Since Hollywood began, movies have always run the grand risk of flopping. Not just flopping but super-flopping. Movies that have huge hopes of being mega successes only to collapse majorly due to various factors, from bad marketing to poor reviews to just being no good at all. As time has gone on and budgets getting larger and larger, the risk of mega-flops grows far larger. In 1990, The Bonfire of the Vanities was considered a massive debacle for grossing only $15 million against a $50 million budget which for the time was outrageous. Today, of course, that’s considered low-budget as Hollywood has gone for “bigger is better” approach which just leads to more risk of movies becoming sheer disasters.
Some stand larger than others, usually for a big blockbuster. True, the famous flops of Town & Country and Evan Almighty were notable but those were cases of small comedies that just got ridiculously out of hand, not a blockbuster by any means. No, this list is for the movies that were intended to be big-budget smash hits and instead collapsed big time in losses that rocked their studios and set back careers. Some of these may not seem as huge in budget terms at first but when adjusted for inflation, you can see how much bigger a deal they truly are. Read and marvel at how the dreams of so many stars and executives could turn into nightmares that dashed so many movies to the side.
Estimated Loss: $75,681,839
That a movie that opened just a few months ago can have a place on this list speaks volumes. A lot was expected of this Disney sci-fi fable with the star power of George Clooney and director Brad Bird and mixing in the company’s famed theme park land. With huge special effects and a large scope, it’s perhaps no surprise the movie’s budget rocketed past $200 million and the marketing pushing it even higher. Despite that, most moviegoers were confused to the plot and while the movie’s visuals were praised, critics felt the story was trite, clichéd and confusing. The movie was lost in the releases of the hot May like Age of Ultron and Mad Max Fury Road and while the international take helped it break more even, Disney is still expecting to do a write-off of at least $80 million and perhaps more when further costs are made clear. Sometimes looking to the future ignores the problems of the present.
19. The Nutcracker in 3D
Estimated Loss: $81,910,521
Roger Ebert spoke for many in his review of this 2009 British-Hungarian film: “From what dark night of the soul emerged the wretched idea?” Instead of a lovely showing of the classic ballet, this movie instead took viewers on a wild journey into a dystopia ruled by a Nazi-like Rat Queen (John Turturro) with Nathan Lane as Albert Einstein (yes, seriously) and tons of imagery like two-legged helicopters, rat monsters and obvious Holocaust overtones. All marketed for kids. It’s one of those movies that is amazing was ever conceived, let alone made and released and Ebert’s review was actually one of the kinder ones it received. Made for about $90 million, the film barely made a blip in the box office, the bad trailers and horrific reviews keeping families away and it thus ended up losing over $80 million dollars. A fitting fate for a film most cite as the worst sort of “family entertainment” imaginable.
Estimated Loss: $82,585,960
An incredibly troubled production, this sci-fi horror movie starring James Spader and Angela Bassett began production in 1997 with a rewritten script not liked by the head of MGM and its budget cut midway through production…only to end up rising again with various delays. Over the objections of director Walter Hill, the studio screened a test cut of the movie that lacked many of its special effects that was a total disaster. Hill quit the project over the studio’s refusal to give him more money and Jack Sholder proceeded to cut much of Hill’s footage out and then reshoots that added more cost to the film. But after an upheaval at MGM, Sholder quit and the project was shelved with Francis Ford Coppola of all people paid $1 million to try and reedit it before it was finally released in 2000. The final result was a $90 million film grossing barely $15 million, a massive debacle for the studio and a shining example of how a simple sci-fi flick can get so out of control and ending badly for everyone.
17. Treasure Planet
Estimated Loss: $85,210,943
In the 1990’s, Disney’s hand-drawn animation efforts were box office gold, one hit after another. This 2002 movie not only ended that streak but, in the minds of many, basically killed that style of animation in favor of computers. A sci-fi retelling of the classic adventure story, it had a big cast with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Hyde Pierce and Emma Thompson and some fantastic music alongside sweeping space sequences. But the budget got wildly out of control, $140 million unheard of for an animated film and the crowded 2002 holiday period too much for it to break out as hoped. Despite actually very good reviews, the movie sagged with barely $100 million globally and its losses of $85 million freaking Disney out so much that they basically dropped hand-drawn animation as a regular thing. A shame as the movie doesn’t quite deserve such a mega-flop status and far better than most of the films on this list.
