Sometimes, it pays off to take a gamble. Every so often a film will hit theatres and surprise everyone by proving to be a box office smash. But then there’s those films that just bomb, and bomb hard. Films that have the biggest budgets in the world and the biggest stars on the planet but for some reason or another, just fail to connect with audiences.
With Pacific Rim storming into the box office this past week, and The Lone Ranger slowly drowning after only a couple short weeks in release, we thought it would be a good time to look back on some of the biggest box office bombs of all time.
Now, these are not the biggest and we know that there are certainly films out there that have done a lot worse than what we’ve put on this list. This is simply just ten, out of many, films that took quite a dive at the box office.
So, without further ado, we present to you ten films that despite all the money and backing in the world, lost their studios a ton of money.Next
1) John Carter
Production Budget: $250 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: $282,778,100
By now, everyone knows the saga of Disney’s John Carter. Regarded as one of the biggest box office failures ever, the film itself wasn’t necessarily terrible, but it was marketed poorly and had a rather excessive budget. It was a gamble to begin with too, bringing a character who debuted in 1912 to the big screen almost a century later.
Analysts have pointed out that once you add in the marketing budget and everything else associated with releasing the film, for John Carter to have broken even, it would have needed to hit $600 million at the worldwide box office. To make profit, it would have needed to pull in a number even higher than that. Obviously, the odds were not in its favor.
As I said above, I don’t think that John Carter was really that terrible. It wasn’t a good film but it wasn’t as bad as many made it out to be. It hads its moments and I still wouldn’t be totally opposed to seeing a sequel. Not that we’ll ever get one, but I wouldn’t be against it if it ever did happen.
Unfortunately, this is one franchise that I think is dead, for now at least. Disney lost way too much money on it and I can’t see them going back to the character anytime soon.Previous Next
2) Speed Racer
Production Budget: $120 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: $93,945,766
Hot off the success of The Matrix trilogy, Warner Bros. commissioned the Wachowski siblings to direct Speed Racer. The film had actually been in production since 1992 but it wasn’t until 2008 that it finally hit the big screen.
The $120 million was already a lot to begin with, and once you throw in marketing costs of close to $80 million, the amount of money spent on this one certainly made it a gamble. I mean, the Wachowskis were a hot commodity in Hollywood at the time but they lost a bit of their goodwill with the subpar Matrix sequels. Also, the film was an adaptation of a 1960s Japanese anime show. Still, the studio obviously thought that having the Wachowskis at the helm would be enough.
Unfortunately, they were wrong and Speed Racer ended up sinking the siblings’ careers, for a while at least. Critics slammed the film and the box office wasn’t too kind to it either. Admittedly, the visuals were pretty spectacular but for many, the film just missed the mark on far too many occasions and was geared too heavily towards children, leaving nothing of substance for those over the age of 10.
It solidified the soiled reputation of the Wachowskis and it wouldn’t be until 2012 that the siblings would redeem themselves with the fantastic Cloud Atlas.Previous Next
3) The Lone Ranger
Production Budget: $250 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: N/A
It may be unfair to include The Lone Ranger on this list. The film is still in theatres and thus, cannot be deemed a bomb just yet. So far though, things aren’t looking too pretty for Disney’s latest epic.
Boasting a hugely expensive budget, the film is a gamble for two reasons. One, it stars Armie Hammer. Though the actor isn’t exactly an unknown, I wouldn’t say that he’s a bankable leading man just yet and asking audiences to buy into him as the titular hero may be asking a bit much. Secondly, the film has a Western setting, which we all know is a hard sell.
Currently, at the time of writing this article, the film is sitting at $122 million worldwide. That’s not necessarily a terrible number but you can bet that Disney wanted to see more than that by this point.
Additionally, reviews are pretty bad as well. Most people are criticizing the performances and the over-complicated story. The film just doesn’t seem to be catching on with audiences and unless things really pick up, this may prove to be another huge bomb for the mouse house. In fact, analysts predict that The Lone Ranger is on pace to lose $150 million, which makes sense given that the marketing alone is rumoured to have cost $175 million and the film likely won’t do more than $275 million worldwide.Previous Next
4) Mars Needs Moms
Production Budget: $150 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: $38,992,758
If Hollywood’s recent track record is anything to go by, it seems as though the planet Mars – while symbolising relentless war and chaos in Roman mythology – also signals box office misfortunes in the realm of cinema. Though John Carter fell flat in 2012, Walt Disney also distributed another space-related mishap in Mars Needs Moms a year earlier.
Other than having a ridiculously lazy title, the film was released during a somewhat unfortunate period. Having been filmed and produced in 3D, Mars Needs Moms was a hasty and misplaced jump on a three-dimensional bandwagon that had already grown old and rickety in a post-Clash of The Titans landscape.
