Movies are big business, and if a studio gets things right, they can make hundreds of millions in profit. Get it wrong though, and a lot is riding on what happens. Budgets are getting bigger, but the risk is that the studio fails to recoup what they invested in a film and they’re left without a single penny. These are the bad movies that single-handedly put their studios out of business.
The Fall of the Roman Empire
Samuel Bronston Productions put a lot of money into the 1964 historical epic The Fall of the Roman Empire. They cast Sophia Loren in a leading role alongside acting royalty such as Christopher Plummer and Alec Guinness. It seemed as though the ingredients were there for one of the biggest movies of all time but somewhere along the way they forgot to follow the recipe.
A budget of $19 million was allocated for the film, but it only took back $4.75 million at the box office. For the ‘60s, that kind of loss was just too much for any studio to survive and after a 75% hit Samuel Bronston Productions reportedly went bust. They put all of their eggs in one basket but unfortunately they were rotten.
Mortal Engines, released in 2018, seemingly had it all. From a script co-written by Lord of the Rings’ Peter Jackson to an Academy Award-winning director, it was poised to be the start of a new tentpole franchise. It was not.
Even though the author of the book on which the movie was based loved it, it seems hardly anyone else did. Both the writing and direction drew fire, and the production budget of at least $100 million made things worse. Mortal Engines ended up losing nearly $175 million, probably arriving too late to the young adult fantasy adaptation party.
Battlefield Earth has widely been panned as one of the biggest movie flops of all time, but it was much worse than that for Franchise Pictures. Practically every Hollywood studio in town turned down the opportunity to make this film despite John Travolta’s best efforts.
Travolta even put $5 million of his own money to make sure this film was made, and after it was, people were left wondering why. Franchise Pictures were also accused of inflating their own production costs to get more money from international sources. The cost rose to $73 million, but it only recouped $29.7 million. That was too much of a loss for the studio to swallow and they went bust.
The Golden Compass
The problem with The Golden Compass wasn’t how well it did at the box office, it was how much New Line Cinema had to sacrifice to get it made. To raise funds for the $200 million project the production studio sold all of the international rights to their film. That meant that any money the film made outside of the United States wouldn’t be going to the studio.
With poor domestic ratings, an estimated return of $70 million, the film pretty much sent New Line Cinema out of business. Globally the film made over $300 million at the box office, but the studio barely saw a penny of it and the company was acquired by Warner Bros. shortly afterward.
One From the Heart
Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most celebrated directors of all time, and when he wanted to explore the latest technological advances in filmmaking, no one could stop him. The director dropped his wartime movie to throw everything he had at this musical romance.
He took a film that began with an $8 million budget and blew that up to over $23 million. The film didn’t manage to make money, in fact, it only took $600,000 from the box office. This brought the production company Zoetrope Productions and Coppola to their knees. Coppola had to file for bankruptcy both personally and on behalf of his own production company.
Twice Upon A Time
Stylish animated adventure Twice Upon A Time forced one of the most prominent film production companies into obscurity. The Ladd Company had produced classic films like Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire, but this 1983 animation allegedly proved to be a disaster.
They were nearing bankruptcy as things were but with the company on its knees it was forced to make Twice Upon A Time a limited release. Because not many people watched it the movie essentially forced the company to shut its doors and take a financial hit.
Fox knew they were a major player in the film industry, but Titan A.E. forced them to rethink their strategy. The animated post-apocalyptic adventure cost Fox Animation Studios a rumored $90 million to produce, but a weak opening at the box office hurt the production company.
After taking just $36 million and ranking at 5th in its opening weekend, Fox closed its animation arm of the business for good. Even casting Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore wasn’t enough to save this film from its shortcomings.
Raise the Titanic
With the reputation the Titanic had for sinking, any studio taking on a movie about the ill-fated ship is a brave one. ITC Entertainment thought they could be the ones to bring the tragic story of the sunken ship to the world but hadn’t predicted it would actually sink them.
An estimated $40 million was spent on getting this 1990 drama to movie theaters, but with a box office taking of just $7 million, the studio was ruined. Their reputation took a hit, and all assets had to be sold off.
City of Lies
Production studio Global Road made it their goal to find a way into the rising Chinese film market, but also pledged to make movies for Americans. They spread themselves too thin and managed to capture neither market and an unreleased film, City of Lies, proved to be the last straw.
City of Lies is a biographical drama trying to piece together the shooting of famed rapper Biggie Smalls. After costs rose and Global Road reported debts of hundreds of millions, they filed for bankruptcy.
