In the 10th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David brings his trademark pettiness to a whole new level. Fed up with Mocha Joe’s cold coffee, wobbly tables, and mediocre scones, he decides to open up a spite store—Latte Larry’s—right next door. (At Latte Larry’s, the coffee is piping hot, the tables are bolted to the floor, and the scones are immaculate.) While Latte Larry’s doesn’t remain in business for long, Larry does inspire other celebrities in the Curb universe to create their own spite stores: Sean Penn opens an exotic bird shop, Jonah Hill starts his own deli, and Mila Kunis becomes a jeweler.
As with Larry and his bitter feud with Mocha Joe, the impetus for opening these stores is a minor grievance. (Hill, for instance, is incensed after he discovers a hair in his sandwich.) Of course, it’s tempting for any of us to react dramatically after feeling slighted, but the running gag on Curb is that A-list celebrities have the resources to do something meaningful with their vengeful urges. Larry probably didn’t have to look too far for real-life inspiration: The idea of Hollywood figures acting out of spite isn’t exactly far-fetched. How else can one explain Netflix’s newest original series, Blockbuster?
Set in the last Blockbuster on the planet—visit Bend, Oregon, if you’re in a nostalgic mood for the actual thing—Blockbuster might be the most mean-spirited feel-good sitcom ever made. It’s a series created by the very company that helped put the rental service out of business, and if that’s not brutal enough, Blockbuster once had an opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million and laughed the fledgling venture out of the room. (Imagine an alt-universe in which Blockbuster is in the middle of the Streaming Wars.) Apparently not satisfied with running Blockbuster into the ground, Netflix’s Blockbuster is the TV show equivalent of desecrating a corpse. It’s the kind of pettiness that would make Larry proud.
But while Blockbuster is certainly notable for the way Netflix is gleefully rubbing salt in the wounds of its former competitor, Hollywood has a long and amusing history of high-profile individuals—directors, executives, acclaimed authors—being fueled by animosity. (Can you believe that an industry known for inflated egos could be so vindictive?) Ahead of Blockbuster’s debut on Netflix, let’s look back at some of the biggest Hollywood projects in which spite played a role in their creation.
Stephen King has made it no secret that he loathed Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, which wasn’t all that faithful to the source material. King is entitled to his opinion, but he’ll be hard-pressed to find many people who share that sentiment—Kubrick’s film endures as a horror masterpiece, and its legacy has dwarfed that of the book it’s based on. But King didn’t just stop at complaining incessantly about The Shining: He decided to sit in the director’s chair himself with Maximum Overdrive, an adaptation of his short story “Trucks.” “A lot of people have directed Stephen King novels and stories, and I finally decided if you want something done right, you ought to do it yourself,” King says in the batshit trailer for the movie.
Let’s unpack this. For one, King’s implying that film adaptations of his work haven’t been up to snuff, which, by the time Maximum Overdrive was released in 1986, would include John Carpenter’s Christine, David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone, and Brian de Palma’s Carrie. Hate Kubrick all you want, my King, but those guys didn’t deserve to catch any strays! As for Maximum Overdrive, well, there’s a reason it’s the only time King directed a movie. The legendary author later admitted to being “coked out of [his] mind” during the making of Maximum Overdrive, while the film’s star, Emilio Estevez, says that King asks for forgiveness whenever they meet up. Credit to King for owning up to his mistakes, but in hindsight, it’s incredible that he ever believed he could beat Kubrick at his own game.
The Indiana Jones Franchise
Once upon a time, an up-and-coming filmmaker named Steven Spielberg wanted nothing more than to direct a James Bond film. The problem was that the Bond franchise didn’t reciprocate his interest—incredibly, Spielberg was rejected on two separate occasions. In the first instance, which followed the release of Jaws, Spielberg recalled that Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli didn’t believe he was “right for the part.” Undeterred, Spielberg tried again after Close Encounters of the Third Kind became a hit, only to learn the franchise couldn’t afford his services. (Who knew a franchise about an international spy with fancy suits, gadgets, and cars could be so frugal?) Instead of wallowing over the missed opportunities, Spielberg made a globe-trotting franchise of his own—you’ve probably heard of it.
With Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg essentially crafted an American counterpart to Bond: a rugged archaeologist who rocked an iconic whip and fedora. While Spielberg has been good-natured about missing out on Bond—just picture the spicy quotes if this situation happened to James Cameron—he’s let the Indiana Jones franchise do the talking for him. Consider the opening to Temple of Doom, when Harrison Ford’s protagonist shows up at a swanky Shanghai nightclub in a white tuxedo that’s a dead ringer for one of Sean Connery’s outfits in Goldfinger. And if that’s not enough of a flex, Connery would later be cast as Indy’s father in The Last Crusade to cap off an all-time-great trilogy. (Let’s just pretend Kingdom of the Crystal Skull never happened.) It goes without saying, but Spielberg’s done just fine without James Bond on his historic résumé.
