It seems like every six months, a new superhero is unleashed onto the big screen at your local multiplex. Superhero flicks are expensive to say the least, but studios are comfortable with the investment because comic book adaptations are typically surefire bets (sorry, Green Lantern). But every now and again, a studio pours a ridiculous sum of money into a film it thinks will resonate with the audience, only to see it flounder and go on to become one of the biggest movie flops of all time.
Between the five biggest box office bombs, studios have lost nearly a billion dollars. Admittedly, that’s a rough estimate — after all, studios typically don’t share too much budget info. If you carefully sift through the financial records available online, however, it’s easy to figure out which films tanked at the box office. There are a lot of common threads between these films, including production delays, re-shoots, and on-set arguments. Need some examples? Check out the five films featured below.
Note: All numbers referencing a film’s budget and financial loss have accounted for inflation. These numbers would be different if we were to account for a film’s marketing cost, though studios typically don’t release that kind of information.
The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)
At first, Warner Bros. had a lot of faith behind a space-centric comedy starring Eddie Murphy — the studio even gave the film a $135 million budget. That faith dissipated quickly though, after dailies and a rough cut of the film was shown to an unimpressed studio. Warner Bros. shelved the film for two years, and by the time Pluto Nash came out, the special effects already looked dated. The reviews were terrible, and in the end, the studio took a $126 million loss on the flick.
The Lone Ranger (2013)
When Johnny Depp dresses up in a costume and Disney’s behind it, that typically means your film’s destined for box office success. Destiny, however, has a funny way of shaking things up. The studio eventually got cold feet with The Lone Ranger and halted production on the film after its budget inflated to more than $250 million dollars. These numbers are more notable when you take into consideration that even a big-budget superhero film like The Avengers didn’t cost that much. Eventually, the studio was talked out of exiting the project, resulting in what many consider to be an absolute trainwreck.
Too bad Disney didn’t listen to its instincts. A few months after the film’s release, the studio threw in the towel and announced an expected $160-$190 million loss.
Cutthroat Island (1995)
Cutthroat Island had elaborate sword fights, gorgeous sets, and exhilarating stunts, but what’s even more thrilling about the film is the behind-the-scenes drama.
After Michael Douglas dropped out as the male lead, director Renny Harlin spent months trying to find anyone he could to replace him, including Tom Cruise, Charlie Sheen, and Keanu Reeves. After Harlin settled for Matthew Modine as the new lead, he went back to supervising the construction of the sets, but he hated what was built, so he spent millions more tearing down those sets.
Following a few other on-set disasters, the film’s budget quickly grew to a cool $157 million. MGM distributed Cutthroat, but the studio was in the middle of a buyout, so it couldn’t put money into marketing the film. The film was eventually pulled from theaters after a mere two weeks, leading to $141 million in lost revenue.
The 13th Warrior (1999)
If you’re seeing a film adapted from a Michael Crichton novel under the direction of the guy who helmed Die Hard, you’d probably expect an intelligent, action-filled flick. That’s what distributor Touchstone Pictures was expecting, at least. And as we know, you don’t always get what you sign up for.
After filming wrapped, the studio wasn’t too happy with director John McTiernan’s cut of the film, so it promoted Crichton and allowed him to take a few creative liberties with the project. After massive edits, a new ending, a new title (it was originally called, Eaters of the Dead), and a couple more months worth of filming under Crichton’s lead, The 13th Warrior was finally released with a budget to the tune of $234 million. By the time it landed in theaters, everyone involved with the film had already moved on, and there was little to no promotion for it. Ultimately, the studio suffered $145 million in losses.
John Carter (2012)
When the most intriguing thing about your movie is its production budget, you know you’re probably in trouble. That’s what happened with John Carter, a film that cost Disney $350 million, with hopes to become the studio’s next tentpole franchise.
What’s fascinating about John Carter’s misfire is that there are no stories of heated arguments between directors and producers, or delay in filming due to a lack of faith in the project. Everyone involved with John Carter expected it to be a huge success until a few financial analysts and press screeners started to suggest otherwise. By the time the film was released, Disney saw the writing on the wall and braced for impact. When all was said and done, the studio suffered $200 million in losses.
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