16. Jupiter Ascending
Estimated Loss: $87,056,139
Many had hopes that the Wachowskis’ sci-fi adventure would finally be the proper successor to The Matrix, a fantastic adventure with a great female lead that would be a true blast. Warner Bros was pushing it hard in promotion for a planned July 2014 release and the film boasting a budget reported at $180 million thanks to original spaceship and alien designs. But when the film was suddenly pushed from its release date to February 2015, many believed that test screenings were frightening the studio and moving it to a “dead zone’ was a way to avoid a bad loss. It didn’t work as the film was trashed by critics and audiences alike for its incoherent plot, the lack of chemistry between Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum and Eddie Redmayne’s ludicrous performance. The movie bombed, barely making back its budget in the worldwide box office and its loses counting at $88 million. While its camp aspects may win it a future cult following, for the present time, it ranks as proof that The Matrix may have been a fluke rather than a true act of genius by its creators.
15. The Alamo
Estimated Loss: $94,090,020
One of the last movies to be released under the Touchstone label, Disney’s big-budget telling of the iconic battle between Texas and Mexico was intended to be a major awards-bait movie. Ron Howard was to direct but Disney balked at his budget, shooting on location with a full-scale replica of the Alamo and would have pushed the movie to $200 million. They instead went with John Lee Hancock whose insistence on accuracy meant making sure every detail from clothes to the Alamo itself was perfect and that, combined with bad weather on location, shoved the budget even higher. The film was put off several times as the marketing did their best to promote it, ending with a final budget of roughly $107 million but the movie was crushed in its opening in April of 2004 with poor reviews and lack of interest, leaving Disney with a loss of $94 million. Just like the historical event it covered, the producers of The Alamo went down pretty badly.
14. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Estimated Loss: $94,434,085
This 2001 movie was boasted as being the future of animated films with photorealistic animated characters and based on the ultra-popular video games. With its scope and cast, it was budgeted at $137 million plus additional marketing costs and Columbia pushed it big as a sure-fire smash. However, despite fair reviews that praised the animation, the film failed to find an audience, lost amid the other blockbusters that year and its losses of roughly $95 million put Square Pictures right out of business. It’s not as terrible as some of the other entries on this list but a clear case where the vision exceeded the reality and failed to click as well as it could have, ending in a major flop.
13. The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Estimated Loss: $96,448,014
Once upon a time, Eddie Murphy was one of the most dependable box office stars Hollywood could ask for. While he had a few ups and downs in the ‘90’s, he was still regarded as a top guy and studios backing his projects. That came to a major end with this 2002 movie that was an absolute disaster on every level. A baffling plot of Murphy as a club owner on the moon getting involved with a bizarre criminal scheme, the movie was shot in 2000 but held on the shelf for two years after numerous revisions and edits in a vain attempt to keep it good. That just added to its budget, which reached over $100 million. Upon its release, the film was shredded by critics and a stunning loss of $95 million, still standing as a go-to buzz for mega-bombs that just served to showcase how badly Murphy’s once great star had fallen.
Estimated Loss: $96,533,564
This was supposed to be one of the big guns of the summer 2005 season as Jamie Foxx, Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel played pilots dealing with a jet fighter’s A.I. going rogue. Rob Cohen was director, pushing up the CGI big time for the flight and fight sequences, the studio ramping it up in the marketing and expecting a big turnout. Instead, the $135 million film opened in fourth place with only $13 million and lost 55% of its audience in its second weekend. True, 2005 was a rough summer overall but many were still taken aback by how badly this movie crashed and burned, a loss of nearly $100 million that pushed Columbia Pictures closer to bankruptcy. Proof that not all CGI action fests can win over moviegoers no matter how high they try to soar.
Estimated Loss: $100,365,257
Clive Cussler’s novels featuring adventurer Dirk Pitt are already blockbuster adventures and yet Hollywood just can’t seem to do them justice. As proof comes this 2005 feature that boasted Matthew McConaughey as Pitt with Penelope Cruz as his love interest. While not as terrible an adaptation as other novels to movies, the filmmakers missed some of the key turns that made the book successful and thus a convoluted plot was pushed onto moviegoers. At first, the movie’s $160 million budget appeared to be due to the hard shooting on location with bad weather and more pile-ups and the box office take of $120 million meant a loss of about $100 million to Paramount. However, a series of lawsuits between Cussler and the studio exposed how several million dollars were bribes for the Morocco government and the argument of Cussler paid $10 million alone and then suing over control. It’s actually made the movie an interesting case where the backstory was far more interesting than the film itself and for once, explains just why a massive budget was used the way it was.
