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As 'Battleship' Flops: Ten Other Memorable Box-Office Bombs

by Oliver Lyttelton
May 21, 2012 1:43 PM
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Battleship, Flops

To have one giant money losing tentpole is unfortunate. To have two starts to look careless, and that's what's happened to Taylor Kitsch. The actor, who broke out on TV's "Friday Night Lights," was seen as Hollywood's next great hope, picked out to star in two great big blockbusters with a combined cost of half-a-billion dollars. But when "John Carter" arrived in March, the film wildly underperformed, with Disney taking a hit of at least $100 million on the project. And after this weekend, it looks that his other film, "Battleship," is going to lose similar amounts.

The film, Universal and Hasbro's adaptation of the board game and directed by "Hancock" helmer Peter Berg, had taken the unusual step of opening everywhere else in the world six weeks ahead of the U.S., in the hope of bagging lucrative foreign coin and building buzz for the U.S. release. But while the film did OK abroad, it's only $15 million ahead of "John Carter," and opened with a mere $25 million on its opening weekend in North America, $5 million less than the Disney picture. While "Battleship" likely cost a little less than Disney's hugely expensive sci-fi film, the company will still likely write off close to nine figures on the project. And, while we never root too hard for a film to fail, it's hard not to feel a little gratified when audiences reject a film as thoroughly rotten as "Battleship." 

Of course, the pair are far from the first films to end up in the red: there's a long, glorious tradition of flops that have lost eye-boggling amounts of money. In honor of the miserable failure of "Battleship" (and the fact that we got through this whole pre-amble without a single nautical pun), we've picked out ten of the most memorable flops in Hollywood history. They're not all terrible films, and they're not necessarily the ten biggest money losers, but they're some of the most interesting, and for the most part still proved to be more expensive than setting fire to a bank. Take a look below. 

Cutthroat Island

"Cutthroat Island" (1995)
What It Cost:
$115 million
What It Made: $18 million
What It Lost (Adjusted For Inflation): $148 million
Why It Flopped: Few films can claim to have entirely bankrupted the studio that produced them, but then few films can claim to be the Guinness Record Holder for the biggest flop of all time, and to have lost more money than any film in history, taking back only $18 million on a $115 million budget, equivalent to $147 million when adjusted for inflation. Over a decade before Disney brought back the swashbuckler with "Pirates of the Caribbean," Carolco Pictures, who'd become a major force in independent film thanks to the success with films like the "Rambo" series and "Terminator 2," decided they'd bring back the pirate genre, with a script (eventually credited to six different writers, including Robert King ("The Good Wife") and Marc Norman ("Shakespeare in Love")) entitled "Cutthroat Island," and attached Michael Douglas to play the lead role. For the director, they picked out Finnish helmer Renny Harlin, who'd just had a blockbuster hit for the studio with Sylvester Stallone vehicle "Cliffhanger." Harlin had recently married actress Geena Davis, and persuaded the studio to let him cast his wife as the love interest in the project, and given that she'd starred in hits like "Thelma & Louise" and "A League of Their Own" in recent memory, it seemed like a fair move. But Harlin reworked the script to make Davis' character a co-lead, and Douglas, who was promised $15 million to make the film, bailed.  Virtually every actor in town was offered the gig, including the unlikely likes of Charlie Sheen and Tim Robbins, and it got far down enough the list that it was Matthew Modine, who wasn't that much bigger a star then than he is now, that got the gig (Frank Langella would play the bad guy). All of this because Carolco head Mario Kassar had begun construction on sets after the first draft of the script was handed in: the boulder had already started rolling downhill, and there was no way of stopping it. Carolco were already said to be in financial troubles, and even Harlin claims he knew it was a bad idea, saying in an interview last year "At that point I was left there with my then-wife, Geena Davis and myself, and a company that was already belly-up. We begged to be let go. We begged that we didn’t have to make this movie. And I don’t think I’ve ever said this in any other interview. We begged that we not be put in this position." Carolco couldn't really afford to make the movie, but they certainly couldn't afford to market it, and combined with rightfully eviscerating reviews, the film was an absolute trainwreck when it opened on December 22nd, 1995: it took only $2 million, opening in eleventh place, behind "Dracula: Dead and Loving It," and only just above what "The American President" (starring Douglas) made in its seventh week. The fim would eventually crawl to $10 million domestically, and another $8 million abroad, but that still left a deficit of cool hundred mil. Given that it came hot on the heels of another disaster, "Showgirls," it was the final straw for Carolco, and they declared bankruptcy soon after.

