Failure Becomes Elektra: Even Jennifer Garner Thought the Movie Was Bad, and More Fun Facts

We forget that Jennifer Garner played a Marvel superhero 15 years ago in her own Daredevil spin-off—and she might prefer it that way

By Natalie Finn Jan 14, 2020 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Jennifer Garner Talks Rigorous Training for "Peppermint"

They tried.

Daredevil wasn't good, and Ben Affleck wasn't particularly good in it, but he obviously had off-the-charts chemistry with Jennifer Garner as the mysterious yet very personable assassin Elektra Natchios—and the 2003 superhero movie made enough money ($179 million worldwide) for 20th Century Fox to greenlight a spin-off for Elektra herself.

And so Elektra came out in 2005, 15 years ago today—aka, during the new-release wasteland known as January, smack in the middle of award season—and promptly flopped. It cost a reported $48 million to make and made $56.7 million. It's 11 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. 

But that's OK, everyone involved knows it went wrong.

Jennifer Garner's Best Roles

"I knew going into the project, because of the short prep, because I only had Jennifer for her hiatus from Alias, which was 10 weeks, and the short postproduction, that we weren't going to be able to make Spider-Man," director Rob Bowman reminisced with Now Playing in October 2005. "We didn't have the time to make Spider-Man. We didn't have the time to make Daredevil!"

Daredevil and Elektra are Marvel-superhero films, the character of Daredevil co-created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, and that of Elektra created by Frank Miller. But while they counted Marvel Enterprises as producers, they were distributed by 20th Century Fox and are not to be confused with the Marvel Cinematic Universe films that started with Iron Man in 2008 and have since made tens of billions of dollars for parent company Disney, which brought Marvel Entertainment into the fold in 2009 for $4 billion.

Still, it's not as if Marvel and Fox were set up for failure, having previously had success with X-Men, while Spider-Man, released by Sony Pictures, was a monster hit, earning $821.7 million. Garner had a devoted following from Alias and was coming off the hit 13 Going on 30. And then there were the built-in fans of the original comic book character, many of whom couldn't wait to see Garner as Elektra again, tearing up the screen.  

But as Oscar winner Halle Berry already knew all too well by then, from the DC Comics side of the coin, sometimes these movies that seem like a slam dunk don't work out the way anyone envisions.

1. Ben Affleck didn't even like Daredevil. "It just kills me," he told Playboy in 2013. "I love that story, that character, and the fact that it got f--ked up the way it did stays with me. Maybe that's part of the motivation to do Batman."

In turn, he understood why Batman enthusiasts were skeptical that he would be able to properly don the cowl. 

"If I thought the result would be another Daredevil, I'd be out there picketing myself," he said with a laugh. "Why would I make the movie if I didn't think it was going to be good and that I could be good in it?"

2. On the bright side, however, Jennifer Garner and Affleck did hit it off.

"We met on Pearl Harbor, which people hate, but we fell in love on Daredevil," he told Playboy. "By the way, she won most of the fights in the movie, which was a pretty good predictor of what would happen down the road—my wife, holding swords and beating the living s--t out of me."

3. However, by 2013 Affleck and Garner had been married for eight years. In 2002, when they were making Daredevil, Affleck was dating Jennifer Lopez and Garner was still married to Scott Foley. She filed for divorce on May 9, 2003, about three months after the movie came out. And then she started dating Alias co-star Michael Vartan.

Foley told TV Guide that October that "nobody else was involved" in the end of his marriage. "Jennifer became a huge celebrity. She became a huge star, and she deserved everything she got. There was no other relationship, there was no infidelity, nothing. People get divorced, you know?"

4. Well, perhaps at that point Ben just couldn't remember a time when he and Jen weren't in love, so he figured he had already fallen for her back in 2002. They didn't actually spark public relationship rumors until the summer of 2004, when Elektra was filming, and then he brought her to a World Series game that summer to watch his beloved Red Sox play. 

And on June 29, 2005, they got married and had three children together. They separated in 2015 and divorced in 2018.

5. Anyway, you would've thought that Daredevil, or at least everyday attorney Matt Murdock, would've been in Elektra, but no. Affleck filmed a cameo, and it was cut from the finished product, only to return in the deleted scenes included on the DVD release.

In a dream sequence, so he's not even really there.

Later asked why there wasn't any Ben at all, let alone any Daredevil, in the film, director Rob Bowman told IGN, "...the practical bottom-line was, I didn't have time to exploit Ben in Elektra. There was so little time to shoot the movie itself, let alone start to go off into a Daredevil-Elektra relationship story. There just wasn't time literally to film it, let alone to flesh it out in the script sense. We just didn't have time to photograph them. We barely completed photography before Jennifer finished, as it was."

6. And never mind that Elektra, resurrected multiple times in the comics, ostensibly died in Daredevil

"Elektra was too popular to stay dead," Tony Edwards, manager of Golden Apple Comics in L.A. and one of many fans excited to see the spin-off film, told the Los Angeles Times, so full of hope, a few days before it came out. "The fans demanded that she be brought back."

One of the many things that had Elektra fans excited: she was back wearing her signature red after showing up in Daredevil in black leather.

7. Garner was already in pretty fierce shape for her role of spy-of-many-outfits Sydney Bristow on Alias, but Daredevil and Elektra did require a whole different kind of training. According to The Morning Call, to get ready for those Daredevil fight scenes, she and Affleck practiced three hours a day, six days a week with Hong Kong martial arts whiz Yuen Cheung-yan, who had previously worked with the cast of The Matrix.

