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10 Gigantic Movie Flops

Hollywood’s financial failures


With the release of James Cameron’s Avatar just weeks away, with its weird “blue cat people,” the predictions about the movie’s imminent success, or failure, have already spread like wildfire across the Internet. Some predict it will be a “mega-hit,” others say it will be a gigantic disappointment.

Given Cameron’s track record (TITANIC!) and fame, it is unlikely the movie will be a complete flop — but just how quickly will it recoup its initial investment? It has been reported that the film is the costliest ever produced by its studio, News Corporation’s Fox (Stock Quote: NWS). According to The New York Times, production and marketing costs could exceed $500 million, although the studio has limited its risk with the help of outside investors. Only time will tell, I suppose, whether Avatar hits a home run.

Even if it performs terribly at the box office, Fox will likely see all of its money back — and then some — from TV broadcasts, DVD sales, merchandise and so forth. Plus, News Corporation overlord Rupert Murdoch mentioned the film in a conference call, saying he was “excited and moved” by Avatar.

Here are 10 films for which there were great expectations. All were bitter disappointments at the box office, though many of them went on to achieve cult followings, and some eventually made money.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Dune (1984)


This adaptation of a 1960s sci-fi novel reportedly “earned just over half of its $45 million budget back at the box office,” despite featuring the likes of Kyle McLaughlin and Sting. It was a behemoth of a production.

According to its wiki, “Dune required 80 sets built on 16 sound stages and a total crew of 1,700.” It was directed by David Lynch, who originally intended to release a three-hour version, but that was eventually cut down to two by the studio, Universal.

Dune got negative reviews from The New York Times, Time, Variety and Roger Ebert. Ebert wrote, “This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.”

Nevertheless, there are plenty of people who love Dune. It frequently appears on television and some consider it among the best sci-fi films of all time.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Ishtar (1987)


Warren Beatty. Dustin Hoffman. But not a commercial success? According to Yahoo! Movies, “production ran amok, and the budget rose to an estimated $55 million. Unfortunately, the film only made $14 million at the box office.” WHY?! “Legend goes that David Puttnam, who came onboard as head of Columbia Pictures midway through production, spread negative stories about the film to the press prior to its release” because he had personal issues with the film’s two stars.

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Hudson Hawk (1991)


“The $65 million film pulled in only $17 million,” according to the Yahoo! Movies gods. Starring and co-written by Bruce Willis, the film was just not destined for great things — its failure is partially attributed to a “bad and confusing marketing campaign.”

Plus, if Hudson Hawk had been some kind of massive success, maybe Willis would not have taken the awesome role as Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction. That would have been a tragedy — for moviegoers as well as for Quentin Tarantino.

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Battlefield Earth (2000)


According to Radar, “the $73 million, 2000 adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard's sci-fi novel, tanked with a scant $21.5 million domestic gross intake at the box office.” Hubbard was the founder of Scientology and the film stars John Travolta, one of the religion’s famous practitioners.

The film had serious PR problems from the outset. Check this out, from the film’s wiki:

“As the film was entering post-production, the alternative newspaper Mean Magazine obtained a copy of the screenplay. Mean's staffers changed the script's title to ‘Dark Forces’ by ‘Desmond Finch’ and circulated it to readers at major Hollywood film production companies. The comments that came back were universally unfavorable: ‘a thoroughly silly plotline is made all the more ludicrous by its hamfisted [sic] dialog and ridiculously shallow characterizations’, ‘a completely predictable story that just isn't written well enough to make up for its lack of originality.’ One reviewer labeled the screenplay ‘as entertaining as watching a fly breathe.’”

Hey, don’t blame me, Scientology! I’m just the messenger. Seriously. Are we cool still?

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Gigli (2003)


A crime against humanity, art and commerce. I am pretty sure there is a U.N. resolution against producing a Gigli 2 — or at least there should be. The film stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, both mob enforcers (whatever that means), and Affleck’s character is charged with kidnapping a “mentally challenged” kid whose brother is a federal prosecutor with the mob in his cross-hairs and ... oh who cares, it’s just dumb.

