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The Truth About The Lowest Grossing Movie Of All Time

When a movie bombs hard enough, it earns a rather notorious place in the history books. As time goes on, the world's biggest cinematic flops come to be regarded as legends ... or, at the very least, they carry some serious name recognition. After all, who doesn't remember the ridiculously expensive failure that was Waterworld? What about Gigli, the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez gangster flick so bad it got yanked out of theaters in just three weeks? 

The above films, though, are high profile failures. While they certainly lost the studios some major dough, they didn't set any records for being the lowest grossing movie of all-time. Instead, that dubious distinction goes to a movie that — fittingly enough — you've probably never heard of, even though it was a thriller that starred two popular actors, in Katherine Heigl and Tom Sizemore. 

Zyzzyx Road opened in U.S. theaters in February of 2006. Between a weird title that Microsoft Word underlines in red, a budget of $1.2 million, and a bizarre release strategy (done for the purpose of not earning tickets), the film earned a total gross lower than your average grocery trip. Here's why. 

'Zyzzyx Road' had an ... unconventional release strategy

First off, about the title — no, it's not a typo, even though Southwest locals will (correctly) tell you that it looks an awful lot like Zzyzx, which is a real place. As for some background on the film itself, since — given the box office gross — you never saw it: it stars Leo Grillo as an accountant, Grant, who goes to Vegas and gets involved with a woman named Marissa (Katherine Heigl). They murder her ex-boyfriend, Joey (Tom Sizemore), and cart his corpse off to the desert ... only to find out, shocker, he's still alive. Zyzzyx Road was written, produced, and directed by John Penney (Return of the Living Dead III), and was something of a passion project.

It made $30 in theaters. Again, not a typo. During its entire theatrical run, only six people paid money to see it.

As insane as that sounds, hold your laughter. Because this abysmal profit, while it might technically be the lowest gross ever, comes with a big asterisk — namely, that nobody was supposed to buy tickets for that particular run of Zyzzyx Road, in the first place. As explained by Entertainment Weekly, the marketing plan was to pursue international sales first, then do a domestic release later on. However, the name actors had accepted a lower pay rate for the sake of the production, and the strict rules of the Screen Actor's Guild required that, for them to do so, there needed to be a domestic release in theaters, first. The solution? The production rented a single theater in Texas, and showed the movie only once a day, for six days straight. Nobody was supposed to know.

Once the media found out, though, there was no stuffing the cat back in the bag.

Don't confuse one person's 'Zyzzyx' for a 'Zzyzx'

John Penney was heartbroken when the mocking headlines emerged. He told Entertainment Weekly, "I was mortified. I went, 'Oh, my God, this is horrendous.' I'm reading it and saying, 'Oh, no. Oh, no! This isn't how it's supposed to go.' I've been through a lot of crap in my career. I've seen so many things. But this movie is like my baby, and it's being dragged around in the street with people poking sticks in it. It was brutal. It was ugly. I was reeling."

Embarrassing as the scenario may seem, though, the notoriety helped bring attention to the film. And, regardless, everyone who understands the business knows that the whole "It only made $30" record is facetious, at best: once the film started putting out DVDs, the international market alone netted $368,000 in 23 countries. 

Meanwhile, though, these media shenanigans may have caused another film's reputation to get hit even harder than Zyzzyx Road — because in February of 2006, the exact same time in history where Zyzzyx Road set a new low point in ticket sales, another thriller movie was released, titled ... well, Zzyzx. What are the odds, right? 

Zzyzx also involves murder in the Southwest U.S. desert, predictably, and between the similar plotlines and the similar titles, Zzyzx quite often gets confused with Zyzzyx Road, to this day, and thus accused of having the lowest gross ever. Probably for the sake of making space from the more well-known release, some subsequent releases of Zzyxz have been retitled Burned.