DreamWorks SKG was created in 1994 by media moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg (ex-Disney producer of hits such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King), and David Geffen. Together, the three form the acronym SKG. The company is best-known for its animation division, which has produced huge hits, such as the Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon franchises.
Despite their 31 feature animation films, with an average gross of $419 million per film, the studio has also had its failures. Many of these come from poorly advertised live-action films, although they have been hurting in the animation department in recent years as well.
Four of their last six animated films - Rise of the Guardians (2012), Turbo (2013), Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014), and Penguins of Madagascar (2014) - have performed poorly at the box office. And since the company is one of the only publicly traded studios in Hollywood, every failed movie effects their working capital and shares.
Though all of the four movies mentioned above ended up making a profit (thanks to foreign sales), none of them have been nearly as successful as their franchise movies. Their most recent film, Home, released March 27 of this year was feared to suffer the same fate, but it has surprised critics by opening at #1 at the box office with a $54 million opening weekend.
In 2013, after an overall $83 million loss and write-down from the Rise of the Guardians project, DreamWorks had to cut 350 jobs. At the beginning of 2015, they announced further cuts of 500 jobs, a $55 million fourth-quarter write-down, and they announced they’d be releasing just two films per year starting in 2016 (down from three).
Despite these heavy losses, it wouldn't take much to make DreamWorks a contender against Disney and Pixar again - if they could just find a sure-fire way to bring in box office revenue, as Disney has always managed to do. Here are 10 of DreamWorks’ biggest flops in their 20 years of producing movies.
10 Almost Famous (2000) - $13 Million Loss
Almost Famous was a music-drama released by DreamWorks SKG and Columbia Pictures in 2000. It follows the adventure of William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year-old kid who is hired by Rolling Stone magazine to tour with and write about an up-and-coming rock band called Stillwater.
The coming-of-age story stars Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the infamous journalist Lester Bangs. It certainly wasn't lacking talent, and the ratings for the film are very positive, with a 7.9 rating on IMDb and 88% Rotten Tomatoes score. It's gone on to become a bit of a modern cult classic.
Despite this, it never took off at the box office. The film had a production budget of $60 million, including a 50-song, $3.5 million music budget (most movie’s music budgets are under $1.5 million), but it only grossed $47 million at the box office - $32.5 million domestic, and $14.5 million foreign.
9 The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) - $14 Million Loss
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion was a 2001 film starring and directed by Woody Allen. The prolific director’s career has spanned more than 50 years, first as a stand-up comedian, then as a writer and director of comedies and dramas. His repertoire of over 40 films have been nominated 24 times at the Academy Awards, and he’s won four times: three for Best Original Screenplay, and one for Best Director (Annie Hall).
Unfortunately, Allen, who critic Roger Ebert has described as “a treasure of the cinema,” could not reach similar success with The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. The film, which also stars Dan Aykroyd, Helen Hunt, and Charlize Theron, is about an insurance investigator and an efficiency expert who hate each other, and are hypnotized by a crook who makes them become jewel thieves.
The comedy-thriller had a production budget of $33 million, but it ended up grossing less than $19 million worldwide. With a weak opening weekend of only $2.5 million, and a $7.5 lifetime domestic gross, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion remains Allen’s least successful film financially.
8 In Dreams (1999) - $18 Million Loss
In Dreams was a film released by DreamWorks SKG and Amblin Entertainment in 1999. It is based on the novel by Bari Wood, and stars Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr., and Katie Sagona. The thriller is about Claire Cooper (Bening), a woman who dreams strange things. One night, she dreams about a little girl being kidnapped in her neighborhood. A short while later, her own daughter is kidnapped and murdered. Claire is convinced that her and the killer’s minds are connected through their dreams, but nobody believes her.
In Dreams has a 5.4 rating on IMDb, and only a 25% Rotten Tomatoes score. The film was released in almost 1,700 theaters domestically, but it had a poor showing and could never get off the ground. The production budget was $30 million, while the gross domestic total was only $12 million. It wasn't released in theaters worldwide, which added to the poor lifetime gross, resulting in an $18 million loss.
7 A Thousand Words (2012) - $18 Million Loss
A Thousand Words was filmed in 2008, but its release was delayed until 2012. It was directed by Brian Robbins, starring a somewhat past-it Eddie Murphy, who was once one of the greatest box office successes. After playing the talking Donkey in Shrek, Murphy had made a comeback within DreamWorks, but that success has not been stable. It was followed by a slew of recent, unsuccessful films.
The film is about a literary agent (Murphy) who stretches the truth on a deal with a spiritual guru. He then finds a Bodhi tree on his property, which holds a valuable lesson in his life. For every word he speaks, a leaf drops off the tree. Murphy refuses to speak at all, learning that doing so will keep the tree, and him, alive. The tagline for the film was, “He only has 1,000 words left to discover what matters most.”
The film suffered from poor marketing, and had a disastrous US opening. With a $40 million budget, the film grossed only $18.5 domestically, causing UK cinemas to drop the film. It was released direct-to-video, and it earned $3.5 million in other European countries. With only a $22 million worldwide gross, the film lost over $18 million.
6 The Road to El Dorado (2000) - $19 Million Loss
The Road to El Dorado was just the third animated film created by DreamWorks Animation, following Antz and The Prince of Egypt. While those two movies, and the two released after (Chicken Run and Shrek) managed great profits, The Road to El Dorado could not break the budget mark. In fact, this is the only DreamWorks animated picture not to earn a profit at the box office.
The film stars (the voices of) Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh as two swindlers who get their hands on a map to the fabled city of gold, El Dorado. Their scam goes awry, and they end up lost at sea, only to eventually end up on the shores of El Dorado, where they are worshipped for their foreign appearances.
