12 Box Office Flops That Were Doomed To Fail

Over 500 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 12 Box Office Flops That Were Doomed To Fail
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Vote up the blockbusters that never had a chance.

Every year there are films that become very successful at the box office. It could be a film made on a limited budget that comes out of nowhere to grab the attention of audiences, or it could be a big blockbuster with a huge production budget and equally large marketing campaign that builds buzz about the film weeks - or even months - before it is released.

The flip side of these financially successful projects is the films that spectacularly fail to live up to expectations at the box office. These unfortunate films are often derided as “flops.” If one looks closely enough, it can be seen that many of these box office “flops” were doomed to fail right from the start. 

For example, maybe there are production issues that cause the film to fall behind schedule or go over budget. Or perhaps the marketing campaign goes with a strategy that fails to build any buzz. Maybe the market for a particular genre of movie is oversaturated, resulting in audience fatigue.

Of course, not all films that are considered “flops” actually lose money. Even if it may not make back its production and marketing costs on its original release, a movie can still eventually do so through revenue streams such as home video sales, television residuals, merchandise, or re-releases.

Here are some of the more memorable “flops" in Hollywood history. Which ones do you think were seemingly doomed to fail?

  • 1
    478 VOTES

    ‘Cats’ Lost Everything In Translation And Was Reliant On Horribly Overworked VFX Artists

    Cats, the musical composed by Andrew Lloyd-Webber based on T.S. Eliot's poetry collection “Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats,” was a monster hit on stage. The original London production ran for 21 years and 8,949 performances, while the original Broadway production ran for 18 years and 7,485 performances. But the musical fantasy about cats holding an annual ball where they compete for the chance to “ascend to the Heaviside Layer” and be granted a new life was a disaster when adapted as a feature film. Lloyd-Webber himself was one of the many to blast the movie, as he told The Sunday Times (U.K.):

    The problem with the film was that [director] Tom Hooper decided that he didn’t want anybody involved in it who was involved in the original show. The whole thing was ridiculous.

    Most notably, the film's visual effects were widely panned. In fact, the reviews were so bad that shortly after the film opened, Universal Pictures decided to release a different version of it. The studio even sent a release to movie theaters, which read in part: “DCDC and Deluxe-Technicolor will be sending updated FTR-20 SMPTE DCPs of Cats, which include some improved visual effects. The runtime is unchanged.” In December 2019, Deadline reported that Hooper had been working on the film's visual effects right up to the film's actual release, and The Daily Beast reported that the VFX teams were horribly overworked for months in April 2020.

    The studio had hoped that the star-studded ensemble cast, which included Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, and James Corden, plus the extensive marketing campaign, would result in the film earning at least $15 million in its opening weekend. Instead, the film earned only around $6.5 million at the domestic box office - an abysmal total for a movie with approximately $100 million in production costs alone. In the end, the studio reportedly lost nearly $114 million on Cats.

    478 votes
  • Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was made into a feature film five times - in 1907, 1925, 1959, 2003, and 2016. The 1959 adaptation was successful both at the box office and with the critics as it won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. But the 2016 version of the tale, promoted as a “reimagining” of the story, was a colossal flop. Made on a budget of approximately $100 million, it earned just over $11 million at the North American box office in its opening weekend and managed around $95 million worldwide in its theatrical run.

    There were many theories tossed up regarding why the film failed so spectacularly. These theories include the fact that the film was heavily focused on the faith-based aspects of the story and that it was marketed primarily to Christian audiences in the U.S. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film performed better in the South and Southwest, where communities are more church-oriented, than it did in the West or Northwest. As one rival studio executive told Variety, “They made this very expensive movie for a very small audience. They were banking too heavily on that faith-based audience. It was a big miss.”

    Other factors that played a part in the film's poor commercial showing were that a relatively unknown actor (Jack Huston) was cast in the role made famous by Charlton Heston and that younger audiences may not have been all that familiar with the story of Ben-Hur. People aged 25 or under made up just 6 percent of the film's audience on its opening weekend. Another problem was that historical epics, in general, had seemingly fallen out of favor with movie audiences.

    360 votes

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  • 3
    227 VOTES

    ‘Monster Trucks’ Saw Paramount Waste $125 Million On A D.O.A. Franchise

    In 2013, Adam Goodman, then the chairman of Paramount Pictures, came up with the idea of developing an animated feature film about monster trucks after seeing how much his 3-year-old son loved playing with toy trucks. The project was approved in the hope that it could become successful, a la the Transformers franchise. The film was initially scheduled for release in Summer 2015 but was pushed back to Christmas. When Goodman was fired in February of that year, the project no longer had anyone at the studio to advocate for it. The release date was pushed back a couple more times, finally settling on a January 2017 date. 

    The first trailer for the $125 million project was widely ridiculed when it was released in June 2016. If that weren't bad enough, in September, Viacom announced that it expected to take a $115 million write-down “related to the expected performance of an unreleased film.” That unreleased film was quickly revealed to be Monster Trucks. Clearly, the film was expected to be a huge failure even before it was released, so why would audiences take it seriously? 

