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Box office bomb

For the album by Dramarama, see Box Office Bomb (album).
Further information: List of box office bombs

In the motion picture industry, a box office bomb or flop is a film that is viewed as highly unsuccessful or unprofitable during its theatrical run, sometimes preceding hype regarding its cost, production, or marketing efforts.[1][2] Generally, any film for which the production and marketing costs exceed the combined revenue recovered after release is considered to have "bombed".[3]

Gauging the financial success of a film is difficult, and because there is no reliable definition, what makes a box-office bomb can be very subjective. Not all films that fail to earn back their estimated costs during their theatrical runs are bombs,[2] and the label is generally applied to films that miss earnings projections by a wide margin, particularly when they are very expensive to produce, and sometimes in conjunction with middling or poor reviews (though critical reception has an imperfect connection to box office performance).[4]

Possible success of some so-called "flops"

If a studio recoups the production by the theatrical markets (and marketing costs by the ancillary market) of a film, then it can be considered a success. Otherwise, if it does not recoup, it is referred to as a box office bomb. But some films, though international distribution, sales to television syndication, and home video releases often mean some films that are considered flops in North America eventually make a profit for their studios. Waterworld is an example of a movie that does not appear on lists of box office bombs, despite enormous budget overruns, because the film broke even after making huge revenues from foreign box office, rentals, pay-per-view fees, cable outlays, and other revenue streams that exist independently of the North American theatrical system.[5] Head, a 1968 film featuring The Monkees, was a flop that became profitable for its studio years later when its cult film status led to its sale to Rhino Entertainment and its re-release in various video formats. The popularity and profitability of DVD sales has added further opportunities for films to recoup losses and eventually become profitable, leading to doubts over the significance of US domestic grosses as a predictor of a film's overall success.

In 2012, Dredd earned $23,153,028 from international markets[6] and $13,414,714 from North America, for a total of $36,567,742.[7] Dredd was considered a flop on these returns. In the UK it grossed £1.05 million from 415 cinemas during its opening weekend. This made it the weekend's number-one film, the first film restricted to audiences over 18 years of age to do so since Saw 3D in 2010.[8][9] In home media during its first week on sale in the UK, Dredd was the number 1 selling DVD and Blu-ray. During the week of its release in North America, it was the number 1 selling DVD and Blu-ray with approximately 650,000 units sold, and Blu-ray units accounting for nearly 50% of that figure. It was also the best-selling digital download for that period[10] bringing it into profit, and it also sold out from many retailers due to lack of expected sales demand based on the box office performance compared to actual demand for it on home media, showing non box office returns of films is important in considering if a film is a flop.

The Golden Compass, based on the first novel in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, is considered a flop in North America due to its $180 million budget coupled with New Line Cinema's decision to sell all of the international distribution rights, but the unique circumstances of its international success have made the film's overall success a point of contention; it was the first film ever to make more than $300 million internationally but less than $100 million in the United States. Then–New Line studio co-head Michael Lynne said, "The jury is still very much out on the movie..."[11]

Different standards of success

Different genres of film are subject to different standards of success. Action movies typically have higher production costs and promotion budgets than romantic movies. Typically, the most notorious flops are summer blockbusters, which often incur enormous production costs in a highly competitive market, but do not perform well at the box office. The 2004 film Catwoman was released in July of that year to poor reviews, and went on to gross $40,202,379 domestically against a budget of $100 million. Advertising and marketing costs not included in a film's production costs can make a bomb even more harmful to the studio.

