Movie flops that Hollywood was sure would be a hit

We're all familiar with how much market testing can go into a product before Hollywood deems it fit to unleash on your neighborhood cineplex. From following established trends to forcing filmmakers to submit to test screenings, there are countless ways studio execs can hedge their bets when they're hitching their wagon to someone's creative vision — and for all those best laid plans, there's really never any guarantee that it'll end up producing the desired results.

Yes, there's nothing like the anticipation of a multi-mega-million-dollar movie making its theatrical debut… and there's also nothing like the agony of watching a would-be blockbuster go down in flames. Not every big-budget Hollywood spectacular makes bank at the box office — and sometimes, even the finest minds at the studios and their marketing think tanks can end up being completely wrong about what will or won't perform. These films have been among the biggest disappointments.

47 Ronin

With a mega-million-dollar budget, a reliable kung fu fighter as its star, a plot that included both samurais and dragons, and a crowd-pleasing Thanksgiving release, 47 Ronin was supposed to be the kind of action-packed blockbuster that makes for a reliable end-of-year hit—an ambitious, dazzling fantasy in the vein of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter that would draw American audiences in droves while also making a splash in the lucrative Asian markets. Unfortunately, the behemoth of a movie turned out to be too unwieldy for its first-time director, Carl Rinsch. Plagued by problems and requiring extensive reshoots, it was delayed by more than a year—and despite the biggest, best Christmas push the studio could muster, 47 Ronin bombed to the tune of $151 million worldwide, less than its $175 million budget.

Aloha

This romantic comedy was supposed to be a winning return to form for Cameron Crowe, the Oscar-winning writer and director who had us at hello in the '90s with Jerry Maguire. Aloha had so much going for it: a scenic setting, a sweet plot, and an A-list cast that included the incontrovertibly adorable Emma Stone, an actress everyone likes. But between accusations that Crowe had "whitewashed" the diverse face of Hawaii, limited pre-release access for reviewers, and a studio head who privately disliked everything about the film from the get-go, the movie landed at the box office with a dull thud and never recovered. Its gross was a sad $26 million, leaving it more than $10 million shy of earning back its budget.

Battleship

The "who sunk this Battleship?" jokes write themselves when it comes to this $300 million albatross around Universal. Battleship had all the makings of a big summer blockbuster, with a cast of well-muscled dudes at its helm and high hopes of leveraging the same '80s-kid nostalgia that made the Transformers franchise such a giant moneymaker—complete with a tie-in to capture the lucrative video game market. But at the box office, Battleship suffered from bad timing (it couldn't compete with The Avengers' release that same weekend), bad press, and, alas, a bad reputation for leading man Taylor Kitsch, who'd starred in one of Hollywood's worst flops, John Carter, just two months earlier. Although the movie technically made back its production budget once it hit international waters, it still left Universal taking an $83 million bath.

John Carter

The insanely high expectations for this tragic bomb of a movie may just be one of Hollywood's great mysteries—because in hindsight, its belly-flop at the box office should've been a foregone conclusion. Taylor Kitsch was a popular cast member on Friday Night Lights prior to being cast as John Carter's titular character, but he was hardly a bankable star on which to anchor a $250 million space opera, especially not one based on an early 20th century sci-fi novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. But that's exactly what Disney did—a problem compounded by one of the most grossly mishandled marketing campaigns in the history of cinema (including a now-infamous Super Bowl ad that left audiences completely confused.) Ultimately, John Carter was an earth-shattering disappointment, bringing in $284 million worldwide against a $250 million budget.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

After Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland became a billion-dollar hit at the box office, a sequel was a foregone conclusion—the thinking being that even without Burton at the helm, audiences would definitely pay to see Johnny Depp romping 'round the director's visually stunning Wonderland a second time. But despite an ensemble cast of A-listers and just as much mad hattery as the first film, Alice Through the Looking Glass failed to replicate the magic of its predecessor… to the tune of a paltry $34 million opening weekend. (Alice in Wonderland, by comparison, made more than three times that much right out of the gate.) Derided by critics as "gaudy, loud, complacent, and vulgar," Alice Through the Looking Glass was overshadowed by both the simultaneous release of X-Men: Apocalypse and a scandal surrounding its leading man, as Depp's soon-to-be-ex-wife Amber Heard made shocking allegations that the actor had physically abused her.

