If they're so great, how come they're not tearing up the charts, babe? Rex:
Because you never play them, babe
. You suck.
The serious work that you lavish all of your efforts on and have the highest expectations for will not
receive nearly as much acclaim or success as the one you just toss out to pay the bills.
What happens when a writer or artist deliberately tries to create their Magnum Opus
? They slave over it for years, pouring 110% of their heart and soul and energy and sanity into it, and confidently expect it to be huge
, monumental, Genre-Busting
, and assure them eternal fame and honor... and what is the response? At best, "Meh, it's So Okay, It's Average
," and at worst, "Wow, it's So Bad Its Horrible
But what happens when the same artist just writes or creates something for fun or profit
with no big plans, hopes, or expectations for its success? Heck, they know it's not that good but figure it will at least pay the bills this month. They're so busy working on that inevitably earth-shattering magnum opus
, they don't even give this other silly little project much thought. Whoever commissioned it is sure to be disappointed, but it's no big deal; the public won't even notice its existence enough to laugh at its pointlessness anyway.
Cue Situational Irony
! That book, movie, or painting that the creator couldn't care less about becomes an instant sensation. They're hailed as a genius, worshipped for blessing the world with this wonderful new classic, immortalized in parodies and homages
, and earn an eternal place in history for their brilliance and creativity. That masterpiece they had such high hopes for will quickly fade into obscurity, but they will be remembered and celebrated for this little hackwork forever.
How does this happen?
The truth is that creators have different expectations and standards they apply to themselves than the audience and critics do. So much hard work and unexpected factors affect creation that the artist is exhausted when it's finished. Their definition of a Magnum Opus
might simply be the one that was the most perfect, smoothest, with the fewest hassles that went into making it. Some of them tend to be The Perfectionist
, and where audiences might forgive one or two mistakes or blemishes, the creator can't and will keep striving to achieve that ideal.
Alternatively, it must be said that writers are as human as the rest of us and, as individuals, could hold different opinions than their fanbase (or what they think
is their fanbase). This includes both expectations of
audience experience and perceived aesop
When the effect is somewhat delayed, see Vindicated by History
. For the inverse, see Old Shame
of Murphy's Law
and the Centipede's Dilemma
and Sister Trope
to Creator Backlash
(often a good source thereof, too). Breakout Character
is sometimes related, when a specific character rather than an entire work becomes far more popular than was ever planned.
, Sweet and Sour Grapes
, Springtime for Hitler
, It Will Never Catch On
, I Am Not Spock
, Never Live It Down
, and And You Thought It Would Fail
. Some examples also drive on the Sunk Cost Fallacy
as a creator can believe his best work is the work he spent the most time working on. May overlap with My Greatest Failure
if the creator takes it hard. Also see Consolation Award
for when the work that is
considered the best by the public is not the most awarded. Can be the result of You Were Trying Too Hard
. Also see Black Sheep Hit
for when the audience didn't expect the hit.
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Anime & Manga
- Go Nagai created Mazinger Z as a kid-friendly side project while he worked on the (much darker) Devilman manga. Guess which one became the bigger hit? (That didn't stop him from exploiting Mazinger to the hilt, however.) That being said, Devilman was still phenomenally successful in the end, but it still qualifies for the trope.
- Guilty Crown, created by the minds behind hit anime including Death Note, Macross Frontier, Code Geass, and Attack on Titan was hoped to be the creation of the next generation of anime, and is admitted to be the favorite work of many of the writers. Many viewers have thought otherwise.
- Osamu Tezuka's most beloved work is, indisputably, Astro Boy. At least by his audience. Tezuka himself eventually got fed up with Astro Boy, and only continued making it because it was such a Cash Cow Franchise. His personal favorite of all his manga series was Ode To Kirihito.
- Takashi Hashiguchi considers Saijou no Meii his most important work, having created it in an attempt to get young people more involved in the notoriously conservative Japanese medical establishment, but the world will always know him as the Yakitate!! Japan guy.
- Peyo's favourite work, and actually his original main one was Johan and Peewit (Johan and Pirlouit in its original French title)... But, one day, in one of this series' album, appeared a certain band of little blue creatures. They were intended to be one-shot characters, but quickly became Ensemble Darkhorses... And from then, The Smurfs (Les Schtroumpfs) became the single most remembered work of Peyo.
- Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko doesn't like to talk about Spider-Man. More precisely, he prefers not to talk about the character and he vowed never to draw the character again after he left Marvel in 1967. He does still occassionally pop up to complain that Stan Lee takes too much credit for Spidey's creation but that's the extent to which he discusses Spidey. Ditko prefers to promote his Ayn Rand inspired comics, which a large majority of readers (who even know of them) find tedious and unreadable.
- Steve Gerber evidently considered the 1990-91 Foolkiller limited series his greatest work. However, it seems that he will always be known best for Howard the Duck.
- Tintin creator Hergé started disliking Tintin's character after World War II. He got more enjoyment from Captain Haddock, whom he considered to be his alter ego. Still Tintin remains more popular than Haddock.
- Suske en Wiske creator Willy Vandersteen considered "Robert en Bertrand" to be his best work. This comic strip series never reached the same popularity Suske en Wiske did and was discontinued quickly after Vandersteen's death, while Suske en Wiske just keeps on publishing new stories.
- The brain-breakingly epic Tamers Forever Series (based on Digimon Tamers) was originally intended to be a mere side project while the author overcame his writers block.
- Cupcakes is an extremely gory My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic that was written on a whim because the author wanted to see if it would actually get any attention. The result: a fanfic so infamous that reading it is more or less a pre-requisite for understanding many of the in-jokes and references in the Friendship Is Magic fandom. It's spawned an incredible number of spinoff fics, and later someone claiming to be one of the show's animators made a rather gruesome music video based on the fic. The chances are very high that Lauren Faust, creator of the show, knows what Cupcakes is (though she's specifically stated she will never read it because her job requires her never to read fan-created material). Most bronies might not even know that the author actually wrote more 'normal', more serious works that don't exactly get a ton of attention compared to Cupcakes.