Directed by Simon Wells and produced by the team behind The Polar Express, this is an animation film that, quite frankly, isn’t animated very well. The character models resemble dead-eyed mannequins and the narrative through line – of a child who only realises the importance of his mother after she is kidnapped by Martians – is poorly executed. Mars Needs Moms doesn’t hold a candle to movies from the Pixar canon and the impressive use of digital technology isn’t enough to compensate for the film’s lack of heart.
At present, Wells’ movie stands as one of the biggest box office flops in film history – unadjusted for inflation, mind you – and while it doesn’t quite deserve to be lambasted in such a way, Mars Needs Moms is still a prime example where style and technological wizardry was favoured over substance.Previous Next
5) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Production Budget: $137 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: $85,131,830
What succeeds in one medium may flail helplessly in another. Essentially, that was the story for Columbia Pictures’ brave, and ultimately futile adaption of the Final Fantasy series in 2001. Entitled Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the film represented the first time that the popular video game franchise had transcended onto the grand silver screen, although in hindsight, some fans wish it had remained in the realm of pixelated chocobos.
You see, the problem with the movie was that it failed to appeal to any demographic in particular. Instead it was too concerned with boasting its use of photorealistic technology which, for the uninitiated, resulted in the motion picture resembling a video game in terms of visual aesthetic, and therefore passed the mainstream audience by.
What’s more, even though the film was directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi – the mind behind the Final Fantasy series – Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within lacked the fundamental components that make the source material so engaging – even a quasi-Yuna protagonist from Final Fantasy X failed to salvage the production.
A bland narrative with paper thin characters encapsulated Sakaguchi’s directorial debut, and while the film was nominated for its soundtrack and groundbreaking character animation models, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ultimately and ironically, given the plot, lacked a soul. And when a feature film’s poor reception forces its studio – Square Studios – to shut up shop, you know you’ve got a resounding dud on your hands.Previous Next
6) Wild Wild West
Production Budget: $170 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: $222,105,681
The history books will always read that Will Smith turned down the opportunity to play Neo in The Matrix in favour of a lead role in Barry Sonnenfield’s bombastic western, Wild Wild West. Clocking in at $170 million, it was the most expensive film that Warner Bros. had produced for that time, and one that has been candidly derided by the star of the original television series. In fact, Robert Conrad was there to accept the trio of Razzie awards for Wild Wild West as a blasé and damning expression to Sonnenfield’s expensive rendition.
It was a film that effectively derailed Will Smith’s reign as the king of the summer blockbuster too, following his streak from Men In Black and Independence Day. And once Wild Wild West opened for the movie-going audience, it was evident that the script had been passed around four screenwriters and eight producers like an unbearable lump of hot coal. The fracture lines in the end product were there for all to see: actors giving half-hearted performances, a plot that feels forced and, above all, an emphasis on CGI effects rather than story.
A cacophony of sci-fi, western, comedy and action, Wild Wild West was a jack of all trades, but ultimately a master of none.Previous Next
Production Budget: $75.6 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: $7,266,209
You know the expression, “You’ll never work in this town again?” Meet Martin Brest. He was never especially prolific, but he did make Beverly Hills Cop, and secured Al Pacino an Oscar with Scent of a Woman. Sure, he tripped up a little with Meet Joe Black, an overblown, overly dramatic, and overly wrought take on the classic Death Takes a Holiday, but that’s why pencils have erasers. And there was no bigger eraser than Gigli because nothing in Brest’s filmography can surpass it for name cache, and Brest hasn’t made another film since its release.
But the career of Martin Brest isn’t the only thing that Gigli destroyed in its path. There was once this thing called “Bennifer,” the seemingly impossible collision of high-wattage stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Which came first, their contribution to Gigli or their Hollywood romance is a chicken-and-egg question lost in time to the fact that once, it did exist, and for a while it was a bigger gossip black hole than the Kardashian baby and the Jodi Arias trial combined. Backlash was inevitable, but it could have been mitigated if only the movie itself had been able to hold any sort of structural integrity.
A consistent string of re-shoots and re-edits were being demanded by the studio, while director Brest and the producers were engaged in this tug of war to decide the fate of the film regarding what tinkering was required and when it would be ready for release. The still burgeoning internet film culture smelled blood in the water and never missed an opportunity to call Gigli dead on arrival even before the movie was scheduled to arrive. When it did open in August 2003, critics awarded the film with a 7 per cent collective “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a presumptive spot on the “Worst Films of the Year” list, and about $7 million in receipts from the worldwide box office.
Affleck has since recovered to become the toast of Tinsletown with a successful directing career, and J Lo. marches on as a multi-hyphenate, but poor Martin Brest has apparently lost all will to direct. Although, who would front the director of Gigli any kind of budget for a movie now?Previous Next
8) Cutthroat Island
Production Budget: $98 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: $10,017,322
It takes a special kind of disaster mentality to craft a movie that doesn’t just sink individual careers, but sinks a studio as well. But really, Carolco’s meteoric rise and enormous fall could be an article in and of itself, the point here is that the studio, in a last gasp effort to turn their financial troubles around, bet huge on the box office clout of pirate movies, Renny Harlin and the dynamic duo of Geena Davis and Matthew Modine.
