While any film that fails to meet box office expectations is often labeled a flop, even today’s big-budget failures can’t compare to some of the biggest financial disasters in the history of film, when adjusted for inflation (all box office numbers courtesy of Film Site).
Here are the 12 biggest film box office disasters of all-time in ascending order, and how their losses measure up to modern standards of box office bombs.
12. Jupiter Ascending (2015) — estimated losses: $80 million
You certainly can’t fault Warner Bros. for their ambition with Jupiter Ascending. That said, they forgot to make an interesting movie along the way, and paid for it at the box office. The film checked in at a hefty $176 million budget, netting just $47 million from domestic audiences. When you figure in foreign profits and marketing costs, most estimates peg the losses right around a historically bad $80 million.
11. Heaven’s Gate (1980) — estimated losses: $121 million
It seems fitting to include the film that is often considered the biggest financial disaster of all time, if only in reputation. Released in 1980, Heaven’s Gate was a complete disaster to everyone involved, including studio United Artists, which almost collapsed as a result, and director Michael Cimino whose career never recovered.
When it comes to film history, the Heaven’s Gate disaster is often pointed to as the key event that led American filmmaking away from director-driven projects, as studios sought to assume control over films — something that hasn’t changed since.
Just how disastrous was Heaven’s Gate? On a budget of $44 million, the film earned only $3.5 million at the box office. Adjusted for inflation, Heaven’s Gate lost approximately $121 million at the box office for what was essentially an art-house Western.
Although the film has, in recent years, been rediscovered as — in many ways — a case of the media driving critical perception, there’s no doubt that the impact of Heaven’s Gate is still being felt by studios and filmmakers today.
10. Sahara (2005) — estimated losses: $121 million
The story of Sahara’s financial failure is the subject of many detailed reports that outline the complexities of so-called Hollywood accounting. There were even some potentially illegal financial transactions between Hollywood and the Moroccan government, where the film was shot. But when it comes down to it, Sahara was simply too expensive.
According to Film Site, Sahara cost upwards of $160 million to produce. But unlike many films on this list, Sahara wasn’t necessarily a box office bomb, earning a respectable $119.3 million. The problem was that Sahara really had no shot at making its money back, losing approximately $100 million despite earning over $100 million at the box office. When adjusted for inflation, Sahara’s losses rise to about $121 million, putting it on the same level of the notorious disaster, Heaven’s Gate.
In many ways, Sahara should act as a huge red flag when it comes to tentpole filmmaking, but instead, the film has been largely forgotten.
9. The Lone Ranger (2013) — estimated losses: $96–121 million
Walt Disney Pictures may have been hoping to replicate the success that it had with its long-running Pirates of the Caribbean film series that also features Johnny Depp, but what it ended up with instead was a critical and commercial flop.
With a production budget that ranged between $225 and $250 million, The Lone Ranger is estimated to have lost the studio somewhere between $96 and $121 million, thanks to its hefty marketing budget.
The film’s chances of success weren’t helped by scathing reviews from critics, as well as the controversial casting of Depp as a Native American. “Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp make for an appealing pair of leads, but they’re not enough to make up for The Lone Ranger’s bland script, bloated length, and blaring action overkill,” reads the critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes.
8. John Carter (2012) — estimated losses: $125 million
One of the newer box office flops on our list, John Carter was Disney’s attempt to build a movie franchise based on a series of science fantasy novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Unfortunately for Disney, John Carter was a financial disaster, and Film Site estimates that it lost approximately $125 million after production and marketing costs are taken into account. While John Carter’s bloated budget of $264 million (which doesn’t include additional marketing costs) made it harder for it to achieve profitability, its muddled plot didn’t do it any favors either.
Here’s what the critics at Rotten Tomatoes had to say about the film, “While John Carter looks terrific and delivers its share of pulpy thrills, it also suffers from uneven pacing and occasionally incomprehensible plotting and characterization.”
7. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) — estimated losses: $126 million
Inspired by the video game series of the same name, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was considered a technical marvel when it first debuted. By using an advanced computer animation process, the filmmakers were able to create photorealistic characters and environments.
Unfortunately, the groundbreaking animation also helped push the movie’s production budget to $137 million. And despite having the voice talents of Hollywood stars such as Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, and Ving Rhames, the computer-animated characters still come across as awkward and wooden.
As noted by Rotten Tomatoes, it also didn’t help that the story was “dull and emotionally removed.” Perhaps that is why the movie ended up being one of the biggest box office flops of all time, with inflation-adjusted estimated losses of $126 million.
