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You want a turkey? Ben Affleck (pre-Benaissance) and Jennifer Lopez will give you a turkey—complete with a head-scratching reference to the poor bird itself. (Lopez's character, when she decides she wants to get busy with Affleck: ''It's turkey time. Gobble gobble.'' She has, until this point, described herself as a lesbian.) This utterly laugh-free ''romantic'' ''comedy'' was so dire that it won seven Razzies, garnered a 6 percent ''fresh'' rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and, oh yeah, earned just $6 million at the box office...against a budget of $54 million. Gobble gobble, indeed.
Written and reported by Kyle Anderson, Hillary Busis, Jess Cagle, Jason Clark, Jonathon Dornbush, Darren Franich, Mark Harris, Tina Jordan, Teresa Jue, Gregg Kilday, Bob Mack, Joshua Rivera, Benjamin Svetkey, and Esther Zuckerman
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At the time NBC conceived Supertrain, programming whiz Fred Silverman was at the top of his game, coming off such hits as Charlie's Angels, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley. Playing off the success of ABC's The Love Boat, Silverman decided to transplant that show onto a trans-continental luxury train complete with a swimming pool and a disco, where guest stars would work out their personal lives every week with the help of a friendly crew. Cost: $12 million.
Supertrain went off the tracks after less than a month and marked the beginning of the end of Silverman's winning streak. NBC worked frantically to streamline the show's format, but when Supertrain returned about a month later, it failed again. The show became a symbol of Silverman's inability to bring NBC out of third place, and he dropped out of sight in 1981 until regaining the touch as a successful independent TV producer of such shows as Matlock and In the Heat of the Night.
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Kevin Federline, Playing With Fire (2006)
If you're married to Britney Spears and undoubtedly hanging around a lot of recording studios, why wouldn't you attempt to jumpstart a half-assed rap career? But Federline's 2006 debut wasn't just vanity-project lame—it was truly, transcendently terrible. People weren't even all that on board with Britney in 2006, so they really weren't ready to embrace her husband and his pro-butt single ''Popozao,'' which spawned one of the most ridiculous bits of MTV in-the-studio footage in the history of the medium. K-Fed's music career pretty much ended when he and Spears divorced in 2007, mercifully ending a weird chapter in both of their lives.
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The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)
It?s one thing to be a critically panned film, but it's a whole other level of turkey when a film fails to recoup more than 90 percent of its budget. After a strong string of comedy successes in the late '90s with 1996's The Nutty Professor and 1998's Dr. Dolittle, Eddie Murphy added a little speed bump to that success when he starred in The Adventures of Pluto Nash. The sci-fi comedy followed Murphy's titular character, a reformed smuggler in the year 2087, who is hunted down by mobsters who want to turn his successful lunar nightclub into a casino. That logline, however, is only a sliver of the flop pie that is Pluto Nash.
The film originated in the '80s (and should have stayed there), undergoing several revisions before finally being produced. Even then, the film sat on the shelf for two years before hitting theaters. This long gestation period was a pretty sure sign that it just plain sucked, including but not limited to its nonsensical plot (at one point, Nash discovers he was cloned from his own removed appendix) and some seriously shoddy special effects that could not possibly have warranted the Marvel-worthy budget. Bottom line: Pluto, despite its $100 million price tag, only earned a worldwide gross of $7.1 million, which made it one of the most costly box office blunders of all time.
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Terra Nova (2011)
Want to watch a weekly Jurassic Park-like drama on TV? Of course you do! So Fox made Terra Nova?but forgot to actually make the show interesting. Pegged as a major tentpole series, an example of how great TV effects could stack up to those in film, Terra Nova spent so much time on the (admittedly nice-looking) dinosaurs that the story and characters felt like afterthoughts. Never able to find much of an audience, Terra Nova died a slow death over 13 episodes, its most surprising achievement was showing that an alternate Earth filled with dinosaurs could actually be boring.
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Donald Trump, Trump: Surviving At The Top (1990)
His first autobragography, The Art of the Deal (co-written by Tony Schwartz), went to the top as though ordained for wealth and power, and it towered over the New York Times' best-seller list for 31 weeks in 1988. So Trump's publisher, Random House, naturally figured the sequel was a cinch to do the same and reportedly paid The Donald $2 million for it.
Shortly before the book came out, Trump's romance with Marla Maples went public in a big way. Then Trump ran into major cash-flow problems, and his golden image began to tarnish badly. Whether inflamed by blood lust or not, the critics didn't just pan Surviving at the Top, they guffawed over it. Advance orders from the bookstore chains helped land Surviving at the Top on the Times' best-seller list for seven weeks, but sales then fell precipitously. But The Donald has never been one to let a little failure ding his self-estimation. As he declared brashly in the book: ''I know that, whatever happens, I'm a survivor—a survivor of success, which is a very rare thing indeed.''
