Top 7 Most Expensive Theatrical Film Disasters | (Out of Order) When Disney Flops

Welcome to Out of Order, the show where I count subjects down – out of order. Who would’ve thought, right? When a film fails to earn it’s budget back from theatrical ticket sales they are bestowed the dismaying crown of a box office bomb. And that’s what we’ll be talking about today, the Top Seven Biggest Box Office Bombs in Cinemas. Numberwise for this list we will subtract it’s budget from the money it made, then adjust it for inflation: The larger the loss, the bigger the flop. Let’s get this show on the road.

2. CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995)

Up their with one of the most chaotic productions ever was Cutthroat Island, a swashbuckler adventure film directed by Renny Harlin who also worked on Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2. It was eventually dumped into theaters and lost:

BUDGET: $90,000,000 –
BOX OFFICE: $10,017,322 +
LOSS: $87,982,678
ADJUSTED: $149,338,472.31

Wow, 149,338,472 dollars total. Now, there’s an interesting history behind the scenes. Harlin pitched an idea for his then-wife Geena Davis, known for her roles in The Fly with Jeff “Uh” Goldblum as well as Beetlejuice, to star in an action film. The studio that produced the film, Carolco, was already deep in debt and was close to shutting down while MGM, the distribution company, couldn’t commit to promote the film as they were in the process of a buyout. Things were only worse on set, including more than two dozen crew members leaving the project, constant rewrites by an unsatisfied Harlin, even the cinematographer Oliver Wood broke his leg only one week into filming.

The management was a mess, and the lukewarm response both critically and financially reflected that. In a 2011 radio interview, Harlin admitted that Carolco was practically dead even before filming began. It’s easy to say that Cutthroat Island burned all Hollywood interest in pirate features until Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl rejuvenated the genre’s potential. Who knows, maybe I’ll talk about this movie more in the future.

3. THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH (2002)

Behold, Eddie Murphy at probably his worse in the history of his career, and that’s saying something. This is The Adventures of Pluto Nash, a film too unfit for children though too immature for adults led it to scoop up only:

BUDGET: $100,000,000 –
BOX OFFICE: $7,103,973 +
LOSS: $92,896,027
ADJUSTED: $141,339,742.48

Just over 7 million dollars. I have somewhat of a theory for it’s flop as there aren’t any reasons behind it that I could find. I believe that, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, The Adventures of Pluto Nash outed about 3/4 of demographics: It’s a PG-13 rated comedy with Eddie Murphy which ‘X’s out young folks, it’s too juvenile and silly for adults, and seniors, I could only assume, aren’t interested. This leaves only teenagers that would gobble up this movie, but even they couldn’t make up for the modest budget (for a comedy, that is).

Well, maybe critics enjoyed it? Erm, bad news for Warner Bros. – It not only lost 90 million dollars, but additionally Pluto Nash was universally despised by critics and audiences as well. Nobody really talks about Pluto Nash, and it was a challenge to scavenge for information on it’s history or Eddie Murphy’s thoughts reminiscing about it. Oh well, on to the next bomb…

6. FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (2001)

Let me take you back to medieval times of old, the year 1997. There was an idea to create CG “actors” that, like real human performers, would star in a myriad of movies as different characters. The test run of this mind-boggling breakthrough came in the form of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Well-known powerhouse actors like Tom Hanks were worried that this technique would be the future, but it was clear that when this experiment lost:

BUDGET: $137,000,000 –
BOX OFFICE: $85,131,830 +
LOSS: $51,868,170
ADJUSTED: $75,803,132.65

75 million dollars, that it just wasn’t going to work like they thought. I genuinely feel for the production team behind Final Fantasy, it feels like they were passionate about the concept of CG actors getting off the ground: one of the producers actually had the guts to compare their flick to Show White and the Seven Dwarves‘ technological achievements. It also turns out that the main computer animated personality ‘Aki Ross’ appeared in Maxim magazine’s Top One Hundred Hottest Women of 2001 issue and ranked at 87 by readers.

