With Gods of Egypt currently performing a perfect nosedive at the box office — earning a scant $14 million in its opening weekend, off of a $140 million budget — we decided it’s high time to investigate some of the other great fails in modern moviedom.
The movie industry is still just an industry. Unfortunately, studios do not fund directors’ visions out of the goodness of their hearts. Executives look to turn a profit at every quarter, in order to placate stakeholders and board members alike. So when they move to hand over millions to a filmmaker, they’re expecting back profits. Nobody risks that kind of money unless they feel good about their odds. So when a big-budgeted Hollywood flick does flop spectacularly, it’s the kind of thing we can’t help but watch with interest. This may be because we, the movie-going audience, were the ones who had seen the trailers and had read the blurbs and said to ourselves, “Nuh-uh.” Sometimes a movie tanks because of production problems, bad press, or sometimes the movie itself is simply too insufferable for audiences to bear.
With that in mind, we wanted to look back at the films we could tell were going to fail from the minute we heard about them. So please, sit back, relax, and enjoy Screen Rant’s list of 12 Box Office Bombs That Everyone Saw Coming.
12 47 Ronin (2013)
47 Ronin cost $225 million to produce, and yet it scored just $150 million worldwide. In its opening weekend, it made just $10 million. Some of that came from the fact it was released over the Christmas 2013 weekend, right in the midst of a slew of huge outings like The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, and Anchorman 2.
Bhe Keanu Reeves samurai film had several other notable knocks against it. In recent years, Reeves’s ability to draw audiences had diminished somewhat. He was not the darling of Hollywood as he had been ten years earlier, when he was completing the Matrix trilogy and scoring record returns at the box office. Since then, he had been working in smaller films.
Additionally, the movie had initially been completed in the winter of 2012, but was then inexplicably subjected to a full year of revisions and edits. That surely muddied up the film’s tonal continuity and script, leaving us with only a vague idea of what the filmmaker's were originally going for in their retelling of this Japanese legend.
11 John Carter (2012)
John Carter cost $250 million to make, plus a cool $100 million more to market. It totaled $100 million worldwide in its opening weekend, a typically solid number, but for a budget of this size, the studio was surely opening for a bigger take. And here’s the really interesting metric: Its budget was the fourth largest in movie history (below two Pirates of the Caribbean films and an Avengers sequel), and yet it currently ranks an unbelievable 401st on the all-time worldwide gross list.
Its principal criticism? John Carter is a hodge-podge of genres. Even the biggest films need to know their niche, and it’s clear the creators here were trying to accomplish too much. It’s the same issue that affected the 2011 misfire Cowboys & Aliens, and other films that try in vain to combine sci-fi with historical action. Here, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Civil War veteran who wakes up on Mars, and finds himself in the middle of a whole different kind of war. He soon discovers his inner purpose — that he is the chosen one who must save the planet.
The original Star Wars trilogy was great at weaving in the themes of its influences, the adventure serials of the 1950s. And the original Indiana Jones trilogy literally dealt with mysticism, immortality, and other otherworldly devices, and it did so beautifully. John Carter received mixed reviews on its attempt at genre mixing, and crashed and burned at the box office in a massive way.
10 The Lone Ranger (2013)
The Lone Ranger grossed $260 million worldwide. That’s pretty healthy, so what gives? Well, mainstream news sources have guessed that the movie cost about $225 million to produce, and another $150 million to market. Add to that what’s divvied out to theater owners, and sources have approximated that Lone Ranger would have needed to rake in about $650 million just to break even. When you add all the pieces together, this movie was an unbelievable flop of epic proportions.
Yes, it starred Johnny Depp, who is usually a huge box office draw. Yet in the trailers leading up to the film, we saw Depp, questionably accoutred as a Native American, in some mildly humorous vignettes, but with no observable motivation. Long before its release, people took to social media to express their concerns about what they viewed as possible stereotyping. But even then, that was the only observable conversation-starter the film had going for it, since no one was all that interested in seeing a remake of a TV show that debuted in 1949.
Depp and co-star Armie Hammer do a commendable job as a comedic team, romping through the frontier of the 1860s, fighting off Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and his henchmen. But the film clocks in at 2 1/2 hours, suffers from a bland script (which, like 47 Ronin underwent a ton of rewrites), and is derivative of much better movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Unforgiven. Put it all together, and it was a non-starter.
