Flop or Not? - Mania.com

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Flop or Not?

Many supposed box office bombs did better than you'd think.

By Rob Vaux     March 19, 2012

Movie pundits (this one included) enjoy rubbing Hollywood’s nose in its own hubris, and few opportunities are more enticing than an overhyped, monstrously budgeted would-be blockbuster that falls flat on its face. News items delight in flinging Ishtar references hither and yon, citing miserable reviews or crowing about the box office dollars than refuse to come rolling in. But not every movie tarred with that brush deserves the moniker and some so-called “bombs” actually made a tidy profit. The recent kerfuffle over John Carter has brought the issue home to roost, leading us to wonder which supposed flops actually lost money for the studio.

The criteria is tough to determine, thanks to fiendish Hollywood accounting that claims nearly every movie was a financial loser. Public perception of a film’s quality adds to the “flop” moniker as well and the vagaries of a global marketplace (to say nothing of home video) further muddy the waters. A good rule of thumb is to look at the total worldwide gross and compare it to the stated production budget. If the worldwide gross is more than the production budget, the film could be considered a break-even proposition, with video and cable sales covering the cost of advertising. If, on the other hand, it made back significantly less than its production budget, you can pretty much call it a flop.

With those criteria in mind, let’s take a look at ten so-called stinkers. Five of them are genuine bombs, while the other five actually made their nut back… or at least salvaged some dignity. Can you tell which ones are which without peaking? Read on and see.


Battlefield Earth

Having finally worked his way back onto the A-list (with a little help from Quentin Tarantino), John Travolta bet it all on an ambitious adaption of L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction novel. The results, as they say, speak for themselves.

Flop or Not? FLOP. Domestic grosses were a paltry $21 million, with only $29 million grossed in totem worldwide. When placed against a $73 million price tag, there’s not enough creative accounting in the world than can save you.



Warner Bros sometimes has a hard time understanding that just because they own the rights to DC Comics characters doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want to them. You’d think they’d have learned that lesson after Batman and Robin, but apparently not. The Halle Berry version of Catwoman proved more than audience could stand. One look at that costume was all we needed.

Flop or Not? FLOP. Worldwide grosses amounted to $82 million, well short of its $100 million cost. Interestingly enough, the equally toxic Batman and Robin actually grossed $238 million, almost twice as much as its production budget.

Howard the Duck

George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, announced an ambitious effort to bring Marvel’s iconoclastic sentient waterfowl to life. Unfortunately George Lucas, the creator of Jar Jar Binks and Ewoks: the Battle for Endor, actually ended up making the film. Director William Huyck never worked again and the film is currently spoken of in hushed whispers by those unfortunate enough to have seen it.

Flop or Not? NOT. Believe it or not, the film actually made back its $37 million production budget thanks to overseas figures. Stars Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones and Lea Thompson survived the experience as well and went on to have fruitful careers. Still, I wouldn’t bring it up if you ever run in to any of them.


Back in the days when The Avengers movie was just a gleam in Marvel’s eye, Ang Lee attempted an ambitious new version of The Incredible Hulk. His cerebral tone and Freudian storyline went straight over the heads of most audience members, and prompted a more comics-friendly reboot just five years later.

Flop or Not? NOT. $245 million worldwide places it well above its $150 million price production cost. The reboot did similar numbers, with a $263 million worldwide gross.


The Last Airbender

Hollywood is full of self-important douches in severe need of a deflating. After an impressive early resume that had critics calling him the next Steven Spielberg, M. Night Shyamalan rapidly became that douche. Following a slew of films full of silly characters, bad dialogue and twist endings crammed into the proceedings like a square peg hammered into a round hole, the director stepped away from his own works to adapt a live-action version of Nikelodeon’s well-received Avatar animated series. In the process, he garnered the worst reviews of his rapidly fading career and incensed the very fanbase to whom he hoped to cater.

Flop or Not? NOT. Despite excoriating reviews and an audience ready to string Shyamalan up by his nutsack, The Last Airbender grossed $319 million worldwide… more than twice as much as its $150 million price tag.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

When wunderkind Tim Burton set his sights on remaking a sci-fi classic, fanboy hearts leapt. Then the film itself came out, and we could have predicted the results: great visuals, a few strong performances (notably Tim Roth’s evil chimpanzee) but a storyline that made absolutely no sense.

Flop or Not? NOT. Not only was its $362 million worldwide box office well ahead of its production budget, but it made a solid $180 million domestically against a stated production budget of $100 million. That success convinced Fox to eventually bank on this summer’s terrific Rise of the Planet of the Apes, bringing a happy ending to more than just the studio accountants.


Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Edgar Wright entered the ranks of fanboy immortality with his zombie satire Shaun of the Dead. He followed it up with the brilliant Hot Fuzz, and looked ready to repeat the feat with a hyperkinetic adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The film hit with its core audience… and absolutely no one else.

Flop or Not? FLOP. Its $47 million gross was less than half of its estimated $95 million budget. However, it enjoyed strong critical success and remains a favorite among comic book fans (including this one).


Speed Racer

After weathering the disappointing Matrix sequels and angeling an earnest-but-flawed version of V for Vendetta, the Wachowski Brothers hoped to regain their winning form with a live-action version of the ubiquitous anime TV series. Stifling earnestness, a garish visual palette and an opening date just one week after the surprise hit Iron Man shot those hopes down pretty quickly.

