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The Biggest Box Office Flops Of The Last 15 Years

For every mega-expensive blockbuster that gets butts in seats and grosses a billion dollars worldwide, there's at least one equally mega-expensive box office flop that's greeted by the moviegoing public with all the enthusiasm of Tax Day. In an era when seemingly every major studio film costs a hundred million dollars to produce, it's inevitable that a good many would-be blockbusters won't make their money back — but, to paraphrase Mel Brooks, every year one film rises below the rest to turn off their audiences, infuriate critics, and lose money more effectively than any other. These are those films — career-wrecking bombs whose huge marketing budgets (in some cases rivaling the budgets of the actual movies) couldn't keep them from becoming the biggest flops of each of the last 15 years. 

Note: exact financial figures are not always made public by film studios; in cases where they are not available, estimates from industry analysts have been used. Numbers have not been adjusted for inflation.

2003 - Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

Budget: $60 million Worldwide gross: $80 million Estimated loss: $125 million

DreamWorks Animation, the studio behind Kung Fu PandaHow to Train Your Dragon and Boss Baby, once looked like a champion of hand-drawn animation in an era when it had been all but completely phased out. 1998's The Prince of Egypt was a hand-drawn hit, and features like The Road to El Dorado and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron looked to keep that streak going — until it came to an abrupt end with 2003's Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.

With a modest $60 million budget and a voice cast featuring Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer and Joseph Fiennes, DreamWorks felt confident pouring ridiculous amounts of money into a massive worldwide marketing campaign, including millions spent on promotional tie-ins with a slew of brands from Burger King to Hewlett-Packard. Observers tracked the film for a $20 million opening weekend, but it opened against stiff competition: Terminator 3: Rise of the MachinesLegally Blonde 2, and — still cleaning house in its sixth week — Finding Nemo. The film staggered to an $80 million worldwide gross, but with the huge marketing budget, it amounted to an eye-watering $125 million loss for DreamWorks — which promptly abandoned hand-drawn animation.

2004 - The Alamo

Budget: $107 million Worldwide gross: $25 million Estimated loss: $120 million

Disney had big plans for The Alamo, based on the famous historical siege; the studio had Ron Howard plugged in as director, with the red-hot Russell Crowe set to star, and a strategy to release the film as a prestige picture during the 2003 holiday season. Exactly none of those things worked out. Then-Disney chief Michael Eisner balked at the $125 million budget, and looked to slash costs by hiring the much-more-affordable John Lee Hancock (who had scored a minor hit with 2002's The Rookie in his debut) to helm the picture; he also ditched Crowe in favor of Billy Bob Thornton on the way to chopping the budget down to a more manageable $75 million. 

Unfortunately, Eisner's caution was no match for the public's indifference toward the film, which also received a critical drubbing. Shooting delays pushed its release back to April 2004, where it was trounced by Hellboy and Passion of the Christ, which had been in theaters for weeks. Shooting delays, distribution and marketing costs pushed the budget north of $100 million, and with a $25 million worldwide gross, analysts speculated that Disney had flushed $120 million down the drain on the picture, making it one of the biggest bombs ever at the time. Perhaps they should have stuck with Ron Howard, because ironically, nobody remembers The Alamo.

2005 - Sahara

Budget: $130 million Worldwide gross: $119 million Estimated loss: $105 million

Nobody has ever accused Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels of being high literature, but they're certainly the kind of pulpy fun that should make for entertaining cinema. Sahara was an attempt to kick-start a new adventure franchise in the mold of the Indiana Jones series, but trouble started brewing long before the film even hit theaters. The film's initial budget of $80 million ballooned to around $130 million, and Cussler — who hadn't been given the final say over the script which he'd been promised — tacked on millions in legal fees by suing the producers in an unsuccessful bid to block the film's release.

The out-of-control budget and legal issues may not have mattered had the movie been a hit, but even the ever-affable presence of Matthew McConaughey as marine adventurer Pitt wasn't enough to make audiences care. With a worldwide gross of $119 million, the film amounted to a loss of over $100 million for studio Bristol Bay and distributor Paramount — and to add insult to injury, the legal snafu continued to worm its way through various courts for eight years after its release, with Bristol Bay counter-suing Cussler and his publishers. Their case was thrown out in 2013.

