We all go through a process of getting unnecessarily hyped for a movie only to see it crash and burn at the box office. It has happened time-and-again, and it will continue to do so. Over the years, especially recently, audiences have either been pulled in by nostalgia (e.g. Jurassic World) or require a higher quality of filmmaking before considering spending upwards of $15 at a movie theater.
In many cases, movies with enough hype can surpass any and all expectations (e.g. Deadpool). However, there are of course dozens of movies that have had significantly high hopes from either studio executives or fans but ended up performing poorly at the box office. The following movies on this list are some of the more prominent cases. So, in no particular order, here are 15 Movies That Had High Hopes But Were Box Office Letdowns.
15. John Carter
Of all the movies on this list, John Carter is the only one that could be attributed to a management change following its release. In 2012, Disney attempted to capture the imagination of audiences by releasing a live-action adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the first novel in his iconic Barsoom series that has influenced works such as Avatar and Star Wars.
Directed by Pixar legend Andrew Stanton, who had directed Finding Nemo and WALL-E, John Carter was given an estimated budget of $250 to $300 million. In order to fully realize the director and writer’s vision, John Carter‘s bloated budget was heavily allocated to the movie’s impressive special effects. Unfortunately, it amounted to very little when it released, having grossed a measly $284 million worldwide.
John Carter was at least partially responsible for stunting Disney’s foray back into science-fiction. Ever since then, even though Joseph Kosinski’s TRON: Legacy performed moderately well, Disney has been hesitant about pursuing ambitious projects. Sadly, Disney’s high hopes of repeating its success with live-action films like Pirates of the Caribbean failed tragically.
14. Fantastic Four
After an outstanding directorial debut with Chronicle, Josh Trank skyrocketed to the top of several must-watch lists. As one of the few big-budget directors in Hollywood to get his start making YouTube videos, Trank proved his capability as a director early on and was subsequently given the reigns to direct a Fantastic Four reboot in 2012.
Leading up to its Summer 2015 release, the Fantastic Four reboot was marred with numerous production problems, including rumors that 20th Century Fox was unhappy with Trank’s version of the film and ordered several revisions. Trank had even gone on Twitter the day before the movie’s release and claimed he filmed a superb version of Fantastic Four that, unfortunately, no one would ever get to see.
Although fans had been anticipating a new take on the Fantastic Four, expectations for Trank’s movie primarily stemmed from executives at 20th Century Fox and not from the actual fans, who disagreed with various aspects of the movie’s direction. Now, after two attempts, it’s time comic book fans receive a proper adaptation of the Fantastic Four — and of Doctor Doom.
13. Speed Racer
As with several other movies on this list, Warner Bros. had been attempting to bring Speed Racer – based on the famed animated series of the same name by Tatsuo Yoshida – to the big screen since 1992, constantly changing actors, writers, and directors. The studio didn’t actually move the project into production until 2006 when the Wachowskis joined as directors. Following the conclusion of The Matrix trilogy in 2003, the Wachowskis took a break from directing and moved temporarily into screenwriting but returned when presented with the opportunity to adapt the world-famous series.
Starring Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, and Matthew Fox, among others, Speed Racer was one of the most anticipated movies of the year, featuring a plethora of promotional tie-in products and toys. Unfortunately, the movie itself failed to live up to the hype, grossing a horrendous $93.9 million worldwide on an estimated $120 million budget. Although the studio was optimistic it would profit on the movie’s merchandise, Speed Racer itself was a box office flop, costing the studio lots of money and the Wachowskis’ reputation.
After spending decades working in animation, Brad Bird made the jump to live-action filmmaking with Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, the fourth and arguably best installment in the ongoing series. Not long after the film released, Disney and Lucasfilm approached Bird with the possibility of directing Star Wars: Episode VII. After much consideration, though, Bird ended up rejecting the offer in order to make an original film with screenwriter Damon Lindelof, inspired by the ideas introduced by the legendary Walt Disney himself.
Based on the theme park land of the same name within Disneyland Resort, Bird’s Tomorrowland was a visionary science-fiction tale about an advanced society comprised of all the geniuses of the world who would be given a place and an unlimited budget to achieve their dreams. Unfortunately, the concept didn’t transfer well into marketing, and despite relatively solid reviews, Tomorrowland was a box office failure for Disney, having grossed a mere $209.2 million worldwide on an estimated $190 million budget.
Prior to release, Tomorrowland was one of the most anticipated releases of the year. After all, why would Brad Bird (a Pixar legend) turn down the opportunity to direct Star Wars to make this film? Anticipation from audiences and critics could not be higher, but despite its stunning visuals, the story felt disjointed and uneven, which led to a disappointing box office run.