- Kalash93 often writes serious war stories and character pieces. In autumn 2013, he decided to goof off, not give a damn and write a lighthearted clopfic just because the idea seemed hot and would be fun to write. Guess what got him featured and more than doubled his following? He swears that the amount of care and effort he puts into stories is inversely proportionate to the amount of acclaim his stories receive. Take time meticulously crafting a story to perfection? It'll get passed over. Hammer something out on a whim? It'll catch on like wildfire.
- MLP: The Games We Play, a 379 page drama, while far from being an unnoticed piece of work, was promptly out-viewed by the author's later fic - a one shot of the philosophical ramblings of Pinkie Pie watching paint dry, something the author wasted little time pointing out in a blog post.
Films — Animated
- In the early 1990s, Pocahontas was in production at Walt Disney Pictures, and everyone involved was convinced that this would be the great landmark animated feature of the revitalized Disney. By comparison, The Lion King was simply a filler project to tide things over for 1994. Yet The Lion King became the mega-smash hit that would prove to be the financial pinnacle of Disney's Renaissance, while Pocahontas in 1995 became more of a let down that signaled the decline of the company's success.
- Also occurred with The Black Cauldron (1985) and The Great Mouse Detective (1986). The Black Cauldron was supposed to be the big hit that would revive Disney in the 1980s and The Great Mouse Detective was just a filler film. Unfortunately for The Black Cauldron, management changed at Disney prior to its release and Jeffrey Katzenberg screwed the movie (claiming it was too dark) and refused to give it any marketing or promotion. As such, at least initially, Black Cauldron flopped (and was all but officially disowned by Disney since it carried a PG rating, which, back then, was unheard-of for the family-friendly studio) while the more traditional Great Mouse Detective was a modest hit at the box office. Despite this, The Black Cauldron managed to become a bona fide cult hit in the following years.
- Walt himself intended both Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland to be his joint magnum opus, but neither movie turned a profit during its initial box office release. In the case of Alice, Walt disliked the film even before it flopped due its Development Hell issues and regarded it as a mistake for the rest of his life. Sleeping Beauty, at least, has been Vindicated by History.
- During the early 1940s, Disney released the artistically advanced Pinocchio and Fantasia, then the relatively cheap Dumbo. The first two of those movies flopped at the box office (partially because World War II cut off overseas markets), while Dumbo proved profitable enough to keep Walt Disney Animation Studios afloat. Pinocchio and Fantasia later became some of Disney's most acclaimed movies, though.
- After floundering in the 2000s, it's clear they had high hopes The Princess and the Frog would be the start of a Second Disney Renaissance (the first having been The Little Mermaid,) releasing it amid a wave of publicity and hype regarding it's protagonist Tiana, the first black Disney Princess. The movie did well, but, thanks at least party to being released in an absolutely brutal winter season (Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, and the Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel were all released around the same time,) it didn't do quite as well as Disney had hoped. The next two Disney Princess films, Tangled and Frozen on the other hand, while not disliked, each spent a long time in Development Hell and dealt with heavy Executive Meddling (hence the reason they aren't called Rapunzel and The Snow Queen, due to the perception that a fairy-tale title cut the mass appeal) Despite that, they each did infinitely better at the box office and got that “Disney's Back” praise that Frog was aiming for.
- Walt Disney always held a soft spot for Mickey Mouse, but never understood the international success of Donald Duck.
- Dreamworks with The Prince of Egypt to Shrek. The former was Katzenberg's baby, receiving all of the talent and money, while the latter was the discount animation project, with production shut down several times. (In fact, the term "shreked" became a company term for someone who was sent to work on the film, presumably as punishment.) The Prince of Egypt had much critical success and a fairly good box office return (it was the highest grossing non-Disney 2D animated movie until The Simpsons Movie came out, so it's not like the movie did badly), while Shrek became the company's Cash Cow Franchise (until Kung Fu Panda took that crown) and won the first ever Academy Award For Best Animated Feature! It also didn't help that Egypt was focus-grouped to death (naturally, given its potential controversy as a Bible adaptation), whereas Shrek got a lot of stuff past special interest groups and critics because, literally, no one cared.
- The Thief and the Cobbler was the 30-year labor of love of Richard Williams, better known for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Sadly, the copious Executive Meddling that the project received caused him to disown the film, including the highly praised Recobbled Cut.
Films — Live-Action
- Orson Welles believed that his greatest completed film was either Chimes At Midnight or The Trial, not Citizen Kane.
- Carol Reed was a legendary British filmmaker, known for thrillers like Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. A majority of his filmography reads like a list of the greatest movies ever made. He never won an Oscar until he went against type and directed Oliver!, a colorful, family-friendly musical based on the Dickens novel Oliver Twist that hardly features a single tense, dangerous moment.
- This is something of a recurring narrative in the New Hollywood era of the 1970s, with numerous directors agreeing to do studio pictures in order to get the funding for the more personal pictures that they wanted to make. The studio pictures, which were usually made under some level of studio observation (however minor), would go on to be widely acclaimed as great films, whereas the more personal pictures — usually made under an atmosphere of Protection from Editors and the director's ego having spiraled completely out of control — would bomb disastrously.
- The Western Heaven's Gate was the passion project of Michael Cimino, director of the acclaimed Vietnam War movie The Deer Hunter. It's considered one of the biggest bombs in film history, not only ending Cimino's career but also the New Hollywood era. Some consider it to have been Vindicated by History; it has a strong vocal audience today, mostly composed of people who haven't recently watched it.
- Most of the Monty Python crew (John Cleese in particular) consider Monty Pythons Life Of Brian to be their greatest work, in part because it has a central theme and tells a complete story, while their other works are more less a series of sketches. Monty Pythons Life Of Brian is still very popular with Python fans, many of whom consider it to be the superior film, but Monty Python and the Holy Grail has penetrated pop culture to a far greater degree.
- Successful director George Lucas put a lot of work into Star Wars, but he always intended to use the money it raised to work on the smaller, more personal projects that had brought him fame, such as American Graffiti and THX 1138. Many years and billions of dollars later, the smaller, more personal projects did get made (but with different directors), in the form of Radioland Murders (1994) and Red Tails (2012). Also, Lucas has stated that one of the reasons he keeps going back and tinkering with the initial Star Wars trilogy is that he was never happy with the final product and that the newer versions are what he always envisioned. Most fans would suggest that the earlier versions are much better.
