It goes without saying that Disney is a juggernaut in the movie world. People think of Disney films and picture the unbelievably successful Frozen, or how The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has some of the most successful movies of all time, or how Disney now controls the wildly popular Star Wars and Marvel universes. Disney is synonymous with big name films.
But the thing about being that big is it means when you stumble, you fall hard. While people are distracted waiting for Frozen 2, what people don’t talk about is how Disney has also had some of the most colossal failures in cinematic history. When a company is capable of investing a fortune on a project, they need it to be a homerun to get their money back. That doesn’t always happen, though, and Disney has had some huge flops that have cost them hundreds of millions of dollars. With Civil War, Rogue One, and a sequel to Alice in Wonderland on the horizon, Disney looks like they’re in store for a successful year. But don’t forget the cost it took them to get there, as we list the 14 Worst Performing Disney Movies Ever Made.
14 PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
Budget- $150-$200 million
Box office- $336.4 million
A movie based on a video game and it wasn’t successful? Shocking, isn’t it? Granted, Prince of Persia did become the highest grossing movie based on a video game, and recouped almost all of its costs (movies usually have to double their budget to become profitable). But Disney wasn’t looking for just another movie to fill a slot in its release schedule. As indicated by the fact they gave the movie a subtitle, they were looking for Prince of Persia to be the start of a film franchise, something that could be comparable to their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. So it’s fair to say that in that regard, Prince of Persia fell enormously short of the mark.
Honestly, though, no movie studio has truly cracked the code for making a good video game adaption, so it’s at least commendable to Disney for trying. They took a risk, brought in a well-known star in Jake Gyllenhaal, and invested a lot of money into attempting to be pioneers for the genre. The lack of interest here might make them reluctant to take such a risk again, but it shows they still have some entrepreneurial spirit behind them.
13 THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE
Budget- $150 million
Box office- $215 million
Nicolas Cage starred in this film. Need we say more? Okay, fine, Cage has had a few decent movies here and there in his descent from his A-List days of the '80s and '90s. It’s just so many of them aren’t good. And this one happens to fall into that latter category. The film is loosely based on the segment of the same name from Fantasia, but lacks the charm of its predecessor. There’re lots of CGI action scenes, and Cage gets to fulfill his dream of playing with magic, but when it comes time for the movie to move past its homage to Fantasia and into original territory, it offers little we haven’t seen from a dozen other action films.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is another Disney film that technically recouped its announced budget, but with advertising and marketing factored in, they ultimately lost millions. Cage likely got his role in the hopes he would bring similar success to what his partnership with Disney did for the National Treasure films, but a good Nicolas Cage movie is an area where lightning rarely strikes twice.
12 HOME ON THE RANGE
Budget- $110 million
Box office- $103 million
The ‘90s are referred to as the Disney renaissance period for a reason. While so many of the films they were releasing during that time were proving to be big hits that were revitalizing the company, Disney couldn’t keep the momentum going forever. Home on the Range is a testament to that. This underperforming movie about a group of cows was actually the last 2-D animated film Disney would do until The Princess and the Frog years later, so clearly someone thought it was time for a shake up after this.
Critics didn’t hate the animated bovine adventure, but are pretty “meh” about it now that we knew what heights Disney could reach with their work. Some suggested Home on the Range felt more like a direct-to-video offering, and that it would have been better suited there than in theaters. But if this really is the movie that made Disney abandon 2-D, at least it had the positive side effect of driving Disney to give Tangled a shot.
11 RETURN TO OZ
Budget- $28 million
Box office- $11 million
Although not an official sequel to the 1939 Wizard of Oz, the 1985 Return to Oz looked like a great opportunity to reunite viewers with a world that everyone knows is full of yellowbrick roads and a witch for every direction of a compass. Though between the results of this film, and 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful, maybe that proves Disney should just leave well enough alone and refrained from tampering with a classic story.
It’s not that Return to Oz was critically panned, but reviewers were lukewarm on the story, finding many of the visuals more creepy than whimsical and imaginative. For a kids movie, people said it was too dark for its intended audience, which likely drove parents to take their children to see something where a creature with a giant pumpkin head wouldn’t be a catalyst for nightmares. But much like Dorothy’s little band of misfits, Return to Oz eventually did find people who appreciated it for the way it was, and it's developed a cult fan base in the years since its release.
