Top 10 Box Office Busts Top 10 Selections

#6B Box Office Bust: Monkeybone

Synopsis: In honor of Thanksgiving, I have prepared a double feature of Brendan Fraser turkeys as 6A and 6B in the countdown of Top 10 Box Office Busts. I highlighted the failure of Dudley Do-Right (6A) in my last post and will highlight the failure of Monkeybone (6B) in this one. Relative to both movies, Monkeybone cost more ($75 MM vs. $70 MM) and made less ($8 MM vs. $10 MM). With a bigger loss, it arguably deserves to be called the bigger flop. However, I consider Dudley Do-Right more bust-worthy because it bombed despite having a built-in audience from Fraser’s hit George of the Jungle. While certainly not a good movie, Monkeybone at least had originality as well as some interesting special effects.

MONKEYBONE (2001)

Plot: After slipping into a coma, cartoonist Stu Miley (Fraser) gets trapped in a fantasy world featuring his animated creation Monkeybone.

Producers: Mark Radcliffe, Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus.

Director: Henry Selick.

Writer: Sam Hamm.

Actors: Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg.

Metacritic Score: 40 (mixed reviews with a negative bias).

BOX OFFICE NUMBERS*
Movie Release Date Estimated Production Costs Opening Gross Ticket Sales Theaters Opening Gross / Theater Lifetime Gross Ticket Sales
Monkeybone Feb. 23, 2001 $75 million $2.7 million 1,742 $1,600 $7.6 million

* Information provided by boxofficemojo.com.

** Information provided by IMDb.

SET-UP

Despite the failure of Dudley Do-Right (1999), Fraser still had a great year due to the tremendous success of The Mummy (1999). With over $400 million in worldwide ticket sales, The Mummy outdrew all of his previous movies combined. Whereas the actor previously had attracted sizable audiences in comedic roles, the movie’s success showed that he could carry an action-adventure film as well.

Regardless, Fraser went back to the well and portrayed a social misfit in the fantasy-comedy Bedazzled (2000). Based on the movie’s premise that his character gets several wishes after selling his soul to the devil, Fraser had the opportunity to display his acting chops. Specifically, he played a professional basketball star, a drug lord, and even President Lincoln in the film’s fantasy sequences. If you saw the movie, you know that I’m being sarcastic. Despite Fraser’s acting limitations, the movie got mixed reviews (Metascore of 49) and even did well at the box office ($90 million worldwide).

ELIZABETH HURLEY – COULD YOU RESIST?
hurley3
Of course, it helps when the devil looks like Elizabeth Hurley.

Before the release of The Mummy Returns (2001), Fraser accepted the lead role in the fantasy-comedy Monkeybone (2001). There’s a very high probability that you never saw Monkeybone. In case you’ve never heard of it either, the movie truly had an accomplished production team. To start, Sam Hamm, who wrote the screenplay, previously had written the screenplays for mega hits Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). Additionally, Henry Selick, who directed the movie, previously had directed The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

If the movies mentioned in the last paragraph seem connected for some reason, you’re right. In particular, Tim Burton directed both of the Batman movies and wrote the screenplay for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Furthermore, Danny Elfman provided the voice of the main character in The Nightmare Before Christmas and served as the music producer for Batman Returns. Elfman’s wife, Bridget Fonda, co-starred opposite Fraser in Monkeybone. Even without Burton’s direct involvement, Monkeybone has a similar feel to his other movies.

DOWNFALL

Up to this point, the movies identified as Top 10 Busts had the ingredients for success (e.g. marketable actors, an accomplished production team) but fell short because of some major defect (e.g. an overwhelmed director, creative differences with the studio). At first, I thought Monkeybone would be the exception to the rule. However, an article by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh in Entertainment Weekly referenced a couple of issues which deserve further consideration. In particular, she exposed problems related to the editing as well as the marketing of the film.

According to the writer’s sources, the movie needed to be re-edited after a disastrous screening. Executive Producer Chris Columbus (who directed Home Alone (1990) and the first two Harry Potter movies) even took a turn trying to make it more “mainstream.” Despite the changes, the studio completed gave up on the project. Without a preview for critics and with only one print ad before the opening, the movie lacked any buzz to draw an audience. 

Generally, the calculation for determining a flop involves taking 50% of the box office receipts and subtracting 100% of the production costs. Based on this objective measure, Monkeybone certainly bombed. Still, it somehow gets excluded from most lists of all-time box office busts. Apparently, the lack of buzz wasn’t all bad. Then again, I found it so I give the movie its due.

WATERWORLD VS. MONKEYBONE – WHICH DID WORSE? THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU.

Monkeybone vs. Waterworld

On the other end of the spectrum, Waterworld (1995) had tremendous buzz before its release. Given its $175 million budget and $90 million in domestic ticket sales, the movie has a reserved spot on most lists of Hollywood’s biggest flops. However, the film earned another $180 million interenationally so it lost “only” $40 million based on the previous calculation. On the other hand, Monkeybone lost over $70 million based on production costs of $75 million and worldwide ticket sales of $8 million. As such, Bradon Fraser’s bomb made my countdown but Kevin Costner’s didn’t.

CONCLUSION

Based its absolute loss of $70 million, Monkeybone flopped. By recovering only 5% of its production costs, it qualifies as an all-time flop. In comparison, Fraser’s other turkey Dudley Do-Right lost $65 million and recovered 8% of its production costs. Both movies bombed, but Monkeybone did worse.

On a subjective basis, however, I consider Dudley Do-Right more bust-worthy because it bombed despite having a built-in audience. Two years earlier, Fraser had starred in George of the Jungle (1997), which also served as a live-action adaptation of a Jay Ward cartoon. Whereas George of the Jungle grossed $175 million, Dudley Do-Right grossed less than 6% of that total. I wonder if the producers ever imagined such a poor showing in their worst-case scenario.