- Sir Alec Guinness had a long and varied career, first on stage where he held his own against Laurence Olivier, then in a film career filled with tour de force performances that culminated in his own personal favorite, Adolf Hitler in The Last Ten Days (a proto-Downfall, if you will). So what's he best known for? A sci-fi quickie he lambasted as "fairy-tale rubbish".
- Ask people what Alfred Hitchcock's best movie was, and you'll get different answers. Maybe Psycho, maybe Vertigo, maybe North By Northwest. Most probably won't mention the film Hitchcock regarded as his favorite, 1943's Shadow of a Doubt. In its day, the film was a hit with the public and the critics and was generally among Hitchcock's most notable and famous films.
- Dennis Hopper's attempt to follow Easy Rider with an ambitious project he was conceiving for a while, The Last Movie, bombed so hard that it prevented Hopper from directing again for nearly a decade.
- Leo McCarey directed two movies of 1937: the light comedy The Awful Truth and the cynical drama Make Way for Tomorrow. When he received the Best Director award for The Awful Truth, he said that he'd been awarded for the wrong movie.
- Out of all the actors to play Batman, Val Kilmer has never been very well received. Many loved Michael Keaton and hated George Clooney but were really just indifferent to Kilmer, finding him dull. Despite this, Bob Kane considered Kilmer to be the best actor to play Batman. (Although since Kane is widely reviled throughout the comics industry and fandom for stealing credit for creating Batman from Bill Finger and others, this is probably not the best indicator of quality.)
- Roberto Benigni has stated in several interviews that he wanted to do his version of Pinocchio since he was a child. It was only after the success of Life Is Beautiful that he was given the freedom to pursue this project, which was poorly received outside of his native Italy.
- Sucker Punch was a pet project of Zack Snyder that got negative reviews and barely recouped its budget at the box office.
- Inception. This film was Christopher Nolan's dream project and it did pay off and became highly successful and appreciated...it's just that The Dark Knight Saga still overshadows it when it comes to Nolan's résumé.
- Rob Reiner made North with the hopes that it would be his own equivalent to The Wizard of Oz. It wasn't. And to add insult to injury, many pointed out he'd already made such a movie several years earlier.
- Paul Verhoeven has stated that science fiction is not his favourite genre. Ironically, his most popular movies, RoboCop (1987) (a film he almost turned down),Total Recall (1990) and Starship Troopers, are science fiction, while his non-sci-fi movies have either been largely forgotten, or lambasted.
- Marlon Brando has stated his personal favourite movie that he worked on was Burn!. The film was a commercial failure when it originally came out. Later on in his career, despite garnering critical acclaim for his performance as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, he turned down his Oscar, and didn't attend the ceremony.
- Crossing with This Is Going To Be Huge: Fox joined forces with Arthur P. Jacobs on Doctor Dolittle, considering that the best-seller adaptation would be the start of a new franchise. It was a wretched Troubled Production that caused a heart attack on Jacobs, and upon release was badly received by audiences and critics alike. But on the other hand, as Jacobs finished the movie Fox accepted to greenlight an adaptation of a science fiction novel he had the rights to given he kept the budget low. The result was Planet of the Apes, the first of a Cash Cow Franchise.
- M. Night Shyamalan thought that The Last Airbender would be his greatest work and bring him back up to his once great director status. All those Razzie Awards, critics, and fans of the animated series beg to differ.
- Stanley Kubrick regarded Eyes Wide Shut his finest contribution to cinema. This is one of his only films that hasn't been vindicated by history. Yet other accounts claim he considered it to be his worst.
- Georges Méliès insisted that A Trip to the Moon was by no means his greatest achievement, saying he was proudest of a serious, deliberately depressing historical film called Humanity Through the Ages. Still, the former became an international success, contributed an iconic image to the history of film, and is still regarded as one of the most historically significant films of all time.
- Woody Allen has stated he feels his films have only continued to improve as the years have passed, with the ones he puts out now being far better than his earlier work, a view most critics and many fans find difficult to agree with.note Allen has also expressed confusion with the underwhelming response to his film Hollywood Ending, which despite his usually withering opinion of his own work, he sees as one of his funniest films. He did, however, agree with the negative response to Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
- With regard to his acting career, Ronald Reagan considered his finest performance to be in King's Row although most people remember him better for Bedtime for Bonzo or Death Valley Days.
- Ishiro Honda considers his finest film to be Matango, a film virtually unknown to all but Toho sci-fi fans. Instead, his most well-known and best remembered work is, of course, Gojira. Subverted in that those who have actually watched Matango usually consider it among his best works.
- David Lean tends to be known for his small-scale but stylish early films (Great Expectations, Brief Encounter) or his later epics like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. His personal favorite was the comparatively obscure Summertime (1955), starring Katharine Hepburn and filmed in Venice.
- Enders Game was originally just another short story that Orson Scott Card wrote to pay the bills. He only expanded it into a novel so that it could serve as an introduction to Speaker for the Dead (the story that he really wanted to tell). While Speaker is certainly well-regarded among sci-fi aficionados, Ender's Game has become one of the most widely read sci-fi novels of all time, is required reading in many middle schools, and received a film adaptation.
- Neuromancer is William Gibson's most famous and acclaimed work because it invented the Cyberpunk genre and featured commentary on the information age decades ahead of its time. But in terms of actual literary merit, Gibson considers it one of his weakest works (keep in mind, it was his first novel). Compared to his later novels, its characterization is minimal and the plot is very straightforward.
- Little Women for Louisa May Alcott; she made the same thing happen to Jo in its final sequel Jo's Boys.
- Jane Austen thought Pride and Prejudice, her most popular novel, was "too light and bright and sparkling" and deliberately planned afterwards to write something more serious with a little "shade." The result was Mansfield Park, a textbook case of Genre Adultery and her least popular novel.
- Mark Twain waffled between saying that his favorite of his works was Huckleberry Finn, which has come to be his most respected novel, and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, which few have even heard of.
- Lewis Carroll greatly preferred Sylvie and Bruno to his Alice books.
- Douglas Adams always considered Last Chance to See his favourite work. While not a non-seller as such, it is much less known than The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and Dirk Gently books.
