The Most Surprising Box Office Bombs Of 2013

After Earth4 The Most Surprising Box Office Bombs Of 2013

It’s quite difficult for a movie to totally bomb. Most movies, given a long enough timeframe, will make their money back. That timeframe differs from project to project – it might turn a profit at Christmas, or a year after the theatrical release, or after twenty years on DVD, but the high-stakes mega-budget mega-cast CGI extravaganzas that we get nowadays rarely fail, purely because of who’s in them. How else do you explain the continued popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean series? Two words – Johnny Depp. He very rarely bombs (Dark Shadows notwithstanding) purely because he is attractive and the budgets of the films he’s usually in are huge.

That said, he is in a film on this list. I wonder if you can guess which one.

Now, nobody likes to see a movie fail, unless it’s a veiled Scientology-based vanity project (more on that later). When a film does bomb, it means that all the hard work of the cast and crew has essentially been for naught, even though they would still have been paid. That’s not to say that nobody can predict which films will bomb – the upcoming Keanu Reeves martial arts epic 47-Ronin is already expected to flop based on a poor performance in Japan.

But then there are the less honourable failures. Take for example the shady dealings of filmmaker Uwe Boll (director of BloodRayne, Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead and other videogame-based monstrosities), whose films often rely on failure to assure that any money invested becomes a tax write-off. I assume that none of the films presented here, in no particular order, were created under such a scheme. Ultimately though, we’ll never know.

What you’ll find on this list are several films that bombed in 2013 that appeared to have everything going for them – the best cast, best story, best trailer, or best budget. Or a combination of several of those things.

Regardless, these movies all tanked quite hard, despite sounding awfully promising while they were in production.


1) R.I.P.D.

RIPD stills02 480x360 The Most Surprising Box Office Bombs Of 2013

It stands for Rest In Peace Department, do you get it? We gave it a weirdly positive review with much hand wringing on the subject of the summer blockbuster, but with tacit acceptance of the mainstream critical disregard that the film received. A rare misstep by Jeff Bridges and a standard misstep by Ryan Reynolds, the film is about two cops from different time periods who join forces to fight dead criminals on Earth, via avatars. Jeff Bridges plays Roy Pulsipher, a US marshall from the 1800s, who initially bristles against Ryan Reynolds’ Nick Walker, Boston police detective, but they make peace as the films carries on its boring way.

The standout thing about this one, as you’d expect, was Jeff Bridges’ performance. It seems like the man is unable to turn in anything less than quite good. I mean, just look at him in that picture above. He looks awesome. Sort of calling back to his role in the fantastic True Grit, he has the ultimate antihero look nailed – and he has such a cult following of dedicated fans that you’d think his name alone would sell a film. Can you think of a single bad movie that Jeff Bridges has ever been in? Have you ever heard anyone say “You know what? I just don’t like Jeff Bridges.” The man is movie Teflon, nothing bad sticks to him.

So, how could the film fail? Let’s blame Ryan Reynolds and be done with it. Against a budget of $130 million, R.I.P.D. took $78 million at the box office. Not good for a film starring two marquee names, but definitely not as bad as some of the other films that released in 2013.

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2) Parker

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Usually Jason Statham is a pretty solid bet for a good film and an even better box office take – Crank did really well, as did Crank 2, and his performance in The Transporter was something to behold. He’s managed to elevate the action film to arthouse levels, giving normally jaded critics something to crow about. He knows what he’s good at, and he sticks to it -  kicking people in the face, and taking his top off.

So, how did Parker fail? Well, an underwhelming “meh” of a film combined with box office poison Jennifer Lopez meant that it nosedived on release, taking $17 million against a $35 million budget. Not good. Not good at all. It actually looked promising from the trailer which, though slightly creepy, seemed to suggest a lot more than what eventually ended up in the movie – it consisted of Statham making Jennifer Lopez undress before him, ostensibly to check if she was wearing a wire, but actually so we’d get to see her in her underwear. Whatever your thoughts on a semi-nude Lopez, ultimately it just wasn’t enough to lure in the crowds, proving that sometimes you need more than booty and a bald headed maniac to sell your movie.

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3) The Fifth Estate

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Fifth Estate The Most Surprising Box Office Bombs Of 2013

For the past few years, Julian Assange has been front and centre of most global news stories. The founder of WikiLeaks, with the release of tens of thousands of diplomatic cables, changed our world. Suddenly, there was tangible proof that governments were spying on us. If nothing else, his actions facilitated the Edward Snowden revelations, proving to most that their worst fears about what their governments knew about them were not only met but exceeded by the truth. Basically, anything Assange should be box office gold. He’s currently holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London on Swedish rape charges, a real life fugitive from justice. How could a movie about him fail?