2006 - Poseidon

Budget: $160 million Worldwide gross: $181 million Estimated loss: $70 million 

An updated take on the '70s disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure, 2006's Poseidon had a novel financing structure: production costs were shouldered in part by private equity firm Virtual Studios, which sunk over a half-billion dollars into six Warner Brothers films. Their first co-production, V for Vendettadid pretty well — unfortunately, Poseidon was the second, and it amounted to a misfire of titanic proportions (no pun intended). 

Saddled with a whopping $160 million budget and typically insane international marketing costs, Poseidon — even with the able Wolfgang Petersen in the director's chair and Kurt Russell in the lead role — sunk faster than the titular vessel, pulling in $22 million during its first weekend despite opening on a ridiculous 3,555 screens. Critics pounded the film, and even the normally reliable international market produced flat returns. Virtual Studios itself was smacked with a $50 million loss, its head lost his job within days of the film's opening, and Poseidon struggled to a worldwide gross of just over $180 million — amounting to a combined loss in the neighborhood of $70 million.

2007 - Evan Almighty

Budget: $175 million Worldwide gross: $173 million Estimated loss: $90 million

2003's Jim Carrey-led Bruce Almighty was a surprise smash hit, raking in $484 million on an $81 million budget. The story of an ordinary guy tapped to temporarily take over for God doesn't necessarily seem like it would be a good candidate for the sequel treatment, but with those kind of box office returns, a second installment was inevitable. There were, however, a few problems.

Chief among them: the $140 million budget, which was to be split between co-producing studios Sony and Universal. Big-budget comedies are traditionally a gamble, and Sony balked, walking away from the production when Relativity Media offered to step in. Evan Almighty went into production with Steve Carell — who wasn't exactly the bankable star that Jim Carrey was at the time — in the lead, and the logistical nightmare of working with dozens of live animals plus unexpected trouble with visual effects caused the budget to spiral out of control; although Universal reported a final budget of $175 million, some analysts suggested it may actually have ended up closer to $200 million. The film's paltry $31 million opening weekend spelled trouble, and a dramatic drop in its second forced Universal to cut costs by dumping the production straight to video in some foreign markets. Evan Almighty would eventually gross $173 million worldwide, not even enough to cover its massive budget — amounting to roughly $90 million down the drain.

2008 - Speed Racer

Budget: $120 million Worldwide gross: $94 million Estimated loss: $100 million

Speed Racer was a risky proposition to begin with: an adaptation of a fondly if vaguely remembered anime from the late '60s, directed by the Wachowskis, with Emile Hirsch — not exactly the hottest box office property — in the lead. Studio Village Roadshow and distributor Warner Brothers, however, had no qualms about throwing money at the project. Its reported $120 million budget aside (some sources say as high as $185 million), Warners launched one of the most expensive ad campaigns ever for the film, sinking millions into a media blitz along with promotional tie-ins.

The gambit failed spectacularly, as the film was among the first in a long line of casualties who dared to go up against Marvel Studios. In its second week, inaugural MCU effort Iron Man demolished Speed Racer at the box office, with the Wachowskis' gamble collecting a mere $18 million in its opening weekend. Poor word of mouth and the release of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian the following weekend didn't help matters, and Speed Racer had to scratch and claw its way to a weak $94 million worldwide gross. The flop ultimately lost Village Roadshow and WB at least $100 million.

2009 - Land of the Lost

Budget: $100 million Worldwide gross: $68 million Estimated loss: $65 million 

Two years after Evan Almighty, Universal and Relativity teamed up to once again tank at the box office with Land of the Lost, starring Will Ferrell in a comedic adaptation of the beloved live-action series from those purveyors of '70s weirdness Sid and Marty Krofft. The $100 million production might have seemed like a decent idea on its face, but Universal once again went big with an insane marketing blitz while failing to take into account that the finished product simply wasn't very good.