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As Warren Beatty's first film since Reds and Dustin Hoffman's follow-up to Tootsie, Ishtar could hardly manage to sneak up on its audiences. Once word got out that each actor was being paid $5.5 million for this updated road movie about second-rate singer-songwriters caught up in international intrigue in a mythical Middle Eastern country, critics and moviegoers were fired with million-dollar expectations. Many were curious to see whether the chemistry between Beatty and Hoffman would work.
Writer-director Elaine May, as notorious a perfectionist as her stars, reportedly spent $50 million and 17 weeks shooting in Morocco and New York—making Ishtar the most expensive comedy ever. When audiences and critics finally saw the results, they could not help marveling—at the magnitude of its banality. ''A truly dreadful film,'' shuddered Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Shell-shocked, Hoffman described himself as ''in pain, walking the streets'' in the wake of the movie's opening. By year's end, Ishtar had grossed only about $15 million. Though Hoffman and Beatty bounced back, May has never directed another movie.
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Fox spent $50 million on a reality concept imported from the Netherlands. It was a bold gamble since Utopia didn't have any of the usual reality-genre competition elements. And, when early returns made it clear that the show would not be the post-American Idol ratings juggernaut that the network was hoping for, the series immediately fell into mission drift, shaking up the format by adding in weekly eliminations. Intended to last an entire year, Utopia was yanked after two labored months. Perhaps they should have taken a cue from YA megahits and called it Dystopia?
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Elizabeth Taylor's $44 million 1963 extravaganza had unprecedented advance publicity. Twentieth Century Fox made Taylor the first star ever to be paid a million bucks for a movie. When her first set of costars—Peter Finch and Stephen Boyd—quit, they were replaced with Rex Harrison (Julius Caesar) and, fatefully, Richard Burton (Mark Antony). Dick and Liz quickly began a tempestuous relationship for the ages. Writer-director Joseph Mankiewicz lost his battle with the studio to release the movie in two 2.5-hour parts. And Cleopatra opened as a four-hour-and-three-minute feature (the longest ever) on June 12, 1963. Fox ballyhooed the movie in its advertising with unintentional irony as ''the motion picture the world has been waiting for.''
Although the ill-fated spectacle eventually earned $26 million in film rentals (the amount theater operators paid the studio), Cleopatra's costs made it almost certainly the biggest money-loser of all time. Most critics gave the epic mixed-to-negative reviews. Fox was so incensed by the stinging criticism Judith Crist of the New York Herald Tribune leveled at the movie that it banned her from its press screenings. Taylor's star was hardly dimmed, but she was clearly glad her Queen-of-the-Nile days were over. Taylor later said that after attending the film's London premiere, ''I raced back to the Dorchester and just made it to the downstairs lavatory and vomited.''
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Homeboys in Outer Space (1996?97)
UPN at its UPN-iest, Homeboys in Outer Space was a back-of-the-napkin pitch conceived in what we can only assume was a boredom-induced boardroom fugue state. Enough people thought it was a good idea to put it on TV. Beyond its hilariously literal, pre-Snakes on a Plane title, Homeboys was most notable for an incredible array of guest-stars, including but not limited to Erik Estrada, Gary Coleman, Natasha Henstrige, George Takei (as himself!), and—why not?—Little Richard. Also for lasting an entire season.
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Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines (1999)
When you're as rich and successful as Garth Brooks was in the '90s, you can indulge in whatever high-concept whims happen to enter your skull. Brooks' whole run as the invented international pop sensation Chris Gaines was more bizarre than bad—his one album, 1999's In the Life of Chris Gaines, has some decent tunes. Ultimately, the whole endeavor was undone by the needlessly complicated backstory that included the Australian Gaines' facial reconstruction surgery. It's probably best that Brooks never got around to making the Gaines movie he had pitched.
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Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark (2011?14)
The travails of the Spider-Man musical are almost too many to list here. Perhaps the most miraculous part of its Broadway run is that it ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, leaving the Great White Way in 2014 after a solid run of a mediocre, not (always) spectacularly bad incarnation.
With music and lyrics from Bono and The Edge, Turn off the Dark initially took to Broadway in 2010 as a $65 million Julie Taymor extravaganza. The intention was to take the titular Marvel hero and imbue his story with Greek mythology and wild stunts. What resulted was beset by a ballooning budget, creative struggles, and a parade of cast injuries that inspired a parody New Yorker cover. Simultaneously, Taymor's huge ideas were enabled by a producer with deep pockets and shallow oversight—the show became stuck in interminable previews, which prompted some critics to jump the gun and review it before it initially opened.
Ultimately, Taymor left, and the show was re-envisioned as director Philip William McKinley was brought in for new staging and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was tasked with rewriting some of the book. The show was finally ''frozen'' after 177 previews and opened after 182. But the drama didn't end there: Taymor sued.
