These promising films were spectacular box office failures.
A brilliant script. A known director. A star-studded cast. A budget that could sustain a small town for a century. It’s a project that, by all logic, should hit every major demographic and be a surefire success. Sometimes the equation is even sweetened by the fact that the project is based on an existing recognizable property that alone will do half the marketing. All the makings of a Hollywood winner, right? Not always. At times all this chemistry adds up to explosive box office failures.
In order to break even with a film, studios look to make about three times the production budget worldwide. That’s because, due to various distribution deals, of course the studio doesn’t get to keep every penny.
While filmmakers can put together all the familiar elements of a box office hit, film production is ultimately always a gamble. Here are seven box office failures that defied the formulas for success. We salute you, ashy trail of smoke cutting across the sky. May you crash and burn with dignity.
7. The 13th Warrior (1999)
Remember 1999? I do. The clothes and hair were atrocious. But it was also a time for some pretty good movies. The 13th Warrior is based on Eaters of the Dead by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton. On a dare from one of his author friends, Crichton wrote Eaters as more or less a tweaked version of Beowulf, in which Grendel and his mother aren’t monsters but cave-dwelling cannibals. Sounds like it’d make a great movie, right? And since Crichton’s work had already been adapted many times to great success, there was no reason a sword-and-sandals Vikings vs. cannibals project couldn’t be another feather in the author’s cap.
The film has problems — like Antonio Banderas’ character learning Norwegian in one night by eavesdropping from across a campfire. But story issues aside, The 13th Warrior is a fun, if unbalanced, movie with a lot going for it, including great set design and costumes and fight sequences. Unfortunately, of the money it took to bring all that to the screen ($160 million), the studio saw a return of only $61.6 million. Ouch.
6. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)
Banderas appeared in another box office disappointment a few years later, starring opposite Lucy Liu in the mouthful of a title Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, which made back only roughly a quarter of its $70 million budget.
5. The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
I don’t think anyone believed in the character of Riddick more than Vin Diesel did. The character first appeared in Pitch Black, which was a surprise sci-fi hit made on a modest budget. But the continued shenanigans of Stabby-Stabby See in The Dark Guy failed to impress both critically and commercially. The Chronicles of Riddick reportedly lost nearly $100 million. No Country for Old Men could be made twice for what The Chronicles of Riddick lost and still have some money left over.
But since DVD sales will once in a while convince a studio to take another chance on a franchise, there was a third appearance from Richard B. Riddick in 2013 with, you guessed it, Riddick. While it didn’t convince any critics to change their minds, Riddick fared well at the box office, grossing a worldwide total of $98.3 million, even opening number one the weekend of its release. So maybe we haven’t seen the last of Riddick, after all. Can I stop typing Riddick now?
4. The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)
There must be something about titling a film The Adventures of [What’s-His-Face] or The Chronicles of [Blank]. The aforementioned The Chronicles of Riddick (I had to write it one more time, after all) was a flop. But so were The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000) and the Eddie Murphy comeback attempt, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, which lost $88 million and $128 million respectively.
3. Titan A.E. (2000)
Advertised for upwards of two years before its release, Titan AE had a lot going for it. An inventive mix of both traditional hand-drawn animation with computer-generated imagery, a sci-fi story the whole family could enjoy, the voice talents of Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore, and a soundtrack that included Jamiroquai, Powerman 5000, and ’90s vanishing act Lit. But for everything going for it, Titan AE just didn’t manage to glue many butts to seats. With its $75 million budget, the project touted as the next Star Wars brought in only $36.7 million.
2. Cutthroat Island (1995)
Renny Harlin: he’s directed so many almost-great things. Cliffhanger. Deep Blue Sea. Die Hard 2: Die Harder. And my personal favorite of his: the all-but-forgotten The Long Kiss Goodnight. Though he’s done a great job of recovering since the disastrous financial failure of Cutthroat Island — which is honestly a really fun time — one can only wince when looking over the numbers. It made off with only $18 million from a treasure chest of a $98 million budget. Yikes.
Again, like many of these movies, Cutthroat Island had a lot going for it. The always-incredible Geena Davis, mainly. But also a fun swashbuckling plot the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Errol Flynn graced the big screen. Add lush production design, and all these elements together should’ve produced a hit. I’m sure the execs thought so too. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out like that. Look at Waterworld.
1. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
Since the release of Cutthroat Island in 1995, there’s been no shortage of box office failures —Treasure Planet, Stealth, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, to name a few. But it wasn’t until 2017 that Cutthroat Island was dethroned (probably to Renny Harlin’s relief more than anybody’s) as the biggest bomb of them all. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, like every other title on this list, had all the ingredients for a smash hit. An appealing story: King Arthur, which is an evergreen story if there ever was one. A name director: Guy Ritchie had seen success with both Sherlock Holmes and his rowdy band of pikeys in Snatch. And a familiar cast: for example, Charlie Hunnam’s star was on the rise after Pacific Rim and the hugely successful Sons of Anarchy. But, alas, brave knights, it was not in the cards for thee and thine. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was blasted by critics, receiving a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. Poor critical reviews aren’t always the nail in the coffin, though. Consider the commercially viable Transformers movies. But King Arthur: Legend of the Sword lost $150 million. That’s three and a half No Country for Old Mens, on just the loss alone.