The Lone Ranger

He's released a string of duds over the last several years, but at one point, Johnny Depp's presence was supposed to be a reliable predictor of a film's success—or in the case of The Lone Ranger, its saving grace. Disney pegged this movie as a big moneymaker at the outset, pumpinga reported $215 million into the production, but even once it became clear that The Lone Ranger wasn't going to break any box office records, nobody expected a film that harnessed Depp's star power to tank. But it did: early reports estimated losses in the neighborhood of $190 million, and although the final numbers were a fair sight better than that—the movie grossed $260 million worldwide—marketing costs more than likely still pushed the studio's investment in the picture into the red.

Ben-Hur

In this, the golden age of reboots, it was only a matter of time until someone made a CGI-heavy summer blockbuster out of the classic chariot-racing drama Ben-Hur. Based on one of Hollywood's favorite novels (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has been adapted for the screen five times), Ben-Hur had a $100 million budget and a promising premise—the sweeping epic history of a Gladiator mashed up with the edge-of-your seat action of a Fast and the Furious. Alas, where previous Ben-Hurs had been big successes at the box office (the 1959 version starring Charlton Heston notably won an Oscar), this one tanked. Variety declared it the biggest bomb of the summer after an $11.4 million opening weekend, and later reported that the film had cost MGM a writedown of $48 million.

Catwoman

It's hard to believe this notorious bomb of a movie was once supposed to be a huge hit, but in 2004, dressing up Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry like a butt-stomping feline dominatrix sure seemed like a recipe for raking in the bucks. Catwoman was a cool character already beloved by Batman aficionados, superhero flicks were reliable box-office draws, and Berry looked fan-freaking-tastic in a leather brassiere and artfully shredded pants. What could go wrong? Alas, the movie apparently blew all of its $100 million budget on leather underwear and CGI cats, leaving nothing left over to pay for things like, say, a coherent script. Ultimately, Catwoman's domestic gross was an abysmal $40 million—and Berry, who showed up in person to collect her Razzie award for the film, was not shy about registering her agreement with the critics who thought Catwoman was the artistic equivalent of a hairball on the carpet.

Deepwater Horizon

Although movies based on true-life disasters can be hit or miss, Hollywood had every reason to believe they had a hit on their hands with Deepwater Horizon. The movie had a setting and a premise that was made for the big screen—in the form of a massive explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico—and a star, Mark Wahlberg, with a solid history of well-performing movies in which he plays an ordinary guy caught in the center of an extraordinary disaster. (See: Patriots Day, The Perfect Storm, Lone Survivor, etc.) But where Wahlberg and director Peter Berg were able to make a sleeper hit of Lone Survivor, their far more expensive reunion in Deepwater Horizon couldn't capture that same box office magic. 

Whether due to poor marketing choices, a bloated budget, or the continued negative connotations of the words "deepwater horizon" themselves, the movie was one of the biggest flops of the year in the U.S., where it brought in a disappointing domestic gross of $61.4 million. The worldwide numbers improved the picture, bringing Deepwater's total take to $121 million, but with marketing costs taken into account, it still added up to a rare—and expensive—misfire for Berg and Wahlberg.

Ender's Game

Based on a classic science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, set in outer space, and with a cast that included wunderkind Asa Butterfield and everyone's favorite star warrior Harrison Ford, Ender's Game was a movie with seriously high hopes. (The words "the next Hunger Games" may or may not have been uttered in the lead-up to its release—though not all critics were sold on the idea.) But despite the box-office promise of a big-budget movie about teen soldiers battling hostile aliens while the fate of the earth hangs in the balance, Ender's Game was plagued by issues, including the ill effects of a boycott from groups who were angered by author Orson Scott Card's stance on same-sex marriage. Between the bad press stemming from that and mixed reviews from critics, it only ended up earning $125 million worldwide against a $110 million budget.

Fantastic Four

After a slightly cheesy but successful pair of Fantastic Four films rocked the box office in the early 2000s (and after The Amazing Spider-Man proved that it's never too soon to reboot a promising superhero franchise for a new generation), a fresh round of films featuring the Human Torch, Invisible Woman, and Mr. Fantastic seemed like just (ahem) the Thing for an up-and-coming director. 

Josh Trank, who'd done great things with the found-footage thriller Chronicle, was tapped to helm the new Fantastic Four, with a cast that included Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell—serious stars, all. Producers were counting on the foursome to become the next big thing in superhero ensembles, alongside the X-Men and the Avengers. What they weren't counting on, unfortunately, was for Trank to clash with the studio and (reportedly) behave so erratically on set that Fox felt compelled to reshoot huge portions of the movie after the fact. The release was overshadowed by scandal, and the finished product was ghastly by all accounts… which makes it unsurprising that the film took in only $26.2 million on its opening weekend and $167 million worldwide, against an estimated $200 million production and marketing budget.

