The ’90s Blockbuster Epic That Killed A Genre For Almost A Decade Gets Huge Upgrade

By Brian Myers | Published

For those old enough to remember the most talked about movies from the mid-1990s, the name Cutthroat Island is one that is sure to stir up some conversation. Dubbed one of the most disappointing films of the decade, Cutthroat Island was, in retrospect, a collection of celluloid that MGM probably wishes had never made it off the cutting room floor. Box office poison aside, the film will soon be available in 4K Blu-ray and set inside its own collectible steel book.

Cutthroat Island Was A Legendary Flop

On paper, Cutthroat Island looked to be a giant money maker for MGM. The film starred one of the most in-demand A-list actresses of the era, the talented Geena Davis. Davis’s costars included Matthew Modine of Full Metal Jacket fame and the iconic actor Frank Langella. But even with veteran action film director Renny Harlin at the helm, nothing could seem to redeem this two-hour pirate saga that was so awful that it made studios steer farther away from swashbuckling films than sea captains from Greek Sirens.

It Was A Decade Before Hollywood Tried A Pirate Movie Again

Disney Pirates ride

It would be a decade before Hollywood took another chance on a pirate film. In 2003, Disney took a gamble and produced the now-classic Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which paid off in massive dividends. This cinematic universe spawned multiple films and video games and grossed over $4.5 billion in world box office receipts. Not bad for a film based on a hokey ride at Disney World.

Geena Davis Tried To Leave The Film

Cutthroat Island, however, was probably doomed from the beginning. The film’s script was forced to undergo multiple rewrites and leading actor changes before a finished product was generated. Actor Michael Douglas was originally to play the role of Shaw but abandoned the part when he felt that his character was too much in the shadow of the film’s protagonist, Morgan Adams, played by Geena Davis. The void left by Douglas prompted Davis to give her notice as well, but a contractual obligation with the film studio forced her to stay on.

The Search For A Male Lead

To fill the role of Shaw, MGM approached multiple stars of the day, including Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves, Liam Neeson, and Michael Keaton, before Modine finally accepted the part of Morgan Adam’s right-hand man. Modine was ultimately chosen because of his extensive skills in fencing, making him a great choice in a film about pirates. But once Douglas was replaced, it wasn’t the end of the casting and production woes for Cutthroat Island.

One Of The Most Expensive Films Of The 90s

Veteran British actor Oliver Reed was cast in what was to be a memorable cameo in the film but was terminated from the production after getting intoxicated and exposing himself at an off-set party to several cast and crew members, including star Geena Davis. The delay in finding a replacement for Douglas had put the production way behind schedule, and the firing of one crew member led to a dozen others walking off the set. The continuous delays made the budget soar out of control, eventually carrying a 1994 price tag of nearly $100 million.

A New 4k Update

Despite the studio’s hard sell to overseas distributors promising them a smash hit, Cutthroat Island only generated $10 million in total box office revenue. Perhaps the upcoming 4K upgrade will give a new generation of fans a fresh look at a film that most critics feel is certainly in need of some redemption.