The Lady Vanishes
Alfred Hitchcock is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and his 1938 mystery was another huge hit. In 1979 Hammer Film Production wanted to bring it back to life but changed the time in which the movie was set.
It starred Cybil Shepard and Elliot Gould, but the film proved to be the last Hammer Film Production movie for many years. The iconic horror studio was forced to shut down and only recently came back into existence after almost 30 years in the dark.
Many of the cast from The Office have had huge Hollywood careers, but Rainn Wilson found it a little more difficult to move into the big time. His first project after shooting to fame was musical comedy The Rocker in 2008, and it definitely wasn’t a number one smash hit.
Wilson played a down-on-his-luck rocker who ultimately finds redemption, but the film only took $2.6 million in its opening weekend. Fox Atomic was created specifically for producing edgy comedy films but after The Rocker flopped, the studio closed down.
A Sound of Thunder
The great thing about many horror movies is that hey can mostly all be done on small budgets. Franchise Pictures wanted to change that, and they piled a lot of cash into A Sound of Thunder in 2005.
It was an $80 million investment, but it only took $1.9 million at the box office, making it a loss of around 97%. There was $80 million Franchise Pictures would never see again, and in 2007 they declared themselves bankrupt.
Much was made of the highly publicized infidelity rumors between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during the filming of Cleopatra. The historical epic was at one time scheduled to run for six hours, but 20th Century Fox eventually decided to strip it back a little.
A budget of $44 million as spent on this film, and adjusting for inflation the 1963 movie would cost around $330 million today. It was a big budget production that would be the last of its kind as it had Fox on its knees. The studio had to close its doors for weeks as an urgent restructuring of the business was required to keep them afloat. Fox survived, but just barely.
Carolco Pictures seemed to be on a role during the ‘80s and had produced iconic movies such as the Rambo franchise, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Field of Dreams. Everything seemed to be going their way…
But after they pumped a boatload of money into pirate adventure Cutthroat Island in 1995, it became clear they made an error. After so many hits the studio took a big hit with this box office flop, along with Showgirls, and it was forced into bankruptcy.
The Lone Ranger
Walt Disney is one of the most famous names in the film industry. His production company is known for making excellent movies, but Lone Ranger was not one of them. The ended up costing so much, it was almost shut down completely.
Reports estimate that the movie cost upwards of $350 million to make, and only brought in around $260 million. The alleged loss was nearing $150 million and even the Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures vice president called the loss “very disappointing.”
The Lone Ranger was not the only huge disappointment for Disney. Costing around $350 million, John Carter is one of the most expensive movies ever made. Ironically, it is also one of the biggest box office flops of all time.
The movie only made about $284 million, with a writedown of almost $200 million. The movie performed so poorly, they cancelled plans for a remake that were already in the works – no one saw the flop coming, as they expected huge success.
Fox’s X-Men films were all over the place, to say the least. While some were alright, others were downright terrible. The last movie in the franchise to be released by Fox, Dark Phoenix, was meant to tie everything together in a neat little bow.
Instead, it meandered and committed the most grievous sin of all – it simply wasn’t interesting. Though it may end up making money through international markets like China, the film was the lowest-grossing in the entire series. It was a sad bookend for Fox’s independent existence, before being taken over by Disney.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action
In 2003 Warner Bros. Feature Animation tried to bring the Looney Tunes back to our screens in a big way. They commissioned Looney Tunes: Back in Action and threw $80 million at it.
Casting Brendan Fraser was a good move too, but the 2003 live-action/animated comedy crossover only made $68 million. Because of how much money was put into the film Warner Bros. shut down their animation company, and they quickly got out of the cartoon business.
Rise of the Guardians
Dreamworks Animation has been one of the biggest names in animated movies for many years thanks to films like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon. In 2012 they released Rise of the Guardians, another animated adventure movie but this was where they experienced their first real flop.
The movie made a loss, and Dreamworks were forced to downsize their staff numbers by 25% to cope with the loss. It was a lesson that throwing money at a project won’t necessarily make it a success.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
The Final Fantasy video game franchise is one of the biggest in the world and in 2001, Square brought an adaptation to the big screen. It cost the company $137 million to create, and fans were not as receptive to the movie as the video games.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within took $85 million at the box office, and the film department at Square soon left the movie business behind. Luckily the studio had the gaming franchise to keep it afloat, but it took a major loss with Final Fantasy.
It’s A Wonderful Life
This festive classic ended up being a very costly film to make for Liberty Films. We might think it was worth it to have this wonderful movie in our lives, but this movie only made about half of its production costs.