    Among its problems was that Monster Trucks was heavily oriented to appeal to kids instead of a broad audience. Because it was an original idea rather than being based on a television show, cartoon, or comic book, it lacked the marketing power of a well-known brand. In the end, the film that Paramount Pictures had put so much money behind grossed approximately $11 million at the North American box office when it was released over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Deadline estimated that the studio lost more than $120 million on the project, making it one of the biggest box office bombs of 2017.

    227 votes

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  • When Ishtar was released in May 1987, the Dustin Hoffman/Warren Beatty starrer earned just $4.3 million in its opening weekend and received mixed (at best) reviews. Not only was that a disappointing number for a film that cost around $51 million to make, it was also well less than the $8 million the studio reportedly spent to promote and market the movie.

    The poor results should have come as no surprise to no one, as Ishtar had been a troubled production from the start. It arrived in theaters five months behind schedule and $23 million over its original budget of $28 million. Anonymous sources told The New York Times that Beatty pitched the idea to Columbia Pictures' chairman Guy McElwaine, who bought the project without even seeing a script. The film had a 94-day shooting schedule, lengthy for what was supposed to be a “small” comedy, and was mainly shot on location in Morocco, which upped the production costs.

    Another problem was that Beatty, Hoffman, and writer/director Elaine May - all considered perfectionists - had different visions of what the film should be. Reportedly, each of them worked on a different rough cut, which meant that three different editing teams were working long hours assembling distinct versions of the movie. By the time the film finally opened, McElwaine was out at Columbia Pictures, meaning the new exec had no ties to its success or failure. After the poor opening weekend, Ishtar was dubbed by some in the industry as “Warrensgate” - a reference to the notorious 1980 box office flop Heaven's Gate. The film ended up grossing only around $14.5 million at the worldwide box office.

    186 votes

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  • In 2002, Vin Diesel starred in the action-thriller XXX, portraying Xander "Triple X" Cage, a thrill-seeking anti-establishment extreme sports athlete. A target of the authorities, he is offered a job as a spy with the National Security Agency in return for amnesty. The film became a hit, and a sequel was planned. But Diesel and director Rob Cohen declined to return. Diesel reportedly stated that the script "didn’t feel like XXX to me.” He also allegedly didn't want to do two back-to-back sequels, having just filmed The Chronicles of Riddick

    Instead, rapper/actor Ice Cube was hired as the sequel's star, playing a new character in former Navy SEAL Darius Stone. At the time of his hiring, Ice Cube was hot off the heels of Barbershop and the third installment of the Friday series. While XXX was an over-the-top action-adventure film with its lead being an adrenaline junkie, the sequel was more of a straightforward political action-thriller. According to screenwriter Simon Kinberg, that is what he and the producers were trying for. In the commentary on the movie's DVD, Kinberg explained:

    [The sequel is] less of a straight-up action-adventure movie [than the original]. And that was part of the challenge of making the sequel, was to give it all the bells and whistles and all the action that people expect of the franchise, but also make it a little more like the '70s thrillers that we both love, like The Parallax View and All the President's Men, Three Days of the Condor

    Audiences clearly didn't like the change in direction, as XXX: State of the Union ended up grossing just over $70 million worldwide. Although the film was said to have had an $87 million budget, it has been reported that it actually cost about $113.1 million to make. It also got generally poor reviews, with critics focusing on an overreliance on CGI and the confusing script. The absence of Diesel was also decried, although some critics praised Ice Cube's performance. The film's poor performance signaled the end of Columbia Pictures' role as the film series' distributor. However, Paramount Pictures later stepped in to distribute the third film in the series, XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, in 2017.

    317 votes

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  • Loosely based on the video game series of the same name, 2001's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the first-ever photorealistic computer-generated animated feature film. With production and marketing costs totaling around $130 million, it was also the most expensive film based on a video game at the time of release. It featured the voices of Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, and Peri Gilpin, with the plot revolving around a group of humans as they attempt to save a post-apocalyptic world from a bunch of deadly aliens known as the Phantoms.

    The film was co-produced by Square Pictures (a division of video game company Square) and Columbia Pictures. According to interviews with several Square Pictures executives, Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy video game franchise, was determined to expand Square‘s work to include movie production. As Tomoyuki Takechi, Square’s President and chief executive officer recalled:

    Square was a very ambitious company, and as a digital entertainment company, we were talking about wanting to be bigger than Disney. So we were thinking, ‘OK, what is a digital entertainment company? What’s the definition?’ And then we came across the idea of, ‘We’re not just a company that makes games. So why don’t we make movies as well?’

    The film had an original budget of about $70 million, but that budget ballooned to nearly twice that amount. Even before the film was released, there was doubt that it would be successful, as earlier films based on video games had struggled at the box office. Ultimately, it earned around $85 million worldwide while receiving generally poor reviews. The fact that Square had no experience with feature film production, let alone with big-budgeted productions, was cited as a major reason for the movie flopping. As a result, Sakaguchi stopped doing video game production and left Square in 2003. That same year the company merged with Japanese video game publisher Enix, becoming Square Enix, and Square Pictures shut down completely.

    198 votes

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