Battlefield Earth (2000)
The Big: Convinced he had a mega-hit on his hands, John Travolta managed to convince Warner Brothers to part with $73 million to get Scientology nut L. Ron Hubbard’s alien saga up on the big screen. We hope he gave them a receipt…
The Damage: Commonly referred to as “The Worst Film Ever”, Battlefield Earth saw Warner claw back just $30 million of their original outlay, as the movie tanked in every country foolish enough to screen it. Travolta meanwhile, undid all the goodwill he’d earned in Pulp Fiction and spent the next decade popping up in rubbish like Swordfish .
What Could Have Saved It: Ditching the prosthetics might have given Forest Whitaker a fighting chance, whilst poor old John might not have ended up as such a laughing stock…
The Adventures Of Pluto Nash (2002)
The Big: A $100 million star-vehicle/vanity project for Eddie Murphy would have raised eyebrows in the comedian’s heyday, but by 2002 the world had already grimaced through two Nutty Professor movies. God only knows what they were smoking at Warner Brothers to greenlight this one…
The Damage: Despite boasting an enticing supporting cast including Pam Grier, John Cleese and, er, Randy Quaid, this woefully unfunny lump of space-ballast only managed to bank a meagre $7.1 million. Yep, that’s $7.1 million worldwide. Ouch.
What Could Have Saved It: Some wacky characters with hilarious space-based names? Oh, right, already tried that…
Cutthroat Island (1995)
The Big: Action specialist Renny Harlin splurged the best part of $100 million on this lavish swashbuckling saga, fronted by the pleasingly swoonsome double-act of Geena Davis and Matthew Modine. Sounds like a sure thing, right? Right?
The Damage: A turkey of such spectacular proportions that that it found its way into the Guinness Book Of Records, as the biggest box office flop of all time. With a domestic take of just $10 million, Cutthroat Island lay dead in the water with Harlin’s reputation similarly torpedoed. There’s just no money in pirate movies…wait, hang on!
What Could Have Saved It: It should have been made as a silent movie. The action sequences are fine, it’s when anyone opens their mouth that the problems start.
The Big: Not mega-big in the explodey, summer tentpole sense, but big enough given its tabloid-friendly co-stars, and the fact that Sony decided to sink $54 million into proceedings.
The Damage: “Meh.” That’s the sound of the paying public losing all interest the whole Bennifer debacle, as Gigli recouped a paltry $7.2 million dollars of its initial budget. Lopez’s performance in Out of Sight was beginning to look increasingly flukey, whilst Affleck would be forced to retreat behind the camera before gradually wining back the critics.
What Could Have Saved It: Maybe some of that $54 million could have gone into the script… “It’s turkey time”? It certainly was.
The Postman (1997)
The Big: Having seen Universal splurge $175 million on Waterworld , Warner Brothers must have thought they were getting a bargain when Kev’s latest post-apocalyptic romp clocked in at just $80 million. How wrong they were…
The Damage: Whilst Waterworld might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, plenty of people turned out to see it. Looks like a case of once bitten, twice shy then, as this slushy, three-hour yawnathon netted a disastrous box office take of less than $18 million. Not even the lure of Costner’s credit-accompanying singing could put bums on seats…
What Could Have Saved It: Trimming the running time in half would be a start. Three hours of watching Costner trudging around? No ta.
The Big: For better or worse, Hollywood loves a remake. So much so that even a remake of an average slice of sci-fi hokum was enough to persuade MGM to part with $70 million back in 2002. And to think they can’t afford the next Bond film…
The Damage: A worldwide take just shy of $26 million left MGM’s bean-counters with egg on their faces, as a half-baked plot and some calamitous casting has critics scrambling to get the knives out. Note to Hollywood: Chris Klein is not James Caan.
What Could Have Saved It : A bit more bloodshed might have landed the film with an R-rating but at least might have given it a certain schlocky charm.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
The Big: Sony blew $137 million on this orgy of CGI wizardry, prompting wild talk of the death of live-action movies. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t quite pan out that way.
The Damage: The film took just $32 million in the States, with a further $53 million coming from overseas (much of which can be attributed to the Final Fantasy -mad market in Japan). Not a great return on what was supposed to be the future of filmmaking. At the time of writing, there’s still quite a substantial market for human actors…
What Could Have Saved It: A plot in which something, anything, happens! As dull as ditchwater, it’s like one long cut-scene from a videogame. When even Steve Buscemi fails to raise a smile, you know you’re in trouble.
Around The World In 80 Days (2004)
The Big: “Everyone loves Jackie Chan, right? Massive global appeal and that, army of fans etc? And loads of people have heard of Steve Coogan, yeah? Well, only in England really, but who cares? Let’s spaff $110 million on it! Quick line anyone?” We can only assume this was the way conversation went in the Buena Vista boardroom…
The Damage: Chan might have struck buddy-comedy gold with Shanghai Noon , but this cameo-heavy (Arnie and Richard Branson, together at last) family flop couldn’t repeat the trick, bringing in just $72 million worldwide.
