The 13th Warrior (1999)
Budget: $160 million (about $221.1 million today)*
Box office: $61.7 million (about $85.3 million today)
Estimated loss: As high as $182.8 million (adjusted for inflation)
Why it bombed: After incredibly poor testing, no amount of tinkering could salvage the adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Beowulf-inspired Eaters of the Dead. And the audience members weren’t the only ones fleeing — film legend Omar Sharif admitted he temporarily quit acting to expunge his association with the dud. Accounting for inflation, it stands as the biggest box office bust in the history of cinema.
*Unless otherwise specified, most budget and loss figures are from Wikipedia, an amalgamation of reports, while box office figures come from BoxOfficeMojo.com. It’s also worth noting that reporting varies on how much any given film cost to produce — and studios have been known to tinker with their numbers before releasing them to the press. But the most basic fact remains that the production budget is only part of the picture: Marketing costs and theater owners’ cuts also chip away at a film’s profit, which means a film that earns a gross of equal to or greater than its budget (as some of the films on this list did) could still be deep in the hole when all is said and done.
Heaven's Gate (1980)
Budget: $44 million (about $122.5 million today)
Box office: $3.5 million (domestic, about $9.7 million today)
Estimated loss: $121 million (adjusted for inflation)
Why it bombed: The sweeping, two-and-a-half-hour Western failed on every front, nearly taking United Artists down with it. With time, critics have emerged from the woodwork to defend it, but the film’s impact on studios’ indulgence of green directors, the Western genre (see: The Lone Ranger et al.), and treatment of animals on set cast a long shadow from which it took decades to emerge?assuming Hollywood has at all indeed.
John Carter (2012)
Budget: $250 million
Box office: $284.1 million
Estimated loss: $108.6 million
Why it bombed: The final frontier has been a hostile terrain in the 21st century — especially if your director’s name isn’t J.J. Abrams (2000’s Red Planet fared poorly, as did the 2013 Will Smith/M. Night Shyamalan coproduction After Earth, everyone would rather forget Eddie Murphy’s 2002 disaster The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and then there was the 2011 flop Cowboys & Aliens). Andrew Stanton’s jump to live-action film took a major chunk of out Disney’s wallet. A $211 million foreign take helped the film squeak past its mind-boggling production costs, but other expenses a reported $100 million in marketing costs alone) forced the Mouse House to admit it had taken a $200 million write-down on the project. It seemed like things couldn’t get worse for Disney until…
The Lone Ranger (2013)
Budget: $215-250 million
Box office: $260.5 million
Estimated loss: Up to $190 million
Why it bombed: With a few exceptions, big-budget Westerns — remake or original — have been a tough sell at the box office for some time now (see also: 1999’s Wild Wild West, 2004’s The Alamo, and 2010’s Jonah Hex). It didn’t help that Gore Verbinski and his team spent wads of cash on CG effects that never made it to print, nor that Johnny Depp’s farcical Tonto verged on racially insensitive. But, more than any of this, The Lone Ranger just wasn’t a good movie — and a measly $89 million domestic take (in the land where Westerns were born, no less) made the genre’s decline as clear as a smoke signal on a cloudless day.
The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
Budget: $20 million (about $148.3 million today)
Box office: $1.9 million (US and Canada, about $13.9 million today)
Estimated loss: $126.4 million (adjust for inflation)
Why it bombed: A cultural megalith that grew to be too big for its own good? The jokes write themselves. (And with a running time of 188 minutes, we could tell them all.)
47 Ronin (2013)
Budget: $225 million
Box office: $150.96 million
Estimated loss: $149.5 million (global gross)
Why it bombed: Keanu Reeves’ notoriously troubled samurai epic struggled under the direction (or lack thereof) of first-time helmer Carl Rinsch, a lack of recognizable faces, and several production shifts (reshoots that increased focus on supernatural elements, a 3-D conversion) that drove up the bill for the studio, caused two release delays, and made it unlikely Ronin would realistically be able to recoup.
