DreamWorks Studios have churned out some of the most beloved animated feature films in recent years. From the wilds of Madagascar to the insular slums of a derelict high fantasy swamp, they have put out some of the most successful movies of the twenty-first century and are second only in the minds of most filmgoers to Disney/Pixar. Of course, like anything, where there are successes, there must be failures to go along with them and DreamWorks certainly has had their fair share of mistakes. While most of these underperforming films have either been forgotten or swept under the rug, there are a surprising couple of films which audience members may still remember despite their mediocre box office performances. Everyone remembers Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, but only true DreamWorks fans can say they recall seeing something like Chicken Run or Rise of the Guardians in theaters. Yet, even when they fail, DreamWorks almost always seems to find a way to bounce back.
Though the quality of their films is more or less consistent, the same cannot be said about their box office revenue. The moviegoing public seems to be fickle and, though they often complain about constant subjection to prequels and sequels to familiar franchises, it's what they flock to see. With that in mind, and looking specifically at a movie's domestic box office earnings, here are 10 DreamWorks movies that completely flopped in theaters (and 10 which became surprisingly massive hits).
20 Flop: The Prince of Egypt (Box Office: $101,413,188)
DreamWorks second ever outing in theaters, The Prince of Egypt was a 1998 religious-themed feature film which explored the life of the biblical figure Moses. An odd framework for a movie considering the subject matter of some of the films which would later bring the studio success, this project would go on to be the tenth least successful expenditure in DreamWorks history. That said, it was by no means unsuccessful and it managed to just cross the hundred million dollar threshold, no small feat for an animated movie releasing before the turn of the century. Something of a cult classic these days, the studio has long since given up on the hand-drawn animation style present in this work.
19 Hit: The Croods (Box Office: $187,168,425)
Releasing in 2013, The Croods was a surprisingly heartfelt, comedic take on a neolithic family of cavemen suppressed by their fear of the unknown. The family’s father figure, voiced by Nicholas Cage, stifles his family from the wonders of their world as a result of his crushing fear of danger and the movie explores his children's journey to overcome these issues. It is surprisingly deep for a PG-rated movie and it is the second highest grossing DreamWorks film to never receive a proper sequel (at least, not yet). While there are definitely more recognizable and memorable films in the studio’s filmography, The Croods is a slightly underrated piece which actually does have a follow up in the works said to be slated for a 2020 release.
18 Flop: Antz (Box Office $90,757,863)
Debuting during a time in which fully-animated 3D movies were still in their infancy, Antz was DreamWorks’ first official box office outing and it didn’t do all that well when compared to what the studio would later produce. Telling the story of a peculiar ant named Z, voiced by Woody Allen, Antz explores the struggle of a unique individual trying to cope with life in a strict, regulated society. Though it shows potential, it didn’t review all that well, and is mostly remembered for its relatively poor visuals. While 1995’s Toy Story proved to be the benchmark for all animated feature films to follow, DreamWorks first widespread release didn’t quite compare. Lacking the charm and adorable appeal for Pixar’s work, 1998 wouldn’t prove to be DreamWorks greatest year.
17 Hit: Madagascar ($193,595,521)
The 2005 classic kids film Madagascar follows the story of four Central Park Zoo animals which dream of breaking free of their confinements and living in the wild. Though they enjoy the admiration of the zoo-goers, they soon find themselves in over their heads once they stow away aboard a cargo ship bound for the West African island of Madagascar. Grossing just south of $200 million, Madagascar was a total hit for DreamWorks which spawned a set of sequels, a spinoff, and a Nickelodeon TV series. Though everyone thinks of green ogres and unnaturally short kings when they think of the studio, Madagascar comes in as a close second. We last heard from the series in 2014 with the release of Penguins of Madagascar.
16 Flop: Penguins of Madagascar (Box Office $83,350,911)
Speaking of 2014’s Penguins of Madagascar, it didn’t do nearly as well as the franchise’s debut, and it ended up being the worst performing outing in series history. Focusing on the original film’s famous band of secret agent penguins, the movie follows the efforts of an underground arctic animal intelligence agency known as the North Wind to foil the plot of a deranged squid named Dave… yes, seriously. Unsurprisingly, audiences weren’t drawn in by this spin-off and, despite the outward humor of the project, it ended up being the eighth least successful movie to be released by DreamWorks. It also bears one of the worst Metacritic scores of any DreamWorks film and is probably the least beloved entry in this otherwise well-loved series of movies.
15 Hit: Monsters vs. Aliens (Box Office $198,351,526)
Monsters vs. Aliens was a 2012 outing put together by DreamWorks which focused pretty heavily on the 3D movie trend of the era, though it also debut in non-3D formats. Riding on the coattails of the 3D mega-success of James Cameron’s Avatar, Monsters vs. Aliens brought in just under $200 million and stands as one of the highest-earning films in studio history. A parody and celebration of schlocky 50s monster movies, the movie explored the very human concept of loneliness and isolation in a world in which nobody can relate to you. Yet, when an alien race threatens to overthrow humanity, these monsters find their calling and it all works out for the best, even if the audience had to wear 3D glasses to get the full effect of the film.
