The films that grossed $250m+ and apparently flopped

Think Waterworld was a massive box office bomb? That John Carter and The Lone Ranger were 'turkeys'? Think again...

If you say something often enough, the theory runs, then it becomes fact. As such, if you keep saying that films such as Waterworld, Superman Returns, Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes and John Carter were flops – or ‘box office bombs’, if you’re after a headline – then that’s what they seem to become.

The problem is that there’s a growing number of films that have grossed more than $250m at the worldwide box office that are being regarded as flops/bombs/disasters and such like. Yet are they? Here’s a mix of examples, with a look at the numbers to see whether they did actually ‘bomb’ or not….


What did it gross? $702m and counting.

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What happened? Sony hasn’t enjoyed the most positive of press for its latest Spider-Man sequel this year. Coming off the back of the 2012 reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was the film that was expected to see the new take on Spider-man really hit big. And it sort of did. With over $700m in the bank, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has outgrossed X-Men: Days Of Future Past at the worldwide box office (although the latter will eventually overtake the former). Thing is, Spider-Man is seen as a disappointment, X-Men as a big hit.

And that’s probably fair. Days Of Future Past has grown the X-Men series financially, and it’s the top grossing movie in that film saga to date. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, has seen a stagnation of interest in Spider-Man movies. By the time its international run is done, the latest Spider-Man may just get to the $757m that The Amazing Spider-Man banked. But only just.

Yet there’s the DVD, Blu-ray and on-demand market to come, and by the time that’s done and dusted, Sony will have a tidy return on its latest Spider-Man investment.

So did it flop? No. It might have disappointed, and might not have grown the series in the way Sony would have wanted. But a $700m return on a $200-250m movie is a flop in nobody’s book.

Questions may arise over whether The Amazing Spider-Man 2 could and should have been a better film, of course. But it’s done more than ample business to keep the Spidey juggernaut running.


What did it gross? $362m.

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What happened? Tim Burton didn’t have a nice time making Planet Of The Apes. Having battled movie studios before, particular on 1989’s Batman, he found himself slap bang back in the middle of such a battle with 20th Century Fox on his Planet Of The Apes reboot/remake/whatever we were calling this things back in 2001. The end result was a film that nobody seemed to be particularly happy with – not least the audience – with an ending that at best could be called questionable.

The film cost $100m to make, and Fox was looking for it to kickstart a brand new take on the Planet Of The Apes franchise for the studio. As such, it had sequels in mind. It would be fair to say that the critical response to Burton’s movie all but killed any chance of those happening, though.

Because Planet Of The Apes is a surprisingly uninteresting film. The studio would demonstrate just why when it had another go, giving Rupert Wyatt the job of realising Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. A decade on, Rise would take $481m worldwide and be deemed a big hit. Inflation adjusted, Burton’s film nearly matched that.

Yet the majority felt Burton’s film was a crashing bore, and Wyatt’s wasn’t. The sequel never materialised to the former. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes meanwhile is released next month.

So did it flop? The label ‘flop’ shouldn’t necessarily be mixed up with ‘temporary franchise killer’. Burton’s Planet Of The Apes was not the former. It was the latter.


What did it gross? $391m.

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What happened? Warner Bros thought it had the formula sorted when Christopher Nolan rejuvenated the Batman series with 2005’s Batman Begins. The film garnered ecstatic reviews,

Superman Returns took more at the box office than Batman Begins. Batman Begins is regarded as a hit. Superman Returns is often described as a flop. Granted, Superman Returns was a much more expensive film to make, and came bundled with the expectations that tend to accompany a hefty price tag (it cost up to $270m to make, it’s been reported, over $100m more than Nolan’s first Batman movie). And certainly, Warner Bros was hoping for, and expecting, much more. But if the definition of a flop is a film that takes less money than it cost to make and market, then by the time all the coins were counted from Superman Returns‘ release on assorted forms, it was in profit.

But, again, it was a temporary franchise killer. Warner Bros dithered for some time before opting against a direct sequel to Superman Returns, and it took Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer to crack the story that would form the basis of Zack Snyder’s reboot, Man Of Steel. Bryan Singer, the director of Superman Returns, never got the chance to go “all Wrath Of Khan” on his planned Superman follow-up.

So did it flop? It disappointed. It did not flop.


What did it gross? $284m.

What happened? Andrew Stanton’s long-cherished adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter Of Mars generated no shortage of headlines around its release in March 2012. Most of them, sadly, were in the financial pages, with reports suggesting that Disney was looking at a $200m writedown on the film.

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That in itself is part and parcel of the modern way movies are accounted for. That figures have to tally into quarterly reports and numbers, and don’t take account of the long term performance of a movie. So, for instance, The Shawshank Redemption would, in modern accounting terms, be a flop, in spite of the many millions it’s garnered since release, as word of mouth spread.

John Carter hasn’t had quite the word of mouth uplift of Shawshank, of course, but neither has it been hammered into a grave by the many movie watchers who have found it since. That notwithstanding, the numbers are harsh. John Carter, before marketing and distribution costs, cost around $250m to make. It grossed $284m at the worldwide box office, and Disney would be lucky to see half of that.