''Starring Ryan Reynolds?'' (2012-13)
Budget: $127 million (Turbo) to $200 million (Green Lantern)
Box office: $78.3 million (R.I.P.D.) to $282.6 million (Turbo)
Estimated loss: $90.8-114.4 million (R.I.P.D.), $90.1 million (Green Lantern)
Why it bombed: CGI super-flop Green Lantern made 2012 a terrible year for Reynolds. Thanks to the one-two punch of R.I.P.D. and Turbo, 2013 was even worse. Though Turbo forced Dreamworks to take a $13.5 million write-down, the franchise is projected to eventually inch toward a small recoupment. Either way, Reynolds’ would do best to abandon his dreams of being a bankable non-rom-come leading man.
Budget: $55 million (about $111 million today)
Box office: $14.4 million (about $29 million today)
Estimated loss: At least $40.6 million (about $82 million today)
Why it bombed: The star power of Warren Beatty (who also produced) and Dustin Hoffman couldn’t save the Morocco-set comedy. Despite an early hunch at the studio that the film was ill-fated, they spared no expense on the advertising budget (some have said to appease Beatty). Nonetheless, Mike Nichols implied bad press during the film’s rollout might have originated with Columbia, deeming the failure a ”prime example?of studio suicide.”
Mars Needs Moms (2011)
Budget: $150 million
Box office: $39 million
Estimated loss: $130.5 million
Why it bombed: Creepy motion-capture characters in a supposedly family-friendly flick about alien abduction? Making it one of Disney’s biggest failures to date, Mars garnered terrible buzz well before it hit theaters. Pulling in just $6.9 million domestically during its torturous opening weekend, it would have been better named Mars Needs a Painkiller. (And, it’s worth noting that animation has proved not to be a box office silver bullet in several other memorable instances, including 2001’s costly videogame adaptation Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, that same year’s hybrid live action hybrid Monkeybone, and 2002’s Treasure Planet.)
Budget: $75.6 million (about $95.3 million today)
Box office: $7.3 million(about $9.1 million today)
Estimated loss: $70 million (about $88.2 million today)
Why it bombed: Admittedly, the Bennifer rom-com had no aspirations of being a blockbuster proper, but the über-A-listers’ raised the profile of this unlikely romance — and made the film’s poor reception that much farther of a fall. Like Jersey Girl, Affleck’s other onscreen collab with his then off-screen love, Gigli was a real turkey. Gobble gobble.
Speed Racer (2008)
Budget: $120 million
Box office: $93.9 million
Estimated loss: $73 million
Why it bombed: Arguably the first sign of the Wachowski siblings’ waning ability to deliver commercial results with their creative vision. Sure, the film has its defenders, but no one can deny that the world was not buying what the Wachowskis were selling. And that was Emile Hirsch as Action Hero and seizures.
Cutthroat Island (1995)
Budget: $115 million (about $173.7 million today)
Box office: $10 million (domestic, about $15.1 million today)
Estimated loss: $137.3 million (adjusted for inflation)
Why it bombed: Add Renny Harlin’s decision to cast wife Geena Davis as a swashbuckling action star to Michael Douglas’s 11th-hour exit (and rejections by eight A-listers including Tom Cruise, Charlie Sheen, and Liam Neeson), and you’ve got the movie that effectively put the last nail in Carolco Studios’ coffin. Yes, Geena Davis as a pirate took down the studio that brought us Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the Rambo series.
Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
Budget: $195 million
Box office: $197.7 million
Estimated loss: $86.2-101.2 million
Why it bombed: An eight-month production delay that sucked a lot of steam out of the fairy tale craze was one of many reasons Bryan Singer’s effects-heavy action-adventure turned out to be a DOA giant. Its ”weightless” storyline and performances may have floated it to the top of the box office for one week during the March dead zone, but it was a swift slide down the stalk from there.
