Bruce Willis was once in The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was a box office bomb and an embarrassment.

By James Brizuela | Posted

Bruce Willis may have starred in dodgy films around the latter half of his career, but when he was a superstar in the 1990s he was embroiled in a commercial and critical film failure. In fact, this movie was to become one of Hollywood’s biggest embarrassments. This movie is called The bonfire of vanities and was supposed to be an adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s popular book. The film held a massive cast, but due to last-minute casting changes and wild source material changes, the film flopped at every turn. There’s even a book documenting the movie’s horrific journey, titled The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of Vanities Goes to Hollywood.

The bonfire of vanities was released in 1990 and holds a poor 16% review rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It also has an equally disappointing 26% public approval rating. The film would make $15.6 million in box office sales against a budget of $46 million. Strangely, the movie was talent-heavy, but it horribly bombarded. For starters, Brian De Palma directed the feature. He directed famous films like The Untouchables, Snake Eyes, Scarface and Redacted. The man is by no means a terrible director. Also, the cast included Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and Morgan Freeman. All four were massive stars, especially in the early 90s. However, the film was criticized for many reasons.

The bonfire of vanities follows Sherman McCoy, who is a well-off Wall Street slave. He enjoys his life of luxury next to Southern Belle gold digger Maria Ruskin. When the couple end up in the Bronx “war zone”, Sherman gets out of the car to help two young African American boys move a tire from the middle of the road. Maria then slams the car into reverse out of fear, killing one of the boys. The couple leaves and decides not to report it. An alcoholic journalist named Peter Fallow receives the breakthrough of his life’s story, as he is assigned to this hit-and-run, which may have been racially motivated. He discovers that McCoy is the owner of the vehicle that hit the teenager, and McCoy’s life spirals out of control. Without spoiling the rest of the film, everyone can take the time to go see it. Determine if the movie is as bad as the reviews and box office draw it was.

The problem many have taken with Brian De Palma’s vision for this film is that the source material has been heavily edited. Steve Martin almost played Sherman McCoy, but the studio thought he was too old. Wolfe wanted Chevy Chase. Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise and Christopher Reeve were considered for the role before he landed with Tom Hanks. The judge was changed from a Jewish male to an African American male. Morgan Freeman originally got the part, but De Palma had wanted Edward James Olmos, Alan Arkin and Walter Matthau for the part. The Changed Judge had to respond to criticisms of the film’s racial politics that were already the subject of controversy. Additionally, the judge’s dialogue was changed to condemn the manipulative actions of the characters. Moreover, De Palma did not think it was acceptable for a “white judge speaking about morality to a fundamentally black audience”. Things got much stranger when De Palma was forced to cast Bruce Willis as Peter Fallow. The studio stepped in and chose it due to the popularity of die hard. Initially, Jach Nicholson and John Cleese were considered for the role.

Casting issues and source material changes weren’t the only issues, as the opening shots made would have cost a lot of money. The film’s second unit director Eric Schwab used a random shot of the sunset over JFK betting he could do it, which cost $80,000. He also wanted a time-lapse of Manhattan for the opening shot, which was also horribly expensive. Not to mention the expensive cast that included Bruce Willis.

The bonfire of vanities was basically making fun of a Tom Wolfe book that was one of the best ever written. Despite having Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and Melanie Griffith in the cast, no one seemed to get the directorial changes brought on by Brian De Palma. The end result was a horribly embarrassing movie that could have ruined anyone’s career.