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.
Waterworld, released in 1995, is one of the most famous flops in movie history. Made on a massive budget of $172 million, which spiraled thanks to production problems and a hurricane that destroyed a large set, it received mix reviews from critics and audiences. Factoring in marketing, the total expenditure for the film was around $235 million. While it is true Waterworld failed to recoup its costs at the box office, a successful home release and other sales meant it made an estimated profit of $67 million.
As of 2015, Waterworld routinely makes lists of the biggest box office bombs of all time, despite the numbers showing a different narrative. If nothing else, you can take solace in the fact that one reviewer on Amazon described the movie as "like Mad Max, but wetter."
#44 on The Best Movies of 1995
Superman Returns is widely accepted as an artistic failure and often referred to as a bomb. It had a gigantic budget of around $270 million, plus around $100 million in marketing costs, bringing the total outlay for Warner Bros. to an estimated $363 million. On that budget, it made $391,081,192. Despite barely making back production costs before tallying movie theater take, Alan Horn confirmed, in August 2006, the studio viewed the movie as a success (his wording is a bit tricky, and he doesn't seem to assert the movie was a financial success).
Yet Superman Returns posted huge DVD sales, earning $85,730,989 in the United States and Canada alone. These figures don't take into account blu-ray sales or worldwide numbers from either home video sales or sales of foreign home release licensing.
Tim Burton's 2001 Planet of the Apes could never match the success of the original. Having been in development for years before it was finally released (and attached to such names as Oliver Stone and James Cameron, before Burton signed on), the remake received mixed reviews for the bizarre twist ending, and criticism for its cast choices.
Still, Planet of the Apes brought in more than $360 million in total box office receipts against a budget of $100 million. This modest financial success wasn't enough to convince Fox to greenlight a sequel, though. Fans waited until 2011 for a new entry in the franchise. A piece on box office failures from Den of Geek points out that, adjusted for inflation, the 2001 Planet of the Apes made almost as much as the 2011 reboot, and the former was considered a flop, while the later was hailed as a major success.
Hook is a live action sequel to Peter Pan directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Robin Williams, Julie Roberts, and Dustin Hoffman. Can't go wrong, right? Wrong. By pretty much all accounts, the movie is awful, and is remembered as a flop. As with many films on this list, Hook reveals that many writers who create cultural narratives on the success or failure of films conflate critical drubbing with box office failure.
When all was said and done, Hook turned a profit of $50 million thanks in part to a strong merchandising push that saw comics, video games, and action figures bring in $10 million.
#10 on The Best Movies of 1991
#65 on The Best Movies for Tweens
#48 on The Best Movies for Kids