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Hit Movies That Stars Thought Would Fail

Do you ever watch the trailers for movies like Geostorm or King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and wonder how any of the actors involved believed the movie was going to be a success? Don't be too tough on them—figuring out whether a movie's going to be any good just by looking at the script is harder than it looks.

We give our favorite stars a lot of credit for picking the right projects, and while they definitely deserve it, the truth is that a lot of an actor's long-term success boils down to dumb luck, and in some cases, that luck is dumber than others. For every thespian who wisely avoided a clunker after looking at the script, there's another who read through a future classic, assumed it would stink, and gave it thumbs down...or, for one reason or another, ended up taking the gig anyway. With that in mind, let's take a look at some actors who starred in critically and commercially successful movies they initially believed would fail.

Arnold Schwarzenegger - The Terminator

Arnold Schwarzenegger was famously advised by his agent that playing the eponymous robotic time-traveling assassin in 1984's The Terminator would be career suicide, resulting in him being typecast as a villain. Schwarzenegger disagreed, arguing that the movie was so "low profile" it wouldn't even register as a blip on his career if it failed.

Schwarzenegger remained just as negative as he was gearing up to film the movie, telling a friend who inquired about a strange pair of boots in his trailer on the set of Conan the Barbarian that they were from "some s— movie I'm doing." As you've probably guessed, those boots were part of his getup for The Terminator—you know, the film that truly launched Schwarzenegger's career, making him a household name.

Robert Carlyle - The Full Monty

If you've never seen The Full Monty, just imagine Magic Mike, only filmed in a bleak English city in the '90s, and instead of shredded American actors, starred a bunch of English guys with dad bods. The film was a box office smash, earned four Oscar nominations, and is consistently ranked as one of the greatest British films ever made. Also, lead actor Robert Carlyle hated it.

In an interview with talk show host Graham Norton, Carlyle openly admitted he thought the film was a "load of f—ing pish" and called the whole production an uncomfortable, horrible mess. In the same interview, Carlyle also recalled that his low opinion of the film was echoed by an executive from Fox Searchlight Pictures, who upon seeing an early cut merely quipped, "straight to video."

Bill Skarsgård - It

With near-universal critical acclaim and hundreds of millions of dollars made at the box office, It ranks among the most critically and commercially successful horror movies ever made. This is something that came as a huge relief to actor Bill Skarsgård, who was absolutely convinced something would go wrong during production.

Skarsgård, who portrayed Pennywise the clown in the movie, explained to Variety that he spent the entire production worrying that "things were going too well," noting that even when the film was projected to wildly surpass the studio's most conservative estimates of success based on early reviews, he still somehow managed to convince himself something terrible would happen to undo it all. It didn't, and now all that's left is for the world to decide whether he's a scary-looking hot guy, a hot-looking scary guy, or something in between. 

Keira Knightley - Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a movie almost nobody expected to succeed. It was a PG-13 Disney pirate adventure based on a theme park ride, just for starters; as others have noted, nothing about it should have worked. Even Michael Eisner tried to shut production down when he found out it was going to cost Disney over $100 million, and only director Gore Verbinski's passion for the project—and some judicious rewrites—changed his mind.

Eisner wasn't alone in his misgivings. During a pretty frank interview with The Guardian in 2008, Keira Knightley confessed that most of the principal cast were embarrassed to be working on the movie—and she in particular thought it was "going to be total s—." Knightley never told any of her friends she was working on it, which must have made for some fun conversations after it turned out to be a massive worldwide hit that spawned a blockbuster franchise.

Chris Pratt - Guardians of the Galaxy

Like many in Hollywood, Chris Pratt was hesitant to believe the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie could succeed, simply based on its premise and the general weirdness of its characters. In addition, both he and director James Gunn admitted that they were both pretty worried that their careers would be over if, as pundits predicted, the film turned out to be "Marvel's first bomb."

Pratt in particular was amazed that Marvel even opted to fund the project, noting "no one [in Hollywood] wants to gamble," and was surprised that they were willing to break from established norms to take a chance on a film with a wise-cracking bounty hunter raccoon and a lumbering sentient tree-man. "You don't make a movie with a talking tree," mused Pratt. "You don't spend this much money on a raccoon with a gun. For me, I was like, 'Oh, so this movie is going to bomb. Done. This is the end of my career.'"

More than $700 million and a heap of critical praise later, Pratt was the face of a franchise—and Gunn was one of Hollywood's hottest writer-directors. Pass the ammo, trash pandas!

Betsy Palmer - Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th bad guy Jason Voorhees has become an icon of the horror genre, anchoring the long-running franchise and appearing in everything from comics to a Mortal Kombat game. But he wasn't the bad guy in the first Friday—the killer in that movie was Jason's mother, Pamela Voorhees, who was played by the late Betsy Palmer.

Palmer once admitted that the only reason she appeared in the film was because she wanted a new car, specifically a Scirocco. As soon as she found out it was a horror movie, Palmer assumed Friday the 13th would come and go without much fanfare, its only lasting reminder being the car she bought with the money, and she was similarly dismissive of the script, calling it a "piece of s—" and joking that her first response upon reading it was to wonder aloud who'd ever go see it.

Liam Neeson - Taken

Released when Liam Neeson was in his mid-50s, Taken somehow managed to take a veteran actor known almost exclusively for his roles in serious dramas and a single Star Wars movie and establish him as an action star. It turned out to be a surprise box office success that spawned a film trilogy and TV spinoff, and nobody was more surprised than Neeson himself.

During a visit to The Late Late Show, Neeson admitted that he figured the film's plot of "a man punches half of Europe to find his daughter" was too simplistic to warrant a cinematic release; in fact, he fully believed it would go "straight to video." Neeson apparently took the role of ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills purely because he was sure he'd never get another offer to do an action movie, considering his age. Nearly a decade later, he was still whooping bad-guy butt.

Donald Sutherland - Animal House

According to Hollywood lore, during the production of Animal House, an executive from Universal approached director John Landis with a simple ultimatum: find a big-name star they could put on the poster, or the studio would pull the plug. Luckily for Landis, he just so happened to be good friends with Donald Sutherland, who said that he'd happily appear in the movie—for $250,000. Universal execs told Landis to "get the f— outta here" after hearing that, so Landis made a counteroffer: $25,000 for a single day's work and two percent of the film's gross.

Sutherland, in a move he has since admitted he regrets immensely, told Landis "I just want the money" because he didn't think the movie would succeed. A revised offer of $35,000 was drawn up by Universal, including Sutherland's daily fee of $25,000 plus a little extra in case filming ran over. By his own estimation, turning down that initial offer cost Sutherland $14 million for a single day's work.

George Lucas - Star Wars

Although the Star Wars franchise eventually went on to make George Lucas a billionaire, the director famously wagered with his friend Steven Spielberg shortly before the release of the first installment, 1977's A New Hope, betting it would fall short of Spielberg's upcoming future sci-fi classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

In a nutshell, shortly before A New Hope was released, Lucas visited the Close Encounters set and became convinced it would be the bigger movie of the two. Lucas was sure Spielberg's film would utterly dominate the box office, and that Star Wars would become little more than a footnote. Spielberg disagreed and proposed a wager: 2.5% of the film's gross in return for a 2.5% stake in Star Wars. 

Lucas happily agreed—and the bet went on to make Spielberg, by some estimations, about $40 million. Then again, it's not like Lucas was hurting for money; he was able to convince 20th Century Fox to give him the lucrative merchandising rights to the entire franchise—ironically because the studio assumed nobody would ever want to buy Star Wars toys.