"On Alias, I learn a fight one day and a couple of days later, we do it, and we kept that up so that I'm fighting every few days," Garner said. "But no one ever demanded that I do big leaps and jumps. It's always just about Shauna [Duggins, her stunt coordinator] making me look as good as she can."

For Elektra, she wrote in an email to the L.A. Times, ""I was as focused as I've ever been before. I lived and breathed this character. I was just completely myopic in my vision of what needed to happen every day."

8. Shauna Duggins wasn't just Garner's stunt coordinator and double on AliasDaredevil and Elektra—she has been working with her for two decades, including most recently on Garner's 2018 vigilante thriller Peppermint and her HBO series Camping.

"She is so talented that you know you can teach her and get her all the way to here," Duggins told Bustle in 2018, gesturing above her head. "And part of the fun is to get to watch her do these amazing things with her body. I don't settle for [minimum capability] with her because I know she wants to be amazing, so you can go and push her and get it out of her."

When they did Daredevil, Duggins convinced the filmmakers that Garner could hold her own in both the close-up shots where you can see the actor's face and the wide shots, where if you pause you can usually tell that it's a different person. "We switched the choreography to stuff that she already knew and sure enough they shoot the wide [shots] and the director and every producer's mouth goes like [jaw drop]," Duggins said. "They're like, 'We didn't know she could do that. We could shoot all that with her.' And it was this moment of like, 'Yep told ya.'"

9. At least there was a lot of blame for Elektra's failure to go around. Then-Marvel Studios chief executive Avi Arad told investors at a conference in March 2005 that they made a mistake rushing the film into theaters. "We will never do that again," he said, per Variety.

"As opposed to not having any time to contemplate over anything, and just sit around and mull over ideas, we just had to put it together," director Rob Bowman told IGN in 2005. "We had a couple runs at it. We mixed it really fast. And I wasn't present for all the days we were editing the theatrical picture."

Ultimately, "the final theatrical version of Elektra is not a total version," he said. "I got it done. I'd come back to the studio and I'd watch a reel. I'd give them notes. I'd get in my car and I'd drive to Burbank for the color and give them notes. I'd go to the lab for the print and give them notes. It was just due to the nature of the short post, and we wanted to hit a certain release date. And you've got to do what you've to do. That's fine."

10. Bowman, a veteran TV producer-director who had previously directed 1998's The X Files movie and the 2002 action fantasy Reign of Fire and then focused on television again after Elektra, readily acknowledged that the film simply didn't jell.

He told Now Playing in 2005, per The Movie Blog, "It's not like I didn't try. It's not like I didn't use every trick in the book I had to pull that movie off in that short amount of time. And if you can't handle people not liking what you do, you shouldn't be in the business. That's part of it, because telling a story on film is subjective, and not everybody is going to laugh at the jokes you laughed at. Your favorite movie may not be many other people's favorite movie. And that's the risk in making a product with a mass appeal—how do you figure out what all those people want? Don't even try. Everybody likes ice cream, but not everybody likes chocolate ice cream."

11. Canadian actress Laura Ward made her movie debut playing Elektra as a child. Later credits included The L WordSupernatural and, most recently, 2016's The Edge of Seventeen, but she leads a private life.

12. Goran Visjnic, the actor tasked with filling the role of hunkiest doctor on ER after George Clooney left, was all the rage then, so he was an inspired choice to play Garner's love interest, mysterious single dad Mark Miller. Except for the fact that fans were already kinda attached to Elektra being with Daredevil, so wasn't anyone in this role going to be a disappointment...?

Maybe they should have tried to get George Clooney.

Like Garner, who was on hiatus from Alias when they shot this film, Visjnic was on a break from ER, adding to the rushed feel for all involved.

13. There was also a director's cut released on DVD in October 2005 that added a whopping three minutes to the previously 97-minute film. But to be fair, that version was also re-edited, and the bonus materials included two documentaries and a featurette on Elektra's origin story.

"When the opportunity came about to make this new version of the movie for DVD, it wasn't only just a great opportunity, I realized that I had this opportunity to do it right," Bowman told IGN. "And the best thing to do was to shepherd this DVD, because the studio couldn't focus on it. So, you need the director there to produce it all and that's what I tried to to. It was a labor of love. I mean, I actually have thoroughly enjoyed all those weeks of working on this, sitting down with just the sound-effects guys, sitting down with just the color-timers, sitting down with just [score composer] Christophe Beck and just viewing and editing video tape. It's like you're making this movie in your back yard, but you're making a studio project."

14. Bowman also lamented to IGN the pressure he was under to keep the movie rated PG-13. "Elektra, the theatrical release, was literally 12 frames of film from an R-rating. Twelve frames," he said. He restored a few more violent elements of certain fight scenes into his director's cut.

15. In January 2005, shortly after Elektra came out, Alias co-star and friendly ex Michael Vartan reportedly told Us Weekly, "I heard it was awful. [Jennifer] called me and told me it was awful. She had to do it because of Daredevil. It was in her contract."

So, in case you've heard that Garner, who's far too polite and professional to ever say that flat out in an interview, didn't like Elektra any more than the critics did... that is why.

So, in honor of Elektra's 15th anniversary, go ahead and crank up 13 Going on 30. It's a classic.