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A Box Office Bomb, or a flop, is a movie for which production and marketing cost greatly exceeds its gross revenue. It doesn't mean, however, that it merely made studios lose money - gross revenue doesn't equal studio profit [1]. It means it lost a truly spectacular amount of money. On the other hand, most but not all box office bombs cost their studios money: gross revenue often doesn't include revenue from DVDs and whatnot (justified because the revenue from theaters is much easier to count), or (often) revenue from the world outside America[2]; justified, because other countries don't actually exist. (Well, this can be justified since a movie has to be succesful in your home turf first rather than overseas)

This is not to be confused with Hollywood Accounting, where the movie is not actually a flop but the real revenue is hidden either for tax evasion or as part of a Springtime for Hitler scheme.

Commonly cited possible reasons for box office failures:

  • Bad word-of-mouth: The movie just happened to be simply so bad that people avoided it. Those who enjoy cheesy fun usually buy it on VHS / DVD, or simply pirate it later.
  • Competition: This is particularly often in effect with summer blockbusters. People have a limited amount of brainless action they would watch, and if there's a lot of that available, some titles may be neglected. They also tend to be high-budget, and as such if the movie flops, it costs a lot. There is, however, often a principle similar to Award Snub in nature: several good movies (with similar target audiences) are released simultaneously, thus one of them performs truly spectacularly, another one flops, but both are considered great in hindsight (the hit ET the Extraterrestrial and the flop Blade Runner, for example).
  • Poor marketing: Many a bomb became so despite (or due to) being an excellent movie in general. Incorrect or misleading information about them (or just plain lack of marketing) makes audiences rely exclusively on word-of-mouth, which is generally not enough for a movie to successfully perform. The internet has made this situation a bit better, but not that much. These movies almost always achieve cult status and can later become profitable on DVD.
  • Other circumstances: Sometimes movies flop due to something that's not directly related to the movie itself or the movie industry as a whole. Funny Aneurysm Moments and Too Soon, for example, tend to hit disaster movies' sales very hard when bad timing happens (the attacks of September 11th, 2001 in New York City and Arlington, Virginia, for example, killed a lot of those even though they were obviously filmed prior to the catastrophe).

Note that the figures provided here for budgets and box office returns don't usually tell the whole story. A studio usually only sees about half of a film's box office take, with the rest going to theaters and (often) the actors, director, etc. involved with the production. The budgetary figures provided by the studios, meanwhile, only cover the production costs; distribution and marketing, especially for summer blockbusters, also eat up substantial amounts of studio money. Unless noted otherwise, it's safe to assume that a film on this list cost a lot more than the studio said it did. Plus, remember to take inflation into account when looking at films made decades in the past; Cleopatra's $44 million budget in the early '60s would be equivalent to $310 million in 2010 dollars. Finally, an independent film or studio is less able to absorb huge losses than a major studio, so the threshold for a bomb is lower for them. The lower figures (both budget and box-office) for older films and indie films can be deceptive.

Flops tend to become Franchise Killers, Genre Killers, and Creator Killers, or "spawn" a Stillborn Franchise.

Critical Dissonance is often at full force here, with critics liking it. Vindicated By Video often helps (especially with Better on DVD thrown in), as does Vindicated by Cable.