Despite its long run, record-breaking ticket sales (that still couldn't match the show's operating costs), and sights appropriately set on a Vegas run, the sheer scope of Turn Off the Dark's hubristic rise and shambolic development makes it one of theater's most unforgettable cautionary tales.
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Take a seat, kids. This one's is truly epic.
Before the Oscars and Emmy nominations of the McConaissance, Matthew McConaughey had a few projects that, by his own admission, weren't so?rewarding. Enter Sahara, McConaughey's Ishtar. The blockbuster action flick seemingly did okay at the box office and wasn't entirely panned?that is, until you delve into the nitty gritty concerning the film's budget and immense legal issues with source novel writer Clive Cussler.
The film's genesis was simple enough: In an attempt to replicate the franchise success of Indiana Jones, Cussler optioned the 11th novel in his Dirk Pitt series for $20 million with Philip Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment in 2001. After four screenwriters tried and failed to successfully adapt the film, director Breck Eisner—along with McConaughey and costar Penelope Cruz—entered the picture. It should have been the first film of many for the Dirk Pitt action-adventure character. It wasn't. Cussler felt pushed out of the screenplay process and sued Anschutz and Crusader Entertainment for $100 million, saying that the $20 million deal should have guaranteed him complete creative control over the script. A years-long court battle ensued, surfacing a laundry list of slanders and claims, notably accusations about McConaughey's sexual preferences, racism, and anti-Semitism, as well as a producer's case of hives that were caused by the stress of making of the movie.
Ultimately, Crusader countersued and the jury ruled in its favor, forcing Cussler to pay the production company $5 million in damages. However, the California appeals court overturned that payout, and Cussler filed a new lawsuit in 2010, in order to recover the $8.5 million he was owed on a contract with Crusader; he was denied. Crusader, under the new name Bristol Bay Productions, filed a new lawsuit, suing Cussler's literary agent, Peter Lampack, and his publishers at Simon & Schuster and Penguin for misrepresenting his readership, which they say partly caused the film company's box office losses. That lawsuit was also dismissed.
Did you catch all that?
The film did so-so at the box office, but its $119 million global cume came nowhere close to recouping the immense $241 million budget. Once financial documents became public domain due to the aforementioned lawsuit, the film's budget overruns became the subject of an L.A. Times article that dissected the waste-heavy cycle of a Hollywood blockbuster production, including the reported use of bribes in order to maintain efficiency in the production of the film in Morocco and the million-dollar action sequences that never even made it into the film. Sahara certainly may not have seemed risky at the outset, but the final product was no reward.
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''It takes a lot of money to make me look this cheap,'' was Dolly Parton's oft-quoted crack at the time ABC launched her variety show in September 1987. Indeed it did. The network sank $44 million into the production, partly to build a rustic living-room set. ABC execs boasted that the show would single-handedly revive the musical variety genre. Part of the Dolly buildup was Dolly's slim-down. She took off so much weight that the Parton waist contracted to an itty-bitty 17 inches.
ABC promised it would stay with the show for two years. But after one season of cellar ratings, Dolly was put out to pasture. It's not that the country curioso didn't try. She sang ''Hey, Good Lookin''' with Pee-wee Herman, vavoomed through a music video with Hulk Hogan, took on-screen bubble baths, and—thanks, Carol Burnett—matched wits with the studio audience. Parton did not prove a natural comedienne though and, as research and common sense indicated, few Americans wanted to watch a variety show.
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In the '90s, John Romero was legendary—one of the first big-name game designers thanks to being the co-founder of the wildly successful studio id Software. In the late '90s, Romero and id were a hit machine, with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake under their belts. Romero's ambitious next game, Daikatana, trumpeted this with full-page magazine ads proudly proclaiming, ''JOHN ROMERO'S ABOUT TO MAKE YOU HIS BITCH''—with ''suck it down'' in smaller text at the bottom. Meant to refer to Romero's love for the good-faith trash-talking that's a part of videogames, it now reads as the pride before the fall from the height of hubris—Daikatana shipped in May 2000 after numerous delays to tepid reviews and lackluster sales. John Romero hasn't had a hit game since. Who was supposed to be the bitch?
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John Carter (2012)
The director of Wall-E. Tim Riggins. Edgar Rice Burroughs. What could go wrong with John Carter? Apparently a lot. Disney's bid for an epic space franchise before the company came into Star Wars disappointed on nearly every critical and financial level. Despite some intriguing aspects, the generic advertising campaign and massive budget essentially killed the film before it opened; it had to make an estimated $600 million at the box office just to break even. The would-be franchise cornerstone, alas, was not up to snuff and quickly became a venture from which Disney would rather just move on.