Ghostbusters

With everyone from Beyonce to Taylor Swift declaring publicly for feminism, and female-led movies like Bridesmaids raking in millions, Hollywood had every reason to believe an all-lady reboot of the classic Ghostbusters franchise would be a veritable cash cow they could milk until the end of time with sequel after sequel. That it meant a reunion between Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and stars Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig only sweetened the deal, as did the involvement of SNL stars Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. But despite a tidal wave of buzz, the publicity failed to translate into dollars at the box office. The movie was expensive to make—$144 million for production alone—and would have needed a worldwide gross of $300 million (or even $500 million, per the director himself) to break even. Sadly, it didn't even come close; the final worldwide gross was $229 million.

Green Lantern

Nowadays, Green Lantern is such a notorious loser that even star Ryan Reynolds couldn't resist using it as a punchline in his other, far more successful superhero flick. But back in 2010, the movie seemed like a sure thing for many of the same reasons that Deadpool did. Namely:

a) Ryan Reynolds, in

b) skin-tight spandex, playing

c) a lesser-known comic-book superhero who

d) opened up fun and exciting possibilities for extending the (in this case) DC universe onscreen.  

Sadly, this formula fizzled—and critics were not charitable with their assessments. Green Lantern had a decent opening weekend, but for a film that cost $200 million for production alone, its $219 million worldwide take was a huge disappointment.

Jupiter Ascending

Visually stunning, wholly original, and with the imprimatur of the famously inventive Wachowskis: Jupiter Ascending was perfectly positioned to be an epic sci-fi success, even before it tapped two of the coolest kids in Hollywood (Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum) as its stars. This story of a cleaning lady who learns she's the heir apparent to an intergalactic empire had the full force and faith of big money behind it, to the tune of a $176 million production budget. But the Wachowskis reportedly overspent on the film, test audiences were unimpressed, and the critical reception was extremely chilly—all adding up to a worldwide take of $183 million (i.e. not enough to break even once you factor in the tens of millions spent on marketing.)

Evan Almighty

Audiences love Steve Carell, which is almost certainly what Hollywood was thinking when they threw $175 million worth of production money at Evan Almighty. A sequel to the Jim Carrey-led Bruce Almighty (which raked in $484 million worldwide against a comparatively teensy $81 million budget), this movie gave Carell's supporting character from that film his turn in the spotlight and was supposed to be a crowd-pleasing summer comedy the whole family could enjoy. Unfortunately, Carell was working with a not-particularly-great script and an exorbitantly expensive cast of CGI wildlife, and not even his considerable charms could float a film critics derided for being preachy and unfunny. A late-summer push got Evan Almighty past the $100 million mark, but that was a small (and ultimately insignificant) victory compared to its overall shortfall.

Jack the Giant Slayer

With a familiar fairy tale at its center and a talented director at its helm, Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer should have been a solid moneymaker at the box office, if not a gia— er, huge hit. In fact, the film was so readily expected to be a success that even the folks who analyze movie flops for a living struggled to explain its dismal performance. Was it the March release date? The lack of a franchise tie-in? The too-prominent involvement of a loathed vegetable in the marketing push? Whatever the reason, Jack did so badly out of the gate that pundits immediately compared it to John Carter, which needless to say was not good news. Warner Bros. reportedly pumped close to $200 million into the CGI adventure, plus another $100 million for marketing; with a global gross of $197 million, poor Jack ended up more than $100 million in the hole.

Mars Needs Moms

If you've never heard of Mars Needs Moms, join the club; the total lack of name recognition for this movie is just one reason why it became one of the most gratuitous box office flops in history. But on paper, it had all the makings of a hit: a renowned producer in Robert Zemeckis, a fresh visual landscape thanks to burgeoning motion-capture technology, and a family-friendly plotline with a cool alien twist. But even after forecasters tempered their expectations for Mars Needs Moms in light of a less-than-enthusiastic response to test screenings, nobody anticipated what an unmitigated disaster the release would be. Not counting the cost of marketing, Mars Needs Moms cost $150 million to make—and even with international ticket sales, its total revenue was just shy of $39 million, making this film a record-breakingly expensive bath for Disney.