Rules of thumb in bombing


Standalone bombs

  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) -- Budget, $46,630,000. Box office, $8,083,123.
  • The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) -- Budget, $100-120 million. Box office, $7,103,973. Sat on the shelf for ages because everyonew knew it was a catastrophy. Eddie Murphy himself disowned it.
  • The Alamo (2004) -- Budget, $145 million. Box office, $25,819,961.
  • Around the World In 80 Days (2004) -- Budget, $110 million. Box office, $72,178,895.
  • Astro Boy (2009) -- Budget, $65 million, Box office, $39,886,986. Because this film bombed, the company killed itself.
  • Ballistic Ecks vs. Sever (2002) -- Budget, $70-90 million. Box office, $19,924,033. The losses of the film sucked producer Imagi Studios into a black hole of debt.
  • Bandslam (2009) -- Budget, $20 million. Box office, $12,225,023. A definite case of Misaimed Marketing.
  • Battlefield Earth (2000) -- Budget, $75 million (declared), $44 million (actual). Box office, $29,725,663. The Egregious case of Hollywood Accounting involved in the production led to Franchise Pictures being sued into bankruptcy.
  • Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star (2011) -- Budget, less than $10 million. Box office, $2,529,395. It was taken out of theaters after only 2 weeks.
  • Cats Don't Dance (1997) -- Budget, $32 million. Box office, $3,566,637. It fell through the cracks after Warner Bros bought Turner just before the movie was released, and proceeded to not promote it at all.
  • Catwoman (2004) -- Budget, $100 million. Box office, $82,102,379.
  • Cleopatra (1963) -- Budget, $44 million. Box office, $57,777,778. However, Twentieth Century Fox only got roughly half the film's box office take (the rest went to the theaters), and since $44 million was an exorbitant price tag in 1963's dollars (equivalent to $310 million today), they nearly went bankrupt. Cleopatra's failure would be one of the decisive moments in the Fall of the Studio System.
    • Cleopatra was considered the example of failure for a while but the movie actually became profitable for the studio thanks to VHS and DVD sales in the 1990s. It only took 30 years!
  • Conan the Barbarian (2011) -- Budget, $90 million. Box office, $48,795,021.
  • Creature (2011) -- Budget, $3 million. Box office, $300,000. It was promptly jettisoned from theaters a week later.
  • Delgo (2008) -- Budget, $40 million. Box office, $915,840. (No, that's not a typo.) It had the worst opening ever for a film playing in over 2,000 theaters, earning just $511,920 at 2,160 sites.
  • The Fall of The Roman Empire (1964) -- Budget, $19 million. Box office, $4,750,000. Comparisons with contemporary Roman epic Cleopatra are inevitable, although Fall had a substantially less Troubled Production and was much more well-received by critics. Audiences, however, had lost interest in sword and sandal epics following Cleopatra (and, unlike Cleopatra, Fall has largely faded into obscurity since its initial release in 1964).
  • Final Fantasy the Spirits Within (2001) -- Budget, $135-167 million. Box office, $85,131,830. This film's failure led to the collapse of Square Pictures and delayed the merger of Squaresoft with Enix; the latter company was hesitant at merging with a company that had just lost a large amount of money in a high-profile manner.
  • The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987) -- Budget, $30 million. Box office, $1,576,615.
  • Gigli (2003) -- Budget, $54-74 million. Box office, $7,266,209.
  • Glitter (2001) -- Budget, $22 million. Box office, $5,271,666. This film's failure, along with that of the accompanying soundtrack album, sent Mariah Carey's career into recession for several years. Being released the weekend after the September 11th attacks couldn't have helped either.
  • The Golden Compass (2007) -- Budget, $180 million. Box office, $70 million (domestically), $372,234,864 (internationally). Unfortunately, New Line Cinema had sold off the international distribution rights in order to raise enough money for the film's production, meaning that they only got the domestic gross, and never saw a penny of the international box office. As a result, New Line was absorbed into Warner Bros soon after.
  • Harts War (2002) -- Budget, $70 million. Box office, $33,076,815.
  • Heavens Gate (1980) -- Budget, $44 million. Box office, $3,484,331. This film's failure led to the bankruptcy of United Artists, the ruination of director Michael Cimino's career and (along with other flops) the end of the auteur period in Hollywood, and became a byword for box office disasters.
  • Howard the Duck (1986) -- Budget, $37 million. Box office, $37,962,774. Allegedly, two Universal executives got into a fistfight while arguing over who was to blame for greenlighting the film; both of them deny this.
  • How Do You Know (2010) -- Budget, $120 million. Box office, $48,668,907.
  • Hounddog -- Budget, $5 million. Box office, $131,961.
  • Hudson Hawk (1991) -- Budget, $65 million. Box office, $17,218,080.
  • Inchon (1982) -- Budget, $46 million. Box office, $5,200,986. In 1995, it made the Guinness Book of World Records as "the biggest money-loser in history," later to be surpassed by the aforementioned Cutthroat Island.
  • The Iron Giant (1999) -- Budget, $70 million. Box office, $31 million.
  • Ishtar (1987) -- Budget, $55 million. Box office, $14,375,181. Its failure led to Coca-Cola leaving the film business, selling off Columbia Pictures to Sony.
