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

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 21, 2012 at 1:43PM

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.
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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.

This article is related to: Features, Battleship, The Wachowskis, Warren Beatty, Mars Needs Moms


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