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Notorious Mega-Flops That Actually Made Way More Money Than You Think

Updated November 10, 2020 8.7k votes 1.3k voters 88.7k views15 items

List RulesVote up the films you're most surprised weren't huge bombs.

In the world of modern cinema, studios make huge losses on films that doesn't live up to expectations. When budgets reach sums totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, with marketing campaigns that are equally as expensive, a disappointing release can prove incredibly costly. The unfortunate news for executives is, this happens all too often. Not every movie can be a hit, and there are dozens of massive box office bombs released every year.

However, not all notorious mega-flops lose money; more often than you might think, films regarded as disasters by the press narrative are victim to a misconstrued truth that gives rise to bizarre alternate reality rife with profitable movies regarded as flops. Peter Jackson's King Kong, which you may not even think of as a flop, is one such film, as press quotes from the time of the film's release will show. 

When worldwide box office receipts or DVD and Blu-ray sales are taken into account, films regarded as flops are suddenly successful. Because of this, certain movies everyone believes were failures actually proved profitable for the studios behind them, though it some cases it took years for this to happen. Take a look at some of these flops that didn't flop and see if you thought they lost millions at the cinema.

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  • So Oliver Stone, the man behind 20th century political masterpieces JFK and Platoon, elected to make a three-hour movie about an ancient Macedonia who amassed one of the largest empires in history and went undefeated in battle. Sure, okay. Why not? Oh, an Irishman plays Alexander? That's... weird.

    Audiences didn't go along for the ride with Stone, and Alexander frequently finds itself on lists of the biggest box office disasters of all time. Though the movie made $167 million on a budget of $150 million, those figures don't take into account promotional costs, or that movie theaters keep as much as half of the box office revenue. Given this, it's been estimated Alexander lost about $71 million. And yet, all things considered, it probably made its money back in the long run. 

    What these figures don't take into account is the unexpected success of Alexander on home release formats. It has been released four times, as the theatrical cut (175 mins), a Director's Cut (167 mins), a Final Cut (214 mins), and an Ultimate Cut (207 mins). As of 2006, the theatrical and Director's cut DVDs had sold a combined 3.5 million copies. As of 2012, the Final Cut (also called Alexander Revisited) had sold around a million copies.

    So that's 4.5 million DVDs sold, and a whole other version not left uncounted. If you assume each copy sold for $15 (which is a low estimate, given how expensive DVDs are in the weeks immediately after release, and how many copies sell in the first few weeks of release), that's $67.5 million, just a bit shy of the $71 million in estimated losses.

    Sure these numbers aren't iron clad, but it's also probably not a terrible estimate. Assuming sales of the Ultimate Cut were comparable to those of previous version, and even marginal sales increases in the first two releases since 2006, it would seem as though Alexander finds itself in profits. In 2017, the Ultimate Cut was added to Netflix, which earned the studio yet more money. 

    A reappraisal of the film published on RogerEbert.com in 2014 states the movie did "eventually make back its production costs," though it's unclear whether this simply means the movie grossed more than it cost to make, or whether it recouped all expenses when factoring in marketing costs, theater take, and home video sales. 

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  • The 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still is not a good movie. Critics didn't like it, and it didn't make much money in domestic release. On a budget of $80 million, not taking any marketing costs into consideration, it only earned $79,366,978 in the United States. To say it's remembered as a flop is probably untrue, because most people don't remember this movie at all. 

    As with countless other films on this list, foreign box office and home release sales came to the rescue for The Day the Earth Stood Still. The movie earned $153,726,881 at the international box office, for a total take of $233,093,859, on top of at least $33,256,184 in DVD sales in the US alone. Tallying box office and home release numbers, The Day the Earth Stood Still earned at least $266,350,043, which is more than three times its production budget. 

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  • Vanilla Sky
    Photo: Paramount

    In a review of 2011's lamentable We Bought A Zoo, critic Steve Persall referred to Vanilla Sky, writer-director Cameron Crowe's haywire remake of Spanish thriller Open Your Eyes, as a flop. He isn't the only person to misremember Sky, which stars Tom Cruise and features wonderfully poetic lines like "I swallowed your cum! That means something," as a financial failure.  

    Produced on a budget of $68 million, Vanilla Sky earned  $100,618,344 at the domestic box office, and an additional $102,769,997 overseas, for a total haul of $203,388,341. On top of this, the movie was a top 10 DVD seller when released in 2002, when everyone and their mother was buying digital video discs (in the first six months of 2002, DVD sales revenue in the United States was $3 billion). As of June 28, 2002, Vanilla Sky had earned $16.3 million in rentals alone. 

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  • The release of Terminator: Genisys in 2015 led to sneers from almost everyone, including longtime fans of the franchise. Flickering Myth went so far as to wonder whether it's the worst tentpole ever made. With an incredibly complicated plot that was almost impossible to follow and baffling casting choices, it was a failure in the US, grossing just $89,760,956 domestically. This led to the movie being stuck with the label of failure, despite its strong showing internationally.

    Genisys earned $113,175,898 in China, and $350,842,581 in total overseas box office. As Forbes points out, it made more than two-and-a-half times its production budget, a general mark for profitability. It's total worldwide gross was $440,603,537, against a production budget of $155 million, and it earned at least $25,690,974 in domestic DVD and blu-ray sales, which numbers don't take into account fees from streaming services or digital sales and rentals. 

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