What Could Have Saved It: It’s certainly not the worst film on this list, but the title is fairly misleading given its got bog-all to do with Jules Verne’s source material. Billed as a knockabout Chan caper, it might have pulled a more forgiving crowd!
Speed Racer (2008)
The Big: A barrage of neon visuals and loud noises doesn’t come cheap, even if the end product feels like a bad acid trip in Tokyo. The Wachowski brothers tapped up Warner for $120 million, the majority of which was pissed up the wall on various anime-referencing bells and whistles. Um, plot anyone?
The Damage: A $93 million return, including a disappointing domestic performance of just under $44 million, showed audiences still hadn’t forgiven the Wachowskis for the third Matrix movie, and weren’t about to start by sitting through this lurid tripe.
What Could Have Saved It: How about casting anyone other than the Brothers Bland (otherwise known as Emile Hirsch and Matthew Fox) as your hero and villain? We would have dozed off within minutes, had our retinas not been on fire.
Hart's War (2002)
The Big: War movies don’t tend to be terribly cost-effective and even Hart’s War , with its dearth of explodey action, still clocked in at a cool $70 million. Ah well, Bruce Willis will make that back in no time…won’t he?
The Damage: Er, no he won’t actually. Hamstrung by an overly talky script, this POW movie-cum-courtroom drama didn’t even cover half its costs, limping to a miserable gross of just over $32 million.
What Could Have Saved It: It’s not actually a bad movie by any means, with an engaging turn from a young Colin Farrell and Willis proving as reliable as ever. The script could do with a trim though. It’s. Far. Too. Ponderous.
Titan A.E. (2000)
The Big: Spending $75 million on a kids cartoon is all well and good if you’re talking Pixar levels of animation, but when the characters look like they’ve strolled out of an early ‘90s Disney movie, you wonder where the money went.
The Damage: Despite winning broadly favourable reviews, the movie tanked, recouping just $37 million at the box office. Fox Animation Studios was shut down as a direct result and wouldn’t be revived until 2009 for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox .
What Could Have Saved It: It was a serviceable kiddie movie, nothing more, nothing less. Committing to a fully CGI experience might have been a smart move, rather than Fox’s half-hearted, toe-in-the-water approach. You’ve got to speculate to accumulate and all that…
The 13th Warrior (1999)
The Big: Buena Vista were so convinced that the cinema-going public were crying out for the resurrection of the Viking movie, they spent a whopping $160 million on making it happen. Hey, we like a one-eyed, axe-wielding loon as much as the next man, but $160 million? Very bold…
The Damage: A crippling return of just over $61 million left the studio almost $100 million in the hole. Antonio Banderas escaped relatively unscathed, although poor old John McTiernan still had Rollerball to look forward to.
What Could Have Saved It: Lurching from one budget-sapping set-piece to another with little of note in between, The 13th Warrior is a chronically lopsided affair. We know Viking movies are all about the splatter, but it would help if we actually gave a toss about who was doing the impaling.
The Alamo (2004)
The Big: Buena Vista (yep, Disney just don’t learn) spent $107 million on this overblown recreation of the Alamo stand-off. “You will never forget!” booms the tagline. We beg to differ.
The Damage: Hiring Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid was a promising move, but nonetheless, audiences remained only to happy to forget, with the film claiming just $26 million at the box-office. Sadly for Buena Vista, The Passion Of The Christ had the historical epic market pretty much sown up for 2004. Curse you Jesus!
What Could Have Saved It: Critics sniping over historical accuracy were missing the point. The whole thing was just too damn slow! The battle itself is great, the painfully drawn-out build-up less so.
K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
The Big: Kathryn Bigelow might be riding high off the back of the Hurt Locker ’s low-budget success, but it wasn’t always that way, particularly after she persuaded various investors to splurge $100 million on this submarine-based stinker. It wasn’t financed by a major studio you see, which makes how it turned out even worse!
The Damage: A paltry worldwide gross of around $65 million left Bigelow looking rather sheepish, and Harrison Ford having mangled a cod-Russki accent for nothing. Well not quite nothing. It still raises a chuckle on YouTube …
What Could Have Saved It: Casting someone else as the lead could have shaved quite a bit off the budget. Plus, Ford is about as charismatic as a doorknob, misinterpreting “stoical” for “bored”.
The Last Airbender (2010)
The Big: M. Night. Shyamalan’s big return is a fairly radical about-turn, with the director trading The Happening ’s non-events for a heady mix of martial-arts and fantastical whimsy. Pity it’s not very good. And cost Paramount a hefty $150 million. Hmmm.
The Damage: An opening weekend of $40 million might not look terrible on the face of things, but US audiences soon tailed off in the wake of a critical mauling. As it stands, the movie looks set to make a small profit worldwide, but has been nothing like the hit Paramount were hoping for. Back to the drawing board for Shyamalan then…
What Could Have Saved It: Taking the main man’s name off it might not have been the worst idea, with audiences and critics having lost faith with Shyamalan several films back. That comeback is going to take some serious work yet…