The entertainment industry added $504 billion dollars to the US economy in 2011, with films making up the largest portion of that amount. With rewards that large, it’s understandable that movie studios and producers need to take significant risks. Success at the box office is a complex formula that involves proper timing, anticipating audience desires, casting the right actors in lead roles, and hundreds of other factors.
Since Hollywood looks to how audiences receive films with related themes or individual actors, one big box office bust can change the type of movies being made for years, or affect the roles an actor is cast in for a long time. If a western bombs, it may be a few years before another big budget western makes it to the screen. Likewise, if a Matt Damon movie earns huge, he’s seemingly in everything for years to come.
Since a film’s box office earnings are split almost evenly between the theater and the company who produced it, it’s fairly easy to calculate if a movie is profitable. By comparing the budget versus half of the box office sales, it’s possible to estimate how much the studio made or lost on the movie.
By looking at budgets versus earnings for the studios, here are Screen Rant’s 10 Biggest Box Office Bombs.
10) R.I.P.D. (2013) – Losses: $90,837,890
When a reviewer feels a film is so bad it doesn’t merit a review, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of America wanting to see it either.
The major problem with R.I.P.D is that it offered too much of what audiences had already seen. With a plot involving a squad of dead police tracking down rogue ghosts, the movie sounded a lot like Men in Black (with the dead instead of the extra-terrestrial), without the cool factor of Will Smith or the pure star power of Tommy Lee Jones. With only one year passing since MIB 3‘s release, the whole premise was too on the nose for many.
However, cinematic similarities didn’t end there. Ryan Reynolds had recently starred in some poorly performing action films, including his role as the villain Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the eponymous hero in Green Lantern. Audiences weren’t yet ready to give him another chance in the action department. More glaringly, having memorably filled John Wayne’s shoes three years earlier in the acclaimed remake of True Grit, Jeff Bridges as a cowboy, “Roy” Pulsipher, hit too close to home for many and didn’t lend itself to helping him save the film.
In the end, with a worldwide gross of under $80 million, R.I.P.D set Universal back over $90,000,000 and is likely a major contributor as to why Reynolds and Bridges haven’t been seen in a major film since.
9) The Alamo (2004) – Losses: $94,090,020
Originally planned to be released in December of 2003, The Alamo may have avoided this list if it had stuck with its original launch date. With a reasonably small budget for a historical film focused on beloved historical figures and a major battle in American history, patriotism alone could have fueled earnings. However, timing is everything, and by pushing back to an April release in 2004, The Alamo had to face off with some Godly competition at the box office.
In February 2004, Mel Gibson’s self-financed, religious picture The Passion of the Christ was released at the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. Hugely controversial because of its extreme violence and negative depiction of Jews, the film wasn’t promoted in a conventional manner, yet positive word of mouth spread among evangelical Christians. Audiences grew each week, and the media buzz around the movie and its unique marketing strategy was deafening.
Unfortunately for The Alamo, its release date of April 7th was two days before Good Friday, the day commemorating the death of Jesus, the event depicted in the film. As expected, The Passion took number one spot that weekend. Furthermore, there was no chance to recover the next week, as Quentin Tarantino released his highly anticipated follow-up film Kill Bill Volume 2 and took the number one spot in theaters.
8) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) – Losses: $94,434,085
In the relatively early days of CGI animation, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was one of the first non-Pixar films to offer audiences a completely computer generated experience. Featuring the voices of major stars including Donald Sutherland, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Buscemi, the technologically advanced picture was expected to start a trend toward actorless movies.
What likely hurt the film the most was the major innovation it was selling to the public, the close-to-life computer animation. Suffering from a problem known as “the uncanny valley,” the characters were too realistic to be seen as cute, but not realistic enough to be recognized as human. Audiences felt the characters were cold and mechanical-looking in trailers, and even with a large built-in audience from the Final Fantasy video game series, the venture lost money. The Spirits Within is now a noted lesson in how much detail in computer animation is too much.
7) The Lone Ranger (2013) – Losses: $94,748,943
Johnny Depp has been a consistent earner at the box offices since 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and with him serving as star and executive producer of the 2013 remake of The Lone Ranger, he was expected to continue this trend.
Surrounded by some controversy related to Depp’s portrayal of the Native American sidekick character, Tonto, he began purporting his maternal Cherokee ancestry, which was never verified. This did not endear him or the studio to Native American advocacy groups, who publicly protested the film.