Sequel plans were swiftly halted, and the $73m US gross in particular was seen as a major disappointment.

So did it flop? If you’ve spent $250m to make a movie, you expect it to do a bit more than $284m at the box office. Thus, if you have to file a report now, yes, John Carter probably flopped. Ten years down the line? We’d wager hard cash that Disney will still be selling DVDs and Blu-rays of this one, and that the film might just sneak into profit. That’s a story that’ll attract nowhere near the attention of it potentially losing hundreds of millions of dollars, though.


What did it gross? $260m.

What happened? Ah, you know. The reteaming of the Pirates Of The Caribbean hitmakers – producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski, star Johnny Depp – was enough to convince Disney to write a cheque for $215m to cover the cost of bringing The Lone Ranger to the big screen. Verbinski thus mapped out a long and very expensive western, for which the knives appeared to be out months in advance.

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Talk of cutbacks mid-production, of budget overruns and of problems dominated the press the film attracted in the months building up to its release. Further knives were drawn, in the US at least, come release weekend, where the film went head to head with Despicable Me 2 over the July 4th weekend in the US back in 2013. It would be fair to say that The Lone Ranger lost that particular battle. Heavily.

Not for the first time though, a film that suffered in the US found a stronger audience, and a warmer reception, outside of America. As such, whilst The Lone Ranger fell just shy of $90m at the US box office, it made nearly double that everywhere else. That said, Disney was still looking at another write-down on the project.

So did it flop? As Robbie Collin of The Telegraph Tweeted at the time: “Bad business decision? Yes. Bad film? Get out of here”. The Lone Ranger is another that should eventually turn a profit, but it’s going to take a bit more time to get there. A financial disappointment, certainly.


What did it gross? $362m.

What happened? This one was all set to be a sure fire summer 2013 hit. The original Hangover had taken $467m worldwide. The sequel? It upped the financial ante to $586m. So by the time The Hangover Part III came around, something north of $500m was the expected total.

But something went wrong. Whereas the first Hangover movie had been buoyed by strong word of mouth, those who sat through the near-photocopied second movie weren’t so keen. So much so that the early negative reviews for The Hangover Part III started to have an impact.

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As it turned out, the movie fell short of the previous film by a good $200m. Given that it was the most expensive in the series – costing over $100m to make, a scary sum for a comedy – it would be fair to call The Hangover Part III a film that fell below expectations.

So did it flop? No, although it was telling that it was outgrossed by the far cheaper Warner Bros comedy, We’re The Millers, in the same summer, in the US at least (worldwide, The Hangover Part III prevailed). There’s no other way to spin it, though: The Hangover Part III by most measures was a hit. Sigh.


What did it gross? $306m.

What happened? DreamWorks was on an impressive box office run of form when it released its November 2012 movie, Rise Of The Guardians. A film we’re very fond of here, the movie followed Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots and Madagascar 3 on the studio’s slate. Thus, when it grossed a disappointing $103m in the US, the word ‘flop’ was being bandied about.

Director Peter Ramsey, looking back on the film’s release, told us “I think people were starting to realise that there was going to be competition that they hadn’t really planned on”, recalling the fact that his film ended up going toe-to-toe with Skyfall and Twilight at the box office. But outside of America, the film found some legs, and eventually banked over $300m. It cost around $145m to make.

You can read more of Ramsey’s post-release thoughts here, incidentally.

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Did it flop? Given the run that DreamWorks had been on, it’s hard to suggest it was a raging success. Given the fact that the studio has struggled to match its previous numbers since, with films such as Turbo and Mr Peabody & Sherman falling shy of $300m worldwide, Rise Of The Guardians looks like a higher watermark than it was given credit for at the time. It also made a profit.


What did it gross? $264m.

What happened? To this day, barely a month goes by without an article somewhere on the planet referring to Waterworld as a notorious box office bomb, or a turkey, or a big flop. In this case, though, that conclusion was drawn before the film’s release, rather than after it.

Before? We were reliably told that Waterworld couldn’t make money. At a negative cost of around $175m, it was the most expensive film ever made (back in 1995 anyway). It was beset by problems. People has decided it was going to be a flop before the movie was even released. “They wanted it to be disaster”, director Kevin Reynolds told us in an interview a few years’ back (the full interview is here).

What a disappointment it must have been then when Waterworld came out to decent reviews. Sure, it’s a derivate movie, but it’s got spectacle, some excellent action sequences, and it’s the only film to date that see Kevin Costner sport a prosthetic vagina behind his ears.

It also made money. Waterworld didn’t fare brilliantly at the US box office, grossing $88m whilst cheaper films such as Seven, Casper, Apollo 13 and Toy Story all took a lot more. But beyond American shores, Waterworld did good business. Furthermore, it did very healthy business on VHS, further good business via cable sales, and continues to notch up DVD and Blu-ray sales. In short, Waterworld made a profit.

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So did it flop? No. But that doesn’t make as compelling a headline.

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