Whereas most film critics consider The Godfather (1972) or The Godfather Part II (1974) to be the best movie from the 1970s, I contend that The Dear Hunter (1978) deserves that honor. After winning Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for his epic Vietnam War drama, Michael Cimino certainly deserved praise. However, his ego arguably got the best of him because his follow-up film, Heaven’s Gate (1980) failed to resonate with critics or moviegoers. In addition to returning an abysmal 10% of its production budget at the box office, the film resulted in the sale of the studio and made it harder for directors to work without overbearing studio involvement. Based on the pedigree of its filmmaker and its financial demise, Heaven’s Gate ranks as the #1 Top 10 Box Office Bust.
On a percentage basis, The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) ranks as Hollywood’s all-time biggest flop. Specifically, the movie lost 96% of its production budget based on a measly $7 million in ticket sales. Its inflation-adjusted loss of $143 million only trails the $184 million loss realized by #3 Bust: Cutthroat Island. Despite having a smaller financial loss on an absolute basis, Pluto Nash ranks as a higher bust in my countdown. First, it had the potential draw of one-time superstar Eddie Murphy. Second, critics absolutely hated it. With a Metacritic score of 12 and Rotten Tomatoes score of 5%, the former SNL star’s movie had the worst critical reviews of any Top 10 Bust.
On an inflation-adjusted basis, Cutthroat Island (1995) continues to be the biggest box-office flop in history. While that distinction alone may be worthy of the top position in my countdown, I just couldn’t rank it higher than #3. In particular, the film lacked true star power and suffered from its studio’s financial difficulties. For me, those qualifications make it less bust-worthy. At the same time, I recognize that the damage created by the movie’s wake has been significant. Of note, the director (Renny Harlin), lead actress (Geena Davis), and lead actor (Matthew Modine) all have been relegated to the small screen. If you don’t recognize those names, you now know why.
While no one involved with Gigli will appreciate the following statement, the movie has become synonymous with a Hollywood failure. It’s why I probably don’t even have to tell you that Gigli rhymes with really. The movie had many flaws (e.g. inane story, bad acting), but it was DOA due to the nonstop coverage of its stars’ scandalous off-screen relationship. In particular, there was no need to see Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez attempt to have a fictional relationship when their actual relationship had played out in front of the media for almost a year. In the movie, Affleck’s character overcomes the hurdle that Lopez’s character is a lesbian. In real life, Affleck overcame the hurdle that Lopez was married. Which conflict seems more interesting to you? After the movie’s flaws were exposed, already weak ticket sales became nonexistent. In fact, Gigli holds two dubious box office records: the largest drop-off in ticket sales after an opening weekend (82%); and the largest drop-off in theaters after two weekends (97%). With production costs rumored to be around $75 million and worldwide ticket sales of $7 million, Gigli earned its spot as the #4 Box Office Bust. Somehow, there still are three movies that were even worse.
Just like Brendan Fraser, Warren Beatty earned the dubious distinction of starring in more than one Top 10 Box Office Bust. While the term “star” may have applied to Fraser for a fleeting moment, it most certainly has applied to Beatty for decades. Still the Hollywood legend failed miserably with Ishtar (1987) and Town & Country (2001). Coming in at #10 in my countdown, Ishtar may be a more well-known fiasco. However, I consider Town & Country more bust-worthy. Despite having a strong cast that included Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn alongside Warren Beatty, the movie didn’t work. In particular, it only grossed $10 million at the box office. With an inflation-adjusted loss of $125 million, Town & Country certainly earned its spot as the #5 Bust.
In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, 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 to produce ($75 million vs. $70 million) and made less at the box office ($8 million vs. $10 million). With a bigger loss on an absolute and percentage basis, Monkeybone arguably deserves to be called a bigger flop. For me, however, Dudley Do-Right was more bust-worthy given that 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
In honor of Thanksgiving, I prepared a double feature of Brendan Fraser turkeys. Opening the twin bill at 6A, Dudley Do-Right (1999) failed despite seemingly having the ingredients to succeed. Of note, the movie followed the formula of Fraser’s prior hit George of the Jungle (1997). Specifically, the actor went back to the well by portraying a likable doofus in a live-action adaptation of a 1960s cartoon. Furthermore, the film had an accomplished writer/director. Serving both roles, Hugh Wilson had an impressive track record which included the classic TV show WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82) and hit movie Police Academy (1984). Even with a marketable star, a talented creative influence, and a sizable production budget of $75 million, Dudley Do-Right flopped with only $10 million at the box office. I have my own theory about why the film became a Top 10 Bust, but you’ll have to read this to find out.
Supernova (2000) seemingly had the ingredients to become a hit movie. First, it starred the incredibly talented James Spader and Angela Bassett. Second, it had state-of-the-art visual effects. Unfortunately, the film suffered because the studio failed to control the creative process. In particular, it endured numerous rewrites and leadership changes while stuck in production for eight years. Despite a budget of over $90 million, it earned less than $15 million at the box office. As a horrendously produced film with a financial loss of over $80 million, Supernova earned the distinction of #7 Box Office Bust.
Like many other failures, The Alamo (2009) had numerous problems throughout production. The replacement of Oscar-winning director Ron Howard and Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe didn’t help. Missing its anticipated release date didn’t help. Replacement director John Lee Hancock’s inexperience making a big-budget movie didn’t help. Regardless, the movie’s biggest problem related to its actual content. While lauded for its historical accuracy, the movie failed to be entertaining. After a weak opening, the film absolutely cratered due to negative word of mouth. With a budget of almost $110 million and worldwide ticket sales of only $25 million, The Alamo has been named the #8 Box Office Bust.
Due to the tremendous success of Die Hard (1988), Bruce Willis was given an opportunity to star in a movie based on a character he helped create while still a struggling actor in his twenties. That character was the inspiration behind the action adventure spoof Hudson Hawk (1991). Given the film’s budget of $70 million, fans expected a traditional Bruce Willis action adventure movie, but were forced to sit through a poorly written (and acted) spoof. With only $17 million in gross ticket sales, the movie ended up losing over $60 million for the studio. In addition to suffering financially, the movie suffered critically and won three Razzies for Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay. Given its failure despite the resources dedicated to it, the movie has earned the #9 spot as a Top 10 Box Office Bust.