From May to August every year, Hollywood studios take their shot like degenerate Vegas gamblers and go all-in on whatever blockbuster they’re betting on to pay everyone’s salaries for the next twelve months. Sometimes, this works out, the movie is a massive hit, sequels are commissioned for the next twenty summers and everyone wins. But sometimes, the movie completely bombs at the box office and things get weird – Jobs are lost, careers are ruined, and a 300 pound slab of muscle named Tiny breaks your legs in an alley.
It is these wretched summer movie disasters that we are here to celebrate today. Or at least make fun of. Same thing.
The following movies were all chosen based on a complex formula involving box-office results, money lost, film quality, whatever I feel like making fun of and eleven different secret herbs and spices. The result is this sad list, the worst of the worst, the nine biggest summer movie flops ever.
The Biggest Summer Movie Flops
Released in 2005 by Columbia Pictures, Stealth was an epic disaster. It’s not just that movie was horrible – which it was, and helped bury the film careers of stars Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel – or that it lost $116 million (adjusted for inflation), but also because Columbia was in the midst of a long line of summer flops and needed Stealth to hit big. It, uh… it didn’t.
The movie opened in as many theaters as Columbia could get it into, and it still only managed to make $13 million in its opening weekend, which placed it fourth, just behind the award-winning Sky High. It quickly fell from there and made only $32 million in the U.S. and Canada on a $135 million budget. On the plus side, critics hated it.
‘The 13th Warrior’
The 13th Warrior is not a horrible film. It’s actually kind of decent in a Sunday afternoon on SyFy I’m hungover and this is on kind of way. Unfortunately, it was meant to be more. Much more.
The problem with The 13th Warrior is that it was just good enough that the studio thought they could save it, and so even after filming was done, they sank millions into reshoots, and a movie whose original budget was around $80 million ended up costing up to $160 million. Yeah.
No one is sure exactly how much the movie cost, or exactly how much it lost, but estimates range from about $100 million to $183 million (again, adjusted for inflation, which you can assume going forward) and film legend Omar Sharif, who had a small role, was so disillusioned that he ended up temporarily retiring, saying “Let us stop this nonsense.” Well, okay then.
‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’
Some movies are just too ambitious for their own good, and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, definitely falls into that category. It was made during a time when ambitious adult animation was a big trend (more on that later) and its CGI animation was on the cutting edge of tech in 2001. Unfortunately, that meant that it was also expensive as hell.
The movie cost $137 million to make, which is kinda ridiculous given that it was literally all fake (calm down, nerds), and while it got decent reviews, the audience just wasn’t there for what was essentially a glorified video game cut-scene. After promotional expenses and hookers or whatever studios blow money on, the movie ended up losing $126 million, and caused the collapse of its studio, Square Pictures. Look, anytime you cause a company to go out of business, you know you fucked up.
You can pretty much copy everything I just wrote about Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and paste it in here. Titan A.E. was an ambitious animated film that got middling reviews and ended up losing $137 million, and caused Fox to shut down its animation division along with a hyped video game that was planned to capitalize on the movie’s success. Yeah, that’s a disaster.
The numbers are bad enough – the movie lost $101 million – but they still don’t manage to properly convey just how epic a disaster Battlefield Earth really was. It’s widely considered one of the worst and most ridiculous movies ever, and served as the moment when L. Ron Hubbard and his wacky gang of Xenu enthusiasts became a national punchline for the first time. Oh, it also basically torpedoed John Travolta’s career – again – along with the career of rising star, Barry Pepper. Who? Exactly.
Gigli is one of those movies that is so bad that is has become sort of an enduring punchline, a symbol for all disastrous movies everywhere. The reality is that Gigli didn’t lose as much money as others on this list – “only” $93 million – but that’s largely because it didn’t have an astronomical budget. That mitigates the damage maybe a tiny bit, but when I say tiny I mean damn near microscopic because, let’s face it, any movie that makes only $7 million on a budget over ten times that amount is still a huge fucking disaster.
Of course, the numbers don’t fully take into account how universally reviled this movie was, or that it effectively ended Jennifer Lopez’s career as an A-list actress, finished off Ben Affleck, doomed their infamous off-set relationship, and forced Affleck to basically reinvent his entire career and image in the following years. But hey, if J-Lo’s goal was to go from huge star to replacement American Idol judge, then mission accomplished, I guess.
‘The Lone Ranger’
The effects of this bomb are still being felt. Eventually, The Lone Ranger could very well go on record as the biggest money-loser in movie history, with around $200 million just flushed down the toilet. Goddamn.
For some reason, The Lone Ranger’s budget ballooned to around $250 million which is just fucking ridiculous. I’m assuming $50 million of that was just for Johnny Depp’s peyote supply, but still. The movie did okay at the box office, but it pretty much had to be one of the biggest movies ever to be at all profitable, and, well, it wasn’t.
It was supposed to be the first movie in a new franchise, but you haven’t heard too much about a sequel, have you? Armie Hammer, who was technically the “star” of the movie, basically saw his career as a blockbuster leading man assassinated before it could really begin, and as an added insult, Johnny Depp and the movie drew widespread criticism because, well, because he’s a white dude playing a Native American. I mean, who the fuck thought that was a good idea? It isn’t 1950. Now, I’m not saying that this is what began Johnny Depp’s descent from biggest star on the planet to dude rambling a bizarre hostage video apology to Australia for dog smuggling, but I’m not not saying that either.
‘The Adventures of Pluto Nash’
Poor Eddie Murphy. He is basically “Movie Disaster: the Person” at this point, and Pluto Nash is his anti-masterpiece. Generally, a movie that takes almost twenty years to develop isn’t going to turn out that well. Still, I’m not sure anyone expected it to be this bad.
Or maybe they did, considering the studio basically didn’t even promote the movie even after sinking $100 million into it. The result was that the studio managed to “only” lose $126 million after the movie managed to bring in $7 million at the box office. I mean, holy shit, when a $126 million loss is considered the best case scenario, you know pretty much everyone involved fucked up.
But really, this was doomed from the start. Eddie first started developing it in the mid-80s. It was released in 2002. Holy shit! At some point, someone needed to take him aside and tell him it just wasn’t happening. Even Axl Rose probably thought this was a bad idea. And yet, it still happened. And my god, what a glorious disaster it turned out to be.
‘Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace’
Look, I’m sure that there are still fanboys out there who will give me grief for this, but I don’t care, Phantom Menace is the biggest summer movie disaster ever and you’ll never convince me otherwise.
It’s not always about money. This movie made a ton of it. Sometimes it’s about something that you can’t even really quantify. You have to remember that everyone – every goddamn person in the world – was hyped for this movie. It was a religious experience more than a movie. And then Jar-Jar Binks bumbled into our lives, Anakin Skywalker robbed us of our will to live and George Lucas molested our collective childhood.
There are movie disasters, and then there are cultural disasters, and Phantom Menace is most definitely the latter. It turned George Lucas from genius and nerd-hero to buffoon and nerd-pariah, it eventually forced him to essentially relinquish all control over the franchise in order to save it, and it made an entire culture forever cynical about movies.
Am I overstating this a bit? Yes, but I only do so to reinforce a point which to me should be self-evident: Phantom Menace is the biggest disaster in movie history and you all know it.