Perception is all when it comes to launching films. A film only has to under-perform – usually in the US – on its opening weekend, and word gets around that there’s a flop in the offing. Couple that with some bad reviews, and a film can be consigned to the scrap heap before it’s even been released worldwide. But there’s more to the box office than the opening weekend and a few bad reviews.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Things weren’t looking too good for Jeremy Renner’s Hansel and ex-Bond girl Gemma Arterton’s Gretel. An opening weekend of $30 million (£19.8 million) was being forecast but it pulled in a much slimmer $18 million (£12 million). The reviews too were not particularly kind, turning up a 15% ‘Rotten’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Then there was the Jack The Giant Slayer factor, another fairytale property which had bombed disastrously just a week or so before. But plucky Hansel & Gretel were not done with. The world market voted with its feet, and from the jaws of defeat, the sibling pair pulled $226 million (£174 million) – and counting. Now there’s a sequel in the offing. Flop, schmop.
Time magazine called Hook "the rare Spielberg flop". Indeed, his re-imaging of the Peter Pan myth failed to capture the imaginations of, well, anyone really. The critics hated it, and even Spielberg sort of hated it. He told Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode last year: “I wanna see Hook again because I so don’t like that movie, and I’m hoping someday I’ll see it again and perhaps like some of it.“ Spielberg and its stars Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams, took no salaries, instead going for a 40% share of the gross revenue. Dumb move, right? Wrong. The "rare Spielberg flop" made over $300 million (£198 million). Now that’s a payday.
Planet of the Apes
The 2001 reboot of Planet of the Apes was in development for well over a decade. Stars such as Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger came and went, and it went through every top director in Hollywood – Peter Jackson, Oliver Stone, Sam Raimi, Chris Columbus, Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich and James Cameron were all linked at one point or another. Tim Burton eventually took it on. But the results weren’t good. Critics and fans of the original films mostly disliked it, while the open ending annoyed many. It didn’t flop, however. Against all odds, and likely down to good will for both the franchise and Burton, it made $362 million (£239 million), well over three times its production budget.
Knight & Day
This Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise action comedy cost a bomb ($125 million – so £86 million) and languished behind Toy Story 3 (understandable) and Grown Ups (humiliating) in the film chart when it was released in 2010. It made just $3.8 million (£2.5 million) on its opening day, the lowest debut for Cruise since Far & Away in 1992. An utter lack of chemistry between the leads, generally awful reviews, and an awful opening weekend saw it branded a flop. But still, it managed to make $261 million (£173 million). Not too shabby.
Precisely no one’s favourite Spielberg film, the star-studded comedy (featuring Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Ned Beatty, John Candy and Christopher Lee) was branded a disaster. But only because it didn’t do the same blockbusting business that its immediate predecessors Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind did. Said it’s writer Bob Gale: “It is down in the history books as a big flop, but it wasn’t a flop. The movie didn’t make the kind of money that Steven’s other movies, Steven’s most successful movies have made, obviously. But the movie was by no means a flop. And both Universal and Columbia have come out of it just fine.” Indeed they did. It made nearly $100 million (£66 million) from a $32 million (£21 million) budget.
The Last Airbender
M. Night Shyamalan spent all his good-will with the critical fraternity after Signs. Most tired of waiting around for his trademark big twist, so by the time his fantasy adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender arrived, he was running on empty. It was despised by fans – who hated that he cast white actors in Asian roles – and by critics, with its woeful 6% on Rotten Tomatoes. It got more Razzies than it knew what to do with and ranked fifth on its opening day. Yet somehow, box office numbers climbed up from there, and continued to climb. It ended up making nearly $320 million (£211 million).
Famously, during one of his cringe-inducing turns as host of the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais took a few pops at Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp’s god-awful The Tourist. “It was a big year for 3D movies. Toy Story, Despicable Me, Tron. It seems like everything this year was three-dimensional, except the characters in The Tourist. I already feel bad about that joke. I’m jumping on the bandwagon, because I haven’t even seen The Tourist. Who has?” Actually, Ricky, loads of people. It was a resounding success for the Columbia Pictures accounts department, who counted box office takings of $278 million (£183 million) on its $100 million (£66 million) budget.
It was viewed as the benchmark flop. Critics called it 'Fishtar’, a play on Ishtar, Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman’s classic flop of the 80s. And sure, it was expensive (a rollicking $175 million - £115 million - back in 1995), and no one really liked it all that much. But it still made $264 million (£174 million) at the worldwide box office. It wasn’t a king’s ransom in profit, but flop is a bit harsh. It’s possible that people mix it up with Costner’s The Postman. Now there was the real, A-grade flop, making just $17 million (£11 million) on an $80 million (£53 million) budget. Oof.
Wild Wild West
It was spectacularly ill-conceived, with its daft steam-punk technology, and ludicrously expensive (an eye-watering $170 million – so £112 million). And like the name of Kenneth Branagh’s character, its reception was loveless. Barry Sonnenfeld’s Wild Wild West, based on the 60s TV show, failed on many, many levels. But as it managed to recoup its budget, making $222 million (£147 million), it can’t quite be branded a flop. But it was dangerously, perilously close.
Disney boss Peter Schneider stepped down from his job as chairman in the wake of Michael Bay’s risible Pearl Harbor. It was roundly reported that it was because the film flopped. It’s more likely that Schneider got the boot because it didn’t make enough money. The early numbers saw a profit of around $40 million (£26 million). But for a blockbuster so damned blockbusting, that wasn’t enough of a conversion of its star power and subject matter to box office cash, so someone had to go. It was a critical disaster, riddled with historical inaccuracies, but in time it ended up making a sizeable $450 million (£297 million).
To look at the budget of Superman Returns, you’d think they’d funded an cosmic expedition to source actual Kryptonite from space. It cost $209 million (£138 million), plus a wedge of previous development costs of failed and aborted Superman projects dating back to the early 1990s. It meant the film cost in the region of $263 million (£173 million), plus another $100 million (£66 million) on marketing. It’s enough to make your head spin. But despite all the odds, and all the talk saying that it did, it didn’t flop. It made $391 million (£258 million) worldwide, nearly $20 million more than Batman Begins.
When news emerged that Tom Cruise’s first outing as Jack Reacher was likely to stay that way, with Paramount considering not making a sequel, the whiff of flop was in the air. The returns were certainly not in the region of Cruise’s other big franchise – the Mission: Impossible series. But flop is a bit harsh. It made $216 million (£142 million) on a $60 million (£40 million) budget, which is fairly solid. It was, eventually, enough for Paramount to greenlight a 2016 sequel, which about £30 million less.