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Viva Laughlin (2007)
A murder mystery set in a sleazy Las Vegas casino, executive produced by Hugh Jackman? Hmm, sounds intriguing. Wait, it's also a musical? Uh...sure? Okay! Viewers who actually watched the adaptation of Brit series Viva Blackpool (and there weren't many) found it to be surprisingly flat and lifeless, from its obvious song choices (''One Way or Another,'' ''Viva Las Vegas'') to its boilerplate plot. CBS agreed, canceling its experiment after airing just two episodes; it'd be two years before Glee made television a safe space for musicals again.
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The Jacksons' Victory Tour (1984)
Hot (perhaps too hot) on the heels of Michael Jackson's 1982 Thriller platinum album, this 20-city, 54-show spectacle was to feature The Gloved One plus brothers Jermaine, Jackie, Randy, Marlon, and Tito (sorry, no Janet). The Jacksons hadn't performed together in concert since 1981, so fans were eager. In fact, the summer 1984 Victory tour may have been the ultimate collision of over-expectations and backlash.
Problems began as soon as tickets went on sale. Concertgoers had to pay $30 apiece—a new high for stadium rock shows. Although first-time promoter Chuck Sullivan originally guaranteed the Jacksons would receive $41 million, the brothers ended up splitting only $500,000 and a cut of the T-shirt sales. Michael donated his take to charity, but his benign public image had been sullied. Sullivan, then president of the NFL's New England Patriots, wound up $4 million in the red and in the hospital with heart trouble. He eventually had to sell his team. The Victory album sold two million copies (as compared to Thriller's 40 million) and had no hit tunes.
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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
As one of the most popular video game series of all time, hopes were beyond sky-high for the first Final Fantasy film—after all, the film was being developed by Squaresoft and directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the people who made Final Fantasy games! As such, there was good reason to believe the franchise would be handled well. Alas, the film only earned $85 million back on a $137 million budget, with mixed critical reception to boot. The technical mastery on display was groundbreaking and widely praised for its time, but the film also became a poster child for how weird things get in the Uncanny Valley.
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ABC's comedy revue from Laugh-In executive producer George Schlatter was expected to be another fast-paced laff riot. Advance publicity promised lots of psychedelic stop-action photography, groovy electronic music and a repertory cast with a make-believe computer playing the part of ''host.'' Flash forward to Feb. 5, 1969, when Turn-On's single-episode run made it the shortest-lived network series in history. Viewers were turned off by what they thought was bad taste and the show's sexual double entendres. The general manager of ABC's Philadelphia affiliate even fired off a telegram to ABC Television president Elton Rule calling the show ''just plain dirty?If you naughty little boys have to write dirty words on the walls, please don't use our walls.''
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Aida: The Stadium Tour (1990)
The ads said it all: ''THINK SPHINX.'' A blue-chip roster of American and Japanese companies—Holiday Inn, American Airlines, Hitachi—promised (threatened?) to unleash a monumental production of Verdi's opera in outdoor stadiums in New Jersey, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The extravaganza featured a five-story Sphinx, a 15-foot python and a cast including 1,200 extras. Similar mega-performances sung by the International Opera Festival had played to 850,000 people around the world in 1988, so how could this one miss? Some things just don't translate to America. Poor ticket sales forced producers to cancel the tour before it ever made it stateside. Two shows planned for 92,516-seat L.A. Memorial Coliseum sold a total of only 2,000 tickets in advance. By their own reckoning, Aida producers lost $2.5 million. As Opera News editor Patrick Smith told New York Newsday, ''We have plenty of spectacles in the United States; we don't need Aida.''
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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Movie (1978)
Inspired by the Beatles' 1967 head-trip album, Sgt. Pepper had everything going for it: pop stars then riding high (the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton), genuine rockers (Aerosmith; Earth, Wind and Fire; and Billy Preston), familiar show-biz faces (George Burns and Steve Martin), and a leading rock promoter, Robert Stigwood, as producer.
This $12 million bomb had two problems—no script and rotten renditions of 29 Beatles songs (the Beatles weren't in the movie). Rolling Stone called the soundtrack the ''worst album of the decade.'' The record sold nearly three million copies, but eight million were shipped to stores. Ironically, even though the Bee Gees were bigger stars than Frampton by the time the movie was released, Frampton's contract guaranteed him ''sole star billing,'' so his name came first in the ads.
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Father of the Pride (2004?05)
The Office would save the day for NBC's comedy block in 2005, but the previous fall saw the Peacock trying to retain its audience with a Friends spin off and?an animated show about Siegfried and Roy's white lions? Father of the Pride was a strange fit for just about any network. The mixed messaging of an animated show in primetime that could be surprisingly adult never really found its voice or viewers. The timing also didn't work in the show's favor—it debuted about a year after a white tiger attacked Roy on stage and ended the duo's long-running show.
