Before we delve into this shamelessly entertaining subject, let's pause to remember that making movies is an arduous task. It requires the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of artists and crew members, and while you shouldn't mourn too hard because they tend to be well compensated for their labor at the studio level, no one wants to think they're going to work every day on a piece of garbage. And there's never been a screenwriter or a director who took a gig thinking, "I'm going to lose the studio tens of millions of dollars on this dreck, and I don't care!" At some point in the development of these 30 movies, there was hope. But at the end of the road, there was pain. Some of these films deserved to fail. Some did not. In any event break out your abacuses, and let's get to calculating the damage.
Multiple studios and producers had taken a crack at launching a franchise based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' pioneering pulp series, and it appeared to at last be in the right hands with “Finding Nemo”/”Wall-E” director Andrew Stanton. The film is a bit of a mess but still rousing when it needs to be. It should’ve been a hit. But Disney had zero idea how to sell it, starting with the confounding decision to drop the “of Mars” from the title (due to Mars movies having a penchant to bomb hard at the box office). This was Stanton’s first live-action film, and his inexperience played a part in driving up the budget to a staggering $263 million, making it one of the most expensive films of all time. The uncertain marketing scared off a multitude of moviegoers. After grossing a disappointing $284.1 million wordwide, Disney was left staring at a craterous $200 million loss.
If you’re spending close to $200 million to make a Terminator movie in 2019, you get what you deserve. “Dark Fate," which brought James Cameron back into the fold as a producer and story generator, is still in theaters, so the damage has yet to be fully tallied. But at $199 million worldwide, the film is currently nursing a $120 million loss. Given that it’s rapidly losing screens, an optimistic forecast would leave the various studios and production companies splitting a $100 million tab.
The failure of Brad Bird’s ode to science and innovation is nothing to celebrate. Though the film falls short of its lofty ambitions, it’s still an original concept on which Disney took a $190 million gamble. Sadly, even with George Clooney in the lead, the studio couldn’t convince enough moviegoers to give it a shot, which resulted in a $209 million worldwide gross. While Disney can afford to eat a $100 million-plus doo-doo sandwich, it would prefer not to and will continue to be apprehensive when it comes to greenlighting original ideas in the future.
Michael Bay’s Transformers movies were the bane of many a film critic for 10 years, so there was a great deal of schadenfreude being indulged when this $217 million fifth installment massively underperformed at $605 million worldwide. In this billion-dollars-or-bust franchise environment, that means it’s time to reboot. The film bled out $100 million-plus but was semi-revitalized two years later with the kindhearted, more modestly budgeted “Bumblebee”.
It was wrongheaded in just about every conceivable way to blow $250 million on an IP that hasn’t been popular since Eisenhower was in office. But Jerry Bruckheimer still pushed this project through and paid the price when the Gore Verbinski-directed flick topped out at $261 million worldwide. While Disney took a $190 million hit, have you seen the movie? It’s a little lumpy over the first two acts, but the third act is built around an exhilarating train chase that tops nearly ever set piece over the last decade. If you hate “The Lone Ranger," you hate movies period.
This ludicrous Luc Besson sci-fi stew offers up world-building on an overwhelming scale and winds up being the kind of folly you can’t help but admire. The impossibly beautiful Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne have negative chemistry as intergalactic cops, but you’re not there for the stars. Judging from the $226 million worldwide gross, most moviegoers weren’t there at all, which is a shame. This is the most wildly entertaining film Besson has made since “The Fifth Element." Fortunately the $82 million loss was split among myriad financiers.
Based on a zippy children’s book by “Bloom Country” creator Berkeley Breathed, this Disney performance-capture disaster from Robert Zemeckis was delayed and unceremoniously dumped in March 2011. It was a classic cut-your-losses movie from a studio and its unfruitful partnership with the visionary behind “Forrest Gump” and “Back to the Future." It’s a shame. There’s real talent here and a fun concept, but it never came together. The result: a zesty $100 million-plus bath for the Mouse House.
Martin Scorsese’s handsomely mounted love letter to the magic of cinema snagged 11 Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) and a passel of critical plaudits. Unfortunately it couldn’t find much of an audience to help recoup on its $150 million budget. It’s a wonderful film that will endure long after its financial failure (estimated loss: $91 million). Let this be a word of caution to the sentimental whippersnapper dreaming of a mega-budget tribute to the advent of streaming media!
Michael Mann’s hacker yarn starring Chris Hemsworth got a shellacking from the critics (33 percent rotten at RT), and almost nada from the box office; $20 million worldwide! That’s not a typo! Given its $70 million budget, the film was an ignominious disaster for Universal Pictures and a career setback for Michael Mann, who’s headed back to television with the promising “Tokyo Vice." Despite the film’s poor reception, Mann unveiled a director’s cut of “Blackhat” in 2016 that won over a number of notable critics. For whatever reason, it’s only available on TNT at the moment.