  • John Carter (2012) -- Budget, $250 million (not counting marketing costs), $350 million (counting them). Box office, $263,704,913. Once the movie's dismal American box office numbers came in, Disney anticipated that it would take a $200 million wash on the film; even after the international box office helped to at least partially salvage it, it will still likely go down as one of the biggest flops in history.
  • Jonah Hex (2010) -- Budget, $47 million. Box office, $10,547,117.
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) -- Budget, $80 million. Box office, $21 million (within the USA), $68 million (worldwide). The movie's financial failure led the WB to think the Looney Tunes don't have the lasting appeal that they hoped, canceling the planned Looney Tunes shorts in production. In light of this fiasco the Looney Tunes will probably never get another theatrical film release.
  • Mars Needs Moms (2011) -- Budget, $150 million. Box office, $39,549,758. Its failure led to Disney shutting down ImageMovers Digital, the production company it had formed with Robert Zemeckis (the film's producer); he would later reopen the studio at Universal.
  • The Meteor Man -- Budget, $30 million. Box office, $8,023,147, In fact, Robert Townsend's directorial debut, Hollywood Shuffle, was made on a $700K budget and pulled in nearly $6 million, which was a huge success in terms of profit.
  • Monkeybone (2001) -- Budget, $75 million. Box office, $7.6 million (roughly). The film was significantly changed from its source material, and the resulting film was blasted by critics.
  • Motherhood (2009) -- Budget $10 million. Box office $726,354. Easily the biggest bomb of Uma Thurman's career. Particularly notable for its British release, where it's the second-biggest flop of all time. It was shown in only one UK cinema and took £88 on its opening weekend. On its opening night it took £9. That's one ticket.
  • Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941) --- Budget $713,511. Box office, $214,000. The film received almost no promotion from Paramount in either it's 1941 release, nor it's 1946 re-release as "Hoppity Goes To Town".
  • The Nutcracker in 3D (2010) -- Budget, $90 million. Box office, $14,678,086, nearly all of which came from the Russian market.
  • One From The Heart (1982) -- Budget, $26 million. Box office, $636,796. This film bankrupted Francis Ford Coppola, with most of his work for the next two decades being done to pay off the debts he accrued from making it. Like Heavens Gate, it also heavily contributed to the end of the New Hollywood era.
  • Outlander (2008) -- Budget, $47 million. Box office, $7,033,683, nearly all of which came from overseas.
  • The Postman (1997) -- Budget, $80 million. Box office, $17,626,234. This film succeeded where Waterworld failed, essentially ending Kevin Costner's A-list status and his run as writer and director of his own films, though he would continue finding moderate success as an actor.
  • Radio Flyer (1992) -- Budget: $35 million. Box office: $4,651,977.
  • Red Planet (2000) -- Budget, $80-100 million. Box office, $33,463,969.
  • Redacted (2007) -- Budget was a modest $5 million. Box office was a very modest $65,000. That's sixty-five thousand dollars. International revenues added another... $700,000.
  • Rollerball (2002) -- Budget, $70 million. Box office, $25,852,764. It promptly ended Chris Klein's mainstream career.
  • Sahara (2005) -- Budget, $241.1 million[3]. Box office, $202,938,255. After a lawsuit put several documents relating to the film's production into the public domain, the Los Angeles Times did a report using the film as a case study in production costs run amok.
  • Showgirls (1995) -- Budget, $45 million. Box office, $20,350,754.
  • Slither (2006) -- Budget, $15 million (not counting marketing costs), $29.5 million (counting them). Box office, $12,834,936.
  • Soldier (1998) -- Budget, $75 million. Box office, $15 million.
  • Sorcerer (1977) -- Budget, $22 million. Box office, $12 million. (It didn't help that everyone on Earth was standing in line to watch Star Wars that year.)
  • A Sound of Thunder (2005) -- Budget, $80 million. Box office, $11,665,465.
  • Speed Racer (2008) -- Budget, $120 million (not counting marketing costs), $200 million (counting them). Box office, $93,945,766.
  • Stealth (2005) -- Budget, $135 million. Box office, $76,932,872.
  • Strange Days (1995) -- Budget, $42 million. Box office, $7,959,291.
  • Supernova (2000) -- Budget, $90 million. Box office, $14,828,081.
  • The 13th Warrior (1999) -- Budget, $85 million (not counting marketing costs), $160 million (counting them). Box office, $61,698,899.
  • Town & Country (2001) -- Budget, $90-105 million. Box office, $10,372,291. Warren Beatty's last role to date.
  • Treasure Planet (2002) -- Budget, $140 million, Box office, 109,578,115. This and the failure of Home on the Range led Disney to (temporarily) abandon the traditional animation format.
  • Zyzzyx Road (2006) -- Budget: $2 million. Box office: $30. Yes, thirty bucks. To be fair, the film received only a one-week domestic release (playing one screen in Dallas) to comply with Screen Actors Guild rules. The producer had no intention otherwise of opening it in the U.S. until after it had foreign distribution. (Foreign gross to date: $368,000.)

Notes

  1. (Waterworld is commonly cited as a money sink, and it indeed made the studio lose money, but its gross revenue greatly exceeded its budget; thus, not a flop)
  2. (Waterworld made more than its budget abroad)
  3. $160 million in production costs, plus $81.1 million in distribution and marketing expenses
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