Guest Post – Forgotten Box Office Misfires Part II

Ok, here’s the last part of the forgotten big-budgeted misfires. Just to reiterate, these were the films that had a huge budget for its time and their failure went so far as to bankrupt the studio that marketed them, and some even ruined the filmmakers’ career:

5. Cutthroat Island (1995): I think more people know about the other box office misfire from this year, Waterworld, than this movie. For sure Waterworld was huge box office bomb but at least it didn’t bankrupt the studio, but Cutthroat Island did. The studio behind the film was Carolco Pictures. They used to churn out a lot of big films in the mid-80s and early 90s, including Rambo 2 & 3, Terminator 2, Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Cliffhanger. By the mid-90s they were running out of money and decided to put all of their chips on this film. It’s listed on the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest box office flop of all time. Ge this, it cost the studio about $115 mil to make and it only earned back around $10 mil, ouch!

They should have pulled plug on this film from the beginning. Michael Douglas was attached to be the leading man, but decided to drop out a couple of months before the cameras started rolling. Then they went on a panic mode to look for his replacement, offering the lead role to pretty much all of the A-list actors around that time, but none of them took it. So finally they offered the role to Mathew Modine, who’s never starred in any big-budgeted films nor was he an A-list actor. Because director Renny Harlin was so busy trying to find a new male lead, he didn’t look over the script or set designs, so when he was finally ready to shoot the film, he didn’t like both the script and the set pieces.

Matthew Modine & Geena Davis on the set

The project underwent a script-rewrite and the sets also had to be rebuilt, which ballooned up the production budget and caused the film to be behind schedule. It was scheduled to open in the Summer of 1995 but didn’t make it to theaters until that December. Carolco Pictures filed for bankruptcy six weeks before the film open, so they didn’t have any money to market the film. The film was released by MGM Studios and it opened with a paltry $2 mil in one weekend.

As for Renny Harlin, a year later he came out with another big-budgeted film The Long Kiss Goodnight, which also starred his then-wife Geena Davis, and again, it failed at the box office. In 1999 and 2001 he made Deep Blue Sea and Driven, both had huge budget but again neither of them made a dent at the box office. His last few films were either small-budget or straight-to-DVD fares. Geena Davis’ career didn’t pan out well either, the last time I saw her was on a TV show where she played the President of the US, forgot the name of it.

6. Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997): Keanu Reeves was smart enough to drop out of the Speed sequel a couple of months before the cameras started rolling. Unfortunately for Sandra Bullock, she was stuck because she said she was obligated to do the film because director Jan De Bont made her into a big star by casting her in the first film, so this was her way to to pay him back.

The film’s budget was around $160 mil and it only made around $48 mil back. The film didn’t ruin Bullock’s career but she was sort of in a slump after this film came out. Jan De Bont on the other hand, hasn’t had a big box office hit since 1996’s Twister. He was set to direct a lot of big action pictures after Speed 2, one was about a group of secret agents hunting down the world’s most ruthless terrorists and he was offered a chance to direct the American remake of Godzilla. Of course he never got to make those films because Speed 2 was such a huge failure that the studios didn’t want him to be in charge of their tent-pole pictures.

7. Town & Country (2001): I bet not many of you remember this film right? Well don’t worry, it’s not worth remembering. It’s one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. The film cost around $105 mil to make and earned about $10 mil back. The production started in 1998 but the film didn’t come out till 2001. The reason it took so long to finish was because Warren Beatty demanded to do a lot of takes and the screenplay be rewritten while they were shooting the film. I believe this was the last time Warren Beatty appeared on the big screen, there were rumors that Tarantino offered him the role of Bill in Kill Bill but he didn’t want to make another film again after the experience he had making this film.

8. Rollerball (2002): This remake of 1975 Norman Jewison’s film was so bad that I can’t even recommend it to my worst enemies. Its budget was round $70 to $90 mil and made back around $18 mil. What’s so unbelievable was that the film was directed by John McTiernan, the man who made three of my favorite action films, Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. I don’t know what went wrong during the production of this film but wow, I just couldn’t believe it was made by the same person!

