Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published April 11th 2021
Ignore the box office returns Really
Producing and promoting a movie has got to be one of the most financially risky ventures. It seems that unless it has 'Marvel' plastered across it, there is always a chance that it is going to lose money and could see many people ruined, either in monetary terms or their reputations.
A lot of the time, the reason a film bombs is simple: it is just not a good film. Of course, a bad film can still make money (and I could mention a list wa-a-ay too long of terrible films that have returned a lot to investors), but generally if a film bombs, it is because it is awful. Bad writing, abysmal acting, bizarre directing, shocking editing, or, more and more, studio interference. Still, no matter what, a film that loses money is then generally regarded as a bad film.
And not even a home theatre could convince people to go see Gigli (Image by sampane from Pixabay)
However, sometimes a film loses money for other reasons. Bad timing is common – its themes come up against some social upheaval, another huge blockbuster dominates everything, it was made 5 years too late or early, the star was in the public's bad books, poor promotion… so many reasons. And that means sometimes good films lose money and fall through the cracks.
So, this column will look at 5 films that lost money but are actually quite good. This was started, by the way, because of a discussion I had on social media following my Zack Snyder's Justice League review. Apparently, the first version lost a lot of money, which surprised me. I mentioned in my review of the update that I didn't mind the first one, and so that got me thinking, I did some research (Forbes magazine and IMDb were invaluable) and this column was born.
It should be noted that films can be considered a money-loser even if they seem to have made back their cost because promotion and advertising is a huge cost, and some cinema chains or DVD distributors or online rental services take a large percentage, so the money generated did not go back to those who made the film. On the other hand, money also comes from TV rights, merchandise, product tie-ins (like a McDonald's meal) and other ancillary concepts.
I have decided, by the way, to not include films released since the start of 2019. With theatres closing in 2020, and subsequent DVD purchasing also restricted, it felt unfair to claim these films as bombs when it really was the time. And films that I like (like Krull, Ghostbusters (2016) and Xanadu) but which are generally not highly regarded I have avoided as well.
As an addendum, two of these films feature one of my favourite actors – Robin Wright (Robin Wright Penn). This is not a slur on her ability, because she is excellent in everything I've seen her in. Including these films.
Here we go! Good bombs! (Losses shown are in 2020/2021 dollars.)
The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1988)
Directed by Terry Gilliam Written by Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown Starring John Neville & Eric Idle
LOSS: $80 million
This fun film from the fertile mind of Monty Python's Terry Gilliam is weird and visually wonderful, with a story about a man who might just be exaggerating his life story but then again, maybe not. John Neville is brilliant as the titular Baron and the whole film is a fun romp. I did some reading and could not work out why the film bombed. Critics loved it, it was nominated for a lot of technical awards and Gilliam was regarded by at least film fans as someone with a unique vision. But for whatever reason, it did not resonate with audiences. Still, I really like it and I recommend it as one of Gilliam's more upbeat films.
A Christmas Carol (2009)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Robert Zemeckis (based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)
Starring Jim Carrey
LOSS: $65 million
When I did my column on versions of the Dickens book, a friend of mine said I'd missed out his favourite version – this one. I told him I had not actually seen it, so he lent me the DVD. It would have made that column. This is a visually amazing film, the rendered characters not tipping into the uncanny valley, and remains really faithful to the book. Carrey does not over-act too much and the story is a tried and true one. Critical response was mixed and crowds just stayed away. This is a fine version of a classic property and deserves more love.
Treasure Planet (2002)
Directed by Ron Clements & John Musker
Written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards (screenplay only), Ted Elliott (story only), & Terry Rossio (story only) (based on Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson)
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Brian Murray
LOSS: $120 million
I saw this at the cinema (the life of a teacher…) and was stunned. This is a really good version of a classic book, transferred nicely to space, and living on its own internal scientific logic. Long John Silver is now a cyborg pirate and Jim Hawkins is still Jim Hawkins, but what is the best thing is just how beautiful it is. Apparently, there were three different animation techniques used in creating this film, all used in each scene, and it is just gorgeous to look at. Of course, the character of BEN, a robot with issues, is a real bane on the whole thing, but if you can ignore that character, it is really good in every other aspect. At the time, critics liked it, but it was competing with a James Bond film, a Harry Potter film, a few other sequels to beloved properties, some remakes and it seemed to get lost in the shuffle. And maybe, just maybe, after films like Star Wars and its ilk, this was just not realistic enough for a modern audience. Shame. Because it is a strong film.
John Carter (2012)
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, & Michael Chabon (based on A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
Starring Taylor Kitsch & Lynn Collins
LOSS: $200 million
This is considered one of the most expensive flop films ever made. And that is a damn shame because it is a really, really good film. It sticks too much of the beats of the book on which it was based, and it realises the world of Barsoom (Mars) and the inhabitants amazingly well, as Burroughs described them. To be honest, I have little to complain about in the film; I saw it at the cinema and loved it and I have watched it several times on DVD since. It was met with a mediocre response from critics, but fans stayed away. This is another one I don't think I'll understand, except maybe the original was too old for a modern audience who like to be spoon-fed their action-adventures. Having said that, research has shown that Disney seemed to have killed it off intentionally, losing money for whatever reasons it had; just another reason to despise the House of Mouse. Still, this did not deserve to die at the box office like it did, and I wish they had made the whole trilogy they had been aiming for. This is definitely not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Hampton Fancher (screenplay & story) & Michael Green (screenplay only)
Starring Ryan Gosling & Harrison Ford
LOSS: $80 million
Everyone was crying out for this sequel to the classic 1982 film. Critics loved it. It was widely regarded as one of the best movies of 2017. And yet fans stayed away! Why? Another film that is stunning to look at, has some really strong acting, has a fantastic denouement, makes you think and is just really, really good, and yet it lost money. Maybe this will get a second lease of life on DVD and home viewing like the original did (also a box office failure, but made its money back on the home video market). Really, when films like this don't do well and some of the dreck out there does, what does that say about the movie-going public?
Okay, before I go off on some sort of bizarre rant about the taste of the masses here, these five films are all well worth your time to go and hunt down on DVD or whatever streaming service you frequent and watch them. Ignore the numbers, just watch and you will see they were unfairly treated by the general public.
These are some truly awesome films.
A pretty accurate representation of me at the John Carter movie…