This dip in the “uncanny valley” has been left to be forgotten about in time, despite the given effort poured into this passion project. I wonder what an alternate reality where Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within didn’t bomb and animated actors became the norm. ‘Twas not meant to be…

1. The 13th Warrior (1999)

This is an example of just because of not receiving its profit back doesn’t equate to a bad movie: The 13th Warrior, a historical action epic crafted by the minds of Michael Crichton and John McTiernen. Despite the talent behind the movie, it wasn’t worth a trip to the cinema for audiences, losing:

BUDGET: $160,000,000 –
BOX OFFICE: $61,698,899 +
LOSS: $98,301,101
ADJUSTED: $152,631,045.65

152 million dollars, holy cow! It really was potential that got flushed down the drain when the run-of-the-mill critical response flooded onto the picture. You have the geniuses behind Jurassic Park, Die Hard, the Westworld film, and Predator; What could go wrong? Besides everything. I believe that the fact The Sixth Sense had been released three weeks prior and was a smash hit played at least a minor role in The 13th Warrior‘s financial disaster. Although critics were mostly unimpressed by the attempt, quite a bit of mainstream viewers have looked upon it favorably, with a few even claiming the movie was a neglected classic.

The 13th Warrior is a mess, but hey, audiences enjoy it. Do I think the movie deserves a critical reappraisal? I don’t know because I couldn’t figure out how to watch it; I’ll leave that decision up to you guys, my duty is to entertain you with my nerdy movie and TV knowledge. Speaking of which, let’s continue shall we…

4. MARS NEEDS MOMS (2011)

Hey, remember The Polar Express? I’m sure you do, it’s practically a staple of the holiday season. Well, the company which funded the project, Image Movers Digital, who are known for their use of motion capture CGI, closed operations in 2011 two months before their last “hurrah”, Mars Needs Moms, got released and ended up suffering a:

BUDGET: $150,000,000 –
BOX OFFICE: $39,233,678 +
LOSS: $110,766,322
ADJUSTED: $127,380,359.31

127 million dollar debt. After A Christmas Carol didn’t satisfy Disney’s thirst for money, they allowed Image Movers to produce one more film before they would cease exercise all together in 2011. Enter Simon Wells, a storyboard artist for Who Framed Roger Rabbit as well as a consultant for Back to the Future Part II and III and The Polar Express, whom was drawn to a story titled ‘Mars Needs Moms’. Wells then decided to write and direct his very own adaption of Mars Needs Moms, and Disney announced it as IMD’s final flick. If you think Final Fantasy cranked up to the red on the Creep-O-Meter, I suggest stay away from Mars Needs Moms. Trust me, it’s for the best. It’s failure was a surprise to nobody, notably due to its visuals and word-of-mouth spreading on social media networks with everyone hyping up for Battle: Los Angeles instead.

Image Movers had to put off development on a Yellow Submarine remake, a Roger Rabbit sequel, another Nutcracker adaptation (which I believe became The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) and Michael Dougherty’s Calling All Robots; Don’t worry about the latter though, as Dougherty went on to create the praised horror anthology Trick r Treat, so at least he found recognition.

We’ll return with more bombs after these messages…


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7. John Carter (2012)

These last two features just go to show that even megalomaniac corporations like Disney are immune from all gunshots fired at them. First, John Carter from 2012, based on the influential pulp series Barsoom and helmed by Andrew Stanton in his live-action debut after his directorial works on Finding Nemo and Wall-E. What’s the worse that could hap –

BUDGET: $306,600,000 (Gross) –
BOX OFFICE: $284,139,100 +
LOSS: $22,460,900
ADJUSTED: $25,306,152.12

Oh, yeah that. Okay, get comfortable if you weren’t already because we’ve got a bunch of intriguing facts about this production. Ready? Cool, so since way back in 1931 the Barsoom serials have been intended for a theatrical adaptation, being tossed around to Looney Tunes honcho Bob Clampett for a cartoon feature and even to Robert Rodriguez, before controversy involving Sin City had him replaced by Jon Favreau. Both of these attempts ended up hitting dead ends though, also being subsequently dropped for another studio to scoop up. Of course this would eventually be Walt Disney Pictures, specifically Stanton. He pitched his script to the reluctant executives, claiming it as “Indiana Jones on Mars” and a possible Star Wars competitor. By now you could tell they were on board and agreed to Stanton’s saga kickstarter.

