11 of the Highest-Grossing Movies That Actually “Bombed”

     July 17, 2020

They say numbers don’t lie, but when it comes to the box office, they don’t always tell the full story.

As studios spend more and more on their blockbusters, hoping to create the next Marvel-sized “event film” hit, the amount of money a movie has to make to become profitable has gone up. Tron: Legacy, for example, grossed $400 million worldwide. That’s objectively a lot of money, but the film cost close to $200 million to make before you add in marketing costs. Therefore $400 million doesn’t quite cut it to automatically greenlight a sequel.

Below, I go on a journey to find the other highest-grossing movies that were actually “bombs.” Films that really did make quite a bit of money, but when you look closer were either marginally profitable or not profitable at all for their studios.

My analysis is largely based on numbers from Box Office Mojo and does not account for downstream ancillary markets and merchandising revenues, which in some cases are no doubt significant. Unlike, say, Prince of Persia, an event movie such as Justice League likely sells millions in merch, and also commands top dollar from TV networks, airlines and various partners.

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Image via Disney

It’s also important to keep in mind that studios generally split ticket revenues with movie theaters, and that production budgets do not reflect marketing spends, which in the case of the 11 films below, were quite hefty, As far as those marketing spends go, I relied on my experience as a longtime industry reporter to estimate how much major studios typically spend on tentpoles.

There are plenty of bigger “bombs” out there — John Carter and Mortal Engines come to mind — but these are the best performers among the so-called “bombs,” the not-quite-diamonds in the rough. Say a little prayer for each of them and the executives thrown under the bus on the Monday mornings following their ignominious releases.

As outlined below, not all blockbusters are created equal. Some are victims of their predecessors, others victims of their own release dates. And every now and then, a director (or two) has to be replaced. If there’s one thing that the films below have in common, it’s that they prove there really are some things that money can’t buy — like a good script and charismatic leads. Let’s hope the vacation homes were worth it, because these movies will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

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