The film, inspired by the Rudyard Kipling story “The Man Who Would Be King,” had a high production budget of $95 million. It earned only $51 million domestically, and $25 million internationally, almost $20 million below its budget.
5 The Fifth Estate (2013) - $19.5 Million Loss
The Fifth Estate was a 2013 film released by DreamWorks SKG and Reliance Entertainment. It's a dramatic thriller based on the real events surrounding Julian Assange and the creation of WikiLeaks, a website that sought to expose the deceptions and corruptions of the US government. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, but even with his star-power, it could not find its legs.
Julian Assange became one of the most hotly debated figures around the time of 2010, when he leaked and published military and diplomatic documents to the public. He currently lives under political asylum by Ecuador.
Despite the worldwide sensation surrounding WikiLeaks at the time, the real Julian Assange greatly opposed the film. He e-mailed Benedict Cumberbatch to ask him not to participate in the film. A month before the film’s release, WikiLeaks released a complete script to the public, stating that “the film is, from WikiLeaks’ perspective, irresponsible, counterproductive, and harmful.”
The public listened to the WikiLeaks founder, and the film suffered for it. With a $28 million budget, The Fifth Estate only earned $3.2 million domestically, and $5.3 million internationally. With a pitiful worldwide gross of just $8.5 million, the film lost nearly $20 million.
4 Flags of Our Fathers (2006) - $24 Million Loss
Flags of Our Fathers was a high-budget war film directed by Clint Eastwood and released in 2006. It tells the life stories of the six men who raised the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. The main characters in the story, John “Doc” Bradley, Pvt. Gene Gagnon, and Pvt. Ira Hayes, were played by Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, and Adam Beach, respectively.
One of the big problems with the film was scheduling. Exactly two months after Flags of Our Fathers was released, a smaller-budget, better-received war film - also directed by Clint Eastwood - was released by Warner Brothers. That film, Letters From Iwo Jima, focused more on the battle itself, while Flags of Our Fathers focused on the American politics behind the war.
Both movies were well received, and received Oscar nominations, but Letters From Iwo Jima resonated more with audiences, not to mention it had a very small budget of just $19 million, and made $70 million worldwide. Flags of Our Fathers, on the other hand, had a $90 million budget, but it only managed to squeeze out $66 million worldwide.
3 Envy (2004) - $25.5 Million Loss
Envy (2004) was directed by Barry Levinson, and starred Ben Stiller and Jack Black as two best friends Tim and Nick. When one of Nick’s (Black) get-rich-quick schemes actually works, Tim (Stiller) grows more and more envious of his friend’s success, leading him to try and take his friend down.
With a leading crew of Ben Stiller and Jack Black, who almost always have successful films at the box-office, and a side-cast of Rachel Weisz, Amy Poehler, and Christopher Walker, it’s hard to imagine why this movie did so badly at the box office. Simply said, the plot and script were stupid and horrible - Jack Black’s get-rich-quick scheme was actually called the Vapoorizer, a machine that vaporizes dog poo.
With a 7% Rotten Tomatoes score and a 4.7 IMDb rating, it remains one of Stiller’s and Black’s worst-rated movies. It was released straight-to-video in Europe after a terrible US showing, and Jack Black, Ben Stiller, and DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg publicly apologized for the film during a press conference at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.
The writer, Steve Adams, was the nephew of famed novelist Kurt Vonnegut, but that doesn't mean that Adams could write like Vonnegut. With a $40 million budget, the film grossed a total of just $14.5 million worldwide.
2 The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) - $40.5 Million Loss
The Legend of Bagger Vance, released by DreamWorks SKG and Twentieth Century Fox, is another example of a film that wasn’t lacking talent, but was severely lacking in marketing, advertising, and directing (despite the director being Robert Redford).
It was released in 2000, and starred Will Smith as a mystical caddie who is trying to bring a down-and-out golfer back on his game (said golfer was played by Matt Damon). Other stars on the roster were Charlize Theron, Bruce McGill, Jack Lemmon as narrator.
All that aside, critics actually consider Will Smith’s performance as quite good, despite him having more commercial success in the following years (I, Robot, Pursuit of Happyness, I Am Legend, etc), many people considered his acting in The Legend of Bagger Vance as pure and natural. That being said, even Smith’s acting could not save the film from box office failure.
With a big $80 million budget, the film opened weekends at #3 on the box office, with just $11.5 million. It went on to gross $31 million domestically, and $8.5 internationally, but the overall $39.5 million gross was a far shot from the $80 million budget.
1 The Last Castle (2001) - $44.4 Million Loss
DreamWork’s worst flop came in 2001 with the release of The Last Castle. The film stars Robert Redford as a three-star general who has been stripped of his rank for disobedience on a mission. When he is transferred to a maximum security military prison, the prison’s warden, Colonel Winter (played by James Gandolfini) can’t help but admire the highly decorated general.
Many critics seem to think of The Last Castle as a rehashed, less-developed, worse version of The Shawshank Redemption. It doesn’t have any of the redeeming qualities of Shawshank, despite boasting a cast of Redford, Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, and Delroy Lindo.
One of the biggest issues with the movie wasn't the producer’s fault, but rather a scheduling mishap. It was released on October 19th, 2001, just a month and a half after 9/11. The main score, in fact, was named “September 11th 2001,” because it was recorded on that day. Due to unforeseen real-life events, the movie suffered terribly.
The Last Castle opened with a $7 million weekend. Its budget was $72 million, which meant it had a lot of catching up to do to even break even. The film ended up only grossing $18.2 million domestically, and $9.4 million internationally, giving it an overall gross of $27.6 million - $44.4 million short of its budget.