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By Michael Schilf · July 7, 2010
Seven out of ten movies lose money, and that’s after worldwide box office, DVD sales, internet downloads, and cable & television sales are counted. So why do the studios continue to churn out movies if financial success is not probable? Answer: scoring the big one. All it takes is a monster hit – Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Toy Story – for a studio to cover it’s losses and stay afloat. Avatar has grossed $2.73 BILLION and counting. Trust me, Twentieth Century Fox is doing just fine.
With that said though, there are a plethora of sunken film vessels at the bottom of the cinema ocean, and this list at TSL is dedicated to the top ten biggest box office bombs of all time. But we have one simple rule: these bad boys are selected, not based upon total losses, but instead upon percentage of worldwide gross compared to the cost of the film, not including inflation. Why so specific? Because numbers can lie, but percentages are truth.
Take the 2005 action adventure film Sahara, for example. The total cost of the production and marketing of the film was $241 million and ranks #4 all time in net losses at $119 million ($133 million inflation adjusted). But this blockbuster bomb doesn’t make our list. Anyone can see that losing $119 million on a film is a disaster, but if we look at the percentages, Sahara still grossed 49.5% of what it cost to make. Still horrible, but not as bad as bad can be.
So take a look at our Top 10 Biggest Box Office Bombs, note the percentage of gross earnings from the film's total cost following each movie title, and use this key to do the math if you so choose: TC = Total Cost, WG = Worldwide Gross, G/TC = Percent of Gross Earnings from Total Cost. All dollar amounts are in USD.
10. The Alamo (2004) – 17.8%
Producers Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Mark Johnson should have let John Wayne’s 1960 film of the same name stand alone depicting the famous Battle of The Alamo during the Texas Revolution. Despite a star studded cast – Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patric – and $145 million spent on the production and marketing of the epic war drama, the film got crucified at the box office. In its opening weekend, it only brought in a miniscule $9.1 million – defeated by a resurgent The Passion of the Christ – and eventually struggled to gross $25.8 million worldwide. With a net loss of $120 million ($135 million adjusted to inflation), The Alamo is a big time box office bomb.
(TC = $145,000,000; WG = $25,820,000; G/TC = 17.8%)
9. A Sound of Thunder (2005) – 14.6%
Directed by Peter Hyams, this sci-fi film rests upon three fundamental protocols: (1). Don’t change anything in the past. (2). Don’t leave anything behind. (3). Don’t bring anything back. However, there was one thing the production of the film couldn’t foresee: Don’t count on the weather, at least not in Prague. A Sound of Thunder was originally planned for a 2002 release, but due to major flooding in Prague where the production was filmed as well as other financial disasters – such as the bankruptcy of the original production company during post – resulted in a three year release delay and a ton of inflated production costs: an estimated $80 million. Tack on a major lack of promotion, and in the end, the film brought in less than $12 million in worldwide release.
(TC = $80,000,000; WG = $11,665,000; G/TC = 14.6%)
8. Inchon (1982) – 11.3%
The movie posters promised: “Love. Destiny. Heroes. War Changes Everything.” But in this Terence Young film about the Battle of Inchon during the Korean War, staring Laurence Olivier and Jacqueline Bisset, the only thing destined was economic failure. In 1989, a survey released by the entertainment research firm Baseline identified Inchon as “the biggest box-office fiasco of the 1980s”. The proof is in the numbers. Inchon struggled to scrape in $1.9 million in the United States and Canada combined. Eventually, the film did take in $5.2 million worldwide, but considering the film cost $46 million, makes Inchon one of the biggest commercial disasters in film history.
(TC = $46,000,000; WG = $5,201,000; G/TC = 11.3%)
7. Town & Country (2001) – 9.9%
Not even the acclaimed director, producer, writer, actor, and infamous Hollywood “lady’s man” Warren Beatty could save this SNAFU and one of the biggest money-losing movies in American film history. The production costs of the film totaled an estimated $90 million, which doubled from the original 1998 budget of $44 million. Add another $15 million for distribution and marketing expenses, Town & Country reached a total cost of about $105 million. That number alone might not be a complete shock, but considering the film only brought in a worldwide gross of about $10.4 million, this film was more tragedy than romantic comedy.
