5 Recent Box Office Bombs and Why They Failed

(source Disney)

The box office disaster of The Walt Disney Co.’s (NYSE:DIS) The Lone Ranger is causing many onlookers to discuss what it might mean for the immediate and long-term future of Hollywood film-making. The film is currently sitting on a worldwide box office yield of $119,101,000 on a $215 million production budget and stands to lose much more for Disney.

While it’s still possible that the film could make somewhere close to its production budget back, this doesn’t take into account the enormous amount of money spent on the film’s marketing — a number often overlooked, which now frequently eclipses the amount spent on the production of a film itself. Worldwide marketing for The Lone Ranger is reportedly about $175 million, which means the total cost for the film is over $400 million.

Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Creutz predicted a $100 million loss for Disney, but now insider sources are telling The Hollywood Reporter that the number might rise to nearly $150 million. ”It’s very disappointing,” Dave Hollis, Disney executive VP worldwide distribution, said. “Everything was perfect on paper, so today was incredibly frustrating.”

Now that that everyone is talking about The Lone Ranger as being one of the biggest box office bombs of all times, is that actually a fair statement? Here are five of the biggest recent box office disasters and how they stack up with Disney’s The Lone Ranger.

5. How Do You Know (2010), Sony

source sony

Columbia Pictures, owned by Sony Corp. (NYSE:SNE), released the romantic comedy How Do You Know in 2010. The film cost an estimated $120 million to produce and grossed only $48,668,907 at the worldwide box office.

If that production cost for a romantic comedy causes you to raise your eyebrows, you’re not the only one. The film, which starred Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson, Owen Wilson, and Paul Rudd, reportedly had $50 million tied up solely in actor salaries with the rest of the budget ballooning due to director James L. Brooks’ slow and meticulous production pace.

The film also had an unfortunate release date that coincided with Tron: Legacy, Gulliver’s Travels, and Yogi Bear. Still, the film should have had no competition in the romantic comedy genre and Sony reportedly believed the large budget film would do similar business to the film It’s Complicated, which made almost $220 million worldwide the previous winter.

It didn’t.

4. Mars Needs Moms (2011), Walt Disney Co. 

source disney

The Walt Disney Co.’s animated film Mars Needs Moms cost $150 million to make and ultimately grossed only $38,992,758 in the worldwide box office. At the time, Chuck Viane, president of distribution for Walt Disney Studios, asked, “Was it the idea? The execution? The timing? There are a lot of excuses being floated.”

The motion-capture animated film caused ImageMovers Digital, run at the time by Robert Zemeckis, to close down and was responsible for a $100 million write-off for Disney. The film, about a 9-year-old whose mother is abducted by Martians, led onlookers to question whether the market for computer animated films and family films was becoming overly saturated.

At the time, the film’s failure led the NY Times to say: “It is quite rare for a Disney release to flop as badly as Mars Needs Moms.”

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

3. The Green Lantern (2011), Warner Bros.

source warner bros.

Time Warner Inc.’s (NYSE:TWX) released The Green Lantern, based on the popular DC comic, in 2011 amidst considerable criticism from viewers and critics alike. The film cost around $200 million to produce and grossed a worldwide total of $219,851,172.

However, when marketing costs are added to the figure — which Hollywood insiders estimated was likely to have been around $100 million — the film ultimately lost Warner Bros. a little over $100 million. At the time, The Hollywood Reporter estimated that the film needed to make $500 million to be considered solid.

While Warner Bros. had planned on making a sequel, the results at the box office scared the studio away and the comic series has had an uncertain future ever since. However, a forthcoming Justice League film — the DC comics answer to The Avengers — will likely include the character.

2. Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), Warner Bros.

(source WB)

The most recent film on our list of recent box office disasters, Warner’s Jack the Giant Slayer was released on March 1st of this year and made $197,687,603 worldwide on a production budget of $195 million.

Hollywood insiders put the film on track to lose anywhere between $125 million to $140 million for Warner Bros. and its financial partner Legendary Pictures, which is now at Comcast Corp.’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Pictures. The film’s worldwide marketing budget — somewhere in the area of $100 million — was the main reason for the film’s huge financial loss.

Insiders say that the film suffered from creative differences between director and studio — the film was originally meant to be a dark R-rated fantasy rather than a family-oriented film. By all accounts, the film seems to have suffered from a big identity crisis that, when coupled with lackluster 3D, ultimately steered audiences away.

1. John Carter (2012), Walt Disney Co.

source disney

This one shouldn’t be a surprise. Disney’s costly misstep with this science-fiction blockbuster was the talk of Hollywood last year leading The Hollywood Reporter called it a “Debacle” in its headline. The film, which cost $250 million to make, made $282,778,100 at the worldwide box office.

While Disney covered its budget for the film in the worldwide box office, we’ve come to realize that production budget is only one part of the financial make-up of a film. All in all, John Carter cost the studio about $150 million, as Disney is thought to have spent about $350 million to produce and market the film.

The Hollywood Reporter said at the time that Disney thought the “break-even point” was $650 million. Ouch.

The issues surrounding the film were numerous. Along with the general consensus that the film just isn’t very good, the marketing of the film was heavily criticized — along with the title of the film. Adding to the problem was the fact that the film had no notable stars, which is incredibly important for a $250 million movie, and that the story was based on a little known series of science-fiction novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. While the series is incredibly important in the history of science-fiction writing, it doesn’t have nearly as large a fan-base as say Twilight or Harry Potter.

The failure of John Carter led one Hollywood insider to compare the impact of the film to that of Heaven’s Gate, made in 1980. Heaven’s Gate, directed by Michael Cimino, is commonly known as one of the biggest box office disasters in Hollywood history when adjusted for inflation. However, that film, even when inflation is included in that’s film’s financial report, cost $122 million, which doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.

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