9 Green Lantern (2011)
We think of Ryan Reynolds nowadays, and we think of Deadpool – that raucously fun, R-rated feast for morally unencumbered and satirically-driven adult audiences. But, rewind to before the days of the masked maniac, and the actor was known for much lesser superhero fare. 2011’s Green Lantern, which unfortunately starred a likeable guy like Reynolds, was panned upon its release and flopped at the box office.
Created by DC Comics and distributed through Warner Brothers, Green Lantern was built to be a blue-chip franchise. It was directed by Martin Campbell, who had previously delivered two of the best (and most financially successful) James Bond films ever, GoldenEye (1995) and Casino Royale (2006). Despite all that, it didn’t look very good in trailers, and upon its release left audiences underwhelmed. It was hampered by poor writing, uneven tone, and odd villain choices — not to mention a laughable CGI costume. Not good blemishes for a comic book movie. The movie fared so wimpishly that the studio decided to nix the plans for the in-development sequel, instead holding off until 2020 to reboot the brand entirely.
8 Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Jupiter Ascending was like if you threw The Matrix and Twilight in a blender and pressed “milkshake." It was an unsavory amalgam of odd ideas, overblown special effects, and cardboard characters. Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones, a cleaning woman who is encountered one day by an otherworldly soldier named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum with a bad dye job). He informs her that humans are unwittingly under the control of alien forces, and that she is Earth’s rightful owner. The two travel through the galaxy, fighting off powerful extraterrestrials and seeking out her inheritance. It’s a nonsensical plot with huge aspirations and cheesy fight sequences, and it was clear from the film's first trailers that Kunis and Tatum have the on-screen chemistry of dish sponges.
Speaking of, the weekend that Jupiter Ascending was released, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water debuted as well. SpongeBob earned $54 million. American Sniper, already in its seventh week, made $23 million. And Jupiter Ascending, a $176 million space opera, hauled in a scant $18 million. Woof.
7 Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
A PG-13 take on a classic fairy tale, Jack the Giant Slayer rode a thin line. It wasn’t quite appropriate for families, nor was it committed to being a fun romp for adults. It all came out a bit too noncommittal. And with an overwhelming reliance on special effects, it was a grand exercise in style over substance.
Jack was a clear non-starter from the get go and a rare flop from director Bryan Singer (X-Men: Apocalypse). An unremarkable cast working with an unremarkable script, it cost about $200 million to create – much of which was surely being spent on an army of digital designers – and it earned about the same amount at the box office. But when one factors in the film’s separate marketing budget of well over $100 million, the movie technically tanked.
6 Stealth (2005)
Director Rob Cohen started the new millennium with a bang. In 2001, with a budget of $38 million, he made The Fast and The Furious, a silly but great movie that brought in $207 million at the box office. A year after that, he took Furious star Vin Diesel and made xXx on a budget of $85 million. That one made $277 million. Cohen seemed to have the Midas touch, and so the studio gave him his biggest budget yet, $135 million, to make his next film, 2005’s sci-fi action flick Stealth.
To go with its charmed director and huge piggy bank, the film would have a pretty solid cast as well: Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel, and Josh Lucas. So, why did people avoid this movie in droves? Why did it take in only $77 million, making it one of the biggest bombs in movie history?
Well, frankly, because it looked terrible. It’s the tale of three ace fighter pilots who help the U.S. military try out their biggest and most secret experiment yet – a stealth jet controlled by artificial intelligence. The stakes are not very interesting, and the plot is as predictable as they come. It was like a combination of Top Gun and 2001: Space Odyssey, except devoid of eighties-era Tom Cruise, Stanley Kubrick, an intelligent script, or any of the other things that can make movies great. And we all saw it coming from the very first previews.
5 The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)
We loved Eddie Murphy in the '70s and '80s, when he broke out on SNL, forged new ground as a standup comic, and brought us classic comedies like Trading Places, Coming to America, and Beverly Hills Cop. Then, in the nineties, he started taking risks, stepping out into new territory to star in family friendly fare like The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle. By the turn of the century, Murphy had cemented his place as one of the most successful actors in Hollywood. In many ways, however, The Adventures of Pluto Nash marked the beginning of the end for Murphy's run atop the A-List.