CNN.com simply called it “really, really bad.” Also, Lopez’s character is supposedly a lesbian, but this is not enough of a hurdle to keep her from cavorting with Affleck’s character ... because he’s so irresistible, he changes others' sexual orientation in seconds? Sadly, the couple were supposed to marry in real life, but called it quits shortly after the flop.

As Radar reported, this $54 million cinematic mess “took in a miserable $6.1 million in 2003.” For math buffs, that comes out to a $47.9 million loss. Sorry, Affleck and J. Lo.

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Cleopatra (1963)


Before my time, admittedly, but this is historically one of the biggest Hollywood failures of all time. “Once billed as the most expensive film of all time (and might still be champion), this Joseph Mankiewicz-directed historical costume epic stars [Elizabeth] Taylor as Cleopatra and [Richard] Burton as Marc Anthony. There are some truly amazing sets and a cast of thousands (literally),” according to MSN Movies.

This one was pretty much cursed. It went through a brutal round of seven writers, two directors and then leading lady Taylor “came down with meningitis and had an emergency tracheotomy.” Understandably, a brain infection and emergency tracheotomy can affect your focus as an actress.

The film’s budget was reportedly $44 million ($259 million today — pretty close to estimates for Avatar’s production budget, incidentally) and it only took in $26 million ($153 million today) domestically.

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The Postman (1997)


In The Postman, which is set in a post-apocalyptic future, Kevin Costner plays a “Shakespeare-quoting mail carrier.” At least that’s what we’re supposed to think. This film, which had a nice $80 to $100 million budget, should not be confused with Waterworld, which is also set in a post-apocalyptic future. Only this film cost $175 million and was about a man who was part fish, not a mailman. The Postman only made $17.6 million domestically, while Waterworld made $80 million.

Costner has been called “the poster boy of major motion picture disappointment.” That’s a little rough. We’d say he’s just the “poster boy of major post-apocalyptic motion picture disappointment.”

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The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)


You can’t say this Eddie Murphy star-driven film has not received any recognition: It was reportedly named “biggest flop” of the 21st century. Granted, the century was only two years old when it was released, but still.

According to reports, “the film had cost 100 million dollars to make and recouped less than 10 per cent at the box office.”

It scored only 6% on RottenTomatoes. Christy Lemire at the Associated Press gave it this review: “It's boring. It's flat. It's ugly. Worst of all for a comedy, it's not even remotely funny.” Eddie Murphy plays a successful night club owner — on the Moon, and in the year 2087. Meh.

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Crossroads (2002)


Hit me, baby, one more time. Or don’t. Virgin Media gave this Britney Spears-driven atrocity a “suck factor” (sounds very scientific) of 6 out of 10 (which was generous) and cited this New York Post review of Crossroads: “So mind-numbingly awful that you hope Britney won't do it one more time, as far as movies are concerned.”

This one is a commercial failure in the sense that it was completely ruinous to its star’s big-screen career — haven’t seen Brit in a movie since, right? The bad news, though, is that this movie actually made money, due to its miniscule $12 million production budget. Its box office receipts were in excess of $37 million. I hope you’re proud of yourself, America.

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Delgo (2008)


This animated flick stars pretty famous voices — Anne Bancroft, Val Kilmer, Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Burt Reynolds—yet it raked in just $694,782 at the box office. Production budget? $40 million. Ouch.

But was it critically acclaimed, at least? No: 54.9% of Box Office Mojo readers who rated the film gave it an F.

Yes, this film was actually released widely, but it just did terribly. The Guardian reported that the film’s animated “frock-wearing creatures proved to be a big box-office turnoff” and suggested that the movie’s advertising on “kiddie-aimed cable TV” turned out to be a bad gamble. Parents weren’t aware of the film, and since 10-year-olds don’t drive or have credit cards, it’s hard to build a hit by targeting youth exclusively.

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