The name Disney is associated with beloved entertainment. Whether it’s classics like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, or more recent hits like The Pirates of the Caribbean or Frozen, or even its more recent ventures into the wildly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe and the new Star Wars films, there’s no denying Disney is the biggest entertainment juggernaut of our age. When people think of Disney, they think of big name films. Being one of the largest entertainment corporations in history, Disney’s influence is deeply entrenched in culture across the globe.
While it goes without saying that over the years Disney had produced some of the most successful films of all time, the company has also made its fair share of costly box-office disasters. Disney, like any company, makes mistakes. And when we start talking Disney-level money invested in a movie, we’re talking some pretty expensive failure. After all, if you invest a fortune into a movie, a corporation needs it to be a big smash hit to get that money back. When that doesn’t happen, Disney had had box office bombs that have cost them colossal amounts of money, sometimes tens of millions of dollars. The old saying about “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” rings true here.
No matter what your opinion on the artistic merit of the films themselves, here are 15 Disney movies that flopped horribly at the box office.
15. Sleeping Beauty
It may seem hard to believe given the film’s recognition as a Disney classic nowadays and Aurora’s coveted status as a Disney Princess, but at the time of its release Sleeping Beauty didn’t even earn back its production costs. Sleeping Beauty was filmed in CinemaScope with Eyvind Earle as its chief animator, who was known for his meticulously beautiful yet time-consuming style.
1959’s Sleeping Beauty cost $6 million to make, the most expensive Disney film up to that date (over twice the previous three animated features). It was released to mixed critical reception and underperformed at the box office, earning only $5.3 million and leading to Disney’s first annual loss in 1960. Disney wouldn’t return to the fairy tale genre again until 30 years later after Walt Disney’s death with 1989’s The Little Mermaid.
Disney’s 2015 science fiction adventure film was praised for its original premise, futuristic visuals, musical score, and compelling action, but received mixed reviews for its uneven tone and writing. Despite an all-star cast including George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, it failed to make an impression with audiences, who largely ignored the film.
Tomorrowland was supposed to be the ultimate film tribute to Walt Disney’s fascination with futurism and scientific innovation, including his contributions to the 1964 World’s Fair and his unrealized vision of the planned community of EPCOT. Instead, the film was a resounding failure at the box office, earning $209 million worldwide against a budget of $190 million and marketing costs of around $330 million. Tomorrowland lost a whopping estimated $120-140 million for Disney.
13. The Black Cauldron
The Black Cauldron is widely considered Disney’s biggest animated flop. One of the lesser-known Disney cartoons, the film was an adaptation of Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain fantasy novels. Disney clearly had high hopes for it: it was the most expensive animated film ever made at the time, and the first Disney production to use computer-generated imagery.
The Black Cauldron is considered Disney’s darkest film. It was the first to receive a PG rating, and its tone was criticized as too intense for children. Critics called it “ambitious, but flawed” and it performed poorly at the box office, grossing $21.3 million domestically against a budget of $44 million. The Black Cauldron was such a huge loss for Disney they considered closing their animation department. It wasn’t released on video until more than a decade after its original theatrical run.
12. Mars Needs Moms
2011’s Mars Needs Moms is not only the worst Disney box office bomb but one of the biggest cinematic disasters in history. The high-tech CGI movie cost Disney $150 million to make and only made a dismal $39 million back, resulting in a $111 million loss. The film was such a catastrophic failure that Disney closed ImageMovers, a joint venture specializing in stop-capture animation. 450 people lost their jobs.
Why did a Disney brand film do so badly? Critical and audience reviews mentioned the stop-motion animation crossed the threshold into “uncanny valley” – the concept of something animated trying to look real but appearing creepy and off-putting. The story of a mother being kidnapped from her child was also criticized, as well as the lack of imagination put into the story. Negative word-of-mouth on social media also contributed to seal its fate as the worst Disney bomb.
11. Home On The Range
This utterly forgettable animated film about a trio of dairy cows capturing a bounty hunter in order to save their farm from foreclosure was panned by critics upon release and failed to excite audiences. The B-list Home on the Range was released during the period known as the “Disney Renaissance” when it seemed they could do no wrong, but even a company like Disney can’t keep succeeding forever.
Home on the Range was described by critics and audiences as being direct-to-video quality and underperformed at the box office, bringing in $103.9 million to the movies costs of $110 million. It ended up costing Disney seven million dollars. It was the last 2D animated film that Disney would do until The Princess and the Frog five years later.
10. Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
Continuing the tradition of video game movies ranging from terrible to “meh,” Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time was based on the popular game franchise and seemed poised for success. The high-flying platforming action and magical/fantastical elements of the series seemed like they would be a hit. Prince of Persia was described by Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer as “the new Pirates of the Caribbean,” but like many film adaptations of games, it failed to make the leap to the big screen.
Though it became the highest-grossing video game movie of all time before it lost the crown to Warcraft in 2016, it earned $335 million internationally (only $90 million domestically) against a budget of $200 million and market costs of up to $100 million. While Prince of Persia did turn a profit, it was not nearly as much as Disney had hoped and plans for a series were scrapped.
9. The Lone Ranger
Even before the release of 2013’s The Lone Ranger, the film seemed doomed to a questionable legacy. Controversy arose about Johnny Depp depicting the Native American character Tonto from the original radio/television series. Further anger and accusations of racism were aroused by the narration, where Depp’s Tonto is recounting the story to a young boy while he is quite literally a museum piece at a fair, which would seem to imply that Native Americans are relics of the past rather an existing people.