There was plans laid out for a trilogy, but when the results came in the remaining two films were put under the guillotine regarding the path Disney and Stanton would head down. Stanton, co-writers Mark Andrews and Mike Chabon, and cast members Taylor Kitsch and Willam Dafoe pushed with the original proposal, though Disney eventually sold the rights. Here’s a fun little fact: It was planned to be titled John Carter of Mars at one point, but due to Mars Needs Moms‘ bomb a year earlier, Disney opted out, dreading deja vu. Tell me in the comments below, do you think if they kept this name it would have earned more, less, or the same amount of income? Now, let’s wrap up this episode ’cause I’m tired and I wanna be done with it.

5. The Lone Ranger (2013)

After Mars Needs Moms and John Carter managed to scrape off about three-fourths of their budget, Disney was definite they would avoid these mistakes for a third time. Don’t allow costs to spiral out of control, play it safe, and have a decent enough marketing campaign.

BUDGET: $365 Million – 400 Million –
BOX OFFICE: $260,502,115 +
LOSS: $124,500,000 (Estimated)
ADJUSTED: $138,246,161.31 (Estimated)

Too soon? So, in early 2002, Columbia Pictures had plans for a Lone Ranger full-length feature based off the titular radio and television series character. It was intended to have a tone comparable to The Mask of Zorro, another incarnation of a vigilante icon from a 60s property. After being trapped in development hell for three years, Columbia forfeited the idea, favoring to focus on their fresh new Star Trek era of movies. With that backstory, let me convert a long tale shorter and fast-forward to 2010, where Jerry Bruckheimer, known best for producing the Pirates of the Caribbean installments, has stumbled upon the Lone Ranger rights. After being bestowed permission by Disney executives, Jerry eventually lassoed up the director of the first three PotC adventures, Gore Verbinski, as well as it’s writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, the former whom had also written Mask of Zorro. I’m beginning to believe everything’s coming around full circle… are you?

After a typhoon of delays including wildfires, chickenpox outbreak and damp weather conditions led to multiple pushbacks, Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger premiered at last in 2013. And then this. It’s difficult to tell what caused it’s flop: possibilities range from the negative reviews to unfamiliarity with the source material to maybe even the graphic heart-eating moment. Whatever the reason may have been, Lone Ranger still manages to remain one of Disney’s biggest embarrassments.


And that just about completes this episode of Out of Order, check back next time for some spooky and unsolved lost media mysteries. Clickety clack down the track, I’m out.

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7 thoughts on “Top 7 Most Expensive Theatrical Film Disasters | (Out of Order) When Disney Flops

    1. Just because it flopped doesn’t make the film bad, remember! People like The 13th Warrior and a fellow dropped by to comment and told me that a lot of friends and family members he knew enjoyed John Carter.

      Like

  1. You know what the funny thing is? Me and my family just watched John Carter a while ago, and don’t ever remember it being in theaters. We told a lot of our friends about and they never heard of it. But when they all watched it they said it was a great movie! And I think Lone Ranger was too intense for a company like Disney, which supposedly centers around family movies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with Lone Ranger. Even with Pirates on their belt, which contained that mermaid scene from ‘On Stranger Tides’, they still managed to top that. Originally, the writers wrote in a supernatural element with some coyotes, that might’ve been interesting to see.

      What a coincidence about John Carter too. You can tell Andrew was really passionate, was it didn’t catch on. Thank you for stopping by and commenting! Both are greatly appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

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