The 90s Bizarro Cult Comedy Ruined By Tim Burton

By Brian Myers | Updated

Tim Burton became a hot commodity when he delivered back-to-back smash hits with Beetlejuice (1988) and Batman (1989). His star was quickly rising, and the next three years saw two additional box office giants, Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Batman Returns (1992), with the quirky director at their helm. Burton’s next vehicle was supposed to be a comedic retelling of Captains Courageous, but the spoof was unceremoniously abandoned by the director when he left the director’s chair of Cabin Boy to direct the film Ed Wood.

Cabin Boy Is Very Strange

Cabin Boy follows the exploits of spoiled Nathanial Mayweather, an insufferable lad who graduates from an elite finishing school and is heading home aboard a chartered ship. He mistakenly boards the wrong vessel and is forced to be the ship’s cabin boy after the untimely death of one of the shipmates. The ship traverses over troubled waters, finding Nathanial and the crew attacked by an ice monster, Nathanial losing his virginity to a woman with six arms, and the ship being pursued by a strange half-man/half-shark.

Historic Box Office Bomb To Cult Classic

It’s a silly concept that is hard to conceptualize. The gist of the film is so ridiculous that one would have to view it to believe it. Though Cabin Boy was a box office failure, the bizarre plot, weird characters, and well-timed one-liners have helped make it a cult classic.

With Tim Burton, it could have been so much more.

Tim Burton Was Supposed To Direct

Cabin Boy was meant to start the film career of comedian Chris Elliot, who up until that point had delivered a handful of walk-on roles and bit parts in films and on television, along with his own short-lived FOX network sitcom Get a Life. The film itself was set up for success as Touchstone tapped Tim Burton to direct it. The story was co-written by Elliott and Late Night with David Letterman alum Adam Resnick and was sure to be a winner.

But after Burton left the project to pursue Ed Wood, the film appeared doomed. Though Burton stayed on as Cabin Boy‘s producer, his name wouldn’t be able to carry the film at the box office. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t matter as much if a film project has notable stars.

A Cast Of Unknowns And One Famous Cameo

Cabin Boy lacked the star power on screen, as well. Along with Elliott, the cast was made up of bit players and newcomers to the big screen. Melora Waters (Big Love, Magnolia) was cast as the love interest of Elliot’s idiot character, Nathanial. Ritch Brinkley (Murphy Brown) is the captain of the ship Nathanial finds himself aboard, with Brion James (The Wrong Guys), Brian Doyle-Murray (Scrooged, Groundhog Day), and James Gammon (Major League) as shipmates.

Available From Video On Demand

The bizarre film might have stood a chance at the box office with Burton in the director’s chair. But without his name and sans his masterful method of making the players flourish on screen, the film was doomed to failure. In Burton’s absence, screenwriter Adam Resnick filled in as director, saving Cabin Boy from oblivion but not giving the project Burton’s brand of flare.

The decision to leave Cabin Boy was a great one for Burton, whose Ed Wood took home two Academy Awards and cast Johnny Depp into one of his greatest roles. But fans of the film are left wondering what might have been.

You can watch Cabin Boy On Demand with Prime, AppleTV, Vudu, and Google Play.