14 Flop: Turbo (Box Office $83,028,128)
With a premise about as ridiculous as they come, 2014’s Turbo didn’t seem to have a leg to stand on relative to DreamWorks more successful properties. Telling the story of a snail desperate to add some speed to his slow, monotonous life, it echoes the story beats previously explored by the equally underwhelming Antz. This time, however, the main character finds himself in an incredible situation as he is imbued with special powers after being sucked into a car’s engine. This isn’t exactly the most relatable story, though the outsider-in-a-normative-world gambit comes off as pretty trite and wears thin in the first twenty or so minutes of the film. It isn’t an out-and-out bad time and it certainly made a decent amount of money, but it doesn’t quite have the same appeal as some of DreamWorks’ more successful products.
13 Hit: Kung Fu Panda (Box Office: $215,434,591)
2008’s DreamWorks classic Kung Fu Panda was a left-field success which featured Jack Black championing his role as a panda struggling to fulfill his destiny of becoming a Kung Fu master. A surprisingly uplifting tale centered on the virtues of self-confidence, Kung Fu Panda went on to rake in a cool $215 million at the box office and spawned a pair of numerically-titled sequels which nearly outperformed their predecessor. Much like the Madagascar series of films, Kung Fu Panda was also adapted into a Nickelodeon show, though, much like the Madagascar TV series, it isn’t all that well remembered. Though later iterations may have been almost successful financially, most fans won’t be quick to refer to these films as a trilogy, rather as the original and its set of iterative cash-in films.
12 Flop: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie ($73,921,000)
The first feature-length movie adaptation of Dav Pilkey’s famous turn-of-the-century children’s book series of the same name, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie was a fairly faithful conversion which seemed to capture much of what made the original stories so enthralling. However, for whatever reason, that didn’t exactly translate into success at the box office and the underwear-clad hero would end up helming the sixth-least financially successful DreamWorks movie. Though it was marketed to children, the source material would likely have been more familiar to high school and college students, as the property would have been in its prime when they were younger. That said, the movie lacked the creative flair present in the novels and felt just a little too corporate for its own good.
11 Hits: Madagascar 3 (Box Office $216,391,482)
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted was billed as the dramatic return of the original four zoo animals after the six year hiatus following the release of the second Madagascar film. Though that one didn’t turn out to be all that memorable, the third installment in this anthropomorphic zoo animal trilogy made quite a statement. The most financially successful movie based on the property and the fifth highest-earning film in DreamWorks history, Madagascar 3 went over extraordinarily well. This time around, the animals were tasked with recovering the rogue penguin group which was featured in previous movies and what follows is a multi-city chase across the continent of Europe. While it is definitely worth a watch, most younger viewers will probably remember it primarily because of the semi-obnoxious ‘afro polkadot’ marketing.
10 Flop: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (Box Office $73,280,117)
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was DreamWorks Studios’ 2002 follow up to the original Shrek movie which brought them widespread fame. A return to their more traditional 2D style of animation, Spirit followed the story of a young stallion living in what would come to be known as the American West. Though he took pride in his free spirit and basked in the wild wonder of his surroundings, the movie deals mostly with his struggle as he confronts a tribe of humans who want to tame him. A wonderful story which often pulled at the heartstrings, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron ultimately didn’t do all that well in the box office when compared to some of DreamWorks’ other projects. Investing around 80 million into the picture, DreamWorks wouldn't do great business with this one.
9 Hit: How to Train Your Dragon (Box Office $217,581,231)
A bit of a thematic departure from the rest of their filmography at that point, DreamWorks’ 2010 flick How to Train Your Dragon is still regarded as some of the studio’s best work. Telling the story of a viking boy named Hiccup who overcame the odds and befriended a black dragon which he came to name Toothless, the movie reminds viewers that friends can come in many shapes and sizes, and that even the most outlandish relationships may work in the end. Thus far spawning a sequel and an animated television series known as DreamWorks’ Dragons, this nordic-inspired feature film has been an unmitigated success and fans are clamoring to see the upcoming How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, which is set to debut in 2019.
8 Flop: Flushed Away (Box Office $64,665,627)
Despite being one of the better reviewed DreamWorks titles, Flushed Away was a total flop at the box office when it released back in 2006. The studio spent around $150 million on it and failed to recoup even half of that domestically. This is a shame, as this quirky production actually had a good amount of heart and was an interesting story. Telling the tale of an opulent pet rodent named Roddy cast from his lavish lifestyle by a conniving interloper, the film explores the idea of flourishing in a foreign environment and becoming a better, more well-rounded person as a result. With an animation style very reminiscent of the claymation used in the Wallace & Gromit shorts, Flushed Away has a small cult following despite its relative failure.