Stop making Peter Pan movies already! If Steven Spielberg can’t make a Neverland fantasy work (and he failed on a catastrophic, career-pausing scale with “Hook”), no one can. The talented Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice," “Atonement," “Hanna”) took Jason Fuchs’ celebrated Blacklist screenplay and delivered a joyless $150 million fiasco that flopped with a vengeance. (It’s estimated to have lost between $85 million and $150 million.) If Warner Bros. wants to get back in the Pan business, it should consider rebooting the popular vampire property it currently controls: “The Lost Boys."
Disney had a trilogy in mind when it hired Ava DuVernay to tackle Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved “A Wrinkle in Time," but this aggressively marketed adaptation couldn’t find an audience to support any type of franchise. The critical reception was, to put it charitably, mixed (42 percent rotten at RT), and the worldwide box office gross ($133 million) was tepid for a $125 million production. Disney took a $131 million loss on the film and promptly kiboshed plans for a series and theme park attraction. But don’t weep for DuVernay: She’s currently developing “New Gods” for the DCEU and earned enthusiastic critical acclaim (and 11 Emmy nominations) for “When They See Us."
This very British adaptation of Roald Dahl’s extremely British children’s novel was brought to the big screen by the “E.T.” team of director Steven Spielberg and the late screenwriter Melissa Mathieson. Though they didn’t quite rekindle the wonder of their 1982 classic, the film received mostly positive reviews and seemed like a good bet to clean up at the summer 2016 box office. Sadly the film tanked at the worldwide box office, grossing a pint-sized $180 million on a towering $140 million budget. Disney took it in the shorts to the tune of $100 million, and Spielberg brushed it off because he’s Steven freaking Spielberg.
This ambitious adaptation of Philip Reeve’s steampunk novel never felt like a sure bet for success, but it at least found the “Lord of the Rings” writing trio of Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh bringing the full force of their imaginations to bear in an attempt to develop a new fantastical universe. It’s a fascinating misfire of a movie and the kind you’re glad exists. Universal Pictures and MRC may disagree, given that the $110 million production was the biggest flop of 2018, losing $175 million for its financiers.
Despite being the second-most successful studio in Hollywood next to its down-the-street competition Disney, Warner Bros. makes some horrendous, head-scratching decisions sometimes. After blowing loads of cash in a failed attempt to revive DC’s Superman franchise in 2006, Bryan Singer somehow got the studio to sink a reported $200 million into this wacky reimagining of “Jack and the Beanstalk." Fee-Fi-Fo-Thump! The film fell just shy of $200 million worldwide, hitting WB with a gargantuan $105 million loss.
If it weren’t for the “Mission: Impossible” and "Transformers" franchises, Paramount would be a part of Netflix right now. This may still come to pass, and if it does, you can blame the company’s decision to sink $100 million into Timur Bekmambetov’s horrid take on the biblical “Ben-Hur” epic. Though the studio wisely played to a faith-based audience in the hopes of juicing the opening weekend gross, it was a no-sale from the God squad. Paramount got nailed for a $120 million loss.
This movie is the damndest thing. A fantastical adventure featuring 9-foot Egyptian gods from “Dark City” visionary Alex Proyas, it was probably doomed to fail, But it’s so unabashedly goofy that you might love it if you give it a shot on streaming. Few moviegoers took a shot on the $140 million Summit Entertainment production in 2016, which left the company in the hole for somewhere in the neighborhood of $90 million.
Disney threw $80 million at this Craig Gillespie-directed period drama about a remarkable Coast Guard rescue. And even though moviegoers typically flock to anything Coast Guard related, they remained on shore for this generally well-reviewed effort. After towing in a minute $52 million worldwide, Disney was left on the hook for $75 million, which it probably barely noticed.
This loopy animated adventure about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Jack Frost joining forces to battle an evil force threatening to destroy the world is loads of fun. Though it didn’t sputter completely at the box office (taking in $310 million worldwide), it’s $140 million price tag hit Paramount Pictures for an $87 million loss.
Jon Favreau called in the movie star cavalry for this sci-fi Western, but even the presence of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford couldn’t generate enough audience interest to recoup on its massive $163 million budget. After stalling at $175 million worldwide, Sony lost $75 million and any hope of a continuing franchise starring two of the most beloved stars on the planet.
A romantic World War II thriller directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard is going to get greenlit every day of the week by any studio. Though Zemeckis kept the price tag to a reasonable $85 million (for this type of film), Paramount did a poor job of hooking audiences. “Allied” grossed a shockingly miniscule $119 million worldwide, leaving the beleaguered studio rub-a-dubbing to a plaintive $90 million.
Once Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, there was little doubt it would put its just-purchased studio’s long-running X-Men saga out to pasture. Perhaps if it had a better film to market, it would’ve tried harder. But moviegoers had been rapidly losing interest in this iteration of the franchise, so the fact that this $200 million production topped out at $252 million wasn’t all that shocking. Fox took a $100 million spanking, but it just doesn’t matter.