The film also suffered from an incoherent plot, negative critical reviews, and a general indifference from movie audiences. The Lone Ranger made a respectable $260.5 million at the box office, but it cost around $250 million to make and Disney spent another $150 million on an extensive marketing campaign, clearly expecting more from the film than it could deliver.
8. John Carter
One of the costliest flops in box office history, John Carter was a film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom pulp series, released in 2012 to mark the centennial of the titular character’s first appearance in the 1912 serial A Princess of Mars. In the hands of Finding Nemo and WALL-E director Andrew Stanton, it seemed that it couldn’t fail. John Carter‘s Mars-set sci-fi action seemed destined to become the new Star Wars and could have spawned a whole series.
Unfortunately, the film got mixed reviews from critics and failed to connect with audiences in any significant way. John Carter made $284 million at the box office against a production and marketing costs of $350 million, resulting in a staggering loss of at least $100 million for Disney and becoming one of its largest financial disappointments.
Really, you ask? The iconic Fantasia was a box office bomb? Surely it can’t be true! But it is: though 70 years later it’s considered one of Disney’s most timeless and beloved masterpieces, when it was first released in 1940 Fantasia was such a financial disaster that it put the future of the entire company in jeopardy.
Walt Disney’s pet project received positive reviews from critics, but World War II cut off European distribution entirely and the American audience reaction was cold. The film cost $2.8 million to make (very high for the time) and only brought in $1.3 million. Fantasia has since been re-released on home video to immense popularity, becoming profitable and synonymous with the Disney brand.
6. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Disney’s live-action films are a classic case of hit-or-miss: for every The Avengers or Pirates of the Caribbean, there’s a dismal flop like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A live-action adaptation of the classic Mickey Mouse sequence from Fantasia, the film banked on Nicolas Cage‘s star power to carry it, and both Disney and Cage were likely hoping it would be a similar hit like their previous partnership for the National Treasure films.
Instead, the movie failed to conjure up praise from critics or ticket sales. As a homage to Fantasia, it was very loose, and it lacked charm or originality. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice basically broke even with a budget of $150 million and a box office of $215 million, but with advertising and marketing costs added in it ended up losing millions.
5. Treasure Planet
Box office bombs for Disney are by no means limited to their live-action productions, as demonstrated by 2002’s Treasure Planet. A science fiction adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic swashbuckling pirate novel Treasure Island, the film was an experiment in adding a new creative new twist to the story. Treasure Planet actually got positive reviews from critics for its impressive visual style and original premise, but it failed to capture the interest of moviegoers. What few people went to go see it gave good viewer ratings, but the public at large paid no attention.
Disney spent $140 million making Treasure Planet, but it ended up only making $38 million in the U.S. and $110 million worldwide. One of its more expensive animated flops, Disney took a loss of about $70 million.
4. Mr. Magoo
This 1997 live-action remake of the popular Mr. Magoo cartoon from the 1950s starred Leslie Nielsen in one of his more inglorious roles. Produced by the Walt Disney Pictures branch of the Walt Disney Company, Mr. Magoo was released to negative reviews from both critics and audiences, who felt the humor of the original shorts didn’t translate well to the big screen, and Nielsen’s performance was undermined by a generic script and poor jokes.
Mr. Magoo also faced anger from audiences who thought it was a mocking portrayal of the blind and near-sighted, and activist groups protested the film as getting all of its jokes from making fun of a disability. Mr. Magoo ended up making only $21.4 million against a budget of $30 million. Faced with the film’s poor performance and a severe public backlash, Disney pulled it from theaters after two weeks.
3. The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad
Back in the 1940s, Disney released a series of “compilation” films consisting of multiple animated shorts telling different stories in different segments. The last of these was 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, which told the story of The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with well-known celebrities Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby as narrators.
Ichabod and Mr. Toad was released to lukewarm critical reception and limited box office success. The two shorts were later broken up and sold independently on home video and re-broadcast in a number of different formats over subsequent decades. Nowadays it’s most remembered for inspiring the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction at Disneyland Park. The company wouldn’t do a segment production again until The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh years later in 1977.
2. The Alamo
2004 was a very rough year for Disney; perhaps its worst in history. After Home on the Range and Around the World in 80 Days bombed, along came The Alamo, not only one of the worst flops Disney has ever had, but one of the most expensive flops in movie history. Critics and found the movie tiresome with a plodding pace and lack of tension, while audiences were bored out of their skulls by what was supposed to be a movie about a historical battle.
The Alamo cost $107 million to make and only made $25 million at the box office worldwide. I’m trying very hard to not make a “remember the Alamo? Disney would prefer not to” joke, but it’s difficult.
1. Around The World In 80 Days
Disney has encountered severe problems when it comes to adapting classic novels into movies, as evidenced by their loose adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. With an all-star cast including Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Cleese, and both Owen and Luke Wilson, it seemed like a successful comedic work in the making.
But neither critics or audiences were impressed with the results. Around the World in 80 Days was criticized for having almost nothing to do with its source material, and though it tried to infuse the story with comedic and steampunk elements, it was largely unimpressive. It was also a failure at the box office. With production costing $110 million with marketing costs of $30 million, it earned a paltry $72 million worldwide.
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