- Charles Dickens wrote enough other highly acclaimed and popular books that he only presents a borderline example, but A Christmas Carol follows the mold: he wrote it in a hurry for the money and it continues to be one of the best known and most imitated of his works. His favourite of his own works, however was reportedly the novel Martin Chuzzlewit, which hardly has the universal acclaim or influence of, say, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations or the aforementioned Christmas Carol.
- Robert Asprin started work on Another Fine Myth for laughs, merely to give himself a break from the grimness of another book he was writing, The Cold Cash War. Nowadays, he is fondly remembered for the Myth Adventures series, while Cold Cash War gathers dust alongside other ur-cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi.
- William Shakespeare apparently thought more of The Rape of Lucrece than King Lear. This is largely due to Values Dissonance; at the time, epic poetry was considered the highest form of literary art; plays, on the other hand, were seen as lowest-common-denominator trivialities. Today, of course, his plays are better known than his (still great) poetry.
- 19th-century British Romantic poets such as Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Shelley, and their peers were obsessed with reviving English verse drama, and kept churning out faux-Shakespearean plays that seldom rose above mediocre. In time, many of them thought that this failure pretty much invalidated Romanticism. When worrying over how posterity would judge them, they never seemed to think their lyric poetry could count for much.
- David Weber is famous for his Honor Harrington books, while his Safehold books are being considered the critically preferred work. But it's The War Gods that's his favorite, and he's described what he's written so far as The Hobbit in that series to the Lord of the Rings, and states that work will be the one that lasts.
- HP Lovecraft considered The Call of Cthulhu to be one of his weaker stories. Although many of his actual readers agree, Cthulhu is by far his most well known creation.
- At different times in their careers, both the poet T. S. Eliot and the author Henry James thought their real destiny lay in writing for the theatre. Unfortunately, James was not a particularly good dramatist, and while Eliot did write some well-known plays (such as Murder in the Cathedral), none have reached the fame of The Waste Land or "Prufrock".
- Anthony Burgess resents that he's best known for A Clockwork Orange, which he thought shallow compared to his other works. (He dismissed it as "a novel I am prepared to repudiate... a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks.")
- Harlan Ellison expresses his frustration in one of his audiobooks over the fact that "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream", a story he banged out in a day, is so popular and has been reprinted many, many times; whereas "Grail", a story he slaved over for weeks, revising it several times, and in his opinion one of his best, had never been reprinted.
- Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather in order to pay his bills, as well as to get attention for his more "literary" novels, which he felt were more representative of his style. Decades later, Puzo is the "Mafia author" (hardly anybody remembers he wrote the script for the first Superman movie) and his other literary works are forgotten. Even worse, his best known novel is generally seen as inferior to its film adaptation.
- Ernest Hemingway regarded the critically lambasted Across the River and Into the Trees as his greatest work.
- J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings merely in accordance with popular demand for a sequel to The Hobbit - his true labor of love was The Silmarillion, which he spent essentially his entire adult life writing and which he was still polishing and rewriting when he died. In fact, he initially advanced the The Silmarillion for publishing instead and only wrote The Lord of the Rings when he was told his Elvish History would not ever be published. Downplayed in that, despite using it as a backstory for his published novels, he never really intended The Silmarillion to be published in his later life - writing it was just a leisure activity for him.
- Cecil Day-Lewis (Daniel's father) was Poet Laureate in the UK and wrote a lot of serious poetry and verse drama, but he also wrote detective novels to pay the bills. Particularly in the 50s and 60s he was far better known for the detective books (written under the name Nicholas Blake), some of which were adapted for film and TV. His poetry was never the equal of contemporaries like Auden or Larkin, and is now largely forgotten, but his detective novels are still regarded as classics by some.
- Philip Larkin, meanwhile, wanted to be a novelist rather than a poet. His two novels are read only by a few academics, but his poetry remains popular, acclaimed, and even quoted (even if his most-quoted poem is mainly so because of its Cluster F-Bomb).
- Charles Perrault published writings and essays about art that have mostly been forgotten centuries later. But the work he is still most famous for, his Fairy Tales, are still popular today and indeed do much to define those that are in the Small Reference Pools. Ironically enough Perrault felt ashamed about these childish stories and published them under his son's name.
- Same holds for the Brothers Grimm, who considered their work on historical linguistics their greatest achievement. Although linguists still use it (Grimm's Law, a sound change that occurred in Proto-Indo-European that moved towards Proto-Germanic) and respect them as early forayers into modern linguistics, everyone else remembers their Fairy Tales.
- Thomas Hardy considered Jude the Obscure his favorite and best novel. Critics at the time hated it and Hardy only wrote poetry for the rest of his life.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs considered John Carter of Mars stories to be his best works. They are rather obscure compared to his other series, Tarzan.
- One need only look at Burroughs's Hollywood legacy. Tarzan has been adapted countless times since the days of the silents and has been an enormously successful property, while Disney's John Carter adaptation hugely bombed.
- Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov wrote dozens of poems, plenty of stories, and considered them to be much better than some fairy-tale poem he wrote in simpleton language when he was young. Except today, the poems and stories are all but forgotten, while The Little Humpbacked Horse earned him a statue for composing a folk tale.
- John Buchan is most remembered for codifying the Spy Genre with The 39 Steps, but the novel he considered his best was the historical romance/fantasy novel, Witch Wood.
- At The Cavalier Years in Spain, money was found in Theater, and glory was found in Poetry. Miguel de Cervantes wrote a comedy book that didn’t get noticed by the critics. Nonetheless, it was successful enough for the editor kept asking for a continuation because Money, Dear Boy. But Cervantes had Attention Deficit Creator Disorder and wanted to write a lot of projects that would bring him glory, like “Los trabajos de Persiles y Segismunda”. No one took the comedy book seriously, not even Cervantes. Maybe that continuation would have never seen the light of day if not for a fanfiction writer that wrote himself the second part, doing the worst insult you can do to an author: A Fix Fic, because Cervantes wrote some characters deserving of a better writer. Cervantes decided to write the best second part he could, and so we have now Don Quixote.
- Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle created a detective character based on an old medical professor whose techniques and insight had always impressed him in order to pay the bills while he worked on the historical epics he loved so much and which he was sure would make his name and reputation as a writer and artist. Unfortunately for Conan Doyle, the detective character was Sherlock Holmes, who became one of the most iconic characters of all time, while Doyle's historical dramas, which he much preferred, are largely forgotten. Doyle was not happy about this (he even tried killing Holmes off at one point, but fan backlash forced him to do an about-face), and once said, "If, in one hundred years I am known only as the man who invented Sherlock Holmes, then I will have considered my life a failure."
- Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall" was, to him, just another story, though it regularly appears at the top of lists of the best SF story ever. It especially irked him, because he wrote it when he was 21, and was somewhat offended by the implication that, in fifty years and hundreds and hundreds of works, he never did anything better. His own favorite was "The Last Question."
- C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters and his Narnia series sold phenomenally, by his standards, but his own favorite was Till We Have Faces. Then, his big problem with Screwtape was that it, alone among his works, was actively unpleasant to write. Another one of Lewis' favorite books that he wrote is Perelandra, which he once said was worth ten 'Screwtapes'.
- Reki Kawahara's light novel series Sword Art Online was originally a one volume stand alone story written for a literary competition in 2002 that he didn't even submit it to. It was instead put on the web, and only after gaining popularity, did he decide to start writing follow on volumes. SAO eventually got so big it was actually published to paperback in 2009 and is now 11 volumes and still going, with a Manga, Anime, and Video Game adaptation plus a huge fanbase.
- Neil Munro considered himself an author of historical novels, his Para Handy stories being something he wrote to pay the bills. A hundred years later, the Para Handy stories are still well-loved Scottish literature and have been adapted several times. Fans might also be familiar with his other humourous stories, Erchie, My Droll Friend and Jimmy Swan. The historical novels are mostly known as "that thing Munro did that wasn't as good as Para Handy."
- J. D. Salinger, in a very, very rare interview said that The Catcher in the Rye was a mistake, and the bulk of his writing since then as been about the Glass family, as well as nonfiction about Vedāntic Hinduism.
- K. A. Applegate enlisted Ghost Writers to help her complete Animorphs so that she could instead give Everworld her full undivided attention. Everworld went on to become a rather obscure book series while Animorphs was, for a time, the most popular children's book series in America.
- Gene Wolfe is best known for The Epic Mind Screw The Book of the New Sun. The author himself considers it overrated, and his own favorite is the later Fantastic Romance There Are Doors.
- Robert Rankin's novel The Fandom of the Operator actually revolves around this trope. The villain turns out to be a deceased author suffering from Magnum Opus Dissonance, driven mad by a botched attempt to raise him from the dead to continue writing the detective novels that he always considered vastly inferior to his beloved but much less popular space operas.
- Herman Melville had a very strange relationship with this phenomenon:
- During his own lifetime, Melville was really only respected for his first two books, Typee and Omoo, quasi-biographical adventure stories based on his own experience in the South Pacific. These two works are now only taught in dedicated Melville classes, and towards the end of his career, with no knowledge of Moby-Dick coming down the road, he expressed regret that he would be forever known as "the man who lived among the cannibals."
- Melville's first serious attempt at great fiction was Mardi, a Wacky Wayside Tribe-laden adventure story bogged down with snarling philosophical tangents, a protagonist who up and disappears for two-thirds of the novel, and an open ending. Despite all this, he called Mardi his "child of many prayers" and hoped it would blow audiences away. It was blasted by critics for all of this and for being very different from his first two novels; modern scholars often consider it the only outright bad thing he wrote.
- Moby-Dick is, of course, Melville's most famous novel, and as with Mardi he set out intentionally to write a great work - calling it this time a "mighty book on a mighty theme." While Moby-Dick is now one of the fixtures in the canon, it was very poorly received and called blasphemous by the press of the day. Though Melville anticipated the controversy, he told Nathaniel Hawthorne in a letter that, he had written "a very evil book". On top of that, Melville actually thought he could write an even better novel, and only gave up that notion after Moby-Dick failed. Though the books after that, Pierre; or the Ambiguities, The Confidence-Man:His Masquerade and his posthumous work, Billy Budd are regarded among his best writings today.
Live Action TV
- Something of a Zigzagging Trope with Adam West. He aspired to be a major movie star, and considered his TV work as just a means of getting some media exposure so he'd have a nice resume when casting directors started looking him up for their films. However, when he read the script for the very first Batman episode, he became so enthusiastic about that project that he accepted the role of Bruce Wayne immediately, and even today continues to be proud of his Batman work. However, it does make him unhappy that the style of the 1960s show is often misunderstood, and that very few people give him the credit he thinks he deserves for reviving the character's popularity (Bruce Timm is one of the few that does, as evidenced by "Beware the Gray Ghost".) At the same time, West's big movie career never materialized, but he has been pleased with his extensive TV work over the past half-century.
- Many TV actors naturally want the prestige and profit of a movie career, but sometimes they find success in TV and become quite comfortable in that role. One example is Alan Alda of M*A*S*H fame.
- You might be forgiven for expecting this of Patrick Stewart regarding his turn as Captain Picard, the role for which most Americans know him, but it's actually averted. Stewart has gone on record that playing all those Shakespearean characters was good practice for playing Picard.
- Ryan Murphy has lavished much more time, money and production on The New Normal than he has Glee, whose fans he constantly taunts and has made fun of glee in TNN...Yet Glee has made over 10 times more money than the new normal and has a much bigger internet fanbase.
- Referenced in an episode of QI. When discussing a bizarre gardening contraption that is, for all intents and purposes, a glass bottle with the top cut off, Stephen Fry mentions that it was created by the same man who invented the train - provoking David Mitchell to bet he was "really tedious and wouldn't talk about the train in interviews, and would insist on talking about his bloody bottle".
- That Mitchell and Webb Look also had a sketch where Neil Armstrong has embarked on a new career as a singer-songwriter and his manager tells a prospective interviewer that he will not be taking any questions about walking on the moon.
- In 1993, the Fox Network put all their focus and marketing on a Western series entitled The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., as the head of the network saw it as a show that would undoubtedly become one of their biggest hits. What was aired right after it, pretty much just to fill something in for the 9:00 slot, and was expected to last less than a full season? Some show about a pair of FBI agents investigating the paranormal and bizarre phenomena.