Mars Needs Moms

Mars Needs Moms” (2011)
What It Cost: $150 Million
What It Made: $29 Million
What It Lost (Adjusted For Inflation): $121 Million
Why It Flopped: Disney might have had a Martian-themed film money loser earlier this year with "John Carter," but that film (which has at least taken $272 million worldwide) was a positive triumph compared to the one they had last year. After the success of "The Polar Express" over at Warner Bros, Disney became the home for Robert Zemeckis and his Imagemovers Digital banner, which was dedicated to the 3D performance capture animation that Zemeckis was convinced was the future of filmmaking. But 2009's expensive "A Christmas Carol" was a disappointment, and it was announced that the company would be wound down only a few months later, in March 2010. As it turns out, however, it wasn't the Jim Carrey vehicle that caused it solo: new studio boss Rich Ross had screened the company's next film, "Mars Needs Moms," directed by Simon Wells, and had clearly decided that he no longer wanted to be in the mo-cap business. Clearly there was little confidence in the film, based on Berkeley Breathed's book and following a pair of kids who set out to rescue their mother from aliens, but even Disney weren't expecting it to do as badly as it did: the film, which the studio admitted cost $150 million (which likely means it cost significantly more) even without marketing, made only $6.9 million in its opening weekend. Things didn't pick up, either; the picture topped out at 21 million in the U.S, and only managed 39 million worldwide. Even given that the studio had cut back on marketing, that's still probably a loss of at least $150 million. So, what happened? Some put it down to 3D fatigue, but it's more likely that the never-hugely-popular motion-capture technology looked especially creepy here, and the title and premise were both potentially terrifying for kids, and supposedly off-putting to boys (leading to Disney idiotically concluding that it was the 'Mars' putting off their audience, rather than 'Moms,' and taking the 'Of Mars' off "John Carter"). A cast led by the not-exactly-megastar likes of Joan Cusack and Dan Fogler, and tough competition from "Rango" and "Hop" around the same time likely didn't help. In the end, it sealed the coffin for ImageMovers (Disney cancelled Zemeckis' "Yellow Submarine" soon after, and even the director seems to have given up on his baby as a result: his next film, November's "Flight," is in good old live-action.

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  • Jimmy W | July 23, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    Rihanna is going to kick ass and save the World! Need I say more? Hollywood is patronizing its audience and I'm not buying.

  • Michael Passe | July 22, 2012 8:03 PMReply

    I wonder how many big-screen TV adaptations were bombs, at least relatively so (Dennis the Menace? Get Smart?). Many of these might have made some bucks on their first weekend and then went away. Re-making old TV like "The Avengers" or "Speed Racer" doesn't really work, despite a few exceptions like "The Adams Family," because they are products of their time. Trying to re-invent them misses the point. How would audiences today be able to grasp the psychedelic, everything-English-is-cool zeitgeist of programs like "The Prisoner," or "The Avengers?" It also smacks of exploitation. Fans old enough to recall the shows may stay away for that reason, while younger viewers attracted by the camp value of laughably-innocent shows like "Leave it to Beaver" know full well the re-make won't have such charm. And to re-make already-dumb shows like "Get Smart" is just pointless. This seems like a losing gambit, but studios still try it. Why, when the results, despite a few successes, are far more hit than miss?

  • michael passe | July 22, 2012 8:06 PM

    That is, of course, "far more miss than hit."

  • Fairlington Blade | June 5, 2012 8:54 AMReply

    An interesting list, but I'd add Waterworld to the list. The Kevin Costner vehicle memorably earned the nickname Fishtar. Evidently it made up most of the losses with world wide sales. Still, it's pretty bomb worthy.


  • Zippy | May 27, 2012 9:37 AMReply

    "...while we never too hard for a film to fail, it's hard not to feel a little gratified when audience reject a film as thoroughly rotten as "Battleship."

    Need an editor much? This kind of amateurish writing doesn't even belong in a high school newspaper. Don't you hacks ever proofread a thing you write?

  • Brian Hutton | May 24, 2012 5:22 AMReply

    The truth is this....the studios need to wake up....they have spent the past 40 years or more treating audiences like idiots. And the audience have said we are not morons ..I dont care if its 3D..I dont care how good the CGI us a plot, an intelligent script and people who can act. There is market for smart indies and smart Blockbusters....look at the director, smart script, character based story that works along with the CGI action.

  • testington | May 23, 2012 4:28 PMReply

    As much as people hate to say it, I do think Taylor Kitsch is a major reason these films didn't make money. Audiences do not like it when the industry tries to declare that people are stars before they've eared it. Anybody with a few big films under their belt could have made these films succeed. It's like a few years ago when Sienna Miller had several starring roles that all flopped in a row, you can't just say somebody is a lead if they haven't proven it. In contrast look at the success of The Hunger Games, which stared Jennifer Lawrence who had already earned her critical cred with Winter's Bone and played a supporting role in a block-buster with X-men: First Class.

  • Mariah | May 23, 2012 3:15 PMReply

    Interseting article, but I thought the same thing the other poster did. Who edits these articles? I found multiple grammatical errors.

    Here are just a few samples:
    1) ..."while we never too hard for a film to fail..." This makes no sense.
    2) "An needlessly expensive comedy." The word "an" only goes before vowels.

