From a certain point of view, things have been incredibly rosy at the domestic and worldwide box office all Summer. There have been several hits, big (Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Fast & Furious 6, Monsters University, The Great Gatsby), modest (Hangover 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Heat), and small (This is the End, Now You See Me). The combined grosses of all films playing at one time has resulted in two of the highest cumulative grossing weekends in film history. Everything’s good, right?
Well, Sony Pictures sure doesn’t think so. In May, After Earth bombed to the tune of a $32 million loss ($230 to produce/market, $198 worldwide profit), and now White House Down is running a loss north of $200 million ($300 to produce/market, $67 worldwide profit) after 2 weeks. Plus, Disney might be a little conflicted. Monsters University is bonafide hit, but they have to share 9% of Iron Man 3’s profits with Paramount (I explained why in this article). Now, The Lone Ranger is turning heads with its colossal failure ($425 million to produce/market, projected $275 worldwide profit, $150 million loss). It’s worth pointing out that the biggest box office bomb of all time, 1995’s Cutthroat Island, only lost $145 million after you adjust for inflation.
Here’s the sad thing for Disney – the same damn thing happened to them last summer wherein they suffered a huge loss on a film (John Carter) based upon antiquated source material but were saved by Marvel (The Avengers) and Pixar (Brave). Now, The Lone Ranger cost even more than John Carter, and is shaping up to be an even bigger bomb.
Since Disney apparently learned nothing, I thought we should look back at the box office loss leaders from 2003-2013 to see what lessons we learned from each failure. They are listed in ascending order meaning the last one on the list lost the most money. The cost for each film incorporates officially reported budget and estimated (unoficial) marketing/distribution costs, and the profit is worldwide gross as recorded at BoxOfficeMojo.com (and does not account for any profit from secondary sources such as home video or cable). White House Down and The Lone Ranger are exempted from this list because they are still in theaters:
What It Cost: $80 million
What It Made: $10 million
What It Lost: $70 million ($81 million after adjusting for inflation)
What We Learned: What the hell is The Great Raid? It’s 8 years later and who’s ever heard of this movie? According to Wikipedia.org, it is an historical action film depicting the 1945 liberation of the Cabanataun Prison Camp in the Philippines during World War II. It stars Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, and Joseph Fiennes, but had its release date delayed 2 full years until it finally came out in 2005 to poor reviews and general indifference on the part of the film viewing public. Its director, John Dahl, has only made one additional feature-length film since then (2007’s Ben Kingsley dark comedy You Kill Me), instead transitioning into directing television shows (with an emphasis on directing CW shows).
What It Cost: $140 million
What It Made: $72 million
What It Lost: $67 million ($82 million after adjusting for inflation)
What We Learned: Jackie Chan’s window of mega stardom closed fast, and Steve Coogan is a funny supporting actor but not a great leading man. This intentionally anachronistic new version of the classic Jules Verne novel apparently did well on home video, but at the box office it bombed hard. It would be 4 years before Coogan delighted audiences by blowing up early on in Tropic Thunder, and after this Chan returned to making his smaller budget action films and occasional comedies which played well on the international market. He would, however, return to the states for another regrettable Rush Hour film, and then turn into the best part of the Karate Kid remake.
What It Cost: $74 million
What It Made: $7 million
What It Lost: $66 million ($83 million after adjusting for inflation)
What We Learned: If the tabloids and other celebrity gossip outlets refuse to stop talking about certain celebrity couples the general public will and can absolutely turn on said couple who may or may not have even done anything wrong. Plus, the world was willing to accept Ben Affleck converting a lesbian into straight sex in Chasing Amy when it didn’t know who the hell Affleck was. When he does with Jennifer Lopez in Gigli? The world threw up a little bit in its collective mouth.
What It Cost: $295 million
What It Made: $197 million
What It Lost: $97 million (no need to adjust for inflation since it came out this year)
What We Learned: When you see a trailer for a big budget Summer movie and then Summer actually arrives and that film is nowhere to be found it’s an incredibly bad sign. That’s exactly what happened when a film named Jack the Giant Killer debuted its initial trailers in early 2012 and promised a mid-June release. However, Warner Bros. delayed the release 9 months to March of the current year, and changed the title to the slightly less violent Jack the Giant Slayer. The extra time was supposed to help finish/improve special effects, and ramp up marketing by pairing final trailers in December with the new Hobbit film. Plus, another thing we learned is that we should seriously temper our enthusiasm for the next X-Men film considering that Bryan Singer is directing it, and based off of his work as director of Jack the Giant Slayer he’s not the same guy who made that awesome second X-Men movie anymore.