- John Cleese is not particularly fond of most of the Monty Python's Flying Circus episodes, mostly because it was all shot on a such a low budget and, in his opionion, started to get stale after a few seasons. One of the sketches he's particularly remembered for is the fan favorite "The Ministry of Silly Walks", yet according to the book "The Pythons" he never liked it all. He called it a very "ordinary sketch" and he even took legal action to prevent a sculptor from making a statue of him in the Silly Walk pose. The Die Another Day folks slipped one in anyway. And in 2014, for a milestone anniversary, the remaining Pythons reassembled and John Cleese promoted the hell out of a "Ministry of Silly Walks" iOS game on his Twitter.
- Dave Chappelle's distaste for the success of Chappelle's Show is fairly well-documented; he disliked the attention it gave him from fans and over time became disturbed at the jokes he was making in regards to race, afraid he was re-enforcing stereotypes rather than satirizing them. On the other hand, Chappelle loved doing stand-up, regarding it as the most important part of his creative work. One of the many factors relating to his retreating from the show was that its popularity was starting to interfere with his ability to do stand-up; when at a show, his material was drowned out by the crowd chanting "Rick James," causing him to call his own audience idiots.
- Series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi has stated that Final Fantasy IX is his favorite in the series. It's sales were the worst of the PlayStation era, with Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII selling betternote . The fans on the other hand, are a different story.
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City features an In-Universe example on the radio. Claude Maginot stars in the lowbrow comedy "Just the Five of Us" and the avant-garde play "In The Future, There Will Be Robots". When he's interviewed on K-Chat, he mentions being prouder of "Robots" while also admitting it's not doing as well as "Just the Five of Us".
- Yoshio Sakamoto wrote the story of Metroid: Other M so it would have the best story in the franchise and to make Samus a truly developed, rounded and sympathetic character. It was stated in interviews that he even cried when he saw some of the scenes of the game for the first time, showing how emotionally invested he was in the project. The result... well, if Other M hasn't had its page locked yet, it's not for trying.
- William Higinbotham, an American physicist, retooled his analog computer's oscilloscope program to run a very low-tech tennis game all the way back in 1958 (called Tennis For Two), creating the very first electronic game to have a video display (the first "video-game"). He stated before his death that he regrets being known for inventing the video game, because he would have liked to be known for his work on nuclear nonproliferation.
- SEGA-AM2's Shenmue was slated to be a blockbuster hit, with a colossal budget by the standards of games produced in the late '90s and early 2000s, a level of detail and interactivity not seen in any other game at the time, and plans for many installments over which the complete story would be told. However, various snags resulted in several chapters being compressed into the second game, and more chapters not coming to light in the form of a third game, resulting in the second game ending in a Cliffhanger. Today, Shenmue is a Cult Classic at best, and AM2's arcade games, such as OutRun, Space Harrier, and Daytona USA, are far more fondly received and remembered, despite being nowhere near the budget and scale of the Shenmue series.
- This tends to lead to the downfall of many a game creator and/or studio. Many times, a game director will invest millions of dollars and mass amounts of time and resources into a game which they believe will become the game to which they will be remembered for. When the opposite happens, it usually spells doom for the studio and director, as when the returns aren't as good, it can lead to serious financial issues, which often bankrupts them and forced them under. To wit:
- Silicon Knights' Too Human was the passion project of studio head Denis Dyack, having spent nine years in development across multiple platforms. Originally going to be a Sega Saturn /PlayStation game, it was first shifted to the Nintendo GameCube and then finally to the Xbox 360 due its enhanced graphical quality, as Dyack was disgusted by the Wii's weaker hardware. The result? Mediocre sales and reviews, which lead to the studio's eventual decline. Meanwhile most fans would agree that Eternal Darkness was their best game.
- George Broussard, the head of 3D Realms and the creator of the Duke Nukem series, spent over a decade working on Duke Nukem Forever in order to ensure that it would be the most groundbreaking title in the series, which lead to multiple engine switches, delays, and very little to show for it. Needless to say, the fact that it not only took down his career and studio, but also finally released to poor reviews calling it "outdated and immature" proved otherwise.
- "Arcane Kids" the developers of a freeware game called Zineth, and an upcoming game called Perfect Stride, had also made a lot of joke games. One of them was a Bubsy fangame called "Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective". It became their most popular game within a few days, and while Zineth videos linger around the 5000-10,000 views, many videos of the Bubsy fangame have hundreds of thousands of views.
- The lukewarm reception of Mega Man 10 can be partially attributed to the game maintaining 9's gameplay Reset Button to Mega Man 2, considered by the developers to be the best in the series. The game after that one was considered a relatively poor product by the developers partly due to being rushed (no pun intended), but several fans hold it in higher esteem than 2, in part due to concepts in that game that weren't repeated ad nauseum (unlike the ones introduced in the game following that one).
- In Team Fortress 2, Hydro was one of the maps Valve worked hardest on. Go through it sometime and look for the developer commentary; they spent a long time designing it, and even created a new gamemode for it - Territory Control. When they included it in the original six maps, it... went nowhere. Turns out a series of very small maps, plus control points, meant that every match was either two minutes long or two hours long. The map is basically abandoned now; when Jerma 985 did a basic search of total TF2 servers available, he counted over 1200 servers and only two Hydro ones, each of which had only three people on them.
- As revealed in this interview, developer Seibu Kaihatsu expected Dynamite Duke to be their marquee title, but the game flopped. The company's breakout title ended up being their next game, a low-budget vertical shmup nobody involved had faith in.
- Famous Commodore 64 designers Jonathan Temples and David Temples are most well-known for their work on Nobby The Aardvark, which is considered to be one of the best games for the Commodore 64. In an interview they stated though that their favorite work was CJ's Elephant Antics. Though it is not as big as all other examples on the list since CJ's Elephant Antics is quite loved as well.
- Jennie Breeden, author of The Devil's Panties has clearly encountered this trope.
- Ryan Sohmer made a name for himself with the... divisive Least I Could Do. Then, he decided to do a little side project lovingly spoofing two things he enjoyed: World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons. With a more likeable protagonist, a cool supporting cast, a good Myth Arc, some Growing the Beard and a certain Heroic Comedic Sociopath warlock, Looking for Group grew to vastly eclipse Least I Could Do in popularity and acclaim. Sohmer himself began to eventually view LFG as his magnum opus, as well.
