When a movie is given a huge production budget, it’s expected to collect a huge return. But, of course, you’ll only be funded how much the movie is expected to make. This is why it’s surprising to see movies do so poorly at the box-office. Sometimes (in the worst cases, which this list is about) not even earning enough to cover the production budget. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum to Avengers Endgame and Avatar, some of these films, despite their infamousness, are relatively unknown.
How do you Make a Successful Movie?
You don’t. The audiences do. But it does help to craft a movie that will get audiences into theatres to see it. So you need a few key ingredients. The first of which is very important. A popular genre. Westerns, Historical-Epics and Fantasy don’t hit the mark with audiences as well as they used to. Sci-Fi does. Though, some directors do ignore this. The second is marketing. No one is going to watch a movie if they know anything about it. But ironically, marketing can be the cause of a box-office-bomb if done wrongly. Thirdly, and probably least importantly, are the critics. Although some base whether they’ll see a movie of ratings, a lot of the time it makes no difference. So here are five great movies that completely bombed at the box office.
Box Office Bomb #5: ‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017)
Despite the classic status of 1982s Blade Runner, with its head-turning ideas, setting and story, its sequel failed to meet the same glory as its predecessor. Despite some fantastic special effects, namely the CGI Sean Young, it wasn’t enough to entice audiences back into theatres. And neither the star-powered duo of Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling could do either. With a production budget of $150 million, the movie was expected to be met with great popularity. It was aimed to be met domestically within the first week of release. Though, it didn’t even hit $100 million, sitting still at $92 million. Much like the previous film, it didn’t entice audiences but was still seen by critics as a masterpiece.
Luckily, the film had more success internationally. Making $167 million, it covered the production budget, almost too closely. Therefore overall it made just under $260 million. But reportedly, the production company spent upwards of $190 million. Which means the film lost $80 million. A massive loss for something that was projected to do a least three times as well as it did. So don’t expect to see at Blade Runner 2079 any time soon (but that would still be cool).
Box Office Bomb #4: ‘Cloud Atlas’ (2012)
Based on a book that makes somewhat more sense than the movie (though both remain ambiguous), Cloud Atlas is an adaption that failed to attract audiences. The mixture of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Pirate and Modern settings (and more) was a strange cohesion of stories into three hours of confusion (to some). Although its cast was filled with huge actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and more), playing different characters in six stories, the film didn’t appeal to audiences. It grossed $30 million in the US, whilst making $100 million overseas, not reaching its $150 million production budget.
Though, the movie wasn’t expected to do well at all. Warner Bros only funded $20 million of its entire budget. And with a hunch that it wouldn’t hit the mark, it didn’t do a lot of marketing for the film, saving a good $50 million. They didn’t think an R rated three-hour-long non-traditional narrative would sell. And despite being a good (but confusing movie) it didn’t.
Box Office Bomb #3: ‘Hugo’ (2011)
The Oscar-nominated ‘Hugo’, directed by the 11 times Oscar nominee Martin Scorsese was applauded for its story, acting and especially CGI. Making $185 million worldwide, the film following an orphaned boy with only clockwork to comfort him makes a substantial success at the box office in ticket sales. Almost $74 million was grossed in the USA, and $111 was made overseas. But the movie. Though rather than the ticket sales being the blame, it was the creative direction of the director, who ran over budget by $70 million, almost doubling the $100 million budget previously pledged by Paramount.
The extra spending may have been worth it from a critical perspective, but not from the perspective of Paramount. Including the $50 million marketing budget, the film fell short of making it even by $35 million.
Box Office Bomb #3: ‘The Sisters Brothers’ (2018)
As a Western in the modern world, you can already guess The Sisters Brothers performed poorly. And that was known. Its production budget was only $38 million. But, it did win a directorial prize at the Venice Film Festival. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, and John C. Reilly, the star power, again, wasn’t enough. Somehow it managed to gross only $3 million in the USA. And I didn’t miss out on a zero. That’s $3 million. Worldwide it didn’t do much better, grossing a tragic $9 million. Though it didn’t lose tens of millions like others on this list, what is impressive is the fact they didn’t even make up half of the production budget. That means as percentages go, only 31% of what it cost, was made back.
If anything could put off more Westerns being created, its these numbers. And as far as Westerns go, this was critically rated quite highly, though continuing the trend of what the Western does best, it bombed at the box office. Luckily the funding wasn’t too much, otherwise ‘The Sisters Brothers’ could have gone down as one of the biggest bombs of all time.
Box Office Bomb #1: ‘Ben-Hur’ (2016)
On the topic of some of the biggest modern box-office bombs of all time, the most famous might as well be put onto the list. Ben-Hur is of the Genre of ‘Historical-Epic’. I can’t think of many recent films with that specific genre labeled to it. Those that I can, belong in an era forty to fifty years before this one. This is what Ben-Hur is based on, as the original is from 1959. Just like the Western, Historical Epics don’t hit the mark with audiences nowadays who are more inclined towards Sci-Fi and Superheroes. And that shows through the box-office take.
Ben-Hur made $26 million in the US and $67 million overseas. Overall, if you hate math, its a take of $94 million. Not bad. But its utterly tragic if you read into how much the film cost to make. At first, it only seems slightly terrible, as the movie costs $100 million to produce. So only $6 million was lost when comparing production cost and ticket sales. Though, a marketing spree of $100 million sent the budget spiraling. So that’s $94 million gained for the cost of $200 million to make and advertise, leading to over $100,000,000 lost. Ouch.
These are just some of the movies that had terrible reception. Hundreds join the collection of box office busts every year. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, like Ben-Hur, was a massive failure, continuing the trend of disinterest in Historical-Epics. Animated movies like 2000s Titan AE and Mars Needs Moms also both lost upwards of $100 million. Famously emphasizing the decline of the Western, Lone Ranger also lost just under $100 million.
Ultimately, there will always be movies that flop, even if they are critically acclaimed. It’s difficult for producers to know how a film will perform, but hopefully, they’ll understand the genres that just don’t work anymore. Though I still enjoy the odd Historical, or Western genre on Netflix now and again, as to how well they do financially is by no means a medium to judge how good it is. For more on upcoming films check out our other articles on TheNerdStash.