Though box office records seem to be broken on a regular basis (and during a recession, no less!), a large number of films that are released never make back the money spent on making and promoting them. In the past, massive box office bombs have killed careers and studios, and in many cases there are easy explanations on why those films were such duds.
So I’ll be looking at the biggest box office bombs of 2012 and try to find an explanation why each movie did so poorly. Box office figures were taken from BoxOffice.com and Box Office Mojo, and to maintain consistency I always went whatever figure was higher (both gross and costs). I went with the higher figures assuming they reveal the true cost of the film (production plus marketing costs). Often the lower budget figure only represents the production costs, which, of course, is only part of the story. Either way you run the numbers, all these movies did poorly enough at the worldwide box office that they were money losers — grossing at least $20 million less worldwide than they cost to produce.
Keep in mind that I’ll be looking at worldwide figures because films that seemingly bombed in the U.S. (like Battleship, Total Recall and Wrath of the Titans) ended up doing quite well overseas and turning a profit.
Atlas Shrugged: Part II
Worldwide Box Office: $3.3 million
Estimated Cost: $25 million ($21.7 million loss)
Here’s all you need to know about Atlas Shrugged: Part II: despite being in more than double the theaters of Atlas Shrugged: Part I, the second of the planned three-film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel ended up grossing less than Part I, which was so maligned as a disaster the entire cast and much of the crew was replaced. Though the second film made it out despite predictions it would not, I think it’s a pretty fair prediction to say that we won’t see this trilogy finished. Much like a tree falling in a forest with nobody around to hear it, what’s the point of making a movie if the audience simply isn’t there? So while this loss isn’t as large as some of the others on this list, it’s devastating for the smaller studio that produced it.
Man on a Ledge
Worldwide Box Office: $46.2 million
Estimated Cost: $70 million ($23.8 million loss)
A thriller that didn’t particularly thrill audiences, while this film could have been a moderate success had it had a lower price tag, for some reason this ended up costing $42 million to make and another $28 million to market (and I believe it because I saw advertising for this everywhere). There’s no reason this film of limited scope like this couldn’t be made on a smaller budget, like Phone Booth.
Worldwide Box Office: $26 million
Estimated Cost: $50 million ($24 million loss)
I like Edgar Alan Poe, and he remains one of the most popular writers among my English students. But this poor attempt to capitalize on the success of Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock Holmes series got awful reviews and died on arrival even with the likable John Cusack in the lead.
Worldwide Box Office: $30.7 million
Estimated Cost: $55 million ($24.3 million loss)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt might be an extremely popular actor, but in a year in which Gordon-Levitt appears in The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, and Lincoln, something had to give. An action bike movie looks like the perfect throwaway, and though Gordon-Levitt and co-star Michael Shannon are popular with sophisticated audiences from their respective indie film work, a bike movie isn’t something that would back them in theaters.
Worldwide Box Office: $18.1 million
Estimated Cost: $43 million ($24.9 million loss)
This movie was in theaters? Obviously I follow the industry very closely and I don’t even remember this movie coming out. While Amanda Seyfried is a talented actress, why anyone thought she could carry a thriller on her own suggests that somebody has been doing too much boozing. No reason why this film couldn’t have been made with a much smaller budget and released to the VOD market.
Worldwide Box Office: $19 million
Estimated Cost: $50 million ($31 million loss)
Yes, even critically acclaimed “event” arthouse films can be big money-losers. The Master might have been captivating, but there was an obvious reason why Paul Thomas Anderson had trouble selling the film to distributors: despite being regarded as one of the all-time great directors, he’s never made a film that grossed more than $40 million at the domestic box office or $76 million worldwide (and that was There Will Be Blood, his most popular film). In fact, There Will Be Blood is the only Anderson film to gross more than $50 million worldwide, which was how much this film cost. Like Anderson’s other films, The Master will likely have a long, lucrative life in home media sales, but it will be some time before it turns a profit.