- Referenced in Married to the Sea. "Shakespeare got to get paid, son."
- This is part of why RPG World has No Ending - the artist grew frustrated that the photo-comic "real world" sections weren't regarded as well as the drawn sections and stormed off the Internet.
- Megatokyo originally started out as a way for Fred to improve his writing and drawing skills before starting on his main project Warmth. Despite Fred stating multiple times that Warmth is not abandoned and he plans to continue it in the future, Megatokyo is clearly the one that has attracted massive fan attention.
- Rich Burlew originally started The Order of the Stick as a small, fun side project to draw traffic to his website, which was mostly dedicated to game design articles. However, it quickly eclipsed his other writing and became the main feature of the website.
- Egoraptor claims that his best work is Sequelitis, as compared to Girlchan in Paradise!! or the Awesome Series, due to both the time and effort he put into the episodes and the fact that he values an ability to make people think over an ability to make people laugh. Not that Sequelitis isn't appreciated, but it's overshadowed by the aforementioned works; not to mention it's just much, much younger than them.
- James Rolfe made amateur movies for most of his youth and intended to be become a film director himself. Between making these films, he also made The Angry Video Game Nerd videos, but purely as a form of entertainment for his friends. Ironically enough, The Angry Video Game Nerd video's launched his career and remain better known and loved than his amateur movies.
- Doug Walker's Demo Reel had been a project that he'd wanted to do since 2008, and finally came to fruition after sending off his first major series The Nostalgia Critic in the Grand Finale special To Boldly Flee. Despite a bigger cast, a larger location, a dramatic Story Arc and Pandering To The Feminist/Male-Attracted Base, the series proved not to be cost effective enough to keep going; it had a much higher budget than anything done on the site before, at a time when a loud number of the fans had made good on their promise to flee the site after Critic died. The series wasn't particularly well received either. A particularly sad example revealed on "The Review Must Go On" commentary, as apparently when Doug was told he had to bring Critic back, he was also given the option of keeping his baby, but was so upset that he torched it.
- SuperYoshi doesn't see the big deal behind "I'D SAY HE'S HOT ON OUR TAIL," outside of being the first Youtube Poop ever made. He considers this his poop masterpiece.
- Krunkidile, maker of Team Service Announcement, claims the series has become less fun for him to make and also doesn't think highly of his most viewed video One Step Ahead. His favorite of his videos is CARTOON DOG HAT, which, well, is pretty much just the same clip over and over again.
- Episode 10 of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series (the one with Panik, Yu-Gi-Oh DMX, "I'm just talkin' 'bout Yugi!") regularly places high on "best episode ever" lists. LittleKuriboh claims that it's not even a good episode.
- Chuggaconroy's Super Mario Sunshine Let's Play is one of his most popular works, however Emile has gone onto say that that he considers it one of his least favourites, due to him going through a difficult time during it and faking a lot of his enthusiasm during the LP due to that.
- Of all the Let's Plays created by Achievement Hunter, the most popular by far are their Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto IV/V series, which are updated weekly and bring in views unlike anything else they produce. However, most of the AH crew considers their Let's Plays of various Worms games, and 3D Ultra Minigolf Adventures and its sequel to be their best works.
- The Simpsons
- Matt Groening created the show hastily in the lobby of James L. Brooks' office, where he originally planned to pitch Life in Hell (at the time his most notable work, which had been running for around 10 years in newspapers) as a shorts series. He chose not to because he wanted to keep the rights to Life in Hell. Now few people know Life In Hell, and The Simpsons is considered his Magnum Opus.
- Groening once made a list of his favorite Simpsons episodes, and choose mostly examples from the first and eighth seasons, while many fans consider the third to seventh season to be the show's Golden Age. The first season is even generally disliked by many viewers because the show was still searching for its form in those days. They feel that many episodes from the first season are too slow, not particularly funny and even uncharacteristic.
- Ken Keeler has said the highly-controversial episode "The Principal and the Pauper", which many fans consider the worst Simpsons episode ever, has been his best work for television, despite doing more-favorably received episodes on The Simpsons and Futurama.
- Family Guy:
- The series has an In-Universe example with Brian Griffin. His labor-of-love novel, Faster than the Speed of Love, becomes a massive bomb due to its being an incredibly trite Cliché Storm that unintentionally rips off the Iron Eagle series. After he trashes schlocky self-help books and says anyone could make one, Stewie challenges him to do so, so he throws together Wish It, Want It, Do It, which becomes a smash hit — until Bill Maher, Arianna Huffington, and Dana Gould criticize Brian and all self-help authors for peddling crap to naive readers.
- Initially, Family Guy was considered the Magnum Opus of Seth MacFarlane's shows while American Dad! was just being tolerated during it's Early Installment Weirdness. Then Family Guy underwent heavy Seasonal Rot and Flanderization while American Dad! significantly grew it's beard to the point that many people now consider it to be his true Magnum Opus.
- Dr. Seuss has claimed that Ralph Bakshi's TV special of The Butter Battle Book was the most faithful adaptation of all his works. It's also one of the most obscure.
- In late 1999, Cartoon Network gave Mike, Lu & Og a lot of advertising and gave it a good 8:00pm timeslot on Cartoon Cartoon Fridays. While it did get good reviews and was liked by audiences, Courage the Cowardly Dog, which premiered the same night, won the people over. It became the network's highest-rated premiere up to that point and is one of the most acclaimed and fondly remembered Cartoon Network shows, while Mike, Lu & Og has faded into near-obscurity.
- Tex Avery, despite eventually becoming an animator, originally wanted to become a comic strip cartoonist. Most of his cartoons were made with the intention of eventually making that other career choice. Finally he was so burned out that he gave up the animation business altogether and spent the final years of his life almost exclusively as an artist for TV commercials. Even when people lauded him with praise about his hilarious cartoons he always shied away. He never considered them to be that great and seldom gave interviews. He practically died in obscurity, despite his cartoons living on as examples of what Western animation is all about (wild takes, fourth-wall breaking jokes, Amusing Injuries, jokes — visual and verbal — that aren't appropriate for younger viewers or prudes, lampshading corny gags, talking animals, etc).