6. The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) — estimated losses: $126 million
Proving that not all financial flops are necessarily bad movies, The Fall of the Roman Empire is now widely considered one of the best “sword-and-sandal” epics to have ever been made. The film intelligently details the causes behind the decline of Roman civilization and features Hollywood legends such as Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness, and Christopher Plummer.
However, its modest box office performance of $4.75 million wasn’t enough to recoup its lavish production costs of approximately $20 million. After taking additional marketing costs into consideration and adjusting for inflation, Film Site estimates that The Fall of the Roman Empire lost about $126 million. As noted by Rotten Tomatoes, the film’s losses essentially ended Samuel Bronston’s career as a producer of big-budget epics.
5. The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) — estimated losses: $126 million
Actor Eddie Murphy experienced a long period of huge financial success at the box office throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but it was 2002′s The Adventures of Pluto Nash that signaled his box office prowess was coming to an end.
With a production budget of about $100 million and marketing costs of $20 million, The Adventures of Pluto Nash earned only $7.1 million at the box office. With a total cost of $120 million, the film’s losses were just over $113 million. Adjusted for inflation, the film comes in at a loss of $126 million and is easily the worst-performing film of Murphy’s career — it is, in some ways, a film that he has never recovered from.
4. Mars Needs Moms (2011) — estimated losses: $137 million
Disney’s computer-animated Mars Needs Moms is textbook overspending on a film whose ceiling wasn’t all that high to begin with. With a budget that dwarfs some of the biggest films of all-time, live-action or animated, Mars Needs Moms would have been tough for even an animation studio like Pixar to profit from.
Coming in with a production budget of $150 million and marketing costs upwards of $25 million, Mars Needs Moms had a long way to go before simply breaking even. But even the studio’s worst case scenario was probably not as bad as the film’s total box office earnings of $39 million. The film’s performance ultimately led Disney to lose $136 million in 2011, which goes up to about $137 million when adjusted for inflation.
3. Cutthroat Island (1995) — estimated losses: $137 million
Up until Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was released in 2003, pirate-themed films had been deemed box office poison mostly due to the record-breaking box office flop of Cutthroat Island. Despite being released in 1995, the film’s box office actuals are still fairly frightening, but when those same numbers are adjusted for inflation it gets downright scary.
Before the Guinness Book of World Records retired the record of “largest box office loss,” MGM’s Cutthroat Island was firmly entrenched in the spot with $10 million earned at the box office against a budget of $98 million along with $17 million in marketing expenses. Adjusted for inflation, Cutthroat Island lost the studio a total of $137 million and remains one of the worst financial disasters in film history.
2. 47 Ronin (2013) — estimated losses: $151 million
Although hindsight is always 20/20, looking back today, it’s clear that 47 Ronin had several issues that helped doom it from the start. First of all, though it shares the same name as a renowned Japanese epic, it has almost nothing to do with that story. As a result, the decision to name the movie 47 Ronin probably only helped to confuse fans of the previous films with that title, rather than lending any legitimacy to this version.
Second, while the studio’s decision to use mostly unknown Japanese actors in the film’s starring roles (besides Keanu Reeves) was admirable, it probably didn’t help sell the movie in the U.S. Finally, as detailed by The Wrap, the already large initial budget of $175 million soon ballooned to $225 million, in part due to expensive reshoots the studio made after it took control of the project from director Carl Rinsch.
With a story that Rotten Tomatoes describes as “a surprisingly dull fantasy adventure,” 47 Ronin failed to attract moviegoers in both the Japanese and U.S. markets, and ended up losing approximately $151 million when adjusted for inflation.
1. The 13th Warrior (1999) — estimated losses: $98–$183 million
Based on Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, Buena Vista was banking on The 13th Warrior building off the huge success of Crichton’s Jurassic Park adaptation from a few years prior. But the studio’s decision to spend huge amounts of money on the film, even by 2013 standards, ultimately backfired.
The total cost of The 13th Warrior has been debated over the years (hence the range of total losses), with some reports indicating that it might actually be the biggest box office bomb of all time. The film’s total cost is generally agreed to have been around $160 million — a stunning number in 1999. While the film wasn’t terrible at the box office, earning $61.7 million, it wasn’t nearly enough for a film with a budget that had spiraled completely out of control. In total, the film oversaw a loss of $98 to $183 million when adjusted for inflation.
Additional reporting by Nathanael Arnold and Nick Cannata-Bowman.
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!