In order for a film to be a profitable, those attached to it will be praying for success at the box office. If the film does not break even at the box office, it is considered a flop and will lose money for the studio, distributor and production company. It is possible for these films to break even after their theatrical run, but often the damage is done by flopping at the box office. Over history there have been some catastrophic flops, and some of these have even resulted in bankruptcy for the studios and tarnished reputations.
10. The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)
A science fiction comedy film that is neither adventurous nor funny, The Adventures of Pluto Nash would go on to be a box office bomb, and a film universally panned by critics and the small group of moviegoers that went to the cinema to see it. Starring Eddie Murphy, the film is set on the moon in 2087 seeing Murphy’s character, Pluto Nash, as a nightclub owner who refuses to sell his club to the local mob. The film wrapped in 2000 and would sit on the shelf for two years before being released in 2002. It’s total worldwide gross earnings were $7 million after having an estimated budget of $100 million. This makes it one of the most expensive bombs of all time, although it would perform better on DVD. Murphy would later state “I know two or three people that liked this movie.”
9. Stealth (2005)
2005’s Stealth is an action/science fiction film which stars Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx (Ray, 2004). It was directed by Rob Cohen, who has directed popular action films such as The Fast and the Furious and xXx, but this is one film that Cohen and the crew wish that they could take back. It was released by Columbia pictures on a bulging budget of $135 million (excluding advertising), but it would only make $76,932,872 at theaters around the world, making it a spectacular box office flop and gigantic loss. The film was slammed by critics and labeled a “dumbed-down Topgun,” but it also had to compete with Wedding Crashers, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sky High at theaters. Stealth is just one of a few financial disasters for Columbia, including XXX: State of the Union, Bewitched, Into the Blue, Zathura and Rent.
8. Heaven’s Gate (1980)
The 1980 Western featuring Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert and Jeff Bridges has become somewhat of a cult classic, but upon release it was a colossal failure and would bankrupt the studio (United Artists). It was written and directed by Michael Cimino (recently off of the success of 1978’s The Deer Hunter), and the failure would ruin his reputation and see the Western genre vanish from the cinema for a full decade. Cimino was criticized and blamed for the failure, with his vision pushing the film four times over the budget. His insistence on complete creative control contributed to greater control from the studios on other films, seeing the likes of Coppola and Scorsese forced from the driving seat of projects. The film cost $44 million to make and would have a worldwide gross revenue of just $3.5 million, but the impact of its failure would shake the entire film industry.
7. Sahara (2005)
Without glancing at the budget, it would appear that Sahara was a success. It generated $119 in gross box office sales, and it opened at number one in the US box office ($18 million on opening weekend). However, the film lost around $105 million after spending $130 million on production and $81.1 million on distribution, making it one of the most expensive films of all time. The 2005 action-comedy stars Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn and Penelope Cruz, and is based on the best-selling book written by Clive Cussler. The film also ran into legal troubles, seeing Cussler and producer Philip Anschutz locked in a battle for rights and both blaming each other for the failure at the box office. Sahara was also supposed to be the first film in a franchise of Cussler’s novels, but this idea was canned following the huge loss on the film.
6. John Carter (2012)
John Carter is the perfect example of how a film with a huge budget can be a huge gamble for studios. The 2012 science fiction fantasy film, starring Taylor Kitsch in the title role, had a staggering production and advertising budget of $350 million, and would take a $200 million write-down after grossing $284 million at theatres worldwide. It was noted that because of the budget, John Carter would have to generate ticket sales of $600 million to break even, an amount reached by just 63 films in cinema history. Disney’s huge swing from profit to loss in the second fiscal quarter of 2012 was “primarily” to John Carter, and this led Richard Ross (head of Walt Disney studios) to resign. Unfortunately for Disney, another spectacular box office flop was just around the corner after again failing to match a whopping budget.
5. The Lone Ranger (2013)
Following Disney’s spectacular flop in 2012 with John Carter, a financial success was just what the doctor ordered. This is not how 2013’s The Lone Ranger worked out however, again struggling to match a production budget of $225 million and a $150 million marketing budget. It was estimated that it would need to earn around $650 million worldwide to break even (after accounting for revenue splits with theater owners), but it would gross just $260.5 million and comparisons to John Carter were made. The Western stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, but like many other Western’s it would flop at the box office and was plagued with production troubles from the get-go. The film would compete with Despicable Me 2 at the box office on opening weekend, but The Lone Ranger would make under a third of what Despicable Me 2 made and had a budget over three times larger than the animated comedy.
4. Mars Needs Moms (2011)
There have been dozens of successful computer animated comedies in recent times, and these films can be enjoyed by people of all ages. 2011’s Mars Needs Moms would not be one of these films however, instead becoming both a critical and commercial flop. The Walt Disney picture had a budget of $150 million but would gross just $49 million at the box office, making it the fourth biggest box office flop in history, adjusted for inflation. It is said that part of the reason it failed was due to the subject matter of the film—a mother being kidnapped from a child. On top of this, the film is also criticized for falling into the uncanny valley (the animated humans were too realistic which most audiences find creepy). Negative word of mouth also spread on social media, which of course plays a huge role in modern cinema.
3. Cutthroat Island (1995)
The pirate rom-com action film Cutthroat Island became a spectacular box office bomb, sinking Carolco Pictures until they re-launched in 2015. The film is famous for its shambolic production which included several rewrites, recasts, two dozen crew members quitting after the chief camera operator was fired, a cameraman breaking his leg, raw sewage spewing into the water tank, plus plenty more roadblocks. The original $65 million budget ballooned to $115 million, with director Renny Harlin having to stump up $1 million of his own to drag the production across the finish line. There was a scramble to start the filming to fit in with Michael Douglas’ schedule (he would later pull out), and this rush plagued the production and contributed to the growing budget. The result was a clichéd script, poor acting and a host of continuity errors. The film pulled just $10 million at the box office.
2. 47 Ronin (2013)
47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada, is a samurai action film about a real life group of samurai in 18th century Japan. The film would leave Universal Studios deeply in the red for the year and, adjusted for inflation, it would lose around $152 million, which would make it the second most expensive box office flop (behind The 13th Warrior). The film had a budget of $225 million and would gross $151 in box office sales. The film was received poorly, particularly in Japan where expectations were high. It is said that there are a few reasons why 47 Ronin failed so spectacularly at the box office, including its Christmas release (competition is particularly high at this time), the film took too long to create and Keanu Reeves would not draw in crowds. Whatever the reason is, 47 Ronin was a colossal box office bomb.
1. The 13th Warrior (1999)
Based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (who would direct some re-shoots) and a loose retelling of Beowulf, The 13th Warrior is famous for its huge flop at the box office in 1999. The budget started out at around $85 million, but several re-shoots along with promotional expenses saw the budget reach somewhere in the region of $160 million. The film, starring Antonio Banderas, Omar Sharif and Diane Venora, would make just $61.7 million at the box office, making for a loss in the region of $70—$130 million. Aside from the bloated budget, the film was also competing with The Sixth Sense and many people were put off by the negative reviews. The performance of the film was so bad that Omar Sharif would retire for 10 years, stating “bad pictures are humiliating, I was really sick.”