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Ernest Hemingway, Across the River and into the Trees (1950)
After publishing For Whom the Bell Tolls to great acclaim in 1940, Hemingway sank into a professional funk. So fans and his publisher, Scribners, eagerly anticipated Papa's next book, hoping that it would revive Hemingway's by-then languishing reputation. The book—actually a short story pumped up to novel length—followed the reminiscences of Army Colonel Cantwell, a self-described bastard and an obvious stand-in for the author at his self-mythologizing worst. Its style, terse even by Hemingway standards, read like inadvertent parody: ''We will try it out tonight, he thought. With whom, he thought, and where, and God help me not to be bad.'' Across the River and into the Trees became the modern benchmark for critically despised works by famous writers. E.B.White parodied the novel in The New Yorker as ''Across the Street and into the Grill.'' But Hemingway demonstrated the grace under pressure he had so often saluted. His next novel, The Old Man and the Sea, helped him earn the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.
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Battlefield Earth (2000)
Listen, you crap-lousy two-bit man-animals: This dystopian sci-fi epic, based on a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, isn't just bad. It's breathtakingly awful, from its nonsense dialogue (''I'm going to make you as happy as a baby Psychlo on a straight diet of Kerbango!'') to its derivative plot, from its schlocky production values to John Travolta's jaw-droppingly ridiculous performance. (Former EW film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote that Travolta ''sounds like a fifth grader impersonating Dr. Frankenstein.'') Audiences agreed; the movie earned just $21 million, though it cost much more than that, landing it among the most expensive flops in Hollywood history.
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Pink Lady and Jeff (1980)
After springing Supertrain on the American public, NBC president Fred Silverman needed a hit for his network in early 1980. Working with bright, young Brandon Tartikoff, the newly promoted president of NBC Entertainment, the TV whizzes developed a show around Pink Lady, a Japanese superstar singing duo of two young ladies named Mie and Kei. Not only were the singers virtually unknown to Americans, they didn't speak much English. To solve the language-barrier problem, comedian Jeff Altman was called in to play their tuxedo-clad interpreter. Dolled up in fishnet stockings, hot pants, and halter tops, Mie and Kei sang and joined Jeff in witty repartee. Trouble was, only the laugh-track operator could understand it. ''It could've been funny had we been a little sarcastic about ourselves and not taken the girls so seriously,'' Altman later admitted. Pink Lady and Jeff was canceled in a month and Mie and Kei bid sayonara to the States.
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Having collaborated on that super-saccharine 1965 megahit, The Sound of Music, director-producer Robert Wise and songstress Julie Andrews seemed likely to make cash registers come alive again. They chose this musical biography of the acerbic English-born stage star Gertrude Lawrence. The ad campaign, as exclamatory as the movie's title, helped raise expectations: ''A totally wonderful musical entertainment! The love affair of the century—between a woman and the world!''
Despite tunes by Noel Coward, Cole Porter, and Kurt Weill, the three-and-a-quarter-hour, $14 million movie rang a sour note. The New Times' Renata Adler wrote that Lawrence was ''portrayed as a kind of monster.'' Twentieth Century Fox quickly pulled the movie from release for emergency surgery, even changing its name to the overly optimistic Those Were the Happy Times. Still, Star! lost an estimated $10 million. A dumbfounded Andrews suggested that ''the public wasn't very happy with seeing me in drunken scenes.'' The silver lining? The trauma surrounding Star! and Andrews' 1970 companion flop Darling Lili provided much of the material for Blake Edwards' bitter and knowing 1981 Hollywood comedy, S.O.B.
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Robin Thicke, Paula (2014)
Here's the thing about Paula: As an album, it's more consistently enjoyable than Thicke's massive 2013 release Blurred Lines, although it lacks a standout single. Unfortunately, Paula wasn't just an album—it was Thicke's attempt to win back his estranged wife, Paula Patton, who left him when she found out he had been cheating. Not only did she go ahead with the divorce, but Paula was dead on arrival, selling a pitiable 24,000 copies in its first week of release in the United States, which was a deluge compared to his numbers in Canada (550), the U.K. (530), and Australia (158). Those numbers are not typos.
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Heaven's Gate (1980)
This dusty re-creation of the 19th-century Johnson County, Wyo., range wars, starring Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, and Isabelle Huppert, is the quintessence of turkeyhood to many filmgoers. But when a new group of executives at United Artists signed director Michael Cimino for this picture, Cimino was finishing up The Deer Hunter, which was later named the Best Picture of 1978. It looked like a matchup made in heaven. Heaven's Gate proved to be more like a movie made in hell.
