Sometimes you wonder who actually thought a certain movie would make any money at all, much less profit on the however many thousands of dollars went into the production budget. There are a lot of crappy movies made. Other times you are excited for a film or there’s a lot of hype surrounding it, but upon release it disappoints. These are box office flops. Sometimes films can still turn things around when they are released to home video, but that’s the exception not the rule. Looking at how little money some movies made can be both funny and sad, so let’s start! Disclaimer: All facts and figures are taken from BoxOfficeMojo.com.
To begin, not all films are released in thousands of theaters and hence not all films can make hundreds of thousands of dollars, much less millions. Still, when you make sure to adjust your filter as needed divisions can still be made. For example, a film titled Redneck Carnage was released in a single theater Halloween weekend this year and made a whooping $325 dollars. No thousands or millions, just $325. It cost $20,000 to make, so someone lost money there. This is the fate of many indie films. You can make them for cheap and easily pull a profit, or have fun with a larger budget but also stress over the need to make that money back. Horror films capitalize on small budget margins.
Gus Van Sant released a film, produced by Ron Howard, titled Restless on 16 September in a total of 126 theaters. This is a nice release for a smaller production, but it only made $163,000 on an $8 million budget. Opps. Similarly, Machine Gun Preacher, starring Gerard Butler, cost $30 million and only made $1 million. Mega-flop. Big time. Movies like this hurt. Compare these to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which has only been released in 16 theaters and yet pulled in $24 million and you can see the difference. It has to be asked why one film is released limited and profits while another film that should be released widely is not. This is where things get into the deeper statistics of how movie marketing and distribution works, but the key is to remember it’s always the theater that decides to run a film, not the studio. Hence, studios sometimes overestimate how large their market is for a project, or a certain star.
Sometimes films make just over their production budget, but you have to remember that number does not include the promotional budget, so even then there may have been a loss. For the most part I tried to limit my films to obvious flops or films that were expected to hit big and did not. I’ll run through a quick list of some other obvious flops, keeping in mind not all of them had budgets listed.
Anonymous – $14 million, cost $30 million – a Roland Emmerich film, so he should know better
Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 – $4 million, cost $20 million – laughable
The Big Year – $7 million, cost $41 million – starring Jack Black and released in over 2,000 theaters, so there’s no excuse here
Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs Evil! – $16 million, cost $30 million
Straw Dogs – $10 million, cost $25 million
The Rum Diary – $21 million, cost $45 million – Johnny Depp, suppose to be a popular character
Dream House – $38 million, cost $50 million – Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz
Your Highness – $24 million, cost $50 million – suppose to capitalize on the Portman/McBride/Franco trend
It’s easy to see how $325 is a flop, but $24 million still seems like a lot of money. It is, but when the movie cost $50 million to make that puts your in the red. There are also the films that should have made more money but did not, and are still considered flops even if there is a small margin of profit involved. Here’s where you’ll probably start to recognize more of the films because almost all of these received wide releases worldwide.
Glee the 3D Concert Movie – It pulled $18 million on a $9 million budget and will make much more in home video, but still. This movie was made because the Glee brand is suppose to be mega dollar. Instead Fox discovered the Glee trend might be dying out as people become dissatisfied with the recent season of the hit television program. Had this film released a year ago it would have made much, much more in ticket sales.
The Thing – $27 million on a $38 million budget, so a flop, but it was also meant to be a prequel with hopes of revitalizing a franchise.
Conan the Barbarian – $48 million on a $90 million budget, so mega flop. This film was grouped with the rest of 2011’s summer of superheroes as a potential franchise reboot, but it doesn’t look like that sequel will be made after all considering how overwhelmingly audiences told Lionsgate they could care less about Conan. It’s kind of sad because I like Jason Mamoa from Game of Thrones, but some things just are not meant to be. This is one of them.
Mars Needs Moms – $38 million on a $150 million budget, so another mega flop. The sad bit here is that animated films are suppose to be successful. They’re simple fun for the whole family and thus usually a safe bet. For whatever reason (we could analyze but it’s pointless) this film didn’t quite make that cut, and Buena Vista lost major dollars in the process. I guess when you’re going against Dreamworks and Pixar it’s hard for another animated films to squeeze in.
Sucker Punch – $89 million on $82 million, but this is Zack Snyder of 300 and Watchmen. He’s a very stylistic director who is even loved or hated. I like him, but I think Warner Bros. expected slightly more people to like him than did. Part of it might be all of the feminist backlash against the film while it also might be one of those films you want to see but not buy a ticket to see. It’s kind of disappointing, but also doesn’t look to have hurt Snyder’s career considering his current project: Man of Steel. Take some, you lose some. The important thing in this business is to keep pushing forward.
Happy Feet Two – $114 million on undisclosed, but less than that. The first Happy Feet was a surprise hit due in large part to its awesome soundtrack. The sequel is a long time coming, but apparently so long that the dancing penguin trend has faded out. It’s suppose to fall into that family movie for the winter holidays crowd but somehow missed the train, so let’s hope people rent it. I’ve heard good things and personally want to see the film, but it should be no surprise that critical opinion rarely factors into box office. Suffice to say we probably won’t see a Happy Feet Three.
Cowboys & Aliens – $174 on $163, but this is Jon Favreau of Iron Man and Elf. He’s suppose to be good, especially when given Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. Despite being a graphic novel adaptation, sometimes audiences just cannot get past the apparently cheesiness and unoriginality of a film, especially when the cliches are apparent in the title itself. The movie wasn’t bad, but it’s tricky to defend against haters. Still, Paramount expected it to pull much bigger numbers as a major summer blockbuster release, and it did not. Our review.
Green Lantern – $219 on $200, not included the crap ton of promotion Warner Bros. did for this film. I’m going to stake a claim that Green Lantern is the most disappointing film of 2011 for several reasons. To start, it’s a superhero movie starring mega-star Ryan Reynolds, so it should be a blockbuster hit. Second, it’s the first DC superhero film after Nolan’s Dark Knighttrilogy has revolutionized how audiences see the genre, so a lot of people looked to this film as an example of what DC plans to do with the rest of its potential franchises (Flash, Justice League, so on). Third, this movie looked really awesome. The first trailer sucked, but the WonderCon trailer was amazing and promised tons of sweet Oa scenes. This was regret-tingly one of my most anticipated films of the summer. Our review.
The movie isn’t “bad,” but it’s also not as good as it could be or should be. Ryan Reynolds is cool but not Robert Downey amazing. For a DC title, it’s very cheesy Marvel. We don’t expect all DC films to be gritty realistic portrayals of superheroes, but Green Lantern reads more like 2001 Spiderman than 2011 Captain America. The genre has come a long way in ten years and this film seemed to miss that. Worst of all, it failed to deliver on all its promises. The story was cheesy, the villain was stupid and the final battle sequence, as always, was short and truncated. Oa was shifted into mostly montage sequences despite all the additional funds Warner Bros. pumped into the visual effects team so it would look good. I blame the writing, but either way this film was very disappointing and showed as much both critically and in its box office failure.
So there you go, what I consider examples of box office flops from 2011. We’ll always have them simply because there are too many movies competing for our tickets, but it’s fun to look at why certain films failed, rather it was a surprise (Happy Feet Two) or not (Conan). Any that I left off the list? Speaking of flops, what about general films that disappointed you, leaving out box office gain? In my next article, I’ll sum up some cool trivia facts about 2011’s box office before ending things by looking forward to 2012. Stay tuned!