Well, somehow, it did. Starring the very British Benedict Cumberbatch – currently in the midst of a stratospheric career trajectory, playing both Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (to name but two roles) – as Assange himself, even getting a Hollywood megastar to play the reclusive but flamboyant hacker wasn’t enough.

Perhaps it was the abstract title – “the fifth estate” refers to the practice of online journalism and alternative media that WikiLeaks represents. Maybe it was a sense of a public apathy towards a subject that has dominated the world news since 2010 – how do you make an interesting and surprising film, the subject of which has been played out ad nauseam across thousands of news outlets for three years? And is still ongoing? Maybe it was Cumberbatch’s wig?

The film actually opened to decent reviews, but ended up taking $6 million against a budget of $28 million. That’s not good at all, and pennies for a Cumberbatch movie. I bet his trench coat in Star Trek Into Darkness cost more than that.

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4) After Earth

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We may never know if After Earth was intended as some weird Scientology induction film, because Will Smith controls all. Some folks certainly believed so, which would account for its exceptionally poor box office performance on initial release – $27 million against $130 million. Scientology never plays well on screen, just ask Battlefield Earth. Fishy insidious cults aside, After Earth is yet another film this year that should have worked. It should have made money on its first weekend in the domestic box office.

Some would argue that After Earth doesn’t belong here, because it did make money, eventually. Foreign box office and sweet lady time eventually allowed After Earth to turn a profit, but it says a lot about a film when a Will Smith project fails to spontaneously explode into a money cloud. There’s a multitude of reasons why this might have been the case, premiere amongst them the plot of the film. It centres around the idea of remaining as calm as possible to prevent special fear-smelling aliens from detecting you, essentially making the story a competition between father and son to discover which of them could be more boring than the other. Does this sound like the next Independence Day to you?

Also it was directed by M. Night Shyamalan. So yeah, that could be a reason too.

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5) The Lone Ranger

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This is a weird one, because The Lone Ranger actually ended up on quite a few people’s year end best-ofs. Quentin Tarantino has repeatedly cited the film as one of his favourite of the year, and since it released a lot of moviegoers have argued against the harsh critical reception it received. Unfortunately, contrarian goodwill doesn’t usually translate into profits, and this case was no different.

The key strategy behind the release of The Lone Ranger seemed to be “throw enough money at something, and it will eventually turn a profit.” Disney put $225 million into the project, which was beset by an extremely long production time and multiple shutdowns for fear of the budget spiralling out of control. The company actually wanted to shelve the entire thing at one point, so low were expectations for the film.

The Lone Ranger was mauled on its US release, but was more warmly received overseas. There’s a lot of affection for The Lone Ranger property in the UK, where most people’s parents watched the TV series as a youngster, which may explain why it went down a little better there. There was a huge detracting factor in the UK though – nobody knows who Armie Hammer is. Nobody in the whole of the UK, at all.

The film had a great trailer, which outlined the train scene in a lot of detail, but ultimately it didn’t add up to much. The Lone Ranger took $260 million at the worldwide box office, but all told is likely to have lost $190 million in total. That makes the film the biggest flop of the year – whoda thunk?

It’s been a great year for flops, as I’m sure you’ll agree, but do you have any other suggestions for your favourite flops? Leave your comments below.

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  • The Dude

    “Two words – Johnny Depp. He very rarely bombs (Dark Shadowsnotwithstanding) purely because he is attractive and the budgets of the films he’s usually in are huge.”

    Um no, he rarely bombs because he’s an amazingly talented actor who makes an entertaining movies and plays different characters each time.

  • Guest

    I’m sure a good contribution to the Lone Ranger’s failure was the fact that many people boycotted it because they used redface unapologetically…at least the original Tonto was actually Native American.

  • The_Ghost_of_Bo_Crowder

    People are getting tired of Depp’s schtick. He needs to cut out the big budget stuff and start doing interesting indies again,

    There was absolutely nothing surprising about The Fifth Estate bombing. The media being excited about a story doesn’t mean that the average person is.

    • The Dude

      The movie bombed because of many factors other than JD and He is playing “normal” roles in his 2 upcoming movies and the very interesting trailer of his next movie “Transcendence” got over 4 million views on youtube and a lot of hype and excitements and positive reactions so yeah the people are so tired of his non-existent ‘schtick’!