10. Jack the Giant Slayer
Estimated Loss: $86,156,199—101,156,199
Bryan Singer has had amazing success with the X-Men movies but that skill failed him with this fairy tale epic. Beginning production in 2011, Singer himself worked on the script which failed to show his usual skills, a mish-mash of various tropes that failed to connect well. Supposedly, Singer had more difficulty than expected with the fancy 3D cameras used to shoot the movie and was far more interested in the huge post-production effects than actual shooting with the motion capture shooting running behind schedule. It just added more and more to the budget which soon ballooned to $200 million and it was hardly helped when Warner Brothers pushed it from summer of 2012 to March of 2013. Its final box office take was just under $200 million with Legendary Pictures expected to lose close to $100 million from it. No wonder Singer jumped right back to the X-Men train as this debacle showed even a skilled filmmaker can deliver something majorly bad.
9. The Fall of the Roman Empire
Estimated Loss: ~$106,000,000 (adjusted for inflation)
A case of a budget that may seem okay but when adjusted for inflation, it’s one of the biggest bombs imaginable. A stand-out of the “swords and sandals” era of the 1950s and ‘60s, it boasted a great cast of Christopher Plummer, Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness and Omar Sharif and excellent detail and many reviews have noted it as far better than most of its ilk. Sadly, that wasn’t enough for moviegoers in 1964 as the film’s budget reached a then-unheard of $20 million and while much of it is on screen, it still stands as a very costly disaster. When adjusted for inflation, its losses are close to $125 million and while the movie is regarded as something of a classic by critics today, it didn’t help Samuel Bronston at the time and helped kill the entire massive epic of the day, a shame considering it’s an actually good flick.
Estimated Loss: $90,837,890—114,837,890
The cult comic book this 2013 movie was based on had a cool premise: Lawmen killed throughout history are given the chance to go back to Earth and protect humans from demonic evil. Ryan Reynolds played their newest recruit with Jeff Bridges as the Old West marshall acting as his partner and some major big-budget FX in fights with demons. Sadly, from the first trailers, the movie was doomed thanks to the inevitable comparisons to Men in Black and the studio didn’t help by moving it to a pretty crammed period in July. Rising to a reported $160 million budget, the movie grossed less than $80 million with a loss for the studio of nearly $120 million and standing as one of the worst comic book adaptations ever as well as a major flop on its own.
7. The Lone Ranger
Estimated Loss: $94,748,943—119,748,943
Attempts had been made for years to get the iconic Western radio hero back on the big screen. When it was announced Johnny Depp and Gore Vibinski would reunite for a Disney-produced version, there was anticipation…and then came the announcement that Depp would be playing Tonto, not the Ranger. The budget quickly rose high, so high that Disney actually put the production aside in 2011 but eventually went back to it, figuring the combination of the Pirates team would lead to success. They were very, very wrong as between the desert shooting, bad weather, wildfires, a chicken pox outbreak and the death of a stuntman (not to mention building two real locomotives and track to use), the budget ballooned to $225 million with some saying it was closer to $250 million. Opening on the Fourth of July 2013, the reviews were brutal and a miserable $50 million opening doomed it totally with many saying the length, mood and Depp’s goofy performance were all terrible to watch. Disney lost over $150 million, which would have put the studio at a major loss for 2013 if not for the surprising success of Frozen. It just goes to show that relying too much on a star’s certain act can lead to some bad stuff.
6. Heaven’s Gate
Estimated Loss: ~$121,000,000 (adjusted for inflation)
No director has self-destructed his career as spectacularly as Michael Cimino. After winning Oscars for Best Picture and Director for The Deer Hunter, Cimino could make any movie he wanted. He chose a little-known historical incident that he blew out of proportion and United Artists made the mistake of backing him. The stories are legendary: Tearing apart an entire Western town set just to build it a few inches higher; setting the record for the most feet of film ever shot by doing 50 retakes of a single scene; wasting four hours a day driving cast and crew to and from the remote locations; killing so many horses in the climactic battle scene that it created the “no animals were harmed…” credit for movies; and delivering his cut of the film to UA executives, saying he could stand to lose 15 minutes tops…then showing them a five and a half-hour movie. The budget ended up at $55 million which, in 1980, was the equivalent of nearly $275 million. Its opening was raked over the coals by critics (Vincent Canby’s infamous review claimed Cimino “sold his soul for The Deer Hunter and this is the Devil coming to collect”), the movie pulled to be edited but still failing after its second release and UA basically ruined as a studio afterward. While some critics claim it has merits, most cite it as the epitome of self-indulgent filmmaking run amok and a legend among mega-flops.
