The Truth About The Biggest Box Office Bomb Ever

When the credits roll, everyone has had the discussion — or argument, depending — of "What'd you think of the movie?" Whether you liked it or thought it stunk on ice, though, someone is likely to bring up the fact that their opinion is supported by the opinions of a couple million others, who either loved/loathed the film the same way. 

This raises an interesting question: What constitutes a bomb, vis-a-vis Hollywood? Is it because the actors felt uncomfortable with their performances? Nay, gentle reader. Show business is nothing if not a business, and if people aren't buying tickets, artistic integrity be hanged, the movie's a bomb. No doubt there's lots of schadenfreude going on in the hallowed halls of the studios, too, because nothing seems quite so delicious as watching celebrated geniuses fall flat on their celebrated derrieres. The accountants, not the critics, give us insights into Hollywood's biggest stinkers. And to be clear: Academy Awards are fine, but they don't pay the rent. It doesn't matter if a critic liked it. If the rest of the public, who are spending the cost of production, plus marketing costs, and a healthy hunk of change in addition, didn't like it ... the movie flopped. Period. Which movies have bombed the hardest, though?

Hollywood has had some major losses over the years

The uncrowned king of money pits for years, according to nearly everyone, including Time Magazine, was 1980's Heaven's Gate, directed by Michael Cimino and losing, adjusted for inflation, $128 million. Gate was surpassed in 1995 by Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island, a project that lost enough money to put its studio, Carolco Pictures, into bankruptcy, according to the Hollywood ReporterMeanwhile, while some people think Disney is the infallible voice of what works ... not so much. In 2011 the animated feature Mars Needs Moms cost the Mouse House $150 million to produce, as the Hollywood Reporter tracks, only to earn a miserable $6.9 million debut. 

Maybe that was just practice for what was to come? Because by just about everyone's reckoning, 2012's John Carter, based on a series of sci fi/fantasy novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan fame, is dollar-shame champ, earning only half what it needed to break even and forcing Disney to take a $200 million write-down. Needless to say, sequel plans were canceled

So, how can Hollywood avoid these kinds of financial disasters in the future? You'd think they'd have the hang of it by now, but not really. The situation was summed up by the late Academy Award-winning screenwriter and novelist William Goldman (The Princess Bride): when it comes to putting together a successful film package, "Nobody knows anything," per Vanity Fair. "Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work." Certainly not the people making Heaven's Gate. Or John Carter. Or ...