James L. Brooks’ winning romantic comedy boasted an appealing cast of Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson (in what might wind up being his final film performance), but moviegoers gave it the hardest of passes. Even though the movie is wonderful, there’s no excuse for this type of film costing $100 million, which, after grossing a piddling $49 million worldwide, left Sony footing a $105 million tab.
As with Peter Pan, studios would probably be wise to stop lavishing hundreds of millions of dollars on Camelot-based tales. Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 “King Arthur” was a costly bomb for Disney, but nothing compared to the money hole that was Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword." The Warner Bros. release underwent massive reshoots, which sent its budget skyrocketing to $175 million. Absent a marketable star in the lead role, WB eventually shrugged and took its whupping. The film eked out a $149 million worldwide gross, which translated to a $150 million loss.
Credit Disney for taking a $125 million risk on an original concept from writers Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger and Matthew Robinson. Unfortunately, the Chris Wedge-directed family adventure didn’t quite pan out creatively, and the concept didn’t prove appealing to moviegoers. After idling to a $65 million worldwide gross, Paramount had to eat an unappetizing $123 million.
After failing to revive its valuable classic monsters properties with the misbegotten “Van Helsing” in 2003, Universal hit upon a new kind of mash-up. Starting with Luke Evans in “Dracula Untold” and Tom Cruise in “The Mummy," it would begin building up a “Dark Universe” that would connect the rest of its creatures (Frankenstein’s Monster, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man and so on). Though “Dracula Untold” received a ho-hum critical and commercial reception, Universal was counting on the Cruise missile to hit the box office bull’s-eye. The film was dreadful in all the wrong ways, but Cruise has a penchant for hyper-promoting his movies the world over regardless of how poorly they turn out. The not-horrible $410 million worldwide take is a testament to Cruise’s drawing power, but the $195 million price tag was non-negotiable. At the end of the day, Universal’s "Dark Universe" likely died due to “The Mummy’s” $95 million loss.
This macabre spin on “Men in Black” was hatched by the talented screenwriting duo of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi and managed to land Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds in the lead roles. This had the makings of an enjoyable, if somewhat derivative, buddy film, but director Robert Schwentke just couldn’t get it to click. Add in an unforgivably high $150 million budget and uncertain marketing, and you get a film neither-fish-nor-fowl flop that drops you in a $90 million-plus hole.
Terry George’s epic romantic drama set against the Armenian genocide performed about as well as a film with that kind of daunting pitch could. You don’t want to beat up on a well-intentioned movie like this too much, so let’s hope that it opened some moviegoers eyes to a tragedy that still isn’t fully grasped by the rest of the world. Despite the presence of Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, the $90 million production went largely unseen. It grossed a shocking $11 million at the worldwide box office, which translated to a $100 million loss. Ouch.
Add another corpse to the YA adaptation graveyard. Intended as the first in a series of films based on [checks Wikipedia] “The Wardstone Chronicles," this sword-and-sorcery yarn spent two years on the shelf before getting dumped in February 2015. Most people didn’t know the film was two years old, but they could still sniff the stench emanating from the desperate trailers and TV spots. Though the $95 million production boasted an impressive cast of Jeff Bridges, Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore, moviegoers stayed far away. The final worldwide gross was $114 million, which translated to a $100 million-ish loss.
It took 41 years for a “Star Wars” movie to flop, and while we should be hesitant to use this designation to describe a film that grossed $393 million worldwide, consider the $250 million budget and pour out some blue milk for the short-lived “Star Wars Stories” spinoff franchise. Carrying a $77 million loss, it’s not as big a debacle as other films on this list (nor is it the worst film in the franchise), but it did prove that the galaxy far, far away was vulnerable.
Warner Bros. and the DC Comics Extended Universe faced a daunting challenge at the outset of this decade. Once Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy wrapped up, they had to figure out a) how to reboot Superman, b) reboot Batman, c) and launch their other big name characters (Wonder Woman, Aquaman and The Flash) to compete with the thriving Marvel Cinematic Universe. They wisely opted to mimic Marvel by building toward a “Justice League” film featuring all of these characters. Oops. The first sign of trouble was “Man of Steel” falling well short of $1 billion worldwide (the new box office benchmark for mega-blockbusters). Panicked, they rushed into “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," which also fell short of a billion and received a ho-hum B grade from Cinemascore polling. “Wonder Woman," which cost $100 million less than “BvS,” righted the ship to a degree with a well-received, financially successful first installment, but audiences were more excited for the character individually than they were for a “Justice League” team-up. In rushing things, they face-planted hard with “JL," which, after a tumultuous production, was roughed up by critics and grossed a paltry $658 million (though maybe the Snyder Cut, which actually exists and will be released soon, will help repair its image). They’re now readjusting on the fly with a new Batman (Robert Pattinson), a damaged Superman, several fired execs and, judging from the outside, no clear path forward. The good news: “Aquaman” cracked $1 billion, and fans are stoked for 2020’s “Wonder Woman 1984."
Jeremy Smith is a freelance entertainment writer and the author of "George Clooney: Anatomy of an Actor". His second book, "When It Was Cool", is due out in 2021.