10 MEET THE DEEDLES
Budget- $24 million
Box office- $4.4 million
In one of Disney’s more odd decisions over the years, the company apparently decided there must be big money to be derived from the surfer demographic. The movie follows two bumbling brothers who love surfing above all else, and unwittingly become entangled in an environmental dispute. While ’90s culture did think a lot of silly things were gnarly and radical, Meet the Deedles was not one of them.
Critics called the movie a poor man’s Dumb and Dumber, and it got pretty unanimously bad reviews. Fortunately for a young Paul Walker, who co-starred in the movie, he had bigger things in his future, and would hit upon some adventure films that worked in The Fast and the Furious franchise. But as for Meet the Deedles, the surfer film proved a wicked bummer for Disney when viewers decided these beach brats weren’t bodacious enough to earn a thumbs up, let alone a surf’s up.
9 AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Budget- $110 million
Box office- $72 million
Proving Disney can run into problems when adapting the work of more than one classic author, Around the World in 80 Days was loosely inspired by the Jules Verne novel of the same name. And this time it was even more costly than Disney’s attempt to adapt L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books. The movie was also filled with lots of popular names for comedy, such as Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Cleese, and Luke Wilson. How do you get actors like them together for a movie and not get something funny out of it?
Disney is usually good for a light-hearted romp, but critics weren’t feeling this one, and it became a harbinger of the big money the company would lose with an alarming frequency of films from this point on. Around the World in 80 Days had its creative moments, taking a comical stance on a classic story, and infusing some steampunk elements. But it’s fitting the movie was about flying, because this was when the deficits against their film budgets really began to skyrocket.
8 TREASURE PLANET
Budget- $140 million
Box office- $109 million
Disney just does not seem to have good luck with adapting books into successful movies. Like the adaptions Return to Oz and Around the World in 80 Days, praise was given to Treasure Planet for its visual style, one that many people found impressive. Unfortunately, that’s where most of the praise ended. Treasure Planet was a sci-fi recreation of the classic Treasure Island, and definitely had a creative twist on the story. But maybe it was still a bit too familiar for most critics and viewers to become invested in the plot.
It wound up being one of the costlier animated box office bombs, not just of Disney’s modern era, but of all time. It’s honestly surprising that moviegoers weren’t more appreciative of it, since unlike most of the flops on this list, it still holds pretty decent viewer ratings on a lot of fan review aggregate sites. Perhaps Treasure Island simply got as much of the rewards from the story as there were to be had, and there was nothing left when Treasure Planet went looking beneath that same X in the sand.
7 JOHN CARTER
Budget- $263.7 million
Box office- $284.1 million
For those irritated by Disney playing it safe in relying on their animated films, the trend of big losses that John Carter was a part of makes the company’s apprehension against risks more understandable. Between John Carter and the next two entries on this list, Disney had a bit of a losing streak going on with their live-action films each year, one that costs them hundreds of millions when all was said and done. The financial disappointment of John Carter was responsible for at least a $100 million of that deficit.
As an adaption of part of the Barsoom series by author Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter was expected to have a big audience, and was marketed accordingly. Unfortunately that marketing seemed to be misdirected, with people finding the trailers and billboards for John Carter unappealing, and the connection to the book series being muddled when the title was changed from John Carter of Mars. Reportedly, Disney would have needed the movie to make over $600 million to break even, a goal which proved as distant as the red planet itself.
6 THE LONE RANGER
Budget- $225 million
Box office- $260.5 million
Even before The Lone Ranger was released, it was mired in some controversy due to the decision to have Johnny Depp depicting a Native American character. Further exacerbating Depp’s marketability for this one was audience fatigue with his now predictable routine of playing zany characters — like Jack Sparrow or the Mad Hatter — in previous Disney live-action films. It had the makings of a misfire before it even premiered, and once the negative critical reviews began to pour in, the fate of The Lone Ranger was sealed.
Going by its production budget, you could say The Lone Ranger managed to recoup its costs at the box office. But Disney was expecting a lot from this film, and put a ton of money into marketing the movie which did not pay off. Word is that the lack of ticket sales wound up costing Disney nearly $200 million on this one.
Budget- $190 million
Box office- $209 million
When a movie gives the top billing to George Clooney, big results are expected. That’s why what appears to be a narrow miss between Tomorrowland recouping its budget, actually was one of the biggest flops of 2015. This was another one Disney had high hopes for, and shelled out big on its marketing campaign. So big, that Disney apparently wound up losing around $120 million when all was said and done.