For some reason, this Christmas tale was scheduled for wide release in the middle of the summer, and it seemed as though audiences weren’t that big on it during July. Liberty Films couldn’t recover from the losses they had made, and It’s A Wonderful Life cost them everything.
United Artists was one of the biggest movie studios of its time and had films like Apocalypse Now, Annie Hall, and Raging Bull in their back catalog. The company had been founded by Charlie Chaplin and was one of the great film dynasties, but they threw it all away for Heaven’s Gate.
$44 million was used to create the 1980 western drama, but it only made $3.5 million through audiences. The film had ruined the company, and it had to be sold to MGM.
Aurora Productions had made a couple of cult classic movies in the ‘80s including The Secret of NIMH and Eddie and the Cruisers. For some reason, the company thought a relatively big-budget sports movie about volleyball was a good idea, and Side Out began filming in 1990.
The film was set in California, but people didn’t flock to movie theaters to see it. Instead, the movie was the final flop the production company made, and they went bankrupt following the disappointing release of Side Out.
Life of Pi
The 2012 adventure drama Life Of Pi was actually a success at the box office and Oscars. The only problem was the company behind the making of it, Rhythm and Hues Studios, was deep in the hole.
They might have liked to take the lion’s share of the $600 million it made at the box office, but Rhythm and Hues didn’t get a cut to help them out. Instead, the company couldn’t keep on top of their expenses following the release of the film and called it quits.
The Right Stuff
The historical drama film The Right Stuff was an overly ambitious project that ended up taking its toll on the Ladd Company. The movie was hailed by critics and won four Academy Awards but it failed at the box office.
Since The Right Stuff was about the early years of the United States space program, they needed many models and special effects, leading to a $27 million budget. However, the movie only made $21 million back at the box office, and contributed to the downfall of the Ladd Company.
Global Road was a film studio that wanted to market films both to the United States and China, appealing to a truly international audience. However, that didn’t pan out so well for them.
The studio filed for bankruptcy after an unreleased film and a few flops pushed it into the red. One of those films was thriller Hotel Artemis, starring Jody Foster. The film received mixed reviews, and didn’t do terribly at the box office, but it wasn’t enough to save the studio.
The comedy movie Show Dogs, also released by Global Road, did moderately well at the box office, but cost the studio loads when it had to be recut after its first release.
The film received negative reviews and was criticized for a scene that many deemed inappropriate, so Global Road issued an apology and re-edited the movie. Combined with the unreleased yet costly production of the movie City of Lies, it was all too much for Global Road.
Hot Tub Time Machine
The studio MGM, or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, might be doing okay today, but back in 2010 it plunged into bankruptcy. Due to a great deal of debt and other financial burdens, MGM was forced to reorganize, and creditors took over the company.
The only significant film that MGM released that year was Hot Tub Time Machine, a comedy that did decently well at the box office but wasn’t able to pull MGM out of financial ruin. Despite this, a sequel was made five years later.
Virtual Studios was founded in 1986 and was a production studio, distributor, and financier of movies. In 2006, Virtual Studios signed a deal with Warner Bros. to produce and finance films alongside the larger production company.
However, it wasn’t quite enough to stabilize Virtual Studios financially. The last film they worked on was Bangkok Dangerous, a 2008 thriller that failed horribly, with dismal reviews and a poor performance at the box office. After that, Virtual Studios was forced to close.
The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Aside from movies that bankrupted their studios or had them shut down completely, there are others that just flopped so hard, they lost the companies an extreme amount of money. One of these films is The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Eddie Murphy tried to go into sci-fi and perhaps he shouldn’t have.
The film received excessively negative reviews and reportedly cost Castle Rock Entertainment and Village Roadshow Pictures $100 million – it only brought in $7.1 million. Warner Bros – the distributing company -was probably disappointed when the movie eventually lost $96 million.
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas may have had huge stars in it such as Brad Pitt, but that was not enough for it to be successful. In 2003 alone, DreamWorks lost around $125 million after a string of failed movies, including Sinbad.
The world-famous company actually almost went under because of this. Sinbad grossed $80.7 million with only a $60 million budget. DreamWorks ended up abandoning traditional animation and opting for computer animation instead after this.
Keanu Reeves may be one of the biggest names in the industry, but even he wasn’t able to save the movie 47 Ronin. Universal Studios suffered a massive loss with this box office flop after they took a risk with an first-time feature-film director and gave him a massive budget.
Carl Rinsch took the money and basically made such a mess that he had to be let go. With a budget of $175 million, the film is reported to have only made $151.8 million.