Few films actually bring down a studio. This one did. After Heaven's Gate ran up costs of $36 million and then opened to empty theaters and critical howls, UA's parent company fired the executives responsible and sold the entire studio to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. What went wrong? An unsupervised Cimino had obsessively filmed away, bursting Heaven's Gate's original $7.8 million budget. Yet he somehow forgot to lavish similar attention on character and plot. Cimino never fully recovered from the fiasco and rarely discussed the movie publicly.
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Sim City (2003)
True, this highly anticipated reboot of Maxis's classic playing-God simulation—the first entry in the series since the 2003 release of SimCity 4—enjoyed healthy presales. Unfortunately, the game could only be played via Internet connection—and it was so highly anticipated that the demand led to chronic server issues, which conspired to make the game itself fundamentally unplayable. That's even more frustrating than dealing with a zombie attack.
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The Lone Ranger (2013)
Audiences did not flock to theaters to see Johnny Depp's questionable portrayal of Tonto in Gore Verbinski's messy throwback Western. The movie had a rocky ride to the screen, with Disney stepping on the brakes due to budget concerns. Only, when the movie finally did get made, the budget was still enormous, ranging between $215 and $250 million. That eventually cost Disney up to $190 million when the movie bombed at the box office, bringing in only $29.2 million in its opening weekend. That's not to mention that the movie was just flat-out bad—an overlong cacophony of Depp kitsch and brutal violence.
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The Chevy Chase Show (1993)
It was September 1993. David Letterman started the Late Show. Conan O'Brien took up residence on Late Night. Hip young network Fox wanted to get in on the late-night action with a hip new late night show. Unfortunately, the frontman they selected for their grand late-night experiment was Chevy Chase, settling into a mid-career rut and ludicrously unprepared for the nightly gig. While there have been plenty of ill-conceived nighttime chat shows (ahem, The Magic Hour), the fact that this seasoned comedian made such a mess of the format was perhaps what hurt the most. At the time, EW TV critic Ken Tucker gave the show an F, and Fox cut the Chase after five weeks.
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Mick Jagger's Solo Career (1985?2001)
In the early '80s, CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff pulled off a coup: He signed the Rolling Stones to his label for $28 million and got rights to solo albums by lead singer Mick Jagger. Until that time, Jagger had never recorded a full album alone. He finally went into a Bahamian studio in 1985 and came out with She's the Boss. Two years later, Jagger released his second solo effort: Primitive Cool.
Stones' fans got little satisfaction from either album. She's the Boss resulted in a forgettable Top 20 hit, ''Just Another Night.'' Jagger was later sued for plagiarism over the song (he won). Primitive Cool peaked at number 41 on the charts, and its single, the galling ''Let's Work'' (''The world don't owe you/Ain't gonna cry for you/If you're lazy''), never climbed above 39. After an unsuccessful tour to boost lagging sales of these two albums, Jagger mostly shucked the idea of a solo career—he struck gold with 1993's Wandering Spirit and released Goddess in the Doorway in 2001, but he's maintained his fame (and, presumably, his bank account) by primarily singing with the Stones.
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47 Ronin (2013)
Based on a classic historical epic that it more or less ignores entirely, 47 Ronin is a weird fantasy film set in Japan and starring Keanu Reeves. Early in its development, the film made headlines for less than ideal reasons—its director, Carl Rinsch, had never made a feature film before—and Universal gave him a $170 million budget. The film would ultimately gross a little more than $38 million of that budget back, making it the second biggest box office bomb ever.
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Broadway's Carrie had the proverbial pig's blood dumped on it quickly. The musical adaptation of Stephen King by way of Brian De Palma ran for just five performances. So just how bad was this production (which originated in the Royal Shakespeare Company)? Frank Rich wrote in the New York Times that the musical "expires with fireworks like the Hindenberg," and the show quickly became something of a shorthand for musical-theater disasters. It provided that title for Ken Mandelbaum's book, Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. In 2010, The Awl published a piece about its notoriety, mentioning that the second act opener is "arguably the worst song ever written for a musical," a number about pig-killing. Still, Carrie did have a second shot in 2012, when MCC Theater gave it an Off Broadway revival. Upon occasion of the revival the New Yorker asked whether it was the "the worst of the worst."
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Everyone loved the Cavemen in the GEICO commercials. Everyone hated those same Cavemen when they suddenly starred in their own TV show, possibly because said TV show made the incredibly awkward decision to use Cavemen as a blunt, not-very-well-thought-through race metaphor. Hey, it gave Nick Kroll a paycheck for awhile!
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Howard the Duck (1986)
The concept for this 1986 movie sounded like a can't-miss proposition. Fantasy-meister George Lucas of Star Wars fame and his co-writers on American Graffiti, Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, would bring to life the plucky, cigar-chomping '70s cult hero of Marvel comics. Universal's Howard the Duck was sure to be an odd bird, but Superman had already shown that comic-book movies could fly.
