The Biggest Financial Action Film Flops - Adjusted for Inflation

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Box Office Failure

For every mega-smash Hollywood produces, it also produces a box office failure that ends up costing the studio millions.  The cost of film budgets have grown exponentially in the last 20 years, but budgets are just a small part of the film's total cost - this is a list about the losers, the failures, the errant cinematic sons that went awry, but adjusted for inflation.

The total losses listed are going to be different from figures you might read about on other websites, and that's because we factor in the cost of paying cinemas to run a film (about 50% of the box office take), and the cost of marketing a film across the world - though we also factor in likely revenue from DVD and video on demand.  And, of course, figures have been adjusted for inflation and are only estimates using industry averages.  (And finally, this list only includes action films, as there are plenty of financial flops in different genres that weren't included here.)

(For a spreadsheet listing the exact figures of each film on this list, click here.)

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No. 10 - Battleship (2012) - $220.4 Million in Losses

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Battleship.

A film about an alien invasion that's stopped by the U.S. Navy, it's sort of like Independence Day, but over water.  One of the worst Naval war films of all time, the film made a mockery of any semblance of reality for how the military really functions.  Ultimately, the film was just dumbed down a bit too much, drawing in only pre-teens when it needed adults to help fill seats.

What Went Wrong:  Did I mention this was a film based on the board game Battleship?  Yeah, nothing can go wrong there.

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No. 9 - The Alamo (2004) - $223 Million in Losses

This last stand historical war movie about the Alamo had an all-star cast (Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton, just to name two), but no marquee names that can really draw in audiences.  The film wasn't a cinematic classic, but it was mildly entertaining and deserve better than the number 9 spot on most expensive flops of all time.   (Click her for the Top Last Stand War Movies.)

What Went Wrong:