The great box office flops of sumptuous spectacles have for years fascinated observers of the cinema industry, frequently demonstrating the complete gap between the audience’s expectations and what the filmmakers have prepared for them. However, paradoxically, it sometimes occurs that an advertising campaign to promote a film production is to blame for its failure.
More than two years of closures, and the subsequent radical slowdown in the theaters as well, heavily altered how we look at the commercial success of a film today. While many pictures have succeeded in scoring great box office results over the past few decades, just to name another MCU picture or “Top Gun Maverick,” even extremely well-received blockbusters have recorded big losses.
Among them, the most notable are James Gunn’s impressive and entertaining, and certainly an improvement over the first installment, “The Suicide Squad,” as well as Pixar’s latest animated hit, “Turning Red,” which scored exceptionally poorly at the box office, in spite of great reviews. Another DC production, “Wonder Woman 1984,” which neither audiences nor critics liked, is a special case.
Indeed, the fact that as many as eight of the eighteen films that have recorded a sizable loss since 2020 have gone straight to VOD less than 30 days after their theatrical release is evidence that the landscape in the film industry is radically changing, which is also evidenced by the relatively new phenomenon of $200 million Netflix movies, for now received rather coolly. Thus, it may be that the notion of a particular picture’s financial failure, typically linked to lengthy analyses of how it happened, has just become a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, among the biggest box office flops of all time, we have the most titles that premiered as early as the 21st century; by the way, not all of these films are as disastrous as one might think. Most of them definitely failed in marketing, a few promised more than they could give, and others are just heavily mediocre. Here you will find the top ten biggest box office flips in the history of cinema.
In the previous decade, there were many who rubbed their eyes in amazement when they found out that Hollywood had decided to bring the famous ship game to the screen. Those observers were also not surprised that the result of this effort, Peter Berg’s 2012 film, which starred, among others, poor Taylor Kitsch (i.e. John Carter), Alexander Skarsgard, Liam Neeson and even Rihanna in the end, turned out to be one of the biggest box office flops in the history of cinema, or so it is calculated, having cost the producers as much as $177 million.
The Joe Wright film, starring Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara, among others, whose choice for the role of Tiger Lily was after all, met with strong criticism, cost more than 150 million. The screenplay for this picture was included in the so-called “blacklist” of 2013, which collects producers’ best-loved projects that have yet to become the basis for new pictures.
However, many probably would not be offended if this concept had remained in the realm of dreams this time, because its realization resulted in a loss estimated even at more than $170 million.
8- Mars Needs Moms
Costing more than $150 million, this animated movie ultimately generated only $35 million at the box office, which contributed to a loss of up to millions. Robert Zemeckis’ name acting as one of the producers and the power of Walt Disney didn’t help. Viewers simply didn’t wish to watch the adventures of a boy whose mother is kidnapped by Martians.
7- Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
The animation, produced by DreamWorks, almost sank the entire company, as reports say it scored a loss of more than $180 million and became the last picture made using traditional 2D methods. Immediately before the film’s release, a game appeared in stores, developed by Atari, which probably everyone at the time would have preferred to forget as soon as possible. Just like the picture, which despite the participation of such stars as Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ralph Fiennes, was not very popular with audiences.
As we are about to find out, 2015 was a difficult year for blockbusters. One victim of the poor box office performance was Brad Bird’s film, co-written with Damon Lindelof, among others. Seemingly, everything looks good here: a family sci-fi, which tells the story of a former scientist disillusioned with life and a teenage girl who find themselves in a fantastical world known as Tomorrowland, linked to Disney theme parks, which a large part of the huge, nearly $200 million budget went to generate.
Sadly, it was mainly the script that failed, which turned out to be simply boring and turning Tomorrowland into one of the biggest box office flops in cinema.
5- Mortal Engines
The lavish spectacle, in which Peter Jackson himself contributed his talents, and which was based on Philip Reeve’s novel, had a lot of promise, but in the end failed to live up to expectations. When analyzing the film itself, it appears that its biggest problem is probably the lousy script and the absence of expressive characters, since the special effects alone look pretty good in it.
The film was definitely let down by Hugo Weaving, while Robert Sheehan, in turn, redeemed the guilt only with a great role in the series “The Umbrella Academy”, demonstrating his abilities. The movie’s losses are believed to be close to $190 million, and it barely managed to earn a total of $83 million in theaters.
4- The 13th Warrior
Following the huge success of “Jurassic Park,” it looked like screen adaptations of Michael Crichton’s novels were ready-made successes, but such was not the case with the 1999 picture. Notwithstanding the excellent John McTiernan behind the camera and the great star Antonio Banderas in the lead role, this action film, which was set in medieval times, was one of the biggest box office flops.
Against a budget that was eventually expected to reach as high as $160 million, the film only managed to earn barely more than 60, with some reports claiming it even generated a loss of more than $200 million.
3- John Carter
The film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel was supposed to be the big blockbuster of 2012, making close to $1 billion and marking the beginning of an expected trilogy of pictures based on the work of the classic American adventure novelist. However, in the meantime, while in theory the picture garnered slightly more at the box office than it cost, its losses are estimated at more than $230 million, because of an extremely expensive advertising campaign which made it one of the biggest box office flops.
This is blamed primarily on the marketing people, who deliberated over the film’s title for a long time, dropping “Princess of Mars,” and focusing primarily on trailers designed to show what the film would be about. Also of no use were the extensive analyses of the slip-ups of other similar shows of the period, namely “Conan the Barbarian” and “Cowboys and Aliens.” The first reviews also did not help, admittedly praising the special effects and fight scenes, but reproving the script and the creations of the main characters.
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2- Cutthroat Island
This film has been hated by viewers for years, not only due to its flaws, but also the fact that the Carolco production company, already on the verge of bankruptcy at this point, opted to abandon financing for Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s joint project “Crusade” just to make Renny Harlin’s picture.
The latter turned out to be a complete failure, producing a profit of close to $10 million in theaters, with a budget of almost a hundred million alone. The film is believed to have ultimately scored a loss of $187 million. Somewhat ironically, the aforementioned Harlin – despite being nominated – was not even able to “win” the Golden Raspberry, which was awarded to the Dutchman, for the legendary Showgirls.
1- The Lone Ranger
While Gore Verbinski will go down in cinema history as the creator of the incredibly popular film franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean”; the American also has a decidedly failed project in his portfolio, which is linked to the predecessor story by Johnny Depp. This is because the star also acted in a show based on Fran Stryker’s radio play, which introduced readers to the character of a masked cowboy, performed in the film by Armie Hammer.
The budget of the 2013 film eventually reached $250 million, and its production was plagued by such serious problems that at one point there was consideration of canceling its release. This one ultimately took place, but while the picture in theory was able to cover its production costs it eventually generated losses of up to more than $220 million, mainly blamed on an extremely expensive – and, as it turned out, completely unsuccessful – promotional marketing campaign.