- A in-universe example during an episode of Rocko's Modern Life. Ralph Bighead is in charge of a television studio. However, he's unhappy and wants to leave the studio so he can complete his dream of creating an artistic masterpiece. He decides to get himself fired by hiring Rocko, Heffer, Filburt, as writers for his new show and that's how Wacky Deli was born. Instead of being the show that would get Ralph Bighead fired, however, it becomes a huge hit. At the end of the episode, Ralph destroys the show, gets fired, and finally completes his masterpiece. But while he cries tears of joy, a bystander notices the artwork and compliments him, but then mentions Wacky Deli, claiming the creator of the show was a genius. Interestingly, the Wacky Deli concept would become very popular with fans of the show themselves. Some even believe it pioneered concepts that shows like Robot Chicken would use years later.
- Trey Parker and Matt Stone expressed disdain for the first three seasons of South Park, described by Parker in an Entertainment Weekly as "just embarrassing to watch." They stated in the same interview that the only episode they liked from said era was the second season episode "Terrance and Phillip in Not Without my Anus," because it was "something weird and different." Even stranger considering the massive fan backlash created by the episode, and that season 2 is Trey and Matt's most hated season.
- Isaac Newton is undoubtedly one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, and made multiple groundbreaking contributions to several scientific fields. His Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which laid the foundation of classical mechanics is considered one of, if not the most important scientific work of all time. Yet the latter was only published due to the insistence of Edmond Halley: Newton considered his most important work to be his studies in occultism and esoterism, which comprised about two thirds of his work. And in his own lifetime, Newton was best known for his work at the Royal Mint, which is why the design of his tomb in Westminster Abbey incorporates many references to coinage and currency, but none to science.
- Because of this, many historians claim that Newton wasn't the World's First Scientist; but rather the World's Last Alchemist (there being some overlap)
- Photographer Eddie Adams was best known for his Pulitzer prize-winning photograph of a Vietnamese police chief about to execute a Viet Cong prisoner, which became an icon of the Vietnam War protest movement. Adams later regretted the photograph's notoriety, particularly the demonizing of the Vietnamese forces and the specific officer depicted, wishing instead to be remembered for a series of later pictures depicting Vietnamese refugees to Thailand. Needless to say, they are nowhere near as famous.
- Part of this stemmed from the lack of context around the photo—it was perceived as a pure act of brutality, whereas in fact the man being executed was part of an assassination squad tasked with murdering South Vietnamese police and their families. When the photo was snapped, he had just been caught disposing of the bodies of wife and children of the police chief's close aide and best friend... who were also the chief's godchildren.
- Being President of the United States ranked so low on Thomas Jefferson's personal list of life achievements that it wasn't included in his self-written gravestone epitaph. (He was much prouder of having donated the land for the University of Virginia campus, which is mentioned on his gravestone.)
- William Howard Taft was more proud of his time as Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court than as President.
- An episode of QI brought up C.B. Fry, an ancestor of Stephen Fry's and a successful turn of the century British sportsman. He represented England in football and cricket, equalled the world long-jump record in 1893, and reportedly was offered — and refused — the throne of Albania following World War One. He could also jump onto a mantlepiece backwards without losing his balance. Guess which one, much to Stephen Fry's irritation, was the only thing that anyone on the panel for that episode wanted to talk about? This does give pause for wonder as to what he expected, however, seeing as the panel was composed largely of comedians and aside from the mantel-jumping, C.B's other cited achievements, remarkable though they may have been, weren't exactly the stuff of potential hilarity.
- Most marks would claim Mick Foley's best match to be his 1998 Hell-In-The-Cell against The Undertaker. However, the man himself would vouch for either his 1996 match against Shawn Michaels or his 2004 bout with Randy Orton. This may be due to the fact that Foley has no memory of the Undertaker match due to all the blunt trauma he suffered therein.
- Aristotle is mainly remembered today for his works in philosophy and politics. However, he considered them secondary to his real work - the books on zoology. No one reads these today due to Science Marches On—though actually his zoology was pretty good, and, contrary to what's often claimed, definitely involved actual observation (he knew how octopuses reproduce, for instance, something we wouldn't rediscover till the late 19th century). It was his physics that were bad, because they were derived from his biology. His reputation as a biologist tends to get tainted by association, mostly because actually studying the history of science is more work than claiming to be smarter than dead people.
- Robert Ballard has admitted in interviews that his tombstone will state that he discovered the wreck of the RMS Titanic, even though he's more proud of some of his other discoveries.
- Benjamin Franklin put politics at the bottom of areas of knowledge he wanted to be known for, but he is best remembered as one of the United States' Founding Fathers and the man on the US$100 bill. On the other hand, his best-known achievements are all science-related (the kite experimentnote , Poor Richard's Almanac, the Franklin stove, bifocals, etc.)
- The Jesuit priest James Martin tells an anecdote in his book Between Heaven and Mirth; a homily he spent the week lavishing over got no reaction from the congregation. The following Mass he threw his talk together at the last minute and parishioners came up to him in tears, saying it was one of the most moving sermons they'd ever heard.
- Richard Dawkins is widely known by laymen for either his book The God Delusion, or The Selfish Gene by more scientifically-minded people, but he considers The Extended Phenotype his most important contribution to the Evolutionary Theory. It is also the most technical of his books.
- Mathmatician G. H. Hardy loathed applied mathematics and was most proud of his works on number theory and mentoring the math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (he was slightly more proud of finding Ramanujan than all of his own achievements combined). However, most people remember him for the Hardy-Weinburg Theorm, a simple piece of applied mathematics (heavily used in genetics and ecology) he dashed off in a few minutes.
- Pinball designer Claude Fernandez is a textbook case of this trope. His personal favorite game he designed was Baby Pac-Man, a hybrid pinball-video game arcade machine that was widely loathed by pinball players and video gamers alike. However, the machine pinball fans most appreciate him for, Flash Gordon, was merely a result of Bally wanting to play Follow the Leader with Williams and tasking Fernandez with building it, Fernandez largely going through the motions. During his speech at Pinball Expo 2014, Fernandez is admittedly puzzled but amused by this difference in opinion.