Tomorrowland itself was visually impressive, had an intriguing plot, and had the star power to tell a compelling story. Unfortunately, critics just thought it never really got around to telling such a story. Admittedly, it’s not one of the movies on this list that feels like an unfairly maligned masterpiece, but it wasn’t terrible either. It was honestly surprising that there wasn’t more of an audience for this one.
4 THE BLACK CAULDRON
Budget- $44 million
Box office- $21.3 million
The losses of The Black Cauldron are nothing compared to what some of the other films on this list lost, but so much more was at stake for this one back in 1985. Today, Disney has the finances to bounce back from a surprise disaster, now that they have franchises like Star Wars in their back pocket. But years ago, The Black Cauldron was the most expensive animated movie made at the time, and a lot was riding on it. So when it crashed, it was devastating for Disney, and nearly put an end to their animation department.
To be fair, there’s a reason you don’t bump into many people saying The Black Cauldron is their favorite Disney movie. Even by the standards of the time, an era before the likes of The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast were raising the bar, The Black Cauldron was a forgettable film. But it’s just astounding to think about how close this movie came to eliminating Disney’s influence on the world of animation, and depriving fans of all the big films waiting just around the corner during the Disney renaissance era.
(Initial) Budget- $2 million
Box office- $77 million
Yes, you’re reading those box office earnings correctly. Here over 70 years after it was released, Fantasia has proven immensely profitable from rereleases and the like. But at the time, it was a devastating flop for Disney, and actually had the future of the company in jeopardy. It’s hard to believe that when even at the time it was released, Fantasia was getting fairly strong reviews from critics, and it has only become a more beloved film as years have gone by.
World War II certainly didn't help matters to start. It's initial release in 1940 was right in the middle of the history-defining debacle, which cut off European distribution altogether. That, coupled with high production costs (for the time) resulted in a pretty massive loss for Disney. They've recouped their money through re-releases and re-mastered versions it seems, though it's not entirely clear how much of a profit (or possibly even a loss) this beloved masterpiece has actually racked up for the company when additional costs for editing and marketing are factored in. This one, folks, is a bit of a mystery.
2 THE ALAMO
Budget- $107 million
Box office- $25 million
2004 was a brutal year for Disney. We’ve already talked about Home on the Range, and guess when that came out? 2004. The aforementioned Around the World in 80 Days? 2004. And then we have The Alamo, not only one of the most enormous box office bombs the company ever had, but that any film has ever had, period. It’s great that Disney had that renaissance period during the ‘90s, because they certainly needed the revenue to pay off the expenses they racked up for this year.
The Alamo is synonymous with a battle that should be remembered, so it’s ironically surprising that the movie seemed to be so forgettable. Critics found the pacing ponderous, dragging, and tiring for a plot that’s meant to build up to a memorable climax. Everyone knows how the battle ends, so The Alamo was never going to be talked about for its twist ending any more than the Titanic would have been. But the film needed to show the gravity and tension leading up to that battle, and make the viewer feel the significance of that historical moment. Unfortunately, viewers wound up feeling bored, and the only history demonstrated was a history making flop.
1 MARS NEEDS MOMS
Budget- $150 million
Box office- $39 million
For Disney fans who wonder why the company is trepidatious about veering away from the samey animated style they use for so many of their movies nowadays, the critical disappointment of The Princess and the Frog followed by the financial failure of Mars Needs Moms are no doubt heavy contributors. This wasn’t just a movie that didn’t meet expectations. This was a movie that would become the Titanic of box office bombs, one of the biggest in history. It left many wondering where the movie went wrong.
Many reviews talked about the aforementioned animation style, which was called a fine example of uncanny valley —something animated attempting to look real, but not quite succeeding, and falling into a creepy and off-putting mix of cartoon and reality. Even leaving aside the animation, the plot is nothing that anyone would call a hidden gem amongst Disney movies. Disney is known for leading the way in their filmmaking, and in a way, they did so here as well. Their attempt to be at the forefront of technology for Mars Needs Moms wound up costing them enormously, and making Disney a pioneer for one of the biggest flops of all time.
Do you think any of these Disney flops deserved better than how they were treated? Tell us which surprised you, and where they went wrong in the comments!
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