. In the meantime, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is available to watch on Disney+ right now.

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