This $34.5 million bird crashed on takeoff. The headline writers weighed in with such gems as ''Howard Lays an Egg,'' and the curdled fantasy ranked 57th among the year's major-studio releases. Lucas magically escaped without any egg on his face. So did actress Lea Thompson, who went on to make two Back to the Future flicks. But studio chairman Frank Price quit and was replaced by Lucas' lawyer, Thomas Pollock, who had engineered the Howard deal.
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TV shows starting with the words The New?
In television, shows with the words ''The New'' in their titles might just as well carry signs reading ''TURKEYS AHEAD'' instead. Sometimes ''The New '' signals an attempt to trade on audience goodwill for a series that's downright dull. Examples: The New Dick Van Dyke Show or The New Andy Griffith Show. In other cases, producers are just trying the equivalent of television CPR; witness the syndicated disasters The New Gidget and The New Monkees. Occasionally, ''new'' doesn't mean new at all, but very, very old (see the entire cast of 1985?89's The New Leave It to Beaver). In 1984, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels tried to reduce the concept to its essence with his prime-time NBC variety hour The New Show. It lasted less than three months.
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Cutthroat Island (1995)
Eight years before Johnny Depp made movie theaters safe for pirates again, this mishmash-up of Errol Flynn derring-do and action-movie derring-don't was one of the great bombs of the '90s. Made for close to $100 million at a time when that number still meant something, it grossed a mere $10 million at a time when that number already meant nothing.
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Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse (2014)
If multiple production delays, a series of poorly timed singles, and a crumbling marriage to Nick Cannon didn't doom Mimi's 14th studio album, that title certainly would have done the job anyway. It ranks up there with Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water and The Hissing of Summer Lawns on the all-time ridiculous album titles list—the only chart on which Chanteuse will ever appear again.
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The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure (2012)
Maybe it was the writing. Maybe it was the directing. Maybe it was the acting. Maybe it was the weirdly proportioned, kind-of-terrifying, dead-eyed, felt-covered, toddler-shaped costumes the characters wore. For whatever reason, The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure is the current record holder for the worst wide opening ever. Even by the extremely weird standards we have for preschool-appropriate entertainment, Oogieloves was a bridge too far.
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Chicken Soup (1989)
Jackie Mason's ABC sitcom Chicken Soup was supposed to be the big hit of the 1989 fall season. The borscht-belt comic had just come off a long-running one-man-show on Broadway that drew critical raves. This would be his first TV series. Cast as his foil and love interest: Lynn Redgrave. Each week, Chicken Soup floundered in the ratings, losing millions of viewers from its top-rated lead-in, Roseanne. What went wrong? ''Maybe my own personality is not the kind of a personality that appeals to the average American,'' speculated Mason after the show's seventh and final episode. Maybe Mason should have kept quiet off the set, too. During New York City's '89 mayoral election, he described candidate David Dinkins as a ''fancy shvartzer with a moustache,'' a comment that embarrassed even his most ardent fans.
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Norman Mailer, Ancient Evenings (1983)
Mailer did few things in small ways. He started talking up his forthcoming big ''Egyptian novel'' after Little, Brown began forking over a $1.4 million advance for the book in the early '70s. When Ancient Evenings was published in 1983, the bombastic author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Executioner's Song put his reputation on the line. Said Mailer, ''If it's no good, I'm no good.'' He went on to call the book his ''most audacious'' and ''most ambitious'' work.
In size, the 709-page Ancient Evenings was colossal. But what was on the pages—exegeses on excrement, sodomy, rape, and the priapic wonders of the Egyptian male—excited a frenzy of critical dismay: ''It's like going for brain dialysis, this book,'' wrote critic D. Keith Mano in the National Review. Said The New York Times, ''It may be that 10 years was too long a stretch of time to spend on the book.''
Even Mailer's most ardent fans gave the heavyweight champion of American letters mixed reviews. The book spent 15 weeks on the best-seller list—Mailer's name meant sales—but it was a financial fiasco. Little, Brown declined to publish Mailer's next novel, Tough Guys Don't Dance.
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Mars Needs Moms (2011)
Robert Zemeckis' decade-long attempt to convince the viewing public to enjoy motion-capture animated films ended with a calamitous whimper, when ImageMovers Digital (the animation studio founded by Zemeckis) released this animated space odyssey about mom-abducting Martians. Legend has it that the film's failure had a toxic halo effect, convincing Disney to delete the name of the red planet from their long-in-the-works adaptation of John Carter of Mars. (As we've seen, that title change didn't help.)
