“Battlefield Earth” has been called the worst movie of all time. An overblown, cheap space flick with laughable dialogue and an alien John Travolta, it made $29.3 million on a $73 million budget and, until “Jack and Jill” in 2012, held the most Razzies (“honoring the worst of cinematic under-achievements”). But 20 years later, its screenwriter says there is a new top flop.
“I watched about 10 or 15 minutes of ‘Cats,’ and unfortunately, it might beat out ‘Battlefield Earth,’ ” J.D. Shapiro tells The Post of the movie-musical with creepy cat-human hybrids. “To regular people, ‘Cats’ was f - - king disturbing.”
This week marks an inauspicious anniversary for the writer, who in 2010 boldly wrote a column in The Post apologizing for having helped make the reviled science-fiction movie. Shapiro, who counts “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” among his credits, reveals that interference from MGM and other outside forces derailed his vision.
Almost nothing of what the writer contributed to the screenplay, he says, remains.
“It wasn’t as I intended — promise,” Shapiro writes. “No one sets out to make a train wreck. Actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn’t really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those.”
That mea culpa proved a breakthrough moment for the writer, who after “Battlefield Earth” was in symbolic “movie prison,” writing scripts under silly pseudonyms such as Sir Nick Knack. Now, he had his peers’ respect.
“I had no idea the response it would get,” he says of the candid op-ed. “Ninety percent of it was very positive from people in the business that I was actually willing to talk about the realities of what happened with the movie. When I look back, I’m proud of the fact that I wasn’t afraid to tell my truth.”
Shapiro’s truth was so wild, it was almost unbelievable.
For newbies, “Battlefield Earth” is a 2000 film based on the 1982 novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the controversial founder of Scientology. One of Hubbard’s 250 works of fiction, “Battlefield Earth” is set in the year 3000, when enormous aliens called the Psychlos (played by John Travolta and Forest Whitaker) have taken over the planet and enslaved all humans. It’s up to one earthling named Jonnie Goodboy Tyler to start a revolution and save mankind.
Critics hated the 800-plus-page novel. But it had an influential fan — Travolta.
“I have a special affection for this book,” the actor and famous Scientologist tells the New York Times Magazine in 2000. “Hubbard was a great writer, and I had an idea of the movie’s potential, a fantasy in my mind that lasted for years.”
Shapiro had been hanging around the Celebrity Centre, Scientology’s base camp in Los Angeles, trying to pick up chicks, and got looped into the project when they realized what his profession was. Karen Hollander, the president of the center, asked if he was interested in adapting any Hubbard books for the screen, and soon he was having dinner with Travolta, who dreamed of starring in “Battlefield Earth.”
The actor, however, wanted Shapiro to commit to the project before reading the book, telling him it was “The ‘Schindler’s List’ of sci-fi.”
Unable to turn down Danny Zuko, the writer began working on a draft. Mike Marcus, then the head of MGM, loved his vision and didn’t mind his many deviations from the novel. But then notes started pouring in from the studio and “John’s camp,” which Shapiro took to mean the Church of Scientology, altering the story and tone beyond repair.
“I called up Mike Marcus and said, ‘Is this a joke?,’ ” Shapiro says. “These notes are gonna kill the movie.”
Shapiro wouldn’t budge, and was fired from the project the next day. Different writers hopped on over time and slavishly followed the studio’s directions. (“Pencils,” Shapiro derisively calls his replacements. ) MGM lost interest, and the movie eventually wound up at Fox.
Shapiro got his first glimpse of the flick during the coming attractions before a different movie at the cinema.
“It’s the first preview — any footage — I’ve seen of ‘Battlefield Earth,’ ” he says. “And I’m like, ‘What the f - - k?!?’ ”
He had envisioned the final product would look more like “Braveheart” and less like a Kiss concert with Bob Marley wigs. “I literally sunk in my seat, not that anyone in the theater would’ve known I was associated with this movie,” Shapiro says.
Today, since sharing his experiences about working on the epic Hollywood disaster, the writer and stand-up comic says the black sheep of his résumé leads to countless memorable confrontations. Not long ago, he was speaking to an accomplished fellow writer at a party in LA.
“Well, I wrote the worst script ever,” Shapiro said to him. “‘You didn’t write the worst script ever.” The partygoer shot back, “You didn’t write ‘Battlefield Earth,’ come on!’
The man took a pause, and realized who he was talking to.
“‘Hey! This is the a–hole who wrote ‘Battlefield Earth!’ ”