People go to the theaters to be whisked away to another world. Let’s face it, reality can be downright monotonous at times, and one of the easiest ways to remedy that is to put your mind on cruise control and let the magic of cinema take the wheel. Arguably, fantasy films are the best genre to get sucked into, as they often present a world that is fully realized and strikingly different than our own. While science fictions can also accomplish this, by definition, the genre must remain somewhat grounded in reality — meaning there’s a lot less room for magical abilities and fantastical creatures.
While fantasy has been popular since the beginning of cinema, technological advancements have made it easier than ever to buy into a world that looks nothing like our own. This helps explain why some of the biggest movies being made today fall into the fantasy genre. As a result of this extensive world-building, fantasy films often cost a lot more to make thanks to the intricate costumes, extensive makeup, and massively constructed set pieces-- not to mention the computer-generated imagery that has become so advanced it's nearly impossible to detect.
When these elements all blend perfectly together, they can make for a truly magical movie-going experience. Of course, when they’re totally out of sync, it can feel like you just spent two hours watching a bunch of grown-ups playing dress-up.
So let's take a closer look at 10 Fantasy Movies That Completely Flopped (And 10 That Are Massive Hits).
Released just last year, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a box office bomb of epic proportions. The reimagining of the Arthurian legend was spurned by both critics and audiences alike, grossing only $148.7 million against a $175 million production budget and earning the film a 31% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
When factoring in the cost of marketing, some have estimated that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword lost over $150 million.
Many wondered why the production budget was so big in the first place. Apparently, Warner Bros. wanted the film to be the first of a six-part cinematic universe. Of course, those plans were quickly scrapped when King Arthur only managed to finish third at the North American box office during its opening weekend.
While it was far from the first animated Disney movie to be adapted into a live-action film, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast was definitely the most successful — grossing $1.26 billion worldwide against an estimated budget of $255 million.
The musical fantasy featured a talented cast headed up by Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. Nearly every aspect of the film was praised, from the production design and musical numbers to the performances and voice acting. Beauty and the Beast have also ensured that we'll see a number of Disney reimaginings in the years to come. In fact, within the next two years alone, Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Mulan are all set to undergo a similar live-action treatment.
Serving as both a prequel and a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, this 2016 fantasy film threw many for a loop when it massively underperformed at the box office. Not only was the first film a commercial hit, but The Huntsman: Winter’s War also added a number of talented stars to the cast, including Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt. Meanwhile, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron reprised their roles from the first film.
Amidst negative reviews and the absence of star Kristen Stewart, this Snow White spin-off couldn’t hold its own against The Jungle Book.
As a result, The Huntsman: Winter’s War only managed to take in $165 million worldwide, with some speculating that the film lost around $70 million.
At the time of its release, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of the most ambitious stories ever put to film. The three movies took eight years alone to shoot, costing around $300 million, and adapting a story that many had previously considered far too complex to translate to the big screen.
Of course, the massive gamble paid off big time, as the trilogy went on to gross nearly $3 billion worldwide and win the respect of critics and audiences alike. Even 15 years after the release of The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings continues to be a pop culture staple. Peter Jackson also went on to write and direct The Hobbit trilogy.
After successfully rebooting a few other franchises, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, director Marcus Nispel was brought on board to helm 2011’s Conan the Barbarian. The fantasy-action film had no connection to the series that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger to stardom, and instead, it found Jason Momoa in the title role. Though the film veered much closer to its pulp magazine roots, Conan the Barbarian failed to find an audience and went on to open up at number four at the box office.
Overall, it grossed just $48.8 million worldwide against a $90 million budget.
Critics also didn’t do Conan any favors, as the film was condemned for its thin plot, uninteresting characters, and shoddy 3D effects.
Just when fantasy was enjoying a newfound high thanks to The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, Disney launched its own fantasy series with 2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
The massive success of the film surprised many, as the theme park ride premise was more than a little unconventional. Not to mention that Johnny Depp wasn’t exactly blockbuster material. Today, it may be easy to forget just how revolutionary Depp's performance as Captain Jack Sparrow actually was. Most would agree that the franchise has seen sunnier shores, but the last 15 years and five films have still made the Pirates series one of the most successful of all time.