Studios pushed into financial trouble

In extreme cases, a single film's lackluster performance can push a studio into financial losses, bankruptcy or closure, as happened with RKO Pictures (The Conqueror), United Artists (Heaven's Gate), Carolco Pictures (Cutthroat Island, once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest box office flop of all time[12]), Fox Animation Studios (Titan A.E.), The Ladd Company (Twice Upon a Time and The Right Stuff), Fleischer Studios (Mr. Bug Goes to Town), Hanna-Barbera (Once Upon a Forest), and ITC Entertainment (Raise the Titanic). The failure of The Golden Compass was seen as a significant factor in influencing Warner Bros.' decision to take direct control of New Line Cinema.[13]

When a failed attempt to revive a genre is particularly costly, all studios may subsequently balk at producing similar films, as was the case with Gold Circle Films' horror-comedy Slither, which made less than a quarter of its $29.5 million budget. Some failures have changed a company's agenda, such as Walt Disney Pictures' decision to make only computer-animated features, which stemmed from several disappointing traditionally animated releases, including Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet. (However, this decision was reversed a few years later.) Due to the box office disappointments of the films Cats Don't Dance, Quest for Camelot, The Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Warner Bros. Animation shifted from theatrical features to television shows; however, recently it has produced some Looney Tunes theatrical shorts and eventually returned to making films with The Lego Movie in 2014 under the Warner Animation Group banner, which was met with critical acclaim and became a major box office success.

In 2001, Square Pictures released its first film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, an animated motion picture inspired by the Final Fantasy series of video games. It received mixed reviews from critics and it lost over $52 million, and Square Pictures ceased producing feature films. In 2011, Mars Needs Moms was the last film released by ImageMovers Digital before it got absorbed by ImageMovers to a loss of nearly $140 million—the largest box office loser of all time unadjusted for inflation. Despite this loss, the decision to close the production company had been made a year prior to the film's release.[14]

Causes of a film's failure

Negative word of mouth

Beginning in the 1980s, cinemas started to drop movies that suffered a poor opening weekend.[citation needed] This made the performance of a film on its opening weekend much more crucial to its perception. With the growth of the Internet during the 1990s, chat rooms and websites enabled negative word of mouth to spread rapidly. The 1998 movie The Siege was originally a critical and commercial failure after Muslim and Arab organizations ridiculed it over its insensitive matter.

A troubled production history is sometimes also the case, as it was with Heaven's Gate, which famously went three months over schedule and saw its budget mushroom from $7.5 million to $36 million. These facts caught the ears of journalists and critics who were refused access to the film's set by director Michael Cimino, and upon its release was abhorred by the American press. (Such a predicament would have occurred for Apocalypse Now had the film not been received so warmly at Cannes.)


Films may attract low ticket sales if they are released against heavy competition from other movies also in theaters at the same time. A notable example of this was the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. The film was a financial loss for RKO because it was pitted against the highly successful films Miracle on 34th Street and The Best Years of Our Lives. However, it became largely popular during the television era, and is now considered a Christmas classic.

External circumstances

While it is rare, films which might otherwise have fared well may fail due to issues unrelated to the film itself, with the timing of the film's release being perhaps the most common. This was one of several reasons for the commercial failure of one of Hollywood's first flops, Intolerance. Due to production delays, the film was not released until late 1916, by which time the widespread anti-war sentiment it reflected had started to shift in favor of U.S. entry into World War I. While the film would later be considered groundbreaking, its failure drove D. W. Griffith's production company, Triangle Studio, out of business. Other examples include MGM's The Wizard of Oz and Walt Disney's Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi all of which underperformed merely due to the fact they were released during World War II, which cut off 60% of Hollywood's international release market. However, these films became popular and critically acclaimed in later years, especially the former, which has gone on to become one of the most iconic films in film history.

Other issues such as general economic malaise may cause less disposable income for potential filmgoers, resulting in fewer ticket sales. Also, many movies that open during times of national crisis and just after disasters such as Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and hurricanes underperform at the box office.[15]

High production costs

Sometimes, a film may do reasonably well at the box office, but still be considered a failure due to a large budget. For example, 2005's Sahara cost over $241 million to make, due in part to exorbitant production costs. It took in $122 million, usually enough to be successful. However, in this case, this accounted for barely over half of its expenses.[16] In 2012, Disney reported losses of $200 million on John Carter; at that time the film had made only $234 million worldwide, far short of the $250 million budget plus worldwide advertising.[17]


