Everyone loves a popular hit movie, but after that, we all relish a real stinker that united the critics and audience in rating it as two big thumbs down.
Some of the greatest cult favourites of all time, like Blade Runner and Big Trouble in Little China, did poorly at the box office, yet redeemed themselves critically and financially over the years; even some classics like It’s a Wonderful Life didn’t initially make money and were regarded as flop movies.
But real flopperoos like Ishtar, Showgirls and Brazil have lost so much money and damaged the reputation of everyone involved to the point where you almost have to admire the audacity of the film-makers.
Unfortunately, classic flop movies like these are now losing out to a new generation of terrible films which are not only excruciatingly badly conceived, but which also have multi-million dollar production and marketing budgets, allowing them to reach stratospheric new levels of financial and critical failure.
Let’s round up the Top Ten Flop Movies of All Time, and see just how they managed to fail so spectacularly. Estimated losses are adjusted for inflation.
Mortal Engines: 2018 – Loss: $178m
A sci-fi action adventure based on the novels by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines was a project of Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, but by the time it got made it had been languishing in production hell for 10 years.
Directed by King Kong special effects chief Christian Rivers, the post-apocalyptic tale of mobile cities eating each other disappointed fans of the books and baffled everyone else by shamelessly ripping off Star Wars.
Review: “To the extent that “Mortal Engines” resembles anything, it’s other movies” – New York Times
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Cutthroat Island: 1995 – Loss: $147m
A pirate movie made at the time when no-one was making pirate movies, Cutthroat Island had a notoriously troubled production involving multiple rewrites and recasting.
Critics hated everything about it from the hammy acting to the ridiculous stunts – exactly the sort of things they loved eight years later in Pirates of the Caribbean. Go figure. It finished off production company Carolco and this flop movie probably contributed to the end of the marriage of director Renny Harlin and star Geena Davis.
Review: “Too smutty for children, too cartoonish for adults” – New York Times
The Lone Ranger: 2013 – Loss: $176m
How classic radio and TV cowboy favourite The Lone Ranger could turn into this bloated, charmless mess of a flop movie is one of the mysteries of modern film-making. Blame Johnny Depp, who insisted on portraying sidekick Tonto as a shambling shamanic narrator, and overbalances the entire movie.
Mind you, some critics regard it as a masterpiece of historical deconstructionism.
Review: “A jumbled botch that is so confused in its purpose and so charmless in its effect that it must be seen to be believed, but better yet, no. Don’t see it, don’t believe.” – San Francisco Chronicle
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Titan: AE: 2000 – Loss: £$148m
Originally intended to be a live action sci-fi extravaganza, Titan: AE somehow turned into a mix of hand-drawn and CGI animation, and was the first movie to be screened entirely digitally.
Fox Animation Studios, facing closure, farmed out much of the work to other production companies, and experienced animator Don Bluth couldn’t seem to get a handle on science fiction plotting; the movie starts with the destruction of Earth, and generally goes downhill from there. A flop movie on a cosmic scale.
Review: “Although crammed with action, little of it produces roller-coaster thrills of adventure and self-discovery.” – New York Times
The Adventures of Pluto Nash – 2001: Loss $136m
A grim illustration of the principle that you can’t successfully send up science fiction, particularly if you know nothing about science fiction, Pluto Nash tries to transpose gangster movie tropes to the Moon.
Eddie Murphy unwisely takes on the parts of both the hero and the villain (don’t ask, one of them’s a clone) and Alec Baldwin wisely asked to have his name taken off the credits.
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Often regarded as one of the most spectacular flop movies ever, Pluto Nash was nominated for five Golden Raspberry Awards in 2003 including Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Eddie Murphy), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Screen Couple (Murphy and himself), but failed to win any.
Review: “The Adventures of Pluto Nash is neither adventurous nor funny.” – Rotten Tomatoes
A Wrinkle in Time – 2018: Loss: $131m
A good illustration of what happens when you try to film an unfilmable book. Disney’s attempt to adapt Madeleine L’Engle’s quirky fable about a child chasing her scientist father through the dimensions founders under the wright of its own self-regard and the burden of a starry cast.
This flop movie was, strangely, equally praised and criticised for its heavy use of CGI and messages of female empowerment and diversity.
Review: “I feel as though this film is some sort of punishment for not having read the book as a child. Dreadful. Absolutely dreadful.” – Rotten Tomatoes.
John Carter – 2012: Loss: $127m
Based on the Barsoom series by Tarzan writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, this could have been a sci-fi smash instead of a legendary flop movie – but, spooked by the 2011 failure of Mars Needs Moms, Disney took the “… of Mars” out of the title, leaving cinema-goers understandably asking “Who the ^&%* is John Carter?”
Relying on an unnecessarily complex plot and unconvincing fight scenes, director Andrew Stanton couldn’t transfer the charm of his Pixar animations Finding Nemo and Wall-E to his first live action production, and despite the movie being a huge success in Russia, plans for a trilogy were shelved.
Review – “A dreary, convoluted trudge – a soulless sprawl of computer-generated blippery” – Boston Globe,
Cats – 2019: Loss: $1144m
Universally panned for its grotesque motion capture cat/human hybrid effects, incomprehensible plot and terrible acting, this adaptation of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s stage musical was released with some unfinished effects which were later updated, too late to save it from a critical savaging, with descriptions including ‘exhausting’, ‘bizarre’ and ‘grotesque’.
Worryingly, there are already popular singalong performance taking place, suggesting Cats may become a cult classic rather than the all-time champion flop movie it deserves to be.
Review: “Despite its fur-midable cast, this Cats adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery” – Rotten Tomatoes
The Fall of the Roman Empire – 1964: Loss: $118m
Proving that the do make them liked they used to – massive box-office flop movies that is – The Fall of the Roman Empire featured an all-star cast including Sophia Loren, James Mason, Omar Sharif and Christopher Plummer, as well as the largest outdoor set ever built (a Roman forum), and vast spectacles including a battle using 8,000 extras and 2,500 cavalry – all of this with no use of CGI or even matte painted backgrounds.
Nonetheless, the movie was panned for its three-and-a-half hour length, unclear plot and lack of human interest.
Review: “So massive and incoherent, you’re likely to have the feeling that the Roman Empire has fallen on you.” – New York Times
Terminator: Dark Fate – 2019: Loss: $132m
The sixth in the Terminator franchise disregarded the time-travelling plot of three of its predecessors so it could reunite the stars of the original Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton.
In a perfect illustration of the likely result of flogging a dead horse, with its enormous production and marketing budgets giving it a break-even point of $450-4480m, Dark Fate crashed to box office disaster, killing the franchise as dead as a T-1000 in an industrial smelter.
Review: “Cobbled together by dunces in a last-ditch effort to wring revenue from a moribund concept” – Wall Street Journal
Forget about the popular hit movies everyone loves, why not plan a viewing programme based around some of these flop movies that united the audience in rating them as two big thumbs down, and see if you agree with the critics!