What It Cost: $325 million
What It Made: $220 million
What It Lost: $105 million ($107 million after adjusting for inflation)
What We Learned: When Christopher Nolan is not involved, Warner Bros. and DC may simply not know what they’re doing. Plus, Ryan Reynolds may look and act like a movie star, but audiences repeatedly inform the studios with their lack of patronage that they just don’t like the guy. And Marvel can pull off an otherworldly comic book character (Thor) by making him an idiot abroad on Earth and giving him a Shakespearean struggle with his father and brother while Warner Bros./DC clearly had no idea whatsoever how to pull of an equally otherworldly comic book character and concept (Green Lantern). Having Ryan Reynolds smirk at the silliness on occasion? Not nearly enough.
What It Cost: $170 million
What It Made: $76 million
What It Lost: $93 million ($110 million after adjusting for inflation)
What We Learned: You can’t simply re-make Top Gun but add a sci-fi twist and cast hot young actors and expect to start building new summer homes off of the profits. Plus, audiences are savvier than film studios think. Jamie Foxx was a hot property at the time, having just won his Oscar the year prior for Ray, but the awkward trailers for Stealth which tried to mislead audiences into thinking Foxx was the leading man (when he’s clearly a supporting player) didn’t fool nearly enough people. Also, Jessica Biel’s curves are not enough on their own to get people to care, even if you do strip her down to a bikini in the film.
What It Cost: $200 million
What It Made: $94 million
What It Lost: $106 million ($113 million after adjusting for inflation)
What We Learned: Adapting a horribly confusing Japanese anime cartoon series into a live-action film and inexplicably heightening the bright color quotient and added epilepsy-inducing kinetic editing was a horrible idea. The Wachowskis as directors were no longer to be trusted, after this and what they had done to the Matrix franchise with those two sub-par sequels (especially the last one). Emile Hirsch’s bid at film stardom was short-lived. And no matter how many tie-in marketing deals you do with companies (General Mills, McDonalds, Target, Topps, Mattel, Lego) you can’t force people to see something they have no interest in no matter how many points of exposure you generate.
What It Cost: $175 million
What It Made: $39 million
What It Lost: $136 million ($139 million after adjusting for inflation)
What We Learned: Creepy ass motion capture animation is not the wave of the future, at least not yet. “Thank God!” says everyone who was traumatized by the horribly unsettling uncanny valley of prior motion capture animation films A Christmas Carol and Polar Express.
What It Cost: $241 million
What It Made: $119 million
What It Lost: $121 million ($143 million after adjusting for inflation)
What We Learned: That we we liked Matthew McConaughey, just not in this kind of movie, and that Penelope Cruz’ hotness has its limits.
What It Cost: $145 million
What It Made: $25 million
What It Lost: $119 million ($144 million after adjusting for inflation)
What We Learned: That no one cared about nor remembered the Alamo, big budget historical action films had had their day for a while after Gladiator but that day was now over, and westerns simply do not sell very well outside of America (and sometimes they don’t sell at all anywhere).
Source(s): BoxOfficeMojo.com, Wikipedia.org
Note: All box office numbers come from BoxOfficeMojo.com; all estimates as to budget and marketing costs come from a combination of BoxOfficeMojo.com and industry sources (usually The Hollywood Reporter).
I know what you’re thinking – wait, where’s Battleship and John Carter? The press wouldn’t shut up last year about how much those films lost. Here’s the thing, though – Battleship absolutely killed it overseas. It was a huge bomb domestically, but it ended up making $303 million worldwide. By some projections, it cost $309 to produce/market meaning it lost $6 million (a lot of money to the majority of people on Earth, but as far as big budget films go that barely registers as a significant loss). John Carter cost an estimated $350 million to produce/market and ended with $283 million worldwide profit for a $67 million loss.
Here’s the thing, though – everything I’ve reported above is actually worse than it seems. Film studios generally split profits 50/50 with the theaters. So, for a film to become profitable it has to at least double its production budget. For example, John Carter grossed $283 million worldwide. If Disney split that 50/50 with theaters that means Disney’s take home portion of that gross was only $141.5 million. However, they spent $250 million to produce the film. Moreover, they spent more on marketing for the film (an estimated $150 million) than the film actually earned in pure, non-shared profit for them. So, all of the films I listed above are even bigger bombs than the already bad numbers indicate. Plus, the estimated budgets and marketing costs often come from publicly reported estimates released to film studios’ stockholders, but sometimes they are simply estimates which are widely believed to be under-reported meaning the film cost even more than the studio is willing to admit.
Hi, this is Kelly. I’m sorry that my article is over now, but if you leave your (nick)name and thoughts on this matter via the comments I promise I’ll get right back to you with a response comment. Thanks.