As described previously, Monkeybone did poorly too. Then again, it deserves some credit for being an original idea. Specifically, it wasn’t as if the producers had ridiculous expectations based on an attempt to replicate a seemingly winning formula. While not worth the price of admission, Monkeybone did have some interesting special effects. In contrast, Dudley Do-Right didn’t offer any redeeming value.

POSTSCRIPT

The cast and production team for Monkeybone reminds me of The Island of Misfit Toys. If you don’t get the reference, I feel sorry for you. Despite those feelings, I’ll give you the background needed to understand the comparison.

Introduced in the Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), the island served as a home for unwanted or defective toys. My favorites included Charlie-In-The-Box (simply a misnamed jack-in-the-box), a polka-dotted elephant, and a train with square wheels on its caboose. If it helps, the following picture shows some of the toys. At the same time, you’ll see King Moonracer (the lion who reigned over the island) as well as Rudolph and his traveling gang (e.g. Yukon Cornelius and Hermey).

THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS

monkeybone vs island of misfit toys

Hopefully, the picture conjures up a feeling of nostalgia like it did for me. Regardless, it sets the stage for my comments about the people involved in Monkeybone.

BRENDAN FRASER AS RUDOLPH

Fraser made a career playing social misfits in movies. Sometimes his portrayals resonated with audiences (e.g. Encino Man, George of the Jungle). Sometimes they didn’t (e.g. Dudley Do-Right, Monkeybone).

Rudolph reference

As I’m sure you know, Rudolph had his red nose to guide himself off of the Island of Misfit Toys. Similarly, Fraser had the Mummy franchise to escape from the potential abyss that could have resulted from starring in two all-time flops. Of note, those movies grossed over $1.2 billion worldwide.

Unlike Rudolph, Fraser only escaped temporarily given that he’s nowhere to be seen anymore. As a case in point, Fraser’s last role on the big screen was in Gimme Shelter (2013). That film, which starred Rosario Dawson and Vanessa Hudgens, grossed a meager $1 million at the box office. Oh how the might shall fall!

BRIDGET FONDA AS HERMEY

Born into Hollywood royalty, Bridget Fonda seems to be a misfit who struggled to escape the shadow of her famous family. Peter Fonda, her father, has been nominated for two Oscars (one for acting and one for writing). Jane Fonda, her aunt, has won two Oscars after being nominated seven times (all for acting). Henry Fonda, her grandfather, won one Oscar (for acting) and received three nominations (two for acting, one for producing). Despite any allusions to nepotism, Bridget actually can act. For whatever reason, she chooses not to.

Rudolph reference

As a reminder, Hermey was the elf who always wanted to be a dentist instead of a toy maker. Bridget similarly left her presumed predetermined career. Unfortunately for us all, she lost her passion for acting and completely disappeared from the Hollywood scene. Hopefully, she has found her true passion outside of the public eye.

SAM HAMM AS BUMBLE

As a screenwriter, Hamm became a misfit who couldn’t recover from the consecutive disappointments of Batman Returns (the one with Michelle Pheiffer as Catwoman and Danny DeVito as Penguin) and Monkeybone. Despite the commercial success of the Batman sequel, Michael Keaton pulled the rip cord on the lucrative franchise. While Keaton’s decision might have been premature, it appropriately set the stage for his ideal casting in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014).

Rudolph reference

After having his teeth extracted, Bumble (a.k.a. the Abominable Snowman) changed forever. Similarly, Hamm changed forever after his two consecutive fiascoes. Of note, he hasn’t written a screenplay for a motion picture since.

Then again, his creation of Henri Ducard in the Batman comics resulted in the character played by Liam Neeson in Batman Begins (2005). With respect to all of the Batman movies, I enjoyed that one most. The story arc involving Neeson’s character helped make it my favorite. Of course, Christian Bale’s performance helped too. 

HENRY SELICK AS YUKON CORNELIUS

After directing Monkeybone, Selick wrote and directed Coraline (2009). That movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Movie. As further support for its success, it received a Metascore of 80 and grossed $125 million worldwide.

Rudolph reference

Selick most closely resembles Yukon Cornelius, the prospector continually searching for silver and gold. Based on the previous sentence, I dare you not to think about the following song. Again, if you don’t get the reference, I feel sorry for you.

Continuing with the analogy, Selick struck silver based on the reasonable success of The Nightmare Before Christmas. If so, he finally struck gold with the unmitigated success of Coraline.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The following table summarizes the box office totals for the movies referenced in the previous sections.

BOX OFFICE NUMBERS*
Movie Release Date Estimated Production Costs** Domestic Ticket Sales Worldwide Ticket Sales
Batman June 23, 1989 $35 million $251 million $411 million
Encino Man May 22, 1992 $7 million $41 million $41 million
Batman Returns June 19, 1992 $80 million $163 million $267 million
The Nightmare Before Christmas October 29, 1993 $18 million $75 million $75 million
Waterworld July 28, 1995 $175 million $88 million $264 million
James and the Giant Peach April 12, 1996 $38 million $29 million $29 million
George of the Jungle July 19, 1997 $55 million $105 million $174 million
The Mummy May 07, 1999 $80 million $155 million $415 million
Dudley Do-Right August 27, 1999 $70 million $10 million $10 million
Bedazzled October 20, 2000 $48 million $38 million $90 million
Monkeybone February 23, 2001 $75 million $5 million $8 million
The Mummy Returns May 04, 2001 $98 million $202 million $433 million
Coraline February 06, 2009 $60 million $75 million $125 million

* Information provided by boxofficemojo.com.

** Information provided by IMDb.

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