Flop or Not? FLOP. $93 million worldwide gross, $120 million budget. Even Asia turned this turkey down.


Treasure Planet

The space-age update of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic is widely cited as killing 2D animation, as well as the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s.

Flop or Not? FLOP. Its $109 million worldwide total failed to cover its $140 million budget. But like Scott Pilgrim, the film was well received by critics (70% on Rotten Tomatoes) and holds up very well over time: proof that money isn’t always everything.



Critics began sharpening their knives almost as soon as Universal announced this big-budget aquatic post-apocalypse story. Stories of cost overruns fueled the fire and producer/star Kevin Costner’s ego was reportedly running rampant. Plus the notion of The Road Warrior on jet skis sent the Goofy-o-meter clear off the charts.

Flop or Not? NOT. Costner’s gill-man brought in $264 million, more than enough to offset its $175 million production budget. Critics were somewhat kinder than expected too. 43% on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t great, but far better than it could have been.


So where does this leave John Carter? That has yet to be seen. Though its performance is decidedly underwhelming and fans shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for a sequel, its overseas performance is making up for its domestic fizzle. It’s earned just a touch under $180 million in two weeks, and should cruise past $200 million with ease. It might even make back its stated $250 million budget if foreign figures hold. Even if it doesn’t, it’s still nothing compared to some of the disasters it’s been compared to. Ishtar on Mars is overstating the  case a great deal… no matter how snappy a title it might make. 


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boxker 3/19/2012 10:34:21 AM

I like Ang lee's Hulk.

trollman 3/19/2012 10:48:48 AM

I liked Scott Pilgram and I've never even read the comic

I like Incredible Hulk. I like the remake better.

I couldn't sit thru Speed Racer without restraints & sedation.

My son LOVED Treasure Planet back when it came out & I liked it too.

I was a teenager when H.T Duck came out. I didn't get it then & I still don't.

If you turn off the sound & just look at Haley then Catwoman isn't bad. Oh who am I kidding even eyecandy like her cant make me sit thru it again.

There is more to a movie's success than $$$. I don't like a movie just because it makes a fortune at the box office. Scott Pilgram for example. I love the style of that movie. it's funny.

ddiaz28 3/19/2012 11:16:32 AM

It's too bad John Carter is being seen as a flop.  I thought it was great.  And the more bad press it gets, the less people are going to want to see it. 

ElBaz13 3/19/2012 11:28:46 AM

I believe John Carter is close to 190 million North American foreign in only two weeks. It could probably get to the 250 million in production budget. Then throw in DVD sales and it won't be a flop as many think.

It also has a 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes showing there is a divided audience.

I got to see it over the weekend with the family (hear that Wiseguy, we actually got to see it!) And I have to say I loved it. Great SFX, great action and a fun story. Lynn Collins is quite the eye candy (and my better half didn't mind Taylor). But, my kids seemed a little restless. I think it was too complicated fo them to understand some of concepts (John being a copy of himself, the presence of the Holy Therns, the war between Zolanda and Helium) and they much preferred Thor and Cap. But...they didn't hate it. They loved the action sequences and the look. Plus they learned about gravity!)


DarthBob 3/19/2012 11:40:10 AM

The $250 million is just production costs.  Disney spent another $100 million to market the film worldwide (at lease according to the WSJ).  There's no chance this movie makes $350 million worldwide.  It is Ishtar on Mars and an epic flop.

samson 3/19/2012 11:51:39 AM

I liked Lee's Hulk. It was a beter movie than the Ed Norton one. However, the Norton Hulk was more fun. Less cerebral.

I also loved Speed Racer. I think if they made the same exact film, except using a different color scheme, one that didn't look like a skittles comercial, It would've been a hit. People were turned off by the candy coated color palete.

Liked John Carter, too. Lyn Collins is Wonder Woman. Period.

Does anyone know if, "Kick-Ass" was a flop or not?

karas1 3/19/2012 12:11:09 PM

I loved Scott Pilgrim.  It's been on cable reciently and I've enjoyed watching it again.  Twice.

I also liked Speed Racer.  I thought the racing sequences were exciting and the over the top villians were fun.  The Racer clan were likable and the scenes between Speed and his father and Speed and his mother unexpectedly gave the film a lot of heart.  But the film would have been much better if they had dropped Spridel and Chim Chim down a well.

I wanted to see Treasure Planet when it came out and never did.  Hopefully I'll see it some day.  Maybe I'll buy it for my neice.

Waterworld just sucks.  The Postman is almost as bad but it has a cool cameo by Tom Petty.

wrrlykam 3/19/2012 12:40:19 PM

Disney spend $100 on advertising???? What advertising? I've yet to see a single trailer on TV or on billboards.

therockdltj 3/19/2012 12:47:39 PM

damn get out from under that fucking rock wrrlykam!! It had a Superbowl ad and FREAKIN TONS OF PREVIEWS !

dalgoda 3/19/2012 12:52:28 PM

I really didn't care for Howard the Duck, Battlefield Earth, Catwoman, or Last Airbender.  The rest are movies I own and like/love.  John Carter will be added to my library when it comes out as well.  Flop or not, our family loved it.  

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