5. John Carter
Estimated Loss: $121,630,450
It took decades for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ science fiction pioneer to reach the big-screen in March of 2012. It took ten days for Disney to declare the movie an utter disaster of epic proportions. Many felt Andrew Stanton bit off too much with this huge undertaking, the casting of Taylor Kitsch as Carter a surprise and the movie not backed as much as it could have been. To be fair, it does look like a movie that cost $263 million with its amazing FX and vistas of Mars but it’s clear Stanton was overwhelmed by putting it all together. The true death blow, however, was that the movie was saddled with one of the worst advertising campaigns of all time. First, Disney changed the title from John Carter of Mars convinced that (after Mars Needs Moms bombed) the planet was somehow box office poison. Stanton himself worked on the marketing which totally failed to mention the character’s history and thus the movie came off as a rip-off of Star Wars and Avatar rather than how every sci-fi property of the last century has been influenced by Burroughs. While not terrible, the reviews were mixed and the movie sunk big time with Disney forced to take a loss of nearly $200 million. They would rebound with The Avengers only a couple of months later but fans of the character still mourn the grand opportunity lost and how Carter and Burroughs deserved much better.
4. Mars Needs Moms
Estimated Loss: $130,503,621
Just when it looked like motion-capture animation was going to be the wave of the future, this 2011 Disney film put an end to that pretty fast. Based on a children’s book of a boy trying to rescue his mother from Martians, the animated film saw its budget grow larger than expected to $150 million which was a steep price for an animated movie. Part of that was because after six weeks of Seth Green in the role of the young boy, the producers felt he came off “too old” so replaced him with 11-year old Seth R. Dusky. Despite a good marketing campaign, Disney completely misread how young moviegoers would be drawn to the tale, many put off by the unnatural-looking characters and it ended up with a pathetic gross of barely $40 million. Disney was said to have lost nearly $130 million on the movie and its effects would hit a lot of other flicks (like John Carter) in bad ways.
3. Cutthroat Island
Estimated Loss: $137,488,885 (adjusted for inflation)
In 1994, Carolco the studio behind such hits as Total Recall and Terminator 2, needed a major blockbuster hit to keep afloat for a bit longer. Their choices were Crusade, a medieval epic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Cutthroat Island, a pirate epic directed by Renny Harlin and starring his then-wife Geena Davis. In a fantastic irony, the studio passed on Crusade due to its budget and went for Cutthroat. Michael Douglas was to star but when it became clear Harlin was pushing Davis’ role much bigger, he dropped out and spread the word the movie was bad to the point that just about every name actor in Hollywood steered clear of it. Matthew Modine was eventually chosen as Davis’ co-star as production went underway, hitting everything from massive storms to an open rebellion by the crew against Harlin’s wild direction and tyrannical control. Harlin spent a million dollars of his own money to rewrite the script which was mocked by critics as incoherent and Modine and Davis having no chemistry. The delays put off the planned summer 1995 release to Christmas, the budget finally ending up at about $100 million which was outrageous for the time. The movie only ended up with a pitiful $10 million and sunk Carolco completely while doing massive damage to Davis’ career. It would take a decade for a pirate movie to be attempted again thanks to Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow but the damage was done. The true sad irony is that if they’d gone with Crusade, Carolco might have survived to make its planned next two movies: Independence Day and Titanic.
2. 47 Ronin
Estimated Loss: $149,518,763
According the reports, this big-budget 2013 film was supposed to be a fantasy take on the famed Japanese legend of swordsmen avenging their master with Keanu Reeves in a small role just to pull in Western audiences. However, the studio decided to beef up his role and make it the lead which just added to the already large budget and put the movie’s release off from late 2012 to over a year later. Between the FX and shooting, it rose to $225 million and its release was marred with bad reviews and the fact it got off to a very poor box office opening in Japan was a sign it wasn’t going to do well. It made just $150 million worldwide and thus, balanced against its budget and marketing, means a loss of roughly the same amount. The movie may someday retain some “cult” value but as it stands now, it’s one of the bigger disasters in Hollywood history and a sign of what happens when you try to mix genres too much.
1. The 13th Warrior
Estimated Loss: $97,896,514—182,838,584 (adjusted for inflation)
Directed by John McTiernan and based on a novel by Michael Crichton, this 1999 movie hit several delays which is natural for a historical action film. Only they became more and more common with bad weather and larger budget needed to cover constant rewrites. Antonio Banderas played an Arab poet forced to join a group of Vikings battling other enemies with the movie shot in 1997 for an intended 1998 release. However, test audiences didn’t react well to the footage shown and thus various reshoots and re-edits were made, each one driving the picture’s budget up toward a reported $160 million. It ended up grossing $60 million worldwide and while the exact numbers have never been confirmed, it’s been estimated its losses could reach $130 million, a massive collapse that still stands as tops in blockbusters that failed to succeed.
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