Worldwide Box Office: $67.4 million
Estimated Cost: $100 million ($32.6 million loss)
The biggest shame about The Watch is that for a second consecutive film Vince Vaughn‘s grosses were hurt by current events (in this case, a fatal shooting by the member of a neighborhood watch group forced Fox to re-title this movie and downplay some of its funnier bits in trailers). And while The Watch isn’t among Ben Stiller, Vaughn, or Jonah Hill‘s best movies, it could have easily done Dodgeball numbers. However, because of the movie’s sci-fi storyline this movie cost significantly more than Dodgeball and since it sold fewer tickets that became a big problem.
Worldwide Box Office: $24.1 million
Estimated Cost: $57 million ($32.9 million loss)
Wanderlust wasn’t a particular bad comedy — it had many funny Judd Apatow-style comedy bits. But as much as I love Paul Rudd, he hasn’t been able to carry a comedy movie on his own (Our Idiot Brother is another great example). And while Jennifer Aniston was a hit in Horrible Bosses, I don’t think that was a sign that she was ready to become a full-fledged comedian. Even the tabloid fascination of Aniston’s romance with co-star Justin Theroux couldn’t draw audiences. However, forgetting all that, how did a film that almost takes place entirely on a hippie community farm cost $57 million? Giving this movie that budget was the worst mistake anyone made all year.
Worldwide Box Office: $25.5 million
Estimated Cost: $60 million ($34.5 million loss)
Big Miracle was a hard sell. Sure, a lot more people are into being “green” and the environment these days, but how many people want to see a two hour movie about Drew Barrymore whining about saving whales? While John Krasinski‘s mugging for the camera might be a hit on The Office, he has yet to find a way to translate that to film success. As a result, what Big Miracle ended up being is the rare attempt at a feel-good movie that well, doesn’t really feel good, especially since every single character has some sort of political agenda.
Worldwide Box Office: $36.1 million
Estimated Cost: $72 million ($35.9 million loss)
One of the great disappointments on the list, Dredd received great reviews (with a 77% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which is high for an action film) and looked to fit right in with popular 2012 comic book adaptations like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. However, that could have been one of the biggest issues with Dredd: in a summer with two of the biggest comic book films of all time, the lesser-known character Judge Dredd found himself in theaters with some of the most popular comic book superheroes of all time and perhaps that’s why he didn’t have a chance. Where was the marketing for this film?
Worldwide Box Office: $49.9 million
Estimated Cost: $92 million ($42.1 million loss)
George Lucas wasn’t shy about the fact that he has spent decades trying to get this film made because no studio wanted to touch it. Looking at the grosses, it’s not hard to see why. The movie was never released overseas because of limited international interest in a film about African-American pilots, and it’s a story that has already been told in movies and documentaries before. The fact that it got very poor reviews didn’t help, either.
Worldwide Box Office: $45.4 million
Estimated Cost: $90 million ($44.6 million loss)
It’s a bit unfair to put Red Dawn on these listings since it won’t be released in a number of key international markets until March, but then again I doubt this pro-America movie will do huge business in foreign countries. Alex and I seemed to be among the few critics that liked it, but I’m really not surprised by that. Unfortunately, Red Dawn never had a chance since so much post-production work on the film put it deeply in debt, and its release date didn’t do it any favors. Even though Chris Hemsworth has become a much bigger name since 2009 (when the movie was shot), it didn’t push the grosses up enough to turn a profit.
That’s My Boy
Worldwide Box Office: $58.1 million
Estimated Cost: $105 million ($46.9 million loss)
From late 1998 to early 2011, a straight Adam Sandler comedy (i.e. not his more dramatic comedies like Punch Drunk Love) were a virtually guaranteed $100 million at the box office except for the minor blip of Little Nicky. But late 2011’s Jack and Jill was a big letdown for Sandler (not to mention audiences), and That’s My Boy was an even bigger one: it’s Sandler’s lowest-grossing straight comedy since 1996. While Sandler has always been the box office king of PG and PG-13 comedies, R-rated crowds seem to have little interest in seeing Sandler in cruder form. It’s no surprise then that Sandler is coming out with Grown Ups 2, his first sequel, next year (it’s probably no mistake that Grown Ups was his highest grossing movie, too).