Back in 1999, McTiernan remade another of Norman Jewison’s film The Thomas Crown Affair, which was a good movie and it made some money at the box office. So I presumed MGM figured ‘hey, why not give him a lot of money to do another remake and we can make more money from it.’ Well of course it didn’t turn out that way. First, Keanu Reeves dropped out before the film started shooting (I’m starting to think Keanu is a lot smarter than he looks since he dropped out of two of the biggest box office bombs in history.) Then they cast a Keanu look alike, Chris Klein, to replace him. Klein’s got to be the worst actor I’ve ever seen.

The film was scheduled to come out in the summer of 2001 but because of negative word of mouth after early screenings, the studio finally dumped it in February of 2002. The studio knew that they had a stinker in their hands, so in order to spread some good word of mouth to the movie geeks out there, they contacted Harry Knowles, the owner of a very popular movie website and flew him in a private jet for a private screening with director John McTiernan with the hope that he would give the film a good review and convince his readers to go see it. Well, after Knowles saw the film, he published a review of it by tearing it to pieces.

After the film came out, John McTiernan got into some legal troubles and I believe he’s currently serving time in prison. Chris Klein disappeared from the face of the earth; apparently he’ll reprise his role in another American Pie sequel. I’m sure he’s a got a lot of time on his hands now since never became the movie star the studio hope he would be.

Sources:,, and

Well those are some of the not-so-well-known box office failures, let’s hope Hollywood studios will learn from their past failures and invest wisely in future films. Wait a minute, what I’m I smoking? Studios released crappy films with huge budget yearly, some made money and some didn’t. Ridley Scott said in an interview last year that studio presidents told him they don’t even read scripts, they just listened to their executives and would green light any script with potentials to make them a lot of money. No surprise there right?

Any thoughts about any of these films? Which of these films happen to be your favorite?

Guest Post – Forgotten Box Office Misfires Part I

[rtm’s note: Who knew that the little blue people can actually take on Cowboys & Aliens? The Smurfs and the hybrid Western tied at the box office with $36.2 mil. It’s perhaps too soon to call it a flop, but given the $163 production budget for the Harrison Ford/Daniel Craig starrer, it definitely underperformed.]

With today’s bloated budget in Hollywood, when a film tanks at the box office no one really blinks an eye, for example last year Hollywood released a few stinkers: Prince of Persia with a reported budget of $200 mil but earned a paltry $90 mil here in the States; The Sorcerer’s Apprentice cost $150 mil to make but only earned about $60 mil; and Robin Hood with a $200 mil budget only made about half of that. Now some of these films actually made more money overseas so they can perhaps justify their bloated budget, but still the studios had to take a loss because they didn’t make as much from overseas earnings, but that’s a whole other discussion.

Well, here are some forgotten big budgeted films that people either don’t remember or just don’t know about. These were the films that had a huge budget for its time and some even bankrupt the studio and ruined the director’s film career:

1. Heaven’s Gate (1980): This is the godfather of movie failure, it not only bankrupted United Artists studio but also ruined the film’s director and its star’s career. The film was directed by Michael Cimino and starred Kris Kristofferson. The film’s original budget was set at around $15 mil but it ballooned up close to $50 mil. Remember, this was way back in 1979/1980 so that kind of number was unheard of. Cimino was the ‘it’ director around that time, he’d just won an Oscar for directing The Deer Hunter, which also won best picture at the 1979 Oscars. United Artists was in need of some prestige picture and also in need of some box office hits. So they figured why not try to get both by hiring a young hot director who’d just won an Oscar and the film he directed was also a box office hit.