7 Hit: Shrek Forever After ($238,736,787)
The forgotten, cast-aside ugly duckling of the Shrek series in the eyes of many, Shrek Forever After is actually the fourth highest-grossing DreamWorks picture to date and proved that just about anything attached to their lovable green ogre could sell back in the day. The Shrek movies get a lot of flack these days, but they were all absolute mega-hits when they first hit the scene. Taking the series back to its roots quite literally, this fourth installment sees all of our titular hero’s triumphs undone at the hands of the devious trickster Rumpelstiltskin. With his kingdom ruined and his friendships cast aside, Shrek must yet again defy the odds and fix what has been broken for the fourth time. It made tons of money, but, after this, we were all a little Shreked out.
6 Flop: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Box Office $56,110,897)
The creation of British animator Nick Park, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was a fantastic full-length film adaptation of the original clay-mation short film series. Unfortunately, the humble charm of this unique duo didn’t quite seem to rub off on most audiences and it scarcely brought in a quarter of what the studio’s more famous projects managed. That said, the film made its money back and then some, so it wasn’t a total bust. Plus, for such a niche property, the film managed to perform pretty adequately. Nick Park and Aardman Animations would later go on to find success with Shawn the Sheep, which eventually spawned a children’s TV series and movie.
5 Hit: Shrek (Box Office $267,665,011)
Though predated by the relatively successful Chicken Run in 2000, 2001’s fantastical comedy film Shrek would go down as the film which put DreamWorks Studios on the map. A witty and surprisingly smart take on the high fantasy genre, the film follows a secluded ogre as he is slowly driven from his swamp and comes to embrace an unlikely set of haphazard friends. This film was something of a high point in the long career of Mike Myers and just about every voice actor brought an incredible amount of talent to this production. Shrek was a soulful classic which could hardly be rivalled by anything the studio is producing today.
4 Flop: The Road to El Dorado (Box Office $50,863,742)
The Road to El Dorado was must have been a pretty aggravating flop for DreamWorks back in 2000, as they had yet to establish a firm footing with their fledgling filmography and, to make matters worse, they massively overspent on this project. Though it received mostly favorable reviews and is well remembered by a select few, the production cost was nearly double that which it brought in domestically, and it must have caused some dark times for a studio that was only a year away from hitting it big. The Road to El Dorado features a story about a pair of hapless adventurers masquerading as deities in order to make off with the fortunes of a lost city. It’s an entertaining watch and it doesn’t typically get the attention that it deserves.
3 Hit: Shrek the Third (Box Office $322,719,994)
The third entry in a trilogy which never really should have gone past the original movie is hardly ever thought to be anything more than a belaboured cash grab and such is the consensus with Shrek the Third. Though it isn’t a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination, it is certainly eclipsed in quality by the first two installments in the franchise. That said, it outperformed the first Shrek movie and earned a spot as the second highest grossing film in DreamWorks history. In this one, Shrek and Fiona are forced into the roles of king and queen of the kingdom of Far Far Away, and Shrek must seek the land’s true heir lest he face the consequences. Again, it’s definitely worth a watch, but it can’t re-create the high points of the original.
2 Flop: Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (Box Office $26,483,452)
A strange mishmash of swashbuckling adventure and Greek mythology, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas was a 2003 picture featuring the talents of Brad Pitt and Katherine Zeta Jones. Though a cursory glance would make it seem like a pretty good time, it is tied with the failed Will Smith comedy vehicle Shark Tale for worst Metacritic score of any DreamWorks movie. In fact, it has a lower Metacritic rating than the infamously terrible Bee Movie, which is bad news for fans of Sinbad. Exploring the story of a falsely-accused man journeying to the edge of the Earth to set things right, the film was perhaps too reliant on its flirty, romantic overtones, and it ultimately failed hard at the box office and cost DreamWorks a nice chunk of change.
1 Hit: Shrek 2 (Box Office $441,226,247)
This may come as a surprise to some, but Shrek 2, the bluntly-named follow up to the original 2001 film Shrek, is the highest-grossing film ever to be put together by DreamWorks Studios. Picking up pretty much where the first movie left off, Shrek and Fiona travel to the kingdom of Far Far Away to serve as guests of honor at a ball held by the princess’ parents. However, the plot thickens when a vengeful Fairy Godmother enacts a plan to get rid of Shrek and have her son, the nefarious Prince Charming, marry Fiona. As witty and charming as the original, Shrek 2 is the perfect continuation of a film that otherwise didn’t really need one. Though the series would meander a bit in subsequent iterations, this sequel is still a must-see.
Which is your favorite DreamWorks movie? Let us know in the comments!