A Thousand Words
Worldwide Box Office: $20.5 million
Estimated Cost: $70 million ($49.5 million loss)
I don’t think anyone was surprised that this Eddie Murphy “comedy,” which sat on the shelf for four years because nobody wanted to release it, didn’t do well. Though some of Murphy’s recent films still do well, most pull in the same kind of numbers as A Thousand Words. It says a lot that Murphy, who was once hailed as a comedic genius, has hardly any film projects in development but has a television project based on one of his biggest hit films, Beverly Hills Cop, in development. Like fellow SNL alum Sandler, Murphy is looking to capitalize on past success after recent failures.
The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure
Worldwide Box Office: $1.1 million
Estimated Cost: $55 million ($53.9 million loss)
Ooooh boy. I think my older brother’s text message after this movie made headlines for being the biggest box office bomb of films released in 2000+ theaters, which said simply “what the f*ck is an oogielove?” sums this disaster up nicely. Though I’m obviously much older than the target audience, I figure I have a general grasp of the most popular children’s shows just from everyday life. Nobody I know had even heard of the Oogieloves, including friends of mine who have children. Isn’t the usual idea for kid’s movies like this to introduce the characters and concepts to the public before making a multimillion dollar movie? There was no brand-building for this concept before it was released to die in theaters.
Worldwide Box Office: $65.8 million
Estimated Cost: $120 million ($54.2 million loss)
Why do studios still give the Wachowskis piles of money to make movies? Sure, the directors had big success with the Matrix (though the third film did poorly at the box office in comparison to the first two) and produced a popular adaptation of V for Vendetta, Speed Racer was a financial disaster… and Cloud Atlas has done less than half of that business. The marketing for this film was awful — though most people who saw it seemed to like it, it seems most people stayed away because the trailers really didn’t give any indication what the film was about. If studios don’t want to touch Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies for routinely losing money, why do the Wachowskis keep getting offers to make films that lose twice as much money? Perhaps studios need to go the M. Night Shyamalan route and stop writing them big checks!
Rock of Ages
Worldwide Box Office: $56.4 million
Estimated Cost: $113 million ($56.6 million loss)
Only Hollywood could take a beloved Broadway musical based on some of the greatest hits of the 1980s and suck the fun out of it. Aside from Tom Cruise‘s transformation into hair band frontman Stacee Jaxx, Rock of Ages was somehow a joyless, unfunny waste of time. The core audience for this — people who have made the stage musical a huge hit — hated the changes to the story and the massive cuts in the soundtrack. As a result, bad word-of-mouth ended up killing this film, and it ended up losing almost half its domestic audience ($14.4 million vs. $7.7 million) in its second weekend. Ouch!
Worldwide Box Office: $283.1 million
Estimated Cost: $350 million ($66.9 million loss)
“Officially” John Carter cost $250 million to make, although most reports (including this one from the BBC) put the figure closer to $350 million once marketing costs are taken into account. Sadly, John Carter is perhaps the best movie to make this list and under other circumstances probably would have been a modest hit that would lead to cheaper sequels. Unfortunately, John Carter never had a chance. The blame has seemed to land at the feet of director Andrew Stanton, but I lay more of the blame on Disney and its utter failure at marketing the movie. First, the title tells us nothing of the film (Disney reportedly nixed “A Princess of Mars” to avoid it being classified as a girl’s movie and nixed “John Carter of Mars” because, well, get this: Mars Needs Moms bombed, so the conclusion that movies with “Mars” in the title bomb was drawn) and fits in the incredibly silly current-day stupidity of naming films with simply the characters’ names (i.e. Alex Cross, Jack Reacher) without a creative hook. I mean, if I tell someone “I’m going to see John Carter this weekend,” they might think I’m visiting a friend. Disney’s otherwise genius marketing machine (see this year’s Wreck-It Ralph for evidence) completely failed John Carter. It’s a shame, because without the stink of failure the film could’ve found a much bigger audience. However, this begs an important question: why did Disney and director Andrew Stanton get slagged so heavily in the press for John Carter while Cloud Atlas and Rock of Ages lost nearly as much money?
…That’s it for 2012! It’ll be interesting to see what ends up being the biggest losers of 2013!