When you think of any well-known movie – particularly one with the backing of a big studio, directed by a renowned, celebrated director and starring famous actors – you immediately assume it made money.
Knowing that the highest-grossing movies of all time have made in excess of $1 billion at the global box office – Avatar ($2.788 billion), Titanic ($2.187 billion), Jurassic World ($1.663 billion) and The Avengers ($1.52 billion), for example – and subsequently made massive profits on their production budgets, it’s hard to imagine that some big films struggle to the point of making a loss.
However, that has happened on countless occasions in the past – even when it comes to movies that are considered to be iconic. Money has been spent on movie production – on the assumption that said movie would be extremely popular – that simply hasn’t been recuperated at the box office.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the most memorable movies that didn’t make money back on their production costs. Here are ten iconic movies that made a loss at the box office.
10. The Alamo – Lost $5.8 million
The legendary John Wayne directed, produced and starred in 1960’s brilliant epic historical film about the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, which was simply called The Alamo. Wayne portrayed Davy Crockett, while his supporting cast included Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie and Laurence Harvey as William B. Travis.
Although critical response was mixed at the time, The Alamo did get seven Academy Award nominations and won one of them. It has since become an undoubted classic but, at its time of release, it only grossed $7.2 million at the box office, having cost $13 million to make – and John Wayne lost all of his own personal financial investment in the movie. Incidentally, the 2004 remake, while far less iconic, made an even bigger loss, grossing just $25.8 million, having cost $107 million to make.
9. Masters Of The Universe – Lost $4.7 million
Now, don’t get us wrong, there’s no doubting the fact that this movie was absolutely terrible, but it was based upon such an iconic 1980s franchise that you’d think it would have been a guaranteed hit (and it has become something of a cult classic). However, 1987’s Masters of the Universe actually bombed in a big way.
Starring Dolph Lundgren in the lead role as He-Man – the star of the brilliant Filmation cartoon on which this movie was based – and with support from Frank Langella as Skeletor and Courtney Cox in one of her earliest roles, Masters of the Universe cost $22 million to make and made just $17.3 million at the global box office.
8. Big Trouble In Little China – Lost $8.9 million
Ask anyone familiar with the 1980s to name their favourite ten movies from the decade and the likelihood is they will mention 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China. The John Carpenter-directed action movie starred Kurt Russell as truck driver Jack Burton, as he inadvertently found himself fighting against an ancient sorcerer and his godly henchmen, as well as Kim Cattrall as the proverbial eye candy.
It’s a true cult classic and its critical rating has steadily increased as the years have passed. However, having cost $20 million to produce, the movie only raked in $11.1 million at the worldwide box office.
7. The Fall of the Roman Empire – Lost $14.25 million
The Fall of the Roman Empire is a classic epic film from 1964. It starred an all-star cast that included the likes of Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Mel Ferrer and Omar Sharif. In spite of the movie’s title, it actually didn’t depict the fall of the Roman Empire – it lasted well beyond the period depicted in the movie – but historians suggest the events depicted triggered the Empire’s downfall.
The movie was nominated for one Academy Award (though it didn’t win), currently has an almost unprecedented 100% rating on RottenTomatoes.com and is truly considered a classic. However, it cost $19 million to make the movie and it only brought in $4.75 million at the box office.
6. Trick ‘R Treat – Lost $5.2 million
Iconic Halloween movies are hard to come by these days. Since the days of John Carpenter’s 1978 offering Halloween, only a few of that movie’s sequels have come to close to being as synonymous with the 31st of October as the original movie, but 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat certainly comes close.
The anthology movie – which stars the likes of Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker and Brian Cox – explores four different Halloween tales with one thing in common – the little enigmatic trick-or-treater known as Sam, who shows up to punish those who go against Halloween tradition. It has a cult following and is definitely a modern classic, but a delayed and limited theatrical release meant that, in spite of costing $12 million to produce, it only recouped $6.8 million of that at the box office.
5. Mutiny On The Bounty – Lost $5.32 million
1962’s brilliant historical drama Mutiny on the Bounty had an outstanding cast that included the likes of Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris. It depicts the events of the real-life 1789 mutiny aboard HM Armed Vessel Bounty, which was led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian against the ship’s captain, Vice Admiral of the Blue William Bligh.
The movie was a critical hit, was nominated for seven Academy Awards (although it didn’t manage to win a single one) and is a genuine cinematic classic, but it was a major flop at the box office. After costing a whopping $19 million to make, it only brought in $13.68 million.
4. Ali – Lost $19.3 million
2001’s Ali is a biographical movie about legendary heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali. Will Smith played the titular role and was ably supported by the likes of Jamie Foxx as Ali’s cornerman Drew Bundini Brown and John Voight as sports journalist Howard Cosell.
The movie was received well by critics and was one of the first in which Will Smith became taken truly seriously as an actor. It earned two Academy Award nominations – one for Smith’s leading man performance – without winning. However, having cost $107 million to make – and with marketing costs on top of that – it only made $87.7 million at the worldwide box office.
3. The Diary Of Anne Frank – Lost $1.5 million
The Diary of Anne Frank is a 1959 film based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name (the play, in turn, having been based on the real-life diary of Anne Frank – a young Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis in the Netherlands during World War II). Directed by George Stevens, the film starred Millie Perkins as Anne Frank and Joseph Schildkraut as Otto Frank (with Schildkraut reprising his role from the stage production).
The movie was received brilliantly by critics and was nominated for eight Academy Awards – three of which it won. In spite of that great critical reception, it only made $2.3 million at the box office, having cost $3.8 million to make.
2. Doctor Dolittle – Lost $8 million
The original (and best) live action depiction of the Hugh Lofting Doctor Dolittle stories is 1967’s Doctor Dolittle. Starring Rex Harrison in the titular role of the man who could talk to animals, the wonderful musical production also featured Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley and the great Richard Attenborough.
The film suffered a number of setbacks during production and was initially deemed a failure. However, it ended up with nine Academy Award nominations and it won two of them. It is now appreciated even more and is undoubtedly regarded as a classic. However, that isn’t reflected in its original box office takings, as it only took in $9 million, having cost $17 million to make.
1. Bedknobs & Broomsticks – Lost $2.13 million
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a bona fide cinematic classic. It’s a staple part of Christmas television (you can guarantee it’s aired every single year) and it is still enjoyed today. Starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson, it follows the exploits Lansbury’s Eglantine Price – a witch who uses her supernatural powers to defeat the Nazis, aided by three children and Tomlinson’s Emelius Brown.
The 1971 Walt Disney offering – which merges live action with animation – can now be spoken of in the same breath as the likes of Mary Poppins, but it wasn’t anywhere near as successful. In spite of its five Academy Award nominations (one of which it won), it only grossed $17.87 million, having cost $20 million to make.