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The David Letterman Show (1980)
Letterman was a frequent sub for Johnny Carson in 1980, so NBC figured he was ready for his own program. NBC president Fred Silverman thought the comedian would be ideal at 10 a.m. as an alternative to the standard morning fare of quiz shows and The Jeffersons reruns. Actually, this show wasn't much different from its late-night descendant, except that nobody watched. Letterman interviewed celebrities, toured RCA offices, employed a core of regulars, including newsman Edwin Newman, and made surprise phone calls to ''the folks at home.'' There were even crowd-pleasing Stupid Pet Tricks. The critics loved Dave, but the show proved to be one big stupid programming trick. ''There was nothing wrong with the show, except that it wasn't a morning show,'' said one affiliate executive later. Before NBC pulled the plug after 14 weeks, Letterman resorted to phoning program managers at stations and begging them to stick with it. NBC wisely refused to give up on the former weatherman, reportedly continuing to pay him $20,000 a week to stay with the network. About a year and a half later Late Night premiered, and the turkey host became golden.
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Back in 2003, all eyes were on Rosie O'Donnell's first foray into Broadway producing in the form of Taboo, a brand-new musical by Boy George that chronicled his life and times before and after his 1980s heyday. Boy George even took on a supporting role as real-life artist/club impresario Leigh Bowery. But, as Nathan Lane famously incanted on screen and on stage in The Producers, never put your own money in the show. O'Donnell ponied up $10 million and, as one of the most anticipated musicals of the season turned into an unqualified disaster, lost every last nickel.
Adding to the unfortunate show's expiry were various theories on why things went so wrong—some felt that O'Donnell's very public $100 million lawsuit against her by the publishers of her failed magazine Rosie took her away from her focus on shepherding a major Broadway production, others cited the lack of cohesion in the book (heavily rewritten for American audiences), some pointed to infighting backstage between O'Donnell and costar Raul Esparza (who later admitted regretting his behavior and often cites O'Donnell's dedication), and some even chalked it up to just plain wrong advertising. (A Times Square billboard for the show depicted male restroom cruising—a decidedly brave approach to an ever-Disneyfied midtown Manhattan). In the end, Taboo played 100 performances before throwing in the makeup-stained towel.
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Successfully Kickstarted for almost $8 million over its original goal, the Ouya promised easy and open development on a cheap console that could compete with the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. Instead, the Ouya debuted to middling reception, light sales, few noteworthy games—Towerfall is about the only major success, largely because of its release on other platforms—and a lack of staying power. The Ouya won't be remembered for its success, but instead as a symbol for how difficult the video game industry can be to disrupt.
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The Playboy Club (2011)
Remember watching that one episode of Mad Men where Lane Pryce visits New York City's Playboy Club and thinking, ''Hey, I'd watch a whole series of this!'' No? Well, apparently NBC did. Unfortunately, the show was pretty much doomed from the start; the dialogue was groan-inducing, the soapy plot was more eye roll-worthy than cheesy fun, the female empowerment angle was questionable at best, and, perhaps most importantly, Playboy star Eddie Cibrian was no Don Draper. No wonder NBC pulled the plug after three episodes had aired, making it the first cancelation of 2011. Poor Laura Benanti deserved better.
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Zyzzyx Road (2006)
Katherine Heigl pre-Knocked Up, Tom Sizemore post-sex tape, an unpronounceable unspellable title: Zyzzyx Road didn't have much to recommend it. But the movie has earned its place in the history books nonetheless. With a total domestic gross of $30 (yes, $30—no zeroes are missing), it's considered the lowest-grossing movie in history. The truth is less funny, but just as sad: The filmmakers were obligated to give the film a ''domestic release,'' so they sent a print to a single theater in Dallas Texas. Oh, and $10 of that total was refunded to a crew member who'd paid to see the film with a friend.
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USA Today: The Television Series (1988?89)
The concept for this half-hour show sounded brilliant: Bring the nugget-size niblets of news in USA Today, the nation's second-largest-selling daily at the time, to the small screen in a nightly syndicated program. Spearheading that attempt to revolutionize broadcast news were two superstar television producers: Grant Tinker (best known for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant) and Steve Friedman ( Today). Gannett Co., the publisher of USA Today, cheerfully bankrolled this syndicated venture.
The loud, frenetic, superglitzy USA Today on TV quickly repulsed many viewers and potential advertisers—those who could find it. In New York City, it originally aired at 2 a.m. The show lived through three overhauls and the departure of three of its four original anchors. After a little more than a year and an estimated cost of $50 million, the show was finally canned.
''People say USA Today on TV was one of the biggest failures in syndication history,'' Friedman told EW. ''But it lasted 15 months. You know what big failures are? Shows that don't get on the air—those are failures. We just didn't succeed.''
Written and reported by Kyle Anderson, Hillary Busis, Jess Cagle, Jason Clark, Jonathon Dornbush, Darren Franich, Mark Harris, Tina Jordan, Teresa Jue, Gregg Kilday, Bob Mack, Joshua Rivera, Benjamin Svetkey, and Esther Zuckerman