Box-office bomb

In the motion picture industry, a box-office bomb or box-office flop is a film that is considered highly unsuccessful or unprofitable during its theatrical run. Although any film for which the production and marketing costs exceed the combined revenue after release is considered to have "bombed",[1] the term is more frequently used on major studio releases that are highly anticipated and hyped, regarding their cost, production, or marketing efforts,[2][3] particularly when they are very expensive to produce.

Although this may occur in conjunction with mixed or poor reviews, critical reception does not necessarily result in a negative box-office performance.[4]

Causes of a film's failure

External circumstances

Occasionally, films may underperform because of issues unrelated to the film itself. These issues commonly relate to the timing of the film's release. This was one of the reasons for the commercial failure of Intolerance, D. W. Griffith's follow-up to The Birth of a Nation. Owing to production delays, the film was not released until late 1916, a time when the widespread anti-war sentiment it reflected had started to shift in favor of American entry into World War I.[5]

Another example of external events sinking a film is the 2015 docudrama about FIFA entitled United Passions. It was released in theaters in the United States at the same time FIFA's leaders were under investigation for fraud and corruption, and the film grossed only $918 at the US box office in its opening weekend.[6]

Other issues such as general economic malaise may cause less disposable income for potential filmgoers, resulting in fewer ticket sales. Also, many films that open during times of national crisis and just after disasters such as the 2001 September 11 attacks and Hurricane Harvey underperform at the box office.[7][8]

High production costs

Sometimes a film may do reasonably well at the box office but still be considered a bomb due to a large budget. This was the case for the film Heaven's Gate, which famously went three months over schedule and saw its budget mushroom from $7.5 million to $36 million.[9]

Another example, 2005's Sahara, cost over $241 million to make (including marketing and distribution), due in part to exorbitant production costs. It took in $122 million, usually enough to be successful. However, in this case, this accounted for barely over half of its expenses.[10] In 2012, Disney reported losses of $200 million on John Carter. The film had made a considerable $234 million worldwide, but this was far short of its $250 million budget plus worldwide advertising.[11]

Recovery of flops

Films which are initially viewed as "flops" may recover income elsewhere. Several films have underperformed in their countries of origin, but have been sufficiently successful internationally to recoup losses or even become financial successes.[12][13] Films may also recover money through international distribution, sales to television syndication, and distribution outside of cinemas (download, DVD, pay-per-view).[14] Other films have succeeded long after cinema release by becoming cult films or being re-evaluated over time. High-profile films fitting this description include Blade Runner and The Shawshank Redemption, which both lost money at the box office, but have since become highly popular.[15]

Studios pushed into financial trouble

In extreme cases, a single film's lackluster performance may push a studio into financial losses, bankruptcy or closure. Examples of this include: United Artists (Heaven's Gate)[16] and Carolco Pictures (Cutthroat Island).[17][18] The underperformance of The Golden Compass was seen as a significant factor in influencing Warner Bros.' decision to take direct control of New Line Cinema.[19]

In 2001, Square Pictures (the film division of Japanese video game company Square, now Square Enix) released its first film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, an animated motion picture inspired by the Final Fantasy series of video games. It received mixed reviews from critics and failed to recover its $145 million cost. Following the film's struggles, Square Pictures ceased producing feature films.[20] In 2011, Mars Needs Moms was the last film released by ImageMovers Digital before it got absorbed by ImageMovers to a loss of nearly $140 million – the largest box-office bomb of all time in nominal dollar terms. Despite this loss, the decision to close the production company had been made a year prior to the film's release.[21]

Independent films

The 2006 independent movie Zyzzyx Road made just $30 at the US box office. The film, with a budget of $1.2 million and starring Tom Sizemore and Katherine Heigl, owes its tiny revenue to its limited box-office release – just six days in a single theater in Dallas for the purpose of meeting Screen Actors Guild requirements – rather than its ability to attract viewers.[22][23] According to co-star Leo Grillo, it sold six tickets, two of which were to cast members.[24]

Previously, the British film Offending Angels had become notorious for taking in less than £100 (~$150[25]) at the box office.[26] It had a £70,000 (~$105,000[25]) budget but was panned by critics including the BBC, who called it a "truly awful pile of garbage",[27] and Total Film, who called it "irredeemable".[28]

In 2011, the film The Worst Movie Ever! opened to just $11 at the US box office. It played in only one theater.[29]

See also


  1. "Top 200 Biggest Box Office Bombs. Worst movies with respect to Box Office Gross. | Life & Times". 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2013-03-06.
  2. "Greatest Box-Office Bombs, Disasters and Flops". Retrieved 2013-03-06.
  3. "The 15 Biggest Box Office Bombs". 2010-08-23. Retrieved 2013-03-06.
  4. "As 'Battleship' Flops: Ten Other Memorable Box-Office Bombs | The Playlist". 1995-12-22. Retrieved 2013-03-06.
  5. "Intolerance (1916)". Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  6. "FIFA film 'United Passions' one of worst in U.S. box office history". ESPN. June 18, 2015. Archived from the original on June 18, 2015. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
  7. Kelley, Seth (2017-08-27). "Box Office Disaster: Lackluster Releases, Mayweather-McGregor, Hurricane Harvey Create Slowest Weekend in Over 15 Years". Variety. Retrieved 2017-11-09.
  8. "Weekend Box Office". 2001-09-17. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
  9. "Unmaking of an Epic - The Production of Heaven's Gate". Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  10. Glenn F. Bunting, Jurors hear tales of studio maneuvering, Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2007
  11. "John Carter flop to cost Walt Disney $200m". BBC News. 2012-03-20.
  12. Mendelson, Scott. "'Pacific Rim' And More Domestic "Flops" That Became Global Hits". Forbes. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  13. Fleming Jr., Mike (August 7, 2013). "Isn't It Time To Take 'Waterworld' Off The All-Time Flop List?". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 13, 2013.
  14. "11 Beloved Movies That Were Box Office Flops". Mental Floss. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  15. "Which film was the best box-office flop?". The Guardian. 2013-01-16. Retrieved 2017-06-14.
  16. Welkos, Robert W. "'Heaven's Gate': The film flop that reshaped Hollywood". Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  17. Sterngold, James (31 March 1996). "Debacle on the High Seas". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  18. "Largest box office loss". Guinness World Records. 30 April 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  19. Davis, Erik (2008-02-28). "Breaking: New Line Cinema Says Goodbye!". Archived from the original on 2012-10-28. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
  20. Briscoe, David (1 February 2002). "'Final Fantasy' studio to fold". The Independent. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
  21. Finke, Nikki (2010-03-12). "Disney Closing Zemeckis' Digital Studio". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
  22. Faraci, Devin (2006-12-31). "What if they released a movie and nobody came?". Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
  23. Brunner, Rob (2007-02-09). "The Strange and Twisted Tale of ... The Movie That Grossed $30.00". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-01-24.
  24. Mueller, Andrew (2007-01-16). "This Film Is Absolute Dross – People Are Going to Love It!". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2007-01-15.
  25. Officer, Lawrence H. "Dollar-Pound Exchange Rate From 1791: 2000–2002". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  26. logboy (2006-02-03). "Offending Angels. £70k Budget, £89 Box Office. 8 DVD Sales to Double its Takings". Archived from the original on 2011-05-24. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  27. Russell, Jamie (2002-04-10). "Offending Angels (2002)". BBC. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  28. Harley, Kevin (May 2002). "Offending Angels film review". Total Film. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  29. "The Worst Movie Ever! (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
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