Unfortunately for creative types and lovers of bold, original cinema, the evidence doesn’t add up in support of original projects for big movie studios looking to rake in the dollars. Tomorrowland is just one example of an original new idea that Disney took a risk on only to have the company’s tactic of making an endless cycle of remakes and sequels confirmed as the best way to go. While this is bad for cinematic creativity, it seems to be good for Disney’s bottom line. Here’s a look at some of the company’s biggest flops.
Tomorrowland comes from the creative mind of Pixar’s Brad Bird, who was responsible for The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and stars George Clooney. Given that talent, there was high expectations for the film, but it got lackluster reviews that said despite the incredible visuals, the film suffers from uneven storytelling. It has a mediocre 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Tomorrowland has made $93.4 million domestically and $115.2 million in international markets for a total of over $208.6 million on a budget of $190 million. The analysts who spoke with THR estimated that Disney dropped an additional $150 million on marketing for the film, so the company isn’t going to come close to covering its costs on this movie. Still, one can’t fault Disney for taking the chance with a director like Bird and a star like Clooney, even in a current climate that doesn’t seem to support big-budget original projects.
2. The Lone Ranger
Tomorrowland was called the biggest Disney flop since 2013’s The Lone Ranger. Though this isn’t technically one of the many Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, it sort of is, reuniting Johnny Depp with director Gore Verbinski and seeing Depp in a ridiculous costume playing an over-the-top character. Unfortunately for Disney, this wasn’t nearly as successful as Pirates and caused the company and Depp a lot of bad press. The movie got a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics saying not even Depp’s weird charisma could save the film from its own boring script and turgid length, which was caused in part by too many action scenes. The movie only made $89 million domestically and $171 million in international markets, for a total of $260 million worldwide on a budget of $215 million, which doesn’t include marketing costs. This not only was bad for Disney, but is also cited as a film that marks the beginning of the downfall of Depp’s recent career.
3. John Carter
Disney dropped $250 million on this 2012 adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel starring Taylor Kitsch and ended up with a $200 million write-down that the company’s shareholders were not happy about. Kitsch stars as the titular character, a former military captain who’s tired of war and finds himself transported to Mars where he becomes embroiled in a conflict with the Martians that live on the planet. Unfortunately mass audiences weren’t too interested in a retelling of the classic bit of sci-fi literature led by a relatively unknown actor. It also got lackluster reviews, with a 51% on Rotten Tomatoes, that said despite the visual thrills, the movie is occasionally incomprehensible in both plot and characterization. John Carter made $73 million domestically and $211 million in international markets for a total of $284 million on a production budget of $250 million.
4. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Given the subtitle on this one, Disney probably had plans to spin it into a franchise that never materialized when the video game-based movie failed to make back the money poured into its $200 million production budget. Gyllenhaal plays a prince in sixth century Persia who must defend the coveted Sands of Time, a powerful gift from the gods that allow the owner to turn back time, from falling into the wrong hands. The film was met with some whitewashing accusations and backlash when Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as a Persian character, and again we have lackluster reviews saying the film has little to no substance, though it is an improvement on most video game adaptations, with a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie only made $90 million in the States, but did better overseas with $245 million for a total of $336 million. That exceeds the movie’s production budget, but it’s far from enough of a success to spin it into the franchise Disney was likely planning for it.
5. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
This 2010 film starring Nicholas Cage is based on the segment from Fantasia of the same name — better be careful about that live-action Night on Bald Mountain remake, Disney — and through this movie Disney fans realized that no one cares about The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment without Mickey Mouse. This wasn’t necessarily a huge failure, the movie made $215 million in total on a budget of $150 million, but with marketing costs Disney probably only broke about even on this. The company likely wasn’t planning to only break even on a movie based on one of its classic tentpole properties starring one of the biggest actors in Hollywood. Critics accused the movie of being unimaginative and boring and it got a 41% on Rotten Tomatoes. The company certainly has higher hopes for that Night on Bald Mountain remake.
6. Treasure Planet
This 2002 animated revisioning of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is one movie Disney wishes they never made. While re-doing the classic tale of Treasure Island in outer space using the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emma Thompson sounds like a good idea, Treasure Planet didn’t come close to recouping the money the company spent on it. The movie only made $38 million domestically and $71 million in international markets for a total of $109 million worldwide on a production budget of $140 million, and that’s not counting marketing expenses. Not even the fact that this movie got decent reviews — 68% on Rotten Tomatoes — could get people into theaters to see it.
One of Walt Disney’s earliest “flops” is a film that’s now considered to be one of his greatest artistic achievements. Fantasia was first released in 1940 and nearly bankrupted the studio as Disney spent more and more money to realize his artistic vision. According to Listverse (which also writes about other early Disney classics that were surprisingly not financial successes) Walt pushed the budget to $2.3 million and the running time to over two hours as he spent more and more on visual effects and the stunning musical score. When the movie was first released, it didn’t play in many markets as the country was still recovering from the Great Depression and Europe was on the brink of war. Even harder to believe, upon release Fantasia got bad reviews. It wasn’t until multiple re-releases and a new audience discovered it during the 1960s that this film began to really be appreciated for the beautiful achievement that it is, as well as make back the money it cost to make.
Box office data courtesy Box Office Mojo.
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