Compounding matters, the film's competition turned out to be significantly stiffer than expected. In its opening weekend, Land of the Lost was embarrassed by the much-less-expensive surprise hit The Hangover and Pixar's classic Up (in its second week), and scathingly unkind reviews were the nail in coffin. Grossing only $68 million worldwide, the film lost roughly $65 million and put a dent in Ferrell's reputation as a bankable comedy star; Universal Studios president Ron Meyer essentially publicly apologized for the film, saying, "Land of the Lost was just crap. I mean, there was no excuse for it... [it] was a huge loss. We misfired. We were wrong."

2010 - How Do You Know

Budget: $120 million Worldwide gross: $48 million Estimated loss: $105 million 

There's no denying that James L. Brooks is comedy royalty: he created or co-created classic series The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi, among others, delivered brainy and thoughtful comedy pictures like Broadcast News, and is the man who hired Matt Groening to create the animated shorts which would eventually become The Simpsons. But if you're unfamiliar with his 2010 effort How Do You Know, you're not alone; despite a cast which included Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, and Jack Nicholson, the romantic comedy barely made an impression an audiences, collecting a mere $48 million during its box office run.

For most rom-coms, this might not be a problem — but How Do You Know cost an insane $120 million to produce, due in part to the whopping salaries commanded by its stars (not to mention Brooks himself, who got paid $10 million plus points on the back end). Brooks also took the unusual step of reshooting the beginning and end of the film, pushing the budget into the stratosphere — all in the service of a romantic comedy that audiences found neither romantic nor funny. The film lost $105 million for Sony, who terminated their deal with Brooks.

2011 - Mars Needs Moms

Budget: $150 million Worldwide gross: $39 million Estimated loss: $130 million

An animated fantasy based on a book by Berke Breathed (of Bloom County fame) and starring Seth Green and Joan Cusack, Mars Needs Moms had "giant gamble" written all over it from the beginning. Based on an obscure property and with a distinct lack of high-powered stars, the story of a young boy who must rescue his mother when she's abducted by Martians failed to strike a chord with audiences despite opening against relatively weak competition in March of 2011; perhaps it had something to do with the animation, which sent many moviegoers careening into the uncanny valley.

With its $150 million budget, the film would have had to overperform just to turn a profit—but its performance likely had Disney executives banging their heads against anything they could find, as the film pulled in $39 million worldwide. That $130 million loss put a serious dent in the company's overall earnings for that quarter, but things were about to get so very much worse for the House of Mouse.

2012 - John Carter

Budget: $250 million Worldwide gross: $284 million Estimated loss: $200 million 

There are sickeningly expensive flops, and then there's John Carter. Efforts to adapt Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels date back to the 1930s; a live-action Disney adaptation to be helmed by John "Die Hard" McTiernan fell apart in the '80s due to technological limitations. The rights remained with Disney, and by the time John Carter — based on the first novel in the series, A Princess of Mars — hit screens in 2012, technological limitations certainly weren't the problem. The problem was everything else.

Star Taylor Kitsch led a production that found a way to be stupendously dull, despite the fact that director Andrew Stanton (Up) left the film's $250 million budget all over the screen. Audiences were confused, critics were bored, and the film's massive marketing push left it deeper in the red than perhaps any film to date when all was said and done. Its worldwide take of $284 million didn't even come close to covering costs, and for the second year in a row, Disney was responsible for one of the biggest flops of all time, cutting a breathtaking $200 million loss on the picture. But yet again, things could always get worse.

2013 - The Lone Ranger

Budget: $215 million Worldwide gross: $260 million Estimated loss: $190 million 

In any discussion of the most ill-conceived would-be blockbusters of all time, 2013's The Lone Ranger deserves a prominent place. The film's struggles began years before its release; first announced in 2008, it didn't go before the cameras until 2011, as producers searched for ways to wrangle the budget down from the proposed $260 million to a slightly less irresponsible $215 million. Unfortunately, the lengthy delay was for naught — once cameras rolled, the budget quickly threatened to spiral out of control again, to the point where production was briefly shut down over budget concerns.

