‘John Carter’ and 15 of the Biggest Movie Flops of All Time
After a couple poor weekends out of the gate, ‘John Carter’ is poised to become one of the worst movie investments in history. Analysts expect the Walt Disney Co. to take a $165 million loss that will earn it the indignity cast upon forgettable films like ‘Ishtar’ and ‘Howard the Duck.’ A variety of reasons for the movie’s poor performance have been floated — from casting to plot to promotion. Whatever the cause, it wouldn’t be the first time Hollywood banked on a splashy blockbuster and lost big. Here’s a look back at some of Hollywood’s most colossal failures.
Who’s to blame for Oliver Stone’s massive historical epic flopping at the box office? The culture wars in America, naturally. That’s the case some made after ‘Alexander’ fell flat in 2004 despite a $150 million budget. Ever the provocateur, Stone presented Colin Farrell’s Alexander as bisexual, which upset some Red staters. “We go into his bisexuality,” Stone told Playboy. ”It may offend some people, but sexuality in those days was a different thing.” Most surprised by the movie’s failure was Farrell, who thought that he’d be up for awards and instead wound up rethinking his career.
This vehicle for former couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez gained notoriety in 2003 for its callousness and general atrociousness. To make matters worse, the two leads broke off their real-life relationship shortly after the movie failed to win over viewers. It cost $54 million to make and brought in only a small fraction of that at the box office. As Manohla Dargis said in her LA Times review, ”The pair should reconsider working with anyone who thought well of a movie hinged on jokes about the disabled, switch-hitting lesbians and the sight of a dead man’s brain splattered across an aquarium.”
‘Mars Needs Moms’
This animated debacle lost over $100 million and is considered the worst flop of 2011. Lambasted by critics for its stiff, creepy motion-capture animation and rejected by audiences, ‘Mars Needs Moms’ caused studios to reconsider whether or not family-friendly CGI movies are really a safe bet. Its failure, along with the similar audience rejection of movies like ‘Red Planet,’ inspired the makers of ‘John Carter’ to ditch the “of Mars” part of the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels on which the film is based. Clearly Hollywood needs to stay off Mars.
You have to give her credit — Halle Berry took this flop in stride. This campy superhero epic brought in just $40 million domestically on a $100 million budget and was considered one of the worst movies of 2004. Berry even won a Razzie for her performance, which she accepted in person. But Berry didn’t back down. She was quoted as saying, ”I had a wonderful experience on ‘Catwoman,’ a wonderful experience.” At least somebody had a good time.
A cautionary tale for other summer blockbusters, 2008′s ‘Speed Racer’ failed to ever hit the gas. Which was surprising, considering that the kid-friendly action movie came from The Wachowski Bros., whose ‘Matrix’ franchise was a license to print money. But their adaptation of a somewhat forgotten cartoon cost $120 million to make and recouped only $44 million domestically. While bad marketing and lukewarm reviews were also to blame for ‘Speed’s’ box office failure, the hyper-stylized movie has found a second life on DVD where it has developed a healthy cult following.
One of the most reviled films of all time, ‘Battlefield Earth’ lost $73 million and almost killed John Travolta’s career for a second time following his ‘Pulp Fiction’ comeback. So what went wrong? Pretty much everything. A pet project of vocal Scientologist Travolta, this adaptation of the sci-fi novel by the religion’s controversial founder L. Ron Hubbard wanted to be the next ‘Star Wars.’ Instead, it was lambasted for its hokey dialogue, hammy acting, terrible special effects and copious dreadlocked characters. Oh, and Travolta’s creepy lizard tongue. There are some things you can’t un-see.
‘Town and Country’
This utterly forgettable film is one that the studio probably wants to forget as well. It lost $95 million in 2001, despite boasting stars like Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton. How did a seemingly modest ensemble comedy end up costing so much? The film went through multiple rewrites and reshoots, taking several years to be made. By the time it finally limped into theaters, much of the excitement that originally surronded the project had dissolved, and the studio cut their losses with a small marketing campaign. The film was such a disaster, Beatty hasn’t acted since.
Remember when Geena Davis was in every movie? And remember when action maestro Renny Harlin (‘Die Hard 2′) was the Michael Bay of his day? Well, this infamous pirate movie put the kibosh on both their careers. Its epic failure (only grossing $10 million after accruing a $90 million budget) is also responsible for the folding of Carolco Pictures, the one-time motion picture biggie behind the ‘Terminator’ movies. And when you factor in inflation, ‘Cutthroat Island’ is considered to be the biggest box office bomb of all time losing over $147 million. It would be years before Johnny Depp and Disney resurrected the pirate genre on the big screen.
‘The Adventures of Pluto Nash’
Nobody can truly explain Eddie Murphy’s career in recent decades. While he’s brought us hits like ‘The Nutty Professor,’ he’s also behind outright cinematic atrocities like ‘Norbit’ and the recent ‘A Thousand Words.’ But it’s this 2002 sci-fi comedy that holds the title of his biggest flop, recouping only $7 million of its reported $100 million budget. Eddie’s lucky that ’Pluto Nash’ didn’t come out during the ’80s as it was originally intended, because the young star’s career probably wouldn’t have recovered.
‘From Justin to Kelly’
Back in 2003, it was hard to image that anything ‘American Idol’ winner Kelly Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini (remember him?) could touch wouldn’t immediately turn to gold. But they endured the other side of the entertainment industry when their musical earned only $5 million at the box office. In fact, it was so bad that a new Razzie Award, the Governor’s Award, was created for it. Clarkson told Time magazine, “I knew when I read the script it was going to be real, real bad, but when I won, I signed that piece of paper and I could not get out of it. Two words: contractually obligated.”
This 1997 film took place in a post-apocalyptic 2013. But it only brought in $18 million on an $80 million investment. And director and star Kevin Costner, who had previously starred in the equally costly sci-fi dud ‘Waterworld,’ was held responsible for the flop. Vanity Fair wrote: ”Audiences were in no mood to watch a movie which begins with Costner reciting ‘MacBeth’ to his donkey before once more martyring himself for three hours.” Costner did a lot of on-screen martyring during the ’90s.
This 2005 Jamie Foxx robot fighter pilot non-epic cost upwards of $135 million but only took in around $13mil on its opening weekend. (It eventually accrued close to $77 mil worldwide, which was still not enough to get it out of the red.) The movie also faced numerous lawsuits, including one by a party who claimed copyright of the term “stealth.” By the end of this disaster, it’s safe to say Columbia Pictures wished they’d let the guy have it.
‘Delgo’ came out in 2008 and never made its mark. It cost $40 million to make, enough to warrant some attention, but brought in less than $1 million in its opening weekend, earning it the title of lowest-grossing opening weekend of all time. The filmmakers blamed poor marketing, but the ugly animation and bland story probably had something to do with its failure. Sadly, ‘Delgo’ was the last film work of the great actress Anne Bancroft. Mrs. Robinson deserved better.
‘The 13th Warrior’
An early career misfire for Antonio Banderas, this $160 million movie only earned back around $60 million worldwide, making it one of the biggest bombs ever. Part of the problem was the massive reedits the film, which originally went by the far more memorable title ‘Eaters of the Dead,’ underwent after test audiences rejected it. Costar Omar Sharif was so embarrassed by the film, he actually retired from acting until 2003.
It cost a whopping $241 million to make this 2005 adventure film, which earned a respectable but disappointing $120 million at the box office. Big-name draws Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz starred, but production costs just kept on piling up. (One cost reportedly included bribes to the local government in Morocco.) Clive Cussler, writer of the original work, battled for years with the production company over the film’s massive losses.