  • tom | May 23, 2012 3:04 PMReply

    Having seen John Carter (of mars)a few weeks aog,to a packed house in dublin,i cannot see how it was preceived as a America the "of Mars" part of the title was omitted..why? plus in was badly marketed..i belive it will do well on DVD..the film itself,well made,good special effects,good character actors essentially playing julius caeser,with a leading man who acted quite well..being familiar with burroughs works,and the john carter of mars books,i was hopeful that this would have been the start of a series...Disney,fire whoever handles Marketing,and replace them with someone who isnt afraid to aim for a demographic who has some intelligence..

  • gwen killerby | May 23, 2012 5:30 AMReply

    I have always liked Cut Throat Island a LOT, idk why it flopped, it's a Female Hero swashbuckler, with very good action scenes, nice story, good balance between overly complicated and boring.

  • scrnwrtr17 | May 22, 2012 5:01 PMReply

    For anyone interested, one of the best insider books about the disaster that was 'Heaven's Gate' is former UA exec Steven Bach's excellent "Final Cut". I believe it was first published in 1986, and later reissued in '96 and then '99. It may no longer be in print, but if you can find it, it's well worth a gander.

  • scrnwrtr17 | May 22, 2012 5:02 PM

    I see someone made almost the exact same comment earlier. Point well taken and happily reiterated.

  • OldFart | May 22, 2012 3:59 PMReply

    I enjoyed the article, but does no one edit these things? The piece is a series of ridiculously long run-on sentences, and there are numerous typos, redundant word choices, and basic grammar mistakes. Sheesh!

  • Cde. | May 22, 2012 11:34 AMReply

    Speed Racer is a great film. I'm always heartened when I hear someone else loved it.

  • Huffy | May 22, 2012 1:17 AMReply

    Anyone interested in the history of American film should check out Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate. It's a documentary available on Youtube and it really goes in-depth into the film's production. Fascinating stuff, both on the creative side (Cimino's method was absolutely insane) and the business side. It's also got Willem Dafoe narrating and goddamn does he do a good job.

  • Stevo the Magnificent | May 21, 2012 10:18 PMReply

    Always had a soft spot for 'The Avengers' (1998), it had a wonderfully surreal, esoteric, and oh-so-very British sensibility to it, but the trouble that ultimately sunk it was; firstly, director Jeremiah Chechik never wanted Uma Thurman but rather Nicole Kidman (she was unavailable due to 'Eyes Wide Shut'), there was a personnel change at Warner Bros and the person who hated the project became head of production, a test screening before a mainly Hispanic audience - who thought it "too British" - led to the film being butchered by the studio from an original 115-minute cut to the eviscerated cut we have today, and then they pushed it back to August to basically let it die a death, and so it did, but it could have been a decent little movie if things had been different...

  • jimmiescoffee | May 21, 2012 6:23 PMReply

    yeah, i was serious. very fucking serious. its already made about $50 million over its reported budget and likely will do another $150 ww. believe me, they'll be OOOK. so, how much does a translation cost these days? thanks for the info though.

  • Truth | May 22, 2012 1:12 AM

    No, they won't. Studios see less than half of box-office receipts from theaters. Battleship cost about $220 million not counting marketing. This means it needed to gross roughly $500 million to break even and start making money (and that's probably low balling it) and that ain't happening. It's already lost its momentum worldwide thanks the The Avengers and things are only going to get worse when MiB3 hits. Anyways you slice it Universal and Hasbro are both taking big hits with this.

  • cirkusfolk | May 21, 2012 4:44 PMReply

    One flop that has always boggled my mind is Town and Country. I'm not sure why a dramedy starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Garry Shandling cost 90 million to begin with (or who was stupid enough to finance it) but apparently it only made back 10 million worldwide. Ouch. Or what about The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Cost 100 mil. and made back a whopping 7 mil worldwide!!!

  • bob | May 21, 2012 3:37 PMReply

    "Pictures at a Revolution" is a great book.

  • So You Know | May 21, 2012 2:11 PMReply

    210 + domestic P&A, plus international P&A, plus splitting costs with theaters (studios dont get the net of what they gross)... lots to go... to break even.

  • jimmiescoffee | May 21, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    defining a flop is an inexact science nowadays considering that 'battleship' has already made back its budget globally.

  • Huffy | May 22, 2012 1:03 AM

    As others have said generally a film needs to make twice its budget at the BO to be considered profitable since theatres take a percentage, not to mention various other distribution costs. In actuality most movies nowadays actually lose money at the box office given the massive costs of marketing but BO runs are good indications for a film's success on DVD (where the real profit is made) and studios use fancy bookkeeping so they still end up making money.

  • Really? | May 21, 2012 2:58 PM

    Yes, because movie theatres don't keep any of the BO gross, distribution costs nothing, translation costs nothing, voice actors and dubbing cost nothing...
    Oh, wait, you were being serious? I wasn't.

  • KT | May 21, 2012 2:42 PM

    No, it hasn't. There's regular math and then there's movie math.

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