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The Real Reason Starship Troopers Flopped At The Box Office

Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers is considered a cult sci-fi classic. The 1997 movie based on Robert Heinlein's novel of the same name depicts a futuristic Earth that goes to war against alien bugs and follows the character Rico after he enlists in the Federal Service after graduating high school. Today, the movie has landed on pop culture lists, like Slant Magazine's "The 100 Best Films of the 1990s," and is often praised for its ability to satirize fascism.

But while the movie has now managed to find an appreciative audience, that wasn't the case when it premiered. Starship Troopers flopped at the box office. As per Bomb Report, Starship Troopers made only $54 million domestically against a budget of $105 million, which was a massive failure for a movie with a major studio like Sony behind it. Sony gave the movie a big blockbuster marketing push, too. This was also following Verhoeven's earlier '90s box office hits Total Recall and Basic Instinct. So despite a big setup for success and the movie finding its audience many years later, why did Starship Troopers flop at the box office?

A stacked year of blockbusters and lukewarm critical reception hurt Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers had a lot going against it when it premiered in 1997. As noted in Screen Rant, the movie lacked star power, opting for Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards, two leads at the time who weren't on the level of a Brad Pitt or Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film could have still become a surprise hit and made stars out of its cast, but Starship Troopers also had the unfortunate luck of being surrounded by other, more successful movies. According to The Verge, the following month after Starship Troopers' premiere, Titanic came out and dominated the box office. Months before Starship Troopers, sci-fi movies The Fifth Element and The Lost World: Jurassic Park had already hit.

Critics at the time also didn't help with Starship Troopers failing at the box office. As highlighted in an Atlantic article on the movie, critics at the time completely trashed Starship Troopers. In fact, Roger Ebert gave the movie a measly two stars and called it "a kiddie movie." "Its action, characters, and values are pitched at 11-year-old science-fiction fans," he said.

Per Screen Rant, much of the critics' hatred for the movie stemmed from how different it was compared to its source material. Robert Heinlein's novel was rooted in his love for military life and glamorized war. Paul Verhoeven grew up in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands and, as a result, saw Starship Troopers as an opportunity to satirize the militaristic utopia the novel tried to present. This satire might have been appreciated if it came out now, but at the time, it alienated fans of Heinlein's novel and confused critics who were expecting a more traditional adaptation.