Long before he was the ill-fated founder of Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg was tasked with turning around Disney’s flailing animation studio. Katzenberg would go on to lead Disney through an animation renaissance in the ’90s with films like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, though how much of that success was actually down to him has been disputed. In any case, following the death of Disney president Frank Wells in 1994, Katzenberg resigned from the company after Michael Eisner took over as chief executive (read: Eisner likely demanded that Katzenberg leave). While Katzenberg would receive a cushy $250 million settlement from Disney over the terms of his contract—enough for any rational person to spend the rest of their life in comfortable retirement—he sought to form a rival animation studio. Hence, DreamWorks was born, and one of its first orders of business was to get into a turf war with Pixar over movies about ants.
DreamWorks Animation was working on its debut film, Antz, right around the time Pixar and Disney had been doing the same for A Bug’s Life. The similarities between the two movies centered on ant colonies were undeniable, and Katzenberg was accused of stealing the idea from A Bug’s Life director John Lasseter. (There was a lot of hilarious shit-talking from both parties.) Regardless of whether Katzenberg was guilty, the fact that his new company began its reign with a blood feud against the studio that made Toy Story is nothing short of iconic. More importantly, the race was on to see whether Antz or A Bug’s Life would reach theaters first. While Antz was released one month before A Bug’s Life, the latter was more critically acclaimed and performed better at the box office. As Katzenberg discovered, you need a lot more than spite and an earlier release date to take down an industry titan like Pixar.
I’m not sure it’s a good thing that Katzenberg shows up twice on this list, but you gotta admire the dude’s pettiness and how he gets under other people’s skin. (As Eisner once said of his nemesis: “I think I hate that little midget.”) After DreamWorks failed to come out as a winner in the Antz debacle, the studio rebounded in a big way with Shrek, which won the first Oscar for Best Animated Feature. As it turns out, the key to Shrek’s success might’ve been Katzenberg [Palpatine voice] letting the hate flow through him.
Taking place in a land filled with fairy-tale creatures, Shrek had plenty of contempt for the tropes and characters that dominated the Disney brand, making them the butt of several jokes. (“Although she lives with seven other men, she’s not easy,” the Magic Mirror says of Snow White.) The crass, pop-culture-laden humor from the movie’s eponymous protagonist, voiced by Mike Myers, was an honest-to-god precursor to the meta antics of Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool, who is now, oddly enough, under the Disney corporate umbrella. Everyone involved with Shrek denies that they were taking potshots at Disney, or that the villainous (and unmistakably short) Lord Farquaad was Katzenberg’s bizarre attempt at self-deprecation. But considering Shrek was released on video the same day that Monsters, Inc. arrived in theaters, it’s hard to view the film as anything but a giant middle finger to the House of Mouse.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
While Buffy the Vampire Slayer would go on to become one of the best shows of its time, it’s easy to forget that a movie of the same name actually preceded it. Unsurprisingly, given its lack of a cultural footprint, the Buffy film isn’t held in high regard. But it wasn’t just critics who panned the movie—its screenwriter, Joss Whedon, got in on the action, too. “It didn’t turn out to be the movie that I had written,” Whedon told The A.V. Club in 2001. “They never do, but that was my first lesson in that. Not that the movie is without merit, but I just watched a lot of stupid wannabe-star behavior and a director with a different vision than mine—which was her right, it was her movie—but it was still frustrating.” (If you’re curious, the “stupid wannabe-star behavior” is in reference to Donald Sutherland, who, according to Whedon, would rewrite all of his character’s dialogue and was a “prick.”)
All told, Whedon got the last laugh: The Buffy series he created was closer to his original vision for the titular heroine, and it holds a way better reputation than its big-screen predecessor. But seeing as Whedon butchered another filmmaker’s work so badly that Warner Bros. spent $70 million just to give Zack Snyder a proper director’s cut of Justice League, I don’t think he learned all the right lessons from the Buffy experience—to say nothing of the fact that accounts of his own on-set behavior over the years makes it seem like he’s quite a prick himself.
Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla
Before Sam Levinson (probably) used Malcolm & Marie to vent his frustrations over a critic slamming his previous film, Assassination Nation, Roland Emmerich made no effort to hide his disdain for Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in his 1998 Godzilla remake. Upset that the critics gave negative reviews for his past three movies (Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day), Emmerich’s Godzilla notably featured two bumbling characters: New York City mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner) and his assistant Gene (Lorry Goldman). Lest there be any confusion that Emmerich and co-screenwriter Dean Devlin were trying to dunk on them, the Ebert and Gene characters bore an uncanny resemblance to the duo. (Imagine being handed the keys to a $125 million blockbuster based on a legendary kaiju and spending part of the running time getting revenge over some negative reviews.) As you’d expect, the real Siskel and Ebert took notice when reviewing Godzilla on their show, At the Movies.
While Siskel and Ebert weren’t fans of the film—a sentiment shared by the vast majority of critics—and pointed out how petty it was for Emmerich to create characters in their image, their biggest problem was that the director pulled his punches. “They let us off lightly,” the late Ebert wrote in his one-and-a-half star review, “I fully expected to be squished like a bug by Godzilla.” Amid the many criticisms of Godzilla, I can think of nothing more brutal than the subjects of Emmerich’s scorn effectively telling him that he was too soft.