The 2002 Australian-American film was an overwrought mess. It seemed like a movie made for kids even though it was laced with inappropriate bits – hence the PG-13 rating that doubtlessly had many parents steering away the young. It starred a bevy of famous faces – John Cleese, Jay Mohr, Pam Grier, Alec Baldwin, Burt Young, Joe Pantoliano, Rosario Dawson, and Peter Boyle, to name a few – but the characters they played were wholly unlikable and bizarre. In a sentence, Murphy stars as nightclub owner Pluto Nash, who lives on the moon with the rest of mankind in the year 2087, and must save the rock from being taken over by mobsters. It made about $7 million on a $100 million budget – quantifiably one of the worst flops ever, which goes right along with the fact that critically it’s one of the worst rated, too.
4 Battlefield Earth (2000)
The barely watchable Adventures of Pluto Nash is like a work of art, though, when put alongside Battlefield Earth. The sci-fi catastrophe made in 2000 and starring the insanely-hammy John Travolta totaled only $29 million on a production budget of $73 million. Let us not think how many marketing dollars on top of that were wasted trying to hock such schlock. The thinly veiled Scientology tale was based on a story written by the church-founder himself, L. Ron Hubbard.
In the year 3000, the human race has been all but destroyed by apocalypse, and the survivors live as cave people while the evil alien Psychlos hoard the remaining resources. It’s up to one human, Jonnie “Goodboy” Tyler (Barry Pepper) to save humanity and stop the Psychlos. Travolta stars as giant alien Terl, replete with strange makeup and cringe-worthy lines. Nabbed your interest yet?
As you would surmise, this film bomb-biddy-bombed at the box office, and is at the tip of many a tongue whenever the question is asked, “What’s the worst movie ever made?” One look at a production still or trailer was more than enough to drive audiences away; this movie never stood a chance.
3 Pan (2015)
When Pan was released to theaters last fall, The Martian was already in its second weekend of release, and it waylaid the newcomer accordingly. Pan took in $15 million that weekend, less than half of what the popular Matt Damon survival story raked up. Being released in the wake of a significantly more popular film that had more star power wasn’t a huge help to Pan, but that wasn't the movie’s only problem.
It may just be that a prequel to the story of Peter Pan wasn’t meant to do well with youngsters in 2015, but had it been better made, surely it would have. Reviewers were out before the release giving it generally negatively reviews. It was a tough sell to begin with, and thanks to home-streaming services like Netflix, potential movie-goers have far better films right at their fingertips. It’s estimated that Pan lost Warner Brothers somewhere in the range of $115-150 million, and put a dent in the resume of its director, Joe Wright.
2 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
Movies based on video games are, generally speaking, a bad idea. This is what they should teach in year one, class one of film school. And yet, the idea remains an attractive one. Some truly amazing storylines have emanated from video games in recent years, and with the gaming community growing every year, studio execs searching for the next great film genre clearly believe in the potential of video game films.
Back in 2001, on a budget of $137 million, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within made back just $85 million. While it doesn’t look it today, the film was a technical marvel for its time. Rendered in 3D animation, the 108-minute film took its 200-man team about four years to make. The film was made up of over 141,000 individual frames, with each frame taking over an hour to render. It’s kind of mind-boggling how it ever got made.
But, that impressiveness doesn’t excuse it from being otherwise uninspired — and absolutely no fun at all. The finished product feels a lot like an elongated cut-scene from a Final Fantasy game, except it is missing any of the welcome interactivity of game play that balances out such slow and deliberate interludes.
1 Transcendence (2014)
2014’s Transcendence followed in a line of modern thrillers that focused on protagonists gaining enormous mental capacities, to their detriment. Movies like Limitless (2011) and Lucy (2014) were headlined by big time stars— Bradley Cooper and Scarlett Johansson, respectively — and did well with their subject matter. They were relatable characters caught up in uncontrollable situations. Transcendence, on the other hand, was unable to pull it off.
And it’s a shame the movie failed. Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, and Morgan Freeman rounded out a stellar cast, and director Wally Pfister had previously done amazing work as cinematographer for director Christopher Nolan on movies like Inception, for which Pfister won an Oscar. Depp stars as Dr. Will Caster, a pioneer of artificial intelligence technology, who inadvertently becomes his own test subject. Depp plays the part with little charisma, and the script by Jack Paglen flounders. It’s all clean lines, with little to hold on to.
Notice any glaring omissions from this list? Please let us know! Also, have you seen any of these? Thoughts?