11. Green Lantern
Warner Bros. had been trying to get a Green Lantern movie off the ground for well over a decade before Martin Campbell’s adaptation hit the big screen in 2011. Following massive critical and commercial success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, which is considered to be one of the greatest trilogies ever made, the studio was looking to ride the train for a little longer by releasing a Green Lantern movie as well as a Superman movie (Man of Steel).
Green Lantern is arguably one of the most beloved comic book characters in history, so adapting the character to the big screen was no easy task. There was a lot of anticipation and hope surrounding the project, from both Warner Bros.’ executives and fans. Unfortunately, the end result was not what either expected.
On a bloated $200 million budget, Campbell’s Green Lantern grossed only $219.8 million worldwide. Compared to Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, which released one-year later and grossed over $1 billion worldwide, as well as Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which grossed $668 million worldwide, Green Lantern was an utter failure, both critically and commercially.
10. Jupiter Ascending
Ever since The Matrix released in 1999, the Wachowskis have been trying to achieve the same wonder and success as their ground-breaking series. But with a string of disappointments, including the aforementioned Speed Racer, they began to lose a sense of credibility, which didn’t help their case when the big-budget space opera Jupiter Ascending hit the big screen in 2015.
Being billed as a cross between The Matrix and Star Wars, Jupiter Ascending was given an estimated budget of $176 million to achieve its required visual effects. Despite an intriguing original concept, and a bankable cast consisting of Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, Jupiter Ascending was a box office disaster for Warner Bros. The movie grossed a pitiful $184 million worldwide, of which only $47.4 million was attained domestically.
Perhaps delaying the movie by seven months just mere weeks prior to its initial release was a mistake. After all, according to reports following Jupiter Ascending‘s box office failure, Warner Bros. had terminated their relationship with the Wachowskis, a relationship that began way back with The Matrix.
9. Terminator Salvation
Hollywood has tried time-and-again to recapture the wonder of James Cameron’s The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In hindsight, the franchise should have concluded with Cameron’s second installment. Since then, however, several studios have attempted to relaunch the franchise three times, of which all three failed and were considerably worse than the previous one. For the purposes of this list, though, we will focus on probably the most daring of them all: Terminator Salvation.
Directed by Supernatural executive producer McG, Terminator Salvation was the first Terminator property set entirely in the future – post-Judgment Day. Starring Christian Bale as John Connor and Sam Worthington as the cyborg Marcus Wright, the movie was to be the first installment in a new Terminator trilogy, one that continued the story of the previous three movies.
Although some fans enjoyed the film, particularly newcomers to the franchise, Terminator Salvation was critically panned – which didn’t help its box office gross. Despite earning $371 million worldwide, the movie was a box office failure. Not only did it have a budget of $200 million, but Warner Bros. paid $60 million to for domestic distribution rights, while Sony Pictures paid $100 million for international distribution rights. Suffice to say, both studios did not receive a favorable return-on-investment.
8. Cowboys & Aliens
Perhaps one of the stranger movies on this list, Cowboys & Aliens – based on the graphic novel of the same name by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg – is a western film with science-fiction elements, particularly aliens. With Indiana Jones and James Bond together, as cowboys, fighting aliens in a movie directed by Iron Man director Jon Favreau – could it get any better? The answer is yes, because not only was the movie not what audiences expected, but it was also a box office letdown.
Being backed by big names like Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, Cowboys & Aliens was given a hefty budget of $163 million to realize its full potential. Unfortunately, due to its unusual blending of Western and Sci-Fi elements, Cowboys & Aliens‘ marketing strategy suffered. Keeping its generically comic title and premise surely didn’t help, despite the film itself featuring enough genre diversity to appeal to a broad audience. Right off the bat, scarcely coming in first place on its opening weekend, Cowboys & Aliens was looking to be a box office failure. It ended its run grossing merely $174.8 million.
Until recently, Matthew McConaughey wasn’t known for award-winning box office hits. He has starred in a string of questionable projects over the years, including Breck Eisner’s Sahara, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Clive Cussler. According to McConaughey, the movie was to be the first in a new franchise that would focus on the character Dirk Pitt, a sea-loving adventurer who relishes in collecting rare artifacts.
Despite an extensive marketing campaign, which included McConaughey traveling across the country in his own Airstream trailer, the movie ultimately became a box office bomb. The issue with the movie was not its characters or its premise (which was outlandish, to say the least), but rather its bloated budget that didn’t allow the movie to succeed in the first place.
After its release, Sahara became the subject of numerous box office studies, with multiple specialists and reports indicating various production budgets and losses. For one, the Los Angeles Times listed the movie as one of the costliest box office flops of all time, having grossed $119.3 million worldwide on an estimated $160 million production budget.
Typically, when a director makes his or her directorial debut, there is not much flare until after the movie releases. However, in the case of Transcendence, there was a significant amount of hype surrounding the project – not due to its premise, but because of the people involved in the project. Academy Award-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister is known for being Christopher Nolan’s go-to guy, having worked on virtually every one of his films, including The Dark Knight trilogy. Additionally, he has worked on other films such as F. Gary Gray’s The Italian Job remake as well as Bennett Miller’s Moneyball.