Leonard Part 6 (1987)
Budget: $33 million (about $66.6 million today)
Box office: $4.6 million (about $9.3 million today)
Estimated loss: At least $28.4 million (about $57.3 million today)
Why it bombed: Bill Cosby as a former CIA guy back in the game and taking down an evil?vegetarian? There’s also magic meat, an Alka-Seltzer flood, and an ostrich escape. So crazy it had to work, right? Nope. After Cosby reportedly bullied director Paul Weiland into embracing his own (terrible) vision for the film, he then had the nerve to urge the public not to see the movie. They obliged.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
Budget: $73 million (about $97.6 million today)
Box office: $29.7 million (about $39.7 million today)
Estimated loss: $43.7 million (about $57.8 million today)
Why it bombed: Not the biggest box-office blunder of all time, but certainly one of the most notorious. John Travolta’s vanity project was forced into theaters at a time when skepticism about Scientology was intensifying. You know the saying ”There’s no such thing as bad publicity”? The scorching media surrounding Battlefield Earth is the exception that proves the rule. And that’s without even asking how much of the stratospheric budget went to wig maintenance?.
Budget: $160 million
Box office: $119.3 million
Estimated loss: $121.2 million (adjusted for inflation)
Why it bombed: Bogged down by ballooning payoffs for its locations, a slate of writers that could be mistaken for a sports team roster, and outsize perks for its stars (reportedly) to the tune of $78 million, Sahara was a case of rewarding failure. Every step saw producers throw money at problems with no regard for whether each ”fix” would actually solve anything. It was the financial equivalent of quicksand.
The Postman (1997)
Budget: $80 million
Box office: $17.6 million (domestic)
Estimated loss: $71.2 million
Why they bombed: Costner’s post-apocalyptic Western was doubly slammed in the wake of his 1995 star vehicle Waterworld, which earned the deliciously nasty press monikers ”Fishtar” and ”Kevin’s Gate” because many assumed it would tank. Though Waterworld eventually managed to break even, The Postman wasn’t so lucky. Return to sender.
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)
Budget: $70 million (about $89.9 million today)
Box office: $19.9 million (about $25.6 million today)
Estimated loss: At least $50.1 million (about $64.3 million today)
Why it bombed: A 0 percent Rotten Tomatoes score couldn’t have helped. Roger Ebert deemed the flunk ”a chaotic mess, overloaded with special effects and explosions, light on continuity, sanity and coherence.” Both deficits surely affected the movie’s audience appeal.
Budget: $75 million
Box office: $12.5 million
Estimated loss: At least $62.5 million
Why it bombed: Have you ever even heard of this movie? Yeah, didn’t think so. Even a Marvel lawsuit couldn’t make this X-Men knockoff relevant.
Budget: $40 million (about $61.9 million today)
Box office: $7.2 million (domestic, about $11.1 million today)
Estimated loss: At least $32.8 million (about $50.8 million today)
Why it bombed: Despite an all-star cast, North was destined to go South. In addition to being released during what might have been the greatest summer for blockbusters of all time (The Lion King, Forrest Gump, Speed, and True Lies were just a few of the big-ticket openings that season), it was plagued by criticisms that its ”jokes” — most of which weren’t actually funny — were racially and ethnically insensitive, not to mention downright creepy. In a scathing end-of-year wrap-up, Gene Siskel blamed director Rob Reiner and called it ”First class junk.”
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Budget: $17 million (about $34.3 million today)
Box office: $15.7 million (about $31.7 million today)
Estimated loss: At least $1.3 million (about $2.7 million today)
Why it bombed: The fourquel was harangued as being short on action, disinterested in its own story, and cheap-looking. Though a decision to majorly trim the budget (reportedly by $20 million) mitigated the situation (but also caused it in some ways, ironically), making losses appear minimal, the calamitous reception surrounding Quest for Peace inspired Time Warner to take the Superman film franchise off the market for nearly 20 years.