Films That Flopped So Hard They Killed Movie Studios

Sometimes movies don’t just kill bad guys or kill time – sometimes films are capable of killing the companies that created them. We look at the movies – some flops, some unexpected hits – that signalled the beginning of the end for their studios…

Cannon Films – ‘Superman IV: The Quest For Peace’

Films fans have a special place in their heart for indie studio Cannon, those purveyors of low-budget cheesefests, whose exploits are detailed in this week’s documentary 'Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films’. Home to trashy gems like 'Cyborg’, 'American Ninja’ and 'Cobra’, Cannon always flirted with financial ruin but it was only when they went big-time that they faltered.

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'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace’ was a mega-flop after its budget was halved during production; it was to be the beginning of the end for Cannon, who had to partner with Warner Bros and sell their assets to survive, including the rights to 'Spider-Man’ and 'Captain America’. Cannon just about survived until 1994, when it released its last movie, 'Hellbound’, then closed its doors for good. Its legacy, however, lives on: a warning to all studios who want to play with the big boys.

United Artists – 'Heaven’s Gate’

Michael Cimino’s epic Western 'Heaven’s Gate’ has received a critical reassessment since its disastrous release in 1980, thanks to a recently restored 216-minute director’s cut, but there can be no over-estimating just how catastrophic its original release was. The movie was pushing four hours when it premiered to an uncaring press, who called 'Heaven’s Gate’ an unqualified disaster (Roger Ebert called it “the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen”).

With a budget of £28 million set to go down the pan, United Artists went into damage control, forcing Cimino to delay the release a year and cut an hour from the running time. It didn’t help: 'Heaven’s Gate’ grossed just £850,000 and United Artists was put up for sale as a direct result of the movie’s failure.

Carolco – 'Showgirls’ / 'Cutthroat Island’

Cult status is all well and good, but it doesn’t pay the bills, does it? Carolco were the 90s mega-studio that funded the likes of 'Total Recall’, 'Basic Instinct’ and 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day’, but their luck would run out. £65 million was ploughed into an Arnie historical epic called 'Crusade’ that never happened, so Carolco went all in on a big-budget spectacular – unfortunately for everyone involved, that movie was 'Cutthroat Island’, one of the most infamous flops in movie history.

After the movie sank, Carolco were forced to walk the plank and sell off their assets, including 'Showgirls’, which – in ironic fashion – was deemed to be a flop on release, but went on to generate more than £65 million in video sales. The studio closed but announced a comeback in January this year, with an English-language remake of Japanese horror 'Audition’ on their books.

Liberty Films – 'It’s A Wonderful Life’

Impossible as it seems nowadays, given its ubiquity around Christmas, Frank Capra’s feel-good classic 'It’s A Wonderful Life’ was a flop on arrival and didn’t find a place in audiences’ hearts until long after the director’s own studio, Liberty Films, was dead.

The festive cockle-warmer was Liberty’s first release, and even the presence of James Stewart – which may have contributed to its relatively high budget of £1.5 million – couldn’t help it perform at the box-office. The film’s loss meant Capra had to seek a buyout, so eventually the studio was consumed by Paramount Pictures. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the film became popular around the holidays – a fat lot of good that did Frank and friends.

Fox Animation – 'Titan A.E.’

Every big Hollywood studio wanted an animation output like Disney’s, but not everyone could cut it in the animated arms race. While Disney and Pixar forged new ground with CGI and the 'Toy Story’ movies, Fox Animation Studios opted for an old-school approach, hiring artist/director Don Bluth to create a sci-fi space adventure that mixed hand-drawn animation with modern techniques.

Even with Matt Damon providing vocals and a screenplay from a young Joss Whedon, 'Titan A.E.’ crashed hard and took Fox’s animation studio out with it – one estimate claims it cost Fox around £65 million in lost revenue. Just two movies into its tenure, the studio closed its doors. Disney? Still going.

ImageMovers Digital – 'Mars Needs Moms’

Even the Mouse House aren’t immune from movies leaving smoking craters in their revenue streams, but it wasn’t just Disney that suffered from the disaster that was 'Mars Needs Moms’. Director Robert Zemeckis was insistent that motion-captured animation was the future, but found diminishing returns from all his releases post-'Polar Express’ – movies like 'A Christmas Carol’ could never quite escape the uncanny valley.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was a big one: 'Mars Needs Moms’ was the fourth biggest bomb in box-office history. Suddenly, the future of mo-cap – and by proxy, Zemeckis’ studio, ImageMovers Digital – didn’t look quite so rosy. The animation wing was absorbed back into its parent company before it got a chance to besmirch the legacy of 'Yellow Submarine’ with a planned, needless mo-cap remake. Thank goodness.

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Image credits: Rex Features/Disney