So when Pfister decided to make the jump from cinematography to directing, coupled with a stellar cast consisting of Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, and Cillian Murphy, Transcendence was looking to be a hit – or so we thought. On a relatively modest budget of $100 million, Transcendence scarcely grossed $103 million worldwide. Not even having Nolan and Emma Thomas’ names attached to the project as executive producers were able to save the movie.
When you have a movie made by Academy Award nominated and winning writers, directors, producers, and actors like Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, and Elaine May, you’re practically guaranteed to have a hit on your hands – but that’s not the way Hollywood works.
May’s 1987 action-comedy film Ishtar was supposed to be her chance to shine, seeing as she had done significant uncredited rewrites on films such as Reds and Tootsie, for which Beatty and Hoffman were grateful, considering they were both either nominated for or won an Academy Award for.
Regrettably, the film ended up becoming one of the most infamous box office failures of all time and is also considered to be one of the worst films ever made – but we’ll hold off personal judgment seeing as the film has received growing acclaim in recent years. Still, there is no denying its poor box office run, grossing $14.3 million worldwide on an estimated $51 million production budget.
4. The Golden Compass
Shortly after Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring released in theaters, New Line Cinema acquired the rights to another epic fantasy trilogy, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
Looking to replicate their success with The Lord of the Rings, the studio hired screenwriter Chris Weitz (who recently co-wrote the screenplay for Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) to direct an adaptation of the first novel in the series, The Golden Compass, starring the likes of Daniel Craig (who had just made his debut as James Bond in Casino Royale), Nicole Kidman, and Christopher Lee, as well as newcomer Dakota Blue Richards.
After taking notes from Jackson, Weitz developed a version visually evocative of the novel but failed to capture the story’s essence and its subversive themes. The Golden Compass is by no means a flop, but it can be considered a box office letdown, for, despite grossing $372 million at the worldwide box office on an estimated $180 million budget, the movie failed to spawn the two sequels needed to complete the trilogy. Perhaps the numerous cuts and changes made from the novel to accommodate a shorter running time had an adverse effect on the film’s quality.
3. Prince of Persia
Ever since Bryan Singer’s X-Men released in 2000, comic book fans have been living through a renaissance of comic book movies, with ground-breaking hits like The Dark Knight and The Avengers. It’s about time something similar happened to video game movies. With strings of disappointments such as Super Mario Bros., Lara Croft, and Doom, it’s about time fans received a quality video game movie that would, hopefully, inspire a surge of outstanding video game adaptations.
Many people believed that time would finally come with Disney’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – based on the 2003 video game of the same name by Ubisoft. However, despite its enormous $200 million budget, Prince of Persia failed to capture the minds of audiences as well as their money. Billed as being the “next Pirates of the Caribbean,” Prince of Persia was a letdown – to both audiences and studio executives. Adhering to a step-by-step release schedule, Prince of Persia grossed $336.4 million worldwide, of which only $90 million was earned domestically.
Perhaps this year’s Assassin’s Creed movie (also based on a Ubisoft property) will be the first great video game movie. We’ll just have to wait and see.
2. The Lone Ranger
As one could see by the movies on this list, Disney has not had an exceptional decade thus far when it comes to live-action movies, especially those not based on fairy tale properties like Cinderella or Alice in Wonderland. The studio’s effort to adapt pre-established properties such as John Carter and Prince of Persia were met with lackluster box office results – of which their last attempt was in 2013 with Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, based on the iconic character (and later TV series) of the same name.
Starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger, the movie’s budget was cut shortly after the box office failure of John Carter, prompting Walt Disney Studios to rethink their future. To accommodate for a lower budget, Verbinski, Depp, and Hammer each deferred approximately 20 percent of their pay. Despite the cut in the budget, the movie suffered at the box office, raking in $260.5 million worldwide on an estimated $220 million production budget. Coupled with a notable whitewashing controversy, The Lone Ranger forced Disney to be more vigilant when it came to future live-action adaptations.
1. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
As previously mentioned, comic book fans are currently living in a comic book movie renaissance, but that doesn’t mean all superhero movies are good. Some are mediocre, and others are spectacular. Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 falls into the former category. As the second installment in Sony Pictures’ rebooted Spider-Man series, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 featured an amalgam of villains and was to be the first movie in a newly expanded movie universe, featuring multiple spin-offs.
A little less than a year prior to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 releasing in theaters, Sony Pictures announced plans to release two more sequels as well as a Venom solo movie and a Sinister Six spin-off movie. Unfortunately, due to unfavorable critic reviews and a franchise-low box office performance ($709 million worldwide on an estimated $293 million budget), the studio opted to cancel the series and reboot the character within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now starring Tom Holland as the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man.