This 2015 fantasy film set out to tell the origin story of the beloved J. M. Barrie character. Unfortunately, the film veered too far from the tone and characterizations that audiences had come to expect from a Peter Pan story, leading Pan to flounder both critically and commercially. The film follows Peter as he journies from an orphanage to the magical world of Neverland, where he finds himself teaming up alongside a young James Hook to take on the tyrannical Blackbeard.
Apparently, not even the familiar characters and the casting of Hugh Jackman as the villain were enough to draw audiences to this high fantasy.
Overall, Pan only managed to gross $128 million worldwide, resulting in an estimated loss of well over $100 million for the studio.
Before Johnny Depp was ever blockbuster material thanks to his performance as the swashbuckling Captain Jack Sparrow, he had already enjoyed a creative partnership with writer and director Tim Burton. Together, the two made such distinctive films as Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood — which may have earned critical recognition, yet never made much of a splash at the box office.
When the two reunited to make Alice in Wonderland, their off-beat sensibilities enjoyed a Disney-sized budget, resulting in this 2010 fantasy film grossing over a billion dollars worldwide. The film loosely adapted the iconic children’s novels by Lewis Carroll, and though Alice in Wonderland may not have earned critical acclaim, that didn’t dissuade audiences from venturing down the rabbit hole. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the 2016 sequel, which tanked while in theaters.
One of the biggest box office bombs of 2013, 47 Ronin presents a highly fictionalized version of the true story of a gang of 18th-century samurai who embarked on a revenge mission. Keanu Reeves stars as Kai — a half-Japanese, half-English outsider who takes up arms with the Ronin when their well-meaning ruler is betrayed.
Meither Reeves nor the large international cast could save 47 Ronin from unfavorable reviews.
While some praised the film's visuals, beautiful costumes, and fantastical creatures, the story's tone and pacing were more than a little inconsistent. It opened at number nine in the United States, and overall, 47 Ronin only managed to gross $151.8 million worldwide against a $175 million budget. With additional expenses, the film was estimated to have lost an astounding $150 million.
With a collective worldwide gross of over $750 million, Maleficent outperformed many analysts’ expectation when it hit theaters in 2014. For a movie geared toward younger audiences, centering on the film’s antagonist could have been a giant misstep for Disney.
The PG film was surprisingly adult, appealing to the whole family while specifically targeting female viewers — a demographic which often goes untapped during the summer blockbuster season. The film also ended up being Angelina Jolie's biggest release to date. While Maleficent was only a modest critical success, the fantasy film was one of the biggest of the year, and a sequel is currently in the works with a 2020 release date.
Vin Diesel has starred in his fair share of successful franchises, including The Fast and the Furious, xXx, and the Riddick films. Clearly, the makers of 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter were looking to have another hit series on their hands, with a sequel already in the works before the film was released. Of course, those plans were quickly abandoned when this fantasy-action film hit screens, as The Last Witch Hunter only managed to rake in about $27 million domestically against a $90 million budget.
While it performed better internationally, the film still likely lost the studio tens of millions of dollars.
Critically, The Last Witch Hunter didn't fare much better, with many critics saying that the actors take themselves way too seriously for a plot that's downright ridiculous.
After the massive success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s a wonder that it took nearly a decade for a Hobbit film to ever make its way into theaters. After various legal disputes between Peter Jackson and New Line, the writer/director ultimately decided to return to the realm of Middle-earth when Guillermo del Toro stepped down as the intended director.
The three Hobbit films were released between 2012 and 2014, and though they still received mostly positive reviews, many felt that they were overlong and at odds with the world previously established in The Lord of the Rings. Even still, The Hobbit trilogy managed to eke out slightly more money at the box office than Lord of the Rings, with a worldwide gross over $2.9 billion.
With no shortage of cheap special effects, over-the-top performances, and cringe-inducing one-liners, Dungeons & Dragons is widely considered one of the worst fantasy films ever made.
The film is set in the Empire of Izmer, where an evil mage plans to overthrow an idealist empress by seizing control of the world’s dragons. Meanwhile, two lowly thieves are on a parallel quest to track down a magic rod. Despite being based on the popular role-playing game — which has endless world-building and mythology to draw from — this 2000 film failed to impress both mainstream audiences and many fans of the game.
In the end, Dungeons & Dragons only managed to gross $33.8 million against a $45 million budget.