The film's release date was delayed several times, and in the meantime, images of star Johnny Depp in full regalia as the Ranger's sidekick Tonto were deemed ridiculous on one end of the spectrum and insulting on the other. With Armie Hammer in the title role, the film opened to wildly indifferent audiences and mockery from critics. The film's $260 million worldwide gross translated to yet another whopping loss for Disney to the tune of $190 million, but on the bright side, it mercifully ended the studio's streak of monumental flops... temporarily.

2014 - Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

Budget: $70 million Worldwide gross: $18 million Estimated loss: $66 million

The animated feature Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return constitutes yet another strong warning to private investors eager to get in on the moviemaking game. Much of the film's reported $70 million budget — which some sources say may have run closer to the $100 million mark — were raised from such investors, and with a cast featuring Lea Michele, Kelsey Grammer, Oliver Platt and Dan Aykroyd, they probably figured they had gotten in on a can't-miss investment. They could not have been more wrong.

Ryan and Roland Carroll, the head honchos of studio Summertime Entertainment, had been under scrutiny in no fewer than six states for shady fundraising practices, and cease-and-desist letters from the aforementioned states revealed that some investors had been promised that Legends of Oz was projected to gross between $720 million and $2 billion — based on absolutely nothing. In the end, the film completely tanked with an $18 million worldwide gross, with the investors taking the brunt of the $66 million estimated loss.

2015 - Tomorrowland

Budget: $190 million Worldwide gross: $209 million Estimated loss: $140 million

After a year off, Disney returned to the world of massive flops with Tomorrowland, a film with a pedigree so solid that the studio could perhaps be forgiven for its misplaced confidence. Co-written and directed by Brad Bird (The IncrediblesRatatouille) and with a cast including George Clooney, Hugh Laurie and Keegan-Michael Key, the film promised a brain-bending ride through alternate dimensions in the service of a unique story — and somehow managed to fall disappointingly short.

The film had the dubious honor of opening at #1 during the worst Memorial Day weekend for Hollywood in recent memory, and critics panned the film for being maudlin, preachy and not adventurous enough to live up to its reality-warping premise. Its $209 million worldwide take barely covered its $190 million budget, and marketing expenses pushed it deep into the red; analysts estimated that Disney lost $140 million on the picture. Such a string of disasters surely would have put an end to practically any other studio — fortunately for Disney, they had the foresight to precede their flop-making streak with the purchase of the studio behind the highest-grossing film franchise of all time.

2016 - Ben-Hur

Budget: $100 million Worldwide gross: $94 million Estimated loss: $120 million

The 1959 epic Ben-Hur is an unassailable classic; it was at the time the most expensive film ever made, and even today, one has to wonder how on Earth nobody was killed filming the famous chariot race scene. Bringing an update to the screen after 57 years, however, proved to be a major miscalculation for co-financing studios Paramount and MGM, whose financial tribulations in recent years have become the stuff of legend. 

The production delivered plenty of spectacle, but was hampered by bad word of mouth and absolutely toxic reviews. The film was murdered in its opening weekend by Suicide Squad, and the debut of smash hit Don't Breathe the following week sealed its fate. Ben Hur's eventual $94 million gross wasn't even enough to cover its $100 million budget, and the vast brunt of its estimated $120 million loss after marketing expenses was shouldered by MGM, which really didn't need any more problems.

2017 - Live by Night

Budget: $65 million Worldwide gross: $22 million Estimated loss: $75 million

Ben Affleck has been a reliably bankable movie star for the better part of two decades. Audiences had reason to be excited, then, when it was announced that Live by Night — a period gangster picture written, directed by and starring Affleck — would debut during the 2017 holiday season, in time to make a push for Oscar consideration. With a modest $65 million budget, the flick seemed like a sure thing — but a curious thing happened on the way to prestige picture glory.

Affleck's passion project arrived in theaters strangely devoid of any passion. Critics denounced it and audiences simply ignored it altogether. Live by Night barely registered a blip on the box office radar, pulling in a measly $22 million and resulting in a $75 million loss for Warner Bros., prompting observers to speculate that WB would just chalk it up to the cost of doing business if their then-forthcoming superhero team-up Justice League, prominently featuring Affleck's Batman, posted the expected monster numbers. Of course, that didn't turn out exactly as expected, either.