They also hired Kris Kristopherson, who at the time believe it or not was fast to becoming the go-to actor for big-budgeted films. Well, what looked like a sure-fire hit for the studio turned out to be a nightmare. First, Cimino turned in a very long script that would’ve made the film’s runtime close to six hour, and he demanded a huge budget for it. Then when they started shooting, Cimino acted like a madman on the set. He demanded that a building be torn down and rebuilt because it didn’t match up with other buildings on the set. This of course took time and cost more money. If you want to know more about what happened with this movie, there’s a great documentary that you can find on YouTube.

So after Cimino finished the movie, he showed his first cut of the film to studio executives and it was over 4 hours long. I this cut the battle scene at the end lasted over an hour and of course the executives told him there’s no way they could release the film with this cut. Cimino went back into the editing room to trim down the runtime but by this time the damage was already done.

The media caught wind of what went on behind the scenes and ran a story of how Heaven’s Gate was the most expensive film ever made and the United Artists went bankrupt because of it. Of course all of it was true and United Artists actually sold their shares to MGM so they could promote the film. By the time the film hit theater, it had gotten so much bad press that most critics and audiences alike ignored it.

I finally watched the film last year and it wasn’t as bad as its reputation. I think this was the perfect example of how a director’s ego got in the way of his talent. I mean the film also starred Jeff Bridges and Christopher Walken, so there were some real talents involved, but the ego of the director got in the way and prevented him from making a great film. According to, the film earned a measly $3 million! Cimino never recovered after this film, he directed a few films after Heaven’s Gate but never regained his status as an A-list director again. Kris Kristofferson also suffered as the result of this film’s failure. He never became the top leading man like a lot of people thought he would be; he appeared in a lot of films since but mostly as supporting character or a sidekick, i.e. the Blade films.

2. The Cotton Club (1984): This was Francis Ford Coppola’s first true big-budgeted film (starring Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane) since Apocalypse Now. It cost around $60 mil to make and it only made about $25 mil back. The film had such a high hope for the studio, they released it in December hoping it will get lots of Oscar nominations and make a ton of cash. Of course it didn’t turn out that way and I think Paramount was just happy that most people didn’t remember anything about this film . I also think it destroyed Coppola’s career as an A-list director, after this film he never get to make another mega-budget movie.

3. Blade Runner (1982): This film is now considered one of the best sci-fi films ever made and it has a huge cult following after its release back in the summer of 1982. Now it did earned back close to its budget, the film cost around $28 mil to produce and earned around $27 mil. But considering the hype of the film for its time and it starred the very popular Harrison Ford—who just came off two box office hits in a row, Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark—the film was huge failure.

Also, it was directed by an up and coming young director Ridley Scott whose previous film Alien was a huge hit a couple of years earlier. I’m sure the studio thought, ‘hey we got Harrison Ford, Ridley Scott and a sci-fi action flick, money in the bank right?’ Wrong, the film turned out to be more of a thinking man sci-fi thriller and it hardly contained any action scenes in it at all. After this film came out, Ridley Scott’s career was stuck in neutral for many years. He didn’t have another big hit until the year 2000 when he made Gladiator.

4. The Abyss (1989): The king of big-budgeted films James Cameron actually had a box office misfire, believe it or not. After two big hits in a row, The Terminator in 1984 and Aliens in 1986, Cameron got a huge budget from Fox to make this film.  It cost around $70 mil to make but only made about $50 mil. I think this film was the victim of Batman dominance that summer. Had Fox released the film at a later date, it could’ve been a box office hit. You see, the Summer of 1989 was dominated by Tim Burton’s Batman; seriously the film was everywhere that summer. Also I think another reason The Abyss was a dud was because it wasn’t an action flick but they marketed it that way. So when people actually saw the film, they were disappointed. Well of course this film didn’t ruin Cameron’s career, he bounced back right away two summers later with T2: Judgment Day.

Sources:,, and

That’s the end of part I, stay tuned for the last half of the list of box-office misfires you might not know about coming tomorrow.

So have you heard about any of these stories before? Feel free to share other misfires the average moviegoers might not have heard about.