It’s common knowledge that Hollywood will invest up to hundreds of millions of dollars into films that studios think will kickstart a new franchise. We seem to be in the thick of it: with the MCU, DCUE, the James Bonds, the Jason Bournes, the Mission Impossibles, the Avatars, the Star Warses, the list goes on.
Unfortunately, not even Hollywood’s biggest stars can save these failures. There are a few reasons why a film fails. One part is marketing, another part could point to production problems. Here are some of the most expensive and critically catastrophic films to come out of Hollywood in recent years.
Conan The Barbarian (2011)
Before he was Aquaman, Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa headed the reboot of the role made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, the movie garnered a 25% Rotten Tomato score and failed to make a profit. Deadline reports that the film’s budget topped $90 million – not including marketing costs – and ultimately ended its run with a $40 million loss. Having premiered one year before the industry-shifting The Avengers, it’s unclear if Lionsgate had plans for a cinematic universe.
Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
In theory, this film had all the ingredients for the next big franchise. It starred Daniel Craig who was at his peak as James Bond and it was directed by the same man who helmed Iron Man – largely credited for setting the foundations for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Also: it’s cowboys versus aliens – who doesn’t want to see that? Strangely, the film failed to pick up steam and was considered underwhelming by audiences. It lost $74 million due to massive marketing costs and a sequel was shelved.
Land of the Lost (2009)
Funnyman Will Ferrell couldn’t save this disaster from hitting our screens in 2009. Many children of the 1970s and 1980s will reminisce about the morning shows that prompted this film into development. And while Universal may have relied a bit too heavily on audience nostalgia to attract an audience, it still lost around $32 million before marketing costs. Even the head of the studio, Ron Meyer, admitted that the film was “just cr*p. There was no excuse for it. The best intentions all went wrong.” Ouch.
The God of Thunder himself couldn’t save this storm in the cinema. Thor star Chris Hemsworth starred in Blackhat in January 2015, marking the year’s first major flop in Hollywood. The budget was fairly modest – racking in at $70 million – but Marvel fans failed to turn up and it only racked in $12 million in the box office. Blackhat was released near American Sniper which went on to make $570 million. Actor Chris Hemsworth didn’t take it to heart: he starred in Avengers: Age of Ultron a few months later which made $1.4 billion.
This gender-swapped remake/sequel/retelling was almost destined to fail. As soon as it was announced, diehard fans of the franchise protested its very existence. Then the trailer dropped which only confirmed fears: it didn’t look good. It was the first studio-backed gender-swap remake to fail at the box office, costing Sony around $70 million. Not only that, but it tarnished the brand and affected the careers of its leading stars. Now that is a bad movie, indeed.
Another reboot on the list that failed to capture the imaginations of modern day audiences. Poseidon was based on the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure but sank just as fast as the boat featured in the film. Critics panned it and it was, for better or worse, compared too closely to the acclaimed Titanic. This film will lay rest on the bottom of the sea floor, where no one will see it ever again. It barely broke even at the box office.
The Wolfman (2010)
The Wolfman is another example of how remakes aren’t destined for success. This was the first attempt from Universal to kickstart a monster-movie franchise. Even big stars like Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt couldn’t attract audiences. It made $140 million at the box office and failed to make back its $150 million production budget. You also have to consider additional marketing costs, the loss totaling up to $80 million. When it comes to Hollywood flops, this is one of history’s shining examples.
Kubo And The Two Strings (2016)
Sadly, Kubo And The Two Strings didn’t quite get the financial reward it deserved. The stop-motion animation film was praised by critics and earned a 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It was even nominated for two Oscars: Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects. Kubo And The Two Strings only made $77 million from its $60 million budget – hardly considered a win when you also account for marketing. The film was surrounded by controversy for allegedly whitewashing its cast.
Hugo was director Martin Scorsese’s first entry into the family-friendly arena, with bittersweet results. Even though the film scored 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, it went over budget by about $80 million and barely broke even at the box office. It’s estimated that overall the film lost $100 million for Paramount Pictures once you consider marketing costs. The film is still considered a masterpiece: picking up five Oscars and plenty of other accolades. Producer Graham King explains: “once the schedule started getting out of whack, things just spiraled and spiraled…”
Speed Racer (2008)
Speed Racer is an example of an American remake of classic Anime which failed to reach either audience. Directed by The Wachowskis, the film was not shy of talent and vision. Regardless, fans of the original weren’t convinced to watch a live-action version of the film, and parents were reluctant to take the kids to such a long film. It made three-quarters of its budget back after its theatrical run costing $100 million in losses. History is being kind to Speed Racer: it often appears on lists highlighting the most underrated films of the past decade.