Another D&D movie is reportedly in the works for a 2021 release, which will hopefully be nothing like this fantasy flop.
To date, three films have been based on C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series, but none have been nearly as successful as 2005’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Though it may be the second story chronologically, it’s easily the most recognizable, which resulted in a box office gross of $745 million against a $180 million budget.
With The Lord of the Rings finishing up its theatrical run a couple of years earlier, audiences were clearly eager for another high fantasy epic. At the time, it looked like the Narnia series was going to fit the bill. The film received largely positive reviews, with praise directed at its special effects and its crowd-pleasing story that never felt trite or heavy-handed. Unfortunately, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader haven't enjoyed nearly as much success.
After breaking big in The Princess Diaries a few years earlier, Anne Hathaway went on to headline her second feature film with Ella Enchanted. Here, Hathaway played the title character — who is accidentally cursed with having to follow through with any command she is given. Therefore, she sets off on a quest to undo the spell and ends up falling for the kingdom’s prince along the way.
The family film divided critics right down the middle, earning Ella Enchanted a 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
While Hathaway’s talents were praised, the fantasy was still criticized for its cheap special effects and silly story.
As a result, Ella Enchanted opened up at number nine at the box office and ultimately failed to recoup its production budget of $31 million.
With a collective worldwide box office approaching $9 billion, the Star Wars series is the second highest-grossing film franchise of all time — topped only by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the films skew more toward science fiction thanks to their space setting, certain elements (particularly the Force) are undeniably fantastical in nature, earning it a spot on this list.
The Force Awakens holds the honor of being the third-highest grossing film alone with a collective worldwide gross of over $2 billion. The Last Jedi also pulled in a highly-respectable $1.3 billion. However, Rian Johnson's direction of the story was met with massive backlash. This, coupled with this year's Solo being the first bomb in the franchise, leave the profitability of future Star Wars installments up in the air.
Drawing inspiration from classic fairy tales, director Ridley Scott set out to make a high fantasy film that would center on the straightforward battle of good versus evil. A young Tom Cruise was cast in the role of Jack, a forest-dweller who sets out to defeat Darkness — a demonic being who has captured Princess Lili and thrown the world into a wintery night.
While Legend was praised for its visuals, the film was criticized for its overly dark tone and inconsistent story.
It went on to gross only $23.5 million worldwide, failing to recoup its production budget alone. In the years since, this 1985 fantasy has become somewhat of a cult classic, with many regarding the 2002 Director's Cut to be the far superior version.
Thanks to the massive success of the novel series by J. K. Rowling — which began with 1997's The Philosopher’s Stone — the Harry Potter film series has become one of the biggest and most-beloved fantasy stories ever brought to life on the big screen.
The first film debuted in 2001 and went on to gross $974.8 million — making it the second highest-grossing film ever at that time.
Of course, a lot has changed in the past 17 years, with over 30 films having now surpassed the billion dollar mark. Harry Potter is undoubtedly one of the reasons that film franchises have become even more ubiquitous, as they tend to keep the audiences coming back for more. This was exactly the case for Harry Potter, as the final film ended up being the highest-grossing of the entire series.
Fantasy films have traditionally fared well around the holidays — especially if they can be enjoyed by the entire family. This makes the box office performance of the 1998 film Jack Frost particularly embarrassing, as not even those filled with holiday cheer could buy into this ridiculous and obscenely sentimental film.
The story follows a husband and father who meets his demise in a car accident only to be brought back to life as a snowman when his son plays a few notes on a magical harmonica. Michael Keaton makes a career-low appearance as the title character, who spends the majority of the film voicing the snowman — a creation of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, which many noted was not the company’s finest work. Jack Frost went on to gross just $34.5 million against an $85 million budget.
Compared to many of the other hits on this list, The Shape of Water’s box office take might not be all that impressive, as it grossed $195 million against a $20 million budget. Where the film really succeeded was by bringing critical acclaim to the fantasy genre, resulting in an Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year — a feat that hadn't been achieved by another fantasy since 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
The film follows an unlikely relationship between a mute janitor working in a top-secret government lab and an amphibious creature who is being held there against his will. Writer and director by Guillermo del Toro had previously received acclaim for other genre pictures, though none seemed to impact audiences quite as much as The Shape of Water.
What's your favorite fantasy movie? Let us know!