Independent films

The 2006 independent movie Zyzzyx Road made just $30 at the domestic box office. The film, with a budget of $1.2 million and starring Tom Sizemore and Katherine Heigl, owes its tiny revenue to its limited box office release—just six days in a single theater in Dallas for the purpose of meeting SAG requirements—rather than its ability to attract viewers.[18][19] According to co-star Leo Grillo, it sold six tickets, two of which were to cast members.[20]

Previously, a British film (Offending Angels) became notorious because it took £89[21] or £79[22] at the box office. It had a £70,000 budget but was panned by critics including the BBC, who called it a "truly awful pile of garbage",[23] and Total Film, who called it "irredeemable".[24]

In 2011, the film The Worst Movie Ever! opened to just $11 at the domestic box office, playing in only one theater.[25]

Publicly financed films

The critically acclaimed Canadian film The Law of Enclosures (1999) took in about C$1,000 at the box office due to an extremely limited release in 2001. The movie was exhibited in only one theater in Toronto for exactly one week. Costing C$2 million, Law won three Genie Award nominations, including nods to its stars Sarah Polley and Brendan Fletcher (Fletcher won). The film was publicly financed due to Canadian legislation mandating the production of Canadian-content films to compete with films imported from the United States, which dominates the Canadian box office. Despite the praise and the participation of the Oscar-nominated Polley, a major movie star in Canada, the film was a flop at the box office and was not released on DVD.

See also


  1. ^ "Greatest Box-Office Bombs, Disasters and Flops". Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  2. ^ a b "The 15 Biggest Box Office Bombs". 2010-08-23. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  3. ^ "Top 200 Biggest Box Office Bombs. Worst movies with respect to Box Office Gross. | Life & Times". 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  4. ^ "As 'Battleship' Flops: Ten Other Memorable Box-Office Bombs | The Playlist". 1995-12-22. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  5. ^ Fleming Jr., Mike (August 7, 2013). "Isn’t It Time To Take ‘Waterworld’ Off The All-Time Flop List?". Retrieved August 13, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Dredd (2012) - International Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. 11 November 2012. Archived from the original on 16 December 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
  7. ^ "Dredd". Box Office Mojo. 25 October 2012. Archived from the original on 28 April 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  8. ^ Kemp, Stuart (11 September 2012). "Around-the-World Roundup: 'Expendables' Back on Top". Box Office Mojo ( Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  9. ^ Gant, Charles (11 September 2012). "Dredd comes out top on weekend when audiences prefer the sun to the screen". (The Guardian). Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  10. ^ Trumbdore, Dave (22 January 2013). "Dredd Tops Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download Sales". Collider. Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
  11. ^ Peter Sanders (2007-12-19). "New Line and Director Settle 'Rings' Suit, Look to 'Hobbit'". Wall Street Journal. 
  12. ^ "Guinness World Records". 2005-11-27. Archived from the original on 2005-11-27. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  13. ^ Davis, Erik (2008-02-28). "Cinematical: BREAKING: New Line Cinema Says Goodbye!". Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  14. ^ Finke, Nikki (2010-03-12). "Disney Closing Zemeckis' Digital Studio". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  15. ^ "Weekend Box Office". 2001-09-17. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  16. ^ Glenn F. Bunting, Jurors hear tales of studio maneuvering, Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2007
  17. ^ "John Carter flop to cost Walt Disney $200m". BBC News. 2012-03-20. 
  18. ^ Faraci, Devin (2006-12-31). "What if they released a movie and nobody came?". Retrieved 2007-01-02. 
  19. ^ Brunner, Rob (2007-02-09). "The Strange and Twisted Tale of ... The Movie That Grossed $30.00". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  20. ^ Mueller, Andrew (2007-01-16). "This film is absolute dross — people are going to love it!". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2007-01-15. 
  21. ^ logboy (2006-02-03). "Offending Angels. £70k Budget, £89 Box Office. 8 DVD Sales to Double its Takings". Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  22. ^ * Offending Angels at the Internet Movie Database
  23. ^ Russell, Jamie (2002-04-10). "Offending Angels (2002)". BBC. Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  24. ^ Harley, Kevin (May 2002). "Offending Angels film review". Total Film. Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  25. ^ "The Worst Movie Ever! (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 

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