Mars Needs Moms
Robert Zemeckis, the mind behind the Back to the Future trilogy, teamed up with Disney in 2007 to create ImageMovers Digital, a film production company dedicated to creating 3D-animated films using motion capture technology. This new company released Mars Needs Moms in 2011.
With a boilerplate story about a kid learning about the importance of family by saving his mom from Martians, it grossed $39 million against a $150 million budget. It was so bad that ImageMovers Digital was dissolved, despite having at least four projects in development, and around 450 people were let go.
In 1960, John Wayne wrote and directed The Alamo, about the famous doomed battle taking place during the Texas Revolution. The film is still remembered fondly today, but Ron Howard’s production company Imagine Entertainment just couldn’t leave well enough alone.
And so, in 2004 The Alamo was released, again, with an ensemble cast headed by Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton. The set for the actual Alamo fort was 51 acres, making it the largest and most expensive ever built in North America. Finally, disastrous preview screenings and a bloated runtime led to the movie losing $122 million.
How Do You Know
How Do You Know was simple romantic comedy about a love triangle that starred Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson. It was also written and directed by James L. Brooks, the mind behind everything from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to The Simpsons.
None of that helped, as the film only made $49 million at the box office. The possible culprit? The fact that the four leads and Brooks combined to earn $50 million – without even taking into account the other production costs! Brooks has not written or directed another feature since.
Howard the Duck
George Lucas was allegedly in debt after spending $50 million on his Skywalker ranch. It seemed as though everything Lucas touched turned to gold so he was pretty sure that animated comedy Howard the Duck would get him out of financial trouble.
The 1986 movie just about broke even at the box office. This meant Lucas was still in trouble and had to sell off some of his assets, including a computer-animated company to Steve Jobs. That company would go on to become Pixar, costing Lucas billions in lost revenue.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Moviegoers seem to love big-budget superhero movies but after three Superman movies already, audiences were not that into them anymore. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace had a budget of $36 million but struggled with the pressure of making a compelling movie that it fell flat.
Expectations were extremely high for this fourth movie in the franchise, but viewers were not impressed by it. The movie brought the end of The Cannon Group studio and buried the Superman franchise for at least two decades.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Surprisingly, Frank Capra’s iconic film, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ only grossed half of what was needed to make profit. The 1946 Christmas movie was regarded as weak by critics and lost $525,000 at Box Office. The film’s failure bankrupted the studio Liberty Films, despite gaining a bit of traction after being nominated for 5 Academy Awards.
However, when it didn’t win any nominations, Frank Capra’s career ended and the movie sat untouched for 30 years. Only after it was picked up by television much later, did it finally get acknowledged for being the classic that it is.
Despite having an all-star voice cast of Matt Damon, Bill Pullman and Drew Barrymore, the animated sci-fi film ‘Titan A.E’ truly underperformed. Reportedly, 20th Century Fox lost $100 million – that’s about a $1 million per minute of the Don Bluth directed 94 minute film.
Perhaps owing to its’ catastrophic reception is the fact that Bluth was hired after the previous director, Art Vitello, was fired, and there was little budget left and the movie mostly unfinished. With only $55 million, Bluth had to direct an $85 million budget film. Following its’ Box Office failure, Fox Animation Studios was shut down.
Sonic the Hedgehog
April 2019 saw the release of the trailer for Jeff Fowler’s fantasy film ‘Sonic the Hedgehog.’ The film’s animated eponymous character was based on the renowned video game personality of the same name. When fans of the game saw how the film portrayed Sonic, they were outraged.
The character was then recreated by the VFX studio Moving Picture Company (MPC) Vancouver – the studio responsible for ‘The Lion King.’ However, the studio is now shutting down, leaving hundreds of its’ employees out of a job.
The 1997 superhero film ‘Steel’ was one of the biggest box office flops in the history of Hollywood, despite the potential it had as being a part of the DC Franchise. Primarily, the reason behind the movie failure was due to the bad acting and the cliche ‘cheesiness’ of the action movie.
The movie was anticipated to make around $16 million when released at Box Office, and barely scraped in $1.7 million. Furthermore, the leading actor in the movie, Shaquille O’Neal, was only given supporting roles in movies following.
The Ant Bully
John A. Davis’s 2006 animated children’s comedy fantasy film ‘The Ant Bully’ starred the celebrity cast voices of Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Street and Paul Giamatti. Despite this, the film was a Box Office disappointment, with a $50 million budget film merely grossing $55.2 million.
If that wasn’t enough, DNA Productions, who had produced the film along with Playtone and Legendary Pictures, fired most of its’ employees and the studio was unfortunately shut down.