Popular Culture

The 10 Biggest Box Office Failures of All Time



Failure at the box office is relatively commonplace; many films are put on small release before moving straight to DVD. For example, Emma Watson the Harry Potter star, recently starred in a movie which barely took $70 (£47) at the box office – but it wasn’t meant to be a hit. However, there are also a fair number of movies which have received major investment and massive release cycles which have bombed with audiences. They’re the major box office failures of our time and here are the ten worst failures of them all:

Heaven’s Gate (1980)


Funnily enough Heaven’s Gate is the most famous box office failure of all time but it’s only the 10th worst flop. The film was produced for $44 million and made a paltry $3.5 million from audiences. In today’s terms that would be a loss of $121 million.

United Artists, which produced the film, nearly went bankrupt over the losses and the director Michael Cimino was never trusted with another major project.

The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger

Johnny Depp is a Disney favorite thanks to his smash hit series The Pirates of the Caribbean but even his cheeky charm couldn’t rescue the stinker that was The Lone Ranger. Costing approximately $250 million to make – the film is estimated to have lost over $120 million. It can’t have helped that the film was near universally loathed by critics and it shows in the movie’s 31% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and its incredible 13% among top critics.

John Carter (2012)


The John Carter novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs are a well-loved and well-respected fantasy/sci-fi romp set on Mars. Unfortunately, it may be that setting a movie on Mars and then denying it’s about Mars is what led to the flop of John Carter. The movie cost Disney $125 million more than it cost to make and market it. It wasn’t a complete critical disaster and it’s certainly true that some fans really loved the film but the chances of a sequel seem vanishingly remote at this point in time.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)


Take one of the world’s most beloved video game franchises and throw the best possible technology at making it come alive on the big screen and what do you get? A near unwatchable mess in the form of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. With an all-star voice acting cast and some of the best animation ever made – this is a quite incredible achievement. Sadly, in today’s terms it really was a total disaster and lost the studio around $126 million.

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

Poster - Fall of the Roman Empire, The_02

The Fall of the Roman Empire is an excellent film for its time and place. It was very much well received by both critics and audiences alike. With Sophia Loren and Alec Guinness on the cast list; it was also very much an A-list movie. Unfortunately for the studio the $20 million it cost to make simply wasn’t recoverable at the box office. The movie, in today’s terms, lost just over $126 million and sunk the production career of Samuel Bronston forever.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)


There was a time when movies starring Eddie Murphy were nearly guaranteed to make bank but by the time 2002’s The Adventures of Pluto Nash arrived; that hadn’t been true for a decade or more. Described as “neither adventurous nor funny” by critical consensus and with a Rotten Tomatoes score of a measly 5%; the movie sucked. Unfortunately for its backers that suck, in today’s terms, cost nearly $127 million more to make and market than it took back from audiences. Eddie Murphy’s career has never really recovered from this either.

Mars Needs Moms (2011)


Mars Needs Moms is our second Martian adventure to end ignominy. $136 million worth of ignominy too. The film cost more than $150 million to make and marketing wasn’t cheap either. We’re not sure what was going through Disney’s heads when they agreed to this – the movie’s executive team simply doesn’t appear to have thought very hard about where the audience would come from to cover the costs. However, considering it was considered an extremely boring movie by critics and audiences the money men will have been crying in their cereal when they found out just how little audience the movie had.

Cutthroat Island (1995)


Geena Davis stars in one of the most expensive flops of all time. Directed by her then husband Renny Harlin the behind the scenes trouble from casting his wife sent the costs rocketing for production.

Michael Douglas had been scheduled to play the leading man but when Harlin reneged on a promise to ensure he had equal screen time with Davis; he walked out and it took a whole lot of work to convince someone else to take over. Then industrial action took its toll when Harlin sacked the Chief Camera Operator on set and most of the crew walked out in sympathy with him.

The production cost nearly $100 million (or more according to some estimates) and lost an incredible $137 million in today’s terms when marketing was included. Cutthroat Island was panned by critics and ignored by audiences.

47 Ronin (2013)


If you’re going to make a movie based on a classic text; it might be a good idea to, you know – read the book. There’s nothing about the production of 47 Ronin which suggests that the writing team had done this. The film might have been less of a disaster if it hadn’t borne the name 47 Ronin as not only is there a book but several other films bearing the name and each of them has almost no relationship whatsoever with the 2013 movie.

The casting of Keanu Reeves was fine but all the other actors were completely unknown Japanese actors and that meant marketing would prove to be a serious problem to Western audiences. Then the budget ran out of control and arrived at a whopping $225 million. That meant a loss of $151 million in real terms and leaves 47 Ronin as the 2nd biggest flop of all time.

The 13th Warrior (1999)


Michael Crichton novels have a long history of turning into bankable blockbusters in Hollywood so why would anyone expect a project based on his books to fail? Unfortunately The 13th Warrior which designed to propel Antonio Banderas to the A-lists did just that. The film’s bland production values, excluding the incredible costume design, failed to engage with audiences and it crashed to deliver what may be the worst loss in cinema history.

It’s not known exactly how much The 13th Warrior cost to make but assuming the estimates are about accurate it may have lost up to $183 million in today’s terms.


Melissa Stenson
Melissa Stenson is a senior writer at PopCrunch. She covers movies, tv, and music news. She also writes engaging and fun lists about various pop culture events.

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