The signs were there that this was not going to end well for all involved. Michael Douglas was originally cast as the male lead of Cutthroat, but the actor had only limited time to commit and when Davis, then married to Harlin, was made the ostensive star of the film, Douglas backed out. With Harlin’s attention focused on re-casting, set construction and art direction work on the film continued without much of the director’s input, resulting, ultimately, in a lot of that period production design being redone on the fly, and quite expensively, as production got underway. Meanwhile, a veritable who’s who of leading men – Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves, Charlie Sheen, and Michael Keaton – turned down the role of slave-turned-love interest William Shaw. Eventually, Modine, then best known for his role as Joker in Full Metal Jacket, was cast based in no small part on his pre-existing fencing skills.
The end result? In two words: not good. Cutthroat Island premiered in 13th place at the Christmas box office and ultimately took in just over $10 million in total. Harlin has since pointed out that Carolco was in dire straits before Cutthroat was released, which is true, but neither his career, nor that of future ex-wife Davis, would ever really recover:
Davis retreated to TV where she hasn’t had much better success, Harlin’s last studio effort was the WWE-produced 12 Rounds starring wrestler John Cena, and Modine enjoyed a brief brush with relevance playing a Gotham City cop in last summer’s The Dark Knight Rises. Pirate movies would enjoy a brief resurgence with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, but the curse seems mostly to belong to Cutthroat Island.Previous Next
9) The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle
Production Budget: $76 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: $35,143,820
Third time’s the charm, right? That must have been the thought when The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle came out in the summer of 2000, being the third movie based on a Jay Ward cartoon to come out in four years. Although George of the Jungle was a modest hit, Dudley Do-Right had a kind of “blink and you’ll miss it” status at the local multiplex. In Rocky and Bullwinkle’s favour was more name cache and the improbable, yet curious, involvement of acting titan Robert De Niro, but the end result, despite a mixed critical reaction, was more Dudley than George.
The conceit was perhaps a little too meta for its own good, and this was before “meta” was even a thing, which probably lead to more viewer confusion. The premise was that eternal bad guys Boris and Natasha (Jason Alexander and Rene Russo) as well as their boss, Fearless Leader (De Niro) leave their 2D animated world and enter ours in order to use cable television to brainwash the American public. The government and very special FBI agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) then recruit Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose to stop the bad guys, also bringing them to the real world along with the old series’ unseen narrator who remains unseen. A series of mad cap misadventures follow in what comes across as a loosely connected series of Rocky & Bullwinkle vignettes, like a bunch of the old cartoons were repurposed and tied together with the brainwashing plot.
Still, the script was probably not the weak link, and indeed on the surface showed some degree of inventiveness and ingenuity. Kenneth Lonergan gets sole screenplay credit, but 2000 treated him better for his award-nominated drama You Can Count On Me, which he also directed. But Broadway director Des McAnuff definitely seemed in over his head, and the live-action characters played by Alexander, Russo, and De Niro looked silly when realized in real life. For De Niro, who also served as the film’s producer, it was the initial sign of a nearly decade long tale spiral that saw the actor squander his talent more often than realize it (and the ridiculous self-parody of his famous Taxi Driver “Are you talking to me?” scene didn’t help either). The public though was just as unconvinced, and the movie made back less than half its budget with a worldwide box office haul of $35 million. There have been no movies made based on Jay Ward cartoons since.Previous Next
Production Budget: $100 million
Worldwide Box Office Total: $82,102,379
It’s hard to say what went wrong with Catwoman. I mean, there’s no doubt that it’s an utterly terrible film, but it’s still surprising that it turned out so poorly. The character herself is widely recognized with a large fanbase and Halle Berry was hotter than ever when the film was made. So how did this film manage to bomb so hard?
Personally, I think Berry was alright in the role and wouldn’t place much of the blame on her. Instead, I’d say that the filmmakers are to blame. Catwoman is a sloppy and messy piece of work, one that was clearly made with little care or appreciation for its titular character. It comes off as a direct-to-video release and is almost laughable at points. How the studio ever greenlit this project, and got Berry to star, is beyond me.
All that being said, I’m still holding out for another solo effort featuring the character. Anne Hathaway did a pretty good job at portraying Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises and I wouldn’t mind seeing the actress reprise her role in another film. Maybe even have Christopher Nolan direct?
So there you have it, our list of some of the biggest box office bombs, ever. Did we miss any films that should have been on the list? Let us know in the comments below.
Please note that this article has been a collaboration between Matt Joseph, Adam Donaldson and Michael Briers.Previous