Green Lantern (2011)
Famously parodied by Ryan Reynolds to this day, the film was gifted with a shockingly large $200 million budget to play with – losing $98 million overall. The film’s performance at the box office and its critical reception caused DC to reconsider its entire planned franchise. Despite the initial dismay, fans can now enjoy the self-deprecating callbacks, even though the character may have suffered for the next few years. Still, the film gave us Reynolds’ Deadpool, so not all is lost!
The 13th Warrior (1999)
What could go wrong with The 13th Warrior? It starred Antonio Banderas, straight off the success of The Mask of Zorro. The film was directed by the same man who gave the world Die Hard. It was based on a book by Jurassic Park writer Michael Crichton. Amazingly, the film made back less than half its budget, costing Touchstone Pictures $102 million. Omar Sharif, its co-star, temporarily left acting because he was so embarrassed about being in it.
The BFG (2016)
The BFG technically made a profit against its production costs of $140 million, but it is still considered a flop for Walt Disney Studios. Steven Spielberg’s movie garnered generally positive reviews but faced competition from other animated films, such as Finding Dory, The Secret Life of Pets, and Ice Age: Collision Course. Parents and children simply had too much choice when it came to what to watch that summer and left this particular film largely forgotten.
Fantastic Four (2015)
One of the most famous examples of superhero flops in recent years. This catastrophe is a mixture of interfering studios, erratic directors, unpredictable reshoots, and a betrayal of the source material. The production was riddled with controversy, and director Josh Trank has spoken out about how badly he feels he was treated. Fantastic Four was a structural and tonal mess – killing the franchise and setting Fox back $100 million. The director was fired from his upcoming Star Wars project and left Hollywood for three years.
Do you remember Windtalkers? Not many people do. This Nicholas Cage film lost a whopping $110 million at the box office and earned 32% on the Rotten Tomato scoreboard. Audiences complained that the movie was full of cliches and wasn’t true to the source material. The John Woo-led film made only $77 million against its $115 million budget, causing a massive headache for Lion Rock Productions and MGM. Nicholas Cage can’t be stopped, however, and it failed to slow down his career.
Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
It’s unclear whether Warner Brothers was looking for a cinematic universe in its adventure fantasy film. Either way, audiences won’t be seeing a return from these characters anytime soon. Its production cost studios millions of dollars in reshoots and expensive visual effects. The film competed with Disney’s Oz: The Great and Powerful – with experts suggesting the film lost ‘well over $100 million.’ It doesn’t look like this film would end happily ever after for Hollywood.
How Do You Know (2010)
Even the lovable cast including some of Hollywood’s best stars couldn’t save this romcom. Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson all appeared in this critically-panned film. The movie made $48 million against a $120 million budget and critics rewarded the film with 32% on Rotten Tomatoes. In 2014, the Los Angeles Times listed the film as one of the biggest box office flops of all time, which is quite something for a film with this cast.
A remake of the 1959 film, Ben-Hur was a critical and financial disaster. The $100 million budget from Paramount Pictures got trampled like a fallen rider in a chariot race. Not even stars like Morgan Freeman could attract audiences to see this epic that hit cinemas. The final Rotten Tomatoes scores hit 24% and it only made $94 million on the worldwide box office. Considering all the marketing costs to promote the film, it’s no wonder this is on the list as one of Hollywood’s biggest failures.
Another entry in what we can refer to as ‘The Dark Years’ of Ryan Reynolds’ career. R.I.P.D had an interesting premise: ghost cops who send evil souls back to Earth. Jeff Bridges as a co-star couldn’t save this film which ended up losing $121 million. It scored just 13% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been described as a ‘waste of time’. These two would rectify their careers by entering (or re-entering) the superhero space as Marvel heroes in a few years.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Another Warner Brothers film which failed to capture the hearts and minds of cinemagoers. Critics unfairly compared Jupiter Ascending to Star Wars and The Matrix, which put pressure on the film that already struggled with a troubled production. It required multiple reshoots which pushed back its release date multiple times. Ultimately, Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis couldn’t save this film and it ended up losing $124 million at the box office. Another failed franchise from Warner Brothers that audiences won’t miss.
Sahara was intended to kickstart a franchise similar to Indiana Jones but failed to capture the heart of its inspiration. Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz couldn’t earn the lead role prestige and Steve Zahn’s sidekick character proved annoying with audiences. The movie had a $130 million budget but ended up losing $121 million overall. Plans for sequels and a larger franchise were quickly dropped and audiences never got to find out what happened to nobody’s favorite dessert trio.