In addition to that controversy, it felt odd that marketing material focused on Depp’s character instead of on the titular Lone Ranger, played by Arnie Hammer. The film was perceived as being an opportunity for Johnny Depp to play a Captain Jack Sparrow-like character, something that made him seem lazy and one dimensional.
Finally, with foreign markets providing increasingly larger portions of box office returns in the past few decades, it is best to consider tastes outside America before investing $225 million into a movie. Westerns have never done well overseas, and Depp’s star power couldn’t change that.
6) The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) – Losses: $96,448,014
Eddie Murphy has been a box office draw for over 30 years, and his family-focused films were safe bets throughout the late 1990’s and the first years of the new millennium. With influential hits like Dr. Doolittle, The Nutty Professor, and Shrek recently under his belt, Murphy pretty much had free reign to make whatever movie he wanted.
Seemingly going for a “so bad, it’s good” vibe, The Adventures of Pluto Nash never scored on the attempt. Spending $100 million to earn a total of $3.5 million, Pluto Nash would have taken a lesser star down with it. However, Murphy rebounded hard and in the next two years, three of his four pictures were massive successes, with Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion, and Shrek 2 all helping to erase the stain that was Pluto Nash.
5) Stealth (2005) – Losses: $96,533,564
While it would be assumed that one of the first military-themed movies in post 9/11 America would gain a patriotism bounce, Stealth just didn’t do it for audiences. A version of Top Gun with the enemy being a faceless robotic plane, the airforce-versus-machine film suffered from terrible reviews, with a 13% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Stealth faced stiff competition with the earlier releases of big draw films like Batman Begins, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and War of the Worlds. The young, untested stars, Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, and Jamie Foxx, weren’t the names needed to put up a decent fight, an unfortunate move on Columbia Picture’s part.
4) Sahara (2005) – Losses: $100,365,257
However, in 2005 McConaughy shared the screen with Penelope Cruz in the big-budget adventure Sahara. With a similar “hidden history” plot, the movie was compared to 2004’s National Treasure. Along with the feeling of a rehash, the casting of a romantic comedy leading man may have turned action/adventure fans off, while the adventure aspect of the story may have scared away his rom-com base.
In 2007, a Los Angeles Times article detailed the film’s inflated costs, which included bribes, large salaries for its writers, and a $2 million plane crash scene that was never used in the final cut. If these expensive items had been scaled back, it’s possible that the $120 million in ticket sales could have contributed to a calling this a success instead of the failure it was.
3) John Carter (2012) – Losses: $121,630,450
While it earned somewhat favorable reviews, John Carter was doomed to box office failure because its ambitious $263 million budget did not match the untested appeal of the property. Based on a series of books by author Edgar Rice Burroughs set on Mars, things were made things worse when director Andrew Stanton removed the “of Mars” from the original film title, John Carter of Mars.
With little indication of the plot in the title and a relatively unknown lead actor, Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights), there was little to draw in audiences. While buoyed by foreign earnings, particularly in Russia, John Carter still ended up losing over half of its budget.
2) Mars Needs Moms (2011) – Losses: $130,503,621
A rule to remember, when you gamble big, take out an insurance policy. Big budget films often do this through marketing efforts to get the public interested in seeing the movie, and by including major stars who come with natural audiences in everything they do.
Mars Needs Moms took an enormous bet on detailed (potentially too detailed) 3D animation, yet failed to insure the film by signing a major name in a crucial role. Costing $150,000,000 to make, the main voice actors were Family Guy’s Seth Green and Joan Cusack, brother of John.
Aimed at children, the film didn’t do itself any favors by including hyper-realistic aliens abducting Earth’s mothers. Kids were too afraid to see the movie, and without anything to appeal to adults, ticket money never came either.
1) 47 Ronin (2013) – Losses: $149,518,763
If the first nine entries on this list offer individual lessons on how to avoid box office failure, 47 Ronin is a cautionary tale of what happens when multiple issues strike at once.
Firstly, requiring reshoots and adjustments, the film was delayed by over a year, bloating the overall budget to $225 million. Released on Christmas Day of 2013, the competition was stiff, with Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug having premiered two weeks earlier, and the critically acclaimed The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle both opening on the same day.
Universally reviled by critics, holding a 14% rating on critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film tanked. American audiences, who hadn’t seen a significant success from star Keanu Reeves since 2008’s The Day The Earth Stood Still, avoided the unfamiliar story of the masterless Japanese samurai.
Selling only $150 million in tickets, the studios walked away with only one-third of their original investment.
Can you think of any other huge box office bombs? let us know in the comments!
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