(TC = $105,000,000; WG = $10,372,000; G/TC = 9.9%)
6. Gigli (2003) – 9.8%
Written and directed by Martin Brest, Gigli, was easily the worst film of 2003 and most likely deserves to reach the top of any “star-driven worst films” list. Gigli received a ton of media attention and public interest prior to its release, primarily because A-list co-stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were engaged at the time, but the film’s reception was anything but popular, grossing less than 4 million domestically (just over $7 million worldwide) after production costs and a marketing campaign of $74 million. Affleck and Lopez tried their on screen magic once more in Kevin Smith’s 2004 Jersey Girl, only to receive more box office woes and negative reviews. Obviously, their Hollywood romance was not meant to be.
(TC = $74,000,000; WG = $7,266,000; G/TC = 9.8%)
5. Cutthroat Island (1995) – 8.7%
This adventure film starring Mathew Modine and Geena Davis, directed by her then husband Renny Harlin, reaches the top of the biggest box office bombs when it comes to total net losses. Listed by the Guinness Book of World Records, Cutthroat Island is the biggest box office flop of all time, the total cost of the production and marketing of the film is an estimated $115 million, yet only cashed in $10 million in worldwide box office gross. That was a net loss of $105 million in 1995, but what does that really mean when adjusted due to inflation. Answer: a net loss of $147 million. Ouch. Sounds more like “Cut-my-throat film failure” than swashbuckling pirates.
(TC = $115,000,000; WG = $10,017,000; G/TC = 8.7%)
4. Heaven’s Gate (1980) – 7.9%
Not only did this American Western based on the Johnson County War, a dispute between Wyoming land barons and European immigrants in the 1890s, achieve dismal success at the box office – earning less than $3 million domestically from an estimated $44 million budget – but it also destroyed director Michael Cimino’s reputation and contributed to the collapse of the studio United Artists. Cimino’s over-ambitious vision plagued the film with escalating production costs and negative press, and Cimino – the once darling Academy Award director of Hollywood (The Deer Hunter) – became an accomplice of the demise of director-driven projects, ultimately forcing the studios to take greater control of films.
(TC = $44,000,000; WG = $3,484,000; G/TC = 7.9%)
3. The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) – 5.9%
This so-called comedy, stars Eddie Murphy as a retired smuggler on a lunar colony in the year 2080 who buys a nightclub and spends the remainder of the film investigating who was behind the arson that destroyed his “Club Pluto”. With a story like that, it’s no wonder The Adventures of Pluto Nash is one of the worst box-office busts of all time, coughing up a little over 4.4 million domestically and a worldwide gross of 7.1 million on its reported $100 million production budget plus $20 million marketed cost. The lesson learned: nightclub lunar comedy and Eddie Murphy don’t mix.
(TC = $120,000,000; WG = $7,104,000; G/TC = 5.9%)
2. Delgo (2008) – 1.7%
This computer animated fantasy film just goes to illustrate the importance of marketing. Released on over 2000 screens – but sadly with a small marketing budget – this relatively good animated feature (won Best Feature award at Anima Mundi Film Festival), voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Chris Kattan, Val Kilmer, Malcolm McDowell, Burt Reynolds, and the late Anne Bancroft, got obliterated in the box office. Delgo grossed just $694,782 in theatres worldwide against an estimated production cost of $40 million.
(TC = $40,000,000; WG = $695,000; G/TC = 1.7%)
1. Zyzzyx Road (2006) – 0.0017%
Not all flops are studio driven. With a budget of only $1.2 million, this independent film, staring Tom Sizemore and Katherine Heigl, takes the top honor of the lowest-grossing film of all time. Sure, its limited 6-day theatrical release was only at one theater – the Highland Park Village Theater in Dallas, Texas – but still, it only earned $20 dollars at the box office from exactly six patrons, two of whom were cast members and got in for free. At least the film has something in common with the similarly-named Zzyzx Road: a 4.5 mile long partially dirt road running form Interstate 15 in the Californian Mojave Desert. They both add up to a whole lot of nothing.
(TC = $1,200,000; WG = $20; G/TC = 0.0017%)