While Marvel movies and “Star Wars” installments can bring in huge returns on investment, a great many films lose money. And when a studio picture loses money, it loses a lot.
“Ghost in the Shell,” a recent release from Dreamworks Pictures starring Scarlett Johansson, has been in theaters less than a month, and already multiple reports are indicating the movie will lose around $60 million for its producers.
That’s a not-uncommon occurrence in Tinseltown — where nearly every producer is obsessed with creating the next big franchise. To do so means gambling with what is usually hundreds of millions of dollars — “Ghost in the Shell” has a production budget of $110 million and marketing costs that are likely double that.
Modestly budgeted original films have all but disappeared these days in an industry in which movies that lose $75 million here (last year’s “Ghostbusters”) or $70 million there (“Alice Through the Looking Glass”) represent just another day at the office.
Hollywood’s obsession with big spending has long hurt profit margins and pocketbooks. Producers often think money makes up for a lack of story, but moviegoers are unforgiving in how they spend their hard-earned cash.
Here’s a look at five of Hollywood’s biggest and most infamous flops.
“The Adventures of Pluto Nash” (2002). Comedian and actor Eddie Murphy was once the equivalent of box office gold. His ’80s films included high earners like “48 Hours” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” When the ’90s rolled around, it seemed he was just cashing in a paycheck more than anything else.
By the time the 2000s came, it was bewildering that he was commanding a $20 million paycheck for each of his movies. “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” was a $100 million picture that was supposed to set up a franchise and Murphy’s next sharp-witted character, a lunar nightclub owner named Pluto Nash.
The film earned a whopping $4.4 million in the United States. Its worldwide total was a tad better at $7.1 million. The most shocking thing about “Pluto Nash” is that Murphy continued commanding $20 million paychecks for each of his subsequent films — which included more flops, such as “I Spy.”
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“Cutthroat Island” (1995). This film is a perfect example of a filmmaker’s head getting too big. Director Renny Harlin went into the pirate adventure with some respectable hits under his belt, such as “Cliffhanger” and “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” — and he was even married to an A-list actress by the name of Geena Davis.
She was set to headline the movie for her director husband, but the film’s production is now often listed as one of the most disastrous in Hollywood history. Various reports describe a pre-production phase in which the director and star were barely present — not the best thing for a movie that is costing $100 million.
The laid-back attitude showed in the final product, as “Island” made just $10 million. Its worldwide total only came to $18 million. Amazingly, Davis and Harlin teamed up the very next year with another expensive flop, called “The Long Kiss Goodnight.”
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“The Alamo” (2004). This was a commendable but costly attempt to honor the men who fought and died at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. Despite big stars like Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid and a production budget of $107 million, “Alamo” brought in a worldwide total of only $25.8 million. The movie was likely fighting against the fond memories audiences had for the 1960 John Wayne movie of the same name.
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“Mars Needs Moms” (2011). Few people likely remember this flick — and it’s not a stretch to say that the ones who do probably wish they could forget.
The $150 million Disney movie made only $21.4 million domestically and $39 million worldwide. Disney reportedly lost $125 million on the film.
Produced by Robert Zemeckis, the movie was the latest attempt at his motion capture technology: Actors performed scenes and then animations of those scenes were overlaid. Zemeckis had put the same technology to use in “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf,” and “A Christmas Carol,” and critics and audiences agreed the characters could not emote properly and looked plain creepy.
Disney was actually forced to learn from “Mars Needs Moms,” as it cancelled Zemeckis’ next directorial effort, “Yellow Submarine,” which would have used the same technology.
Zemeckis (director of classics like “Back to the Future” and “Forrest Gump”) stood by the movie and claimed it was a misunderstood masterwork. “It’s the best 3D movie since ‘Avatar,'” the director said at the 2012 Philadelphia Film Fest, according to Movieline. “It’s the way 3D should be presented.” He also said it was Disney’s marketing that kept the film from making more money.
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“The 13th Warrior” (1999). Director John McTiernan destroyed his name as quickly as he built it. He made ’80s hits such as “Predator,” “Die Hard,” and “The Hunt for Red October,” but the latter half of his career included expensive flops like “Last Action Hero” and this insufferable mess of a movie, starring Antonio Banderas.
Plagued with costly reshoots, the film went over budget big time. Still, the studio (Buena Vista) put a lot of muscle into marketing the sword-and-sandal picture. All told, the movie cost at least $160 million. It earned just above $30 million in the United States and a total of $61.7 million worldwide. McTiernan was rewarded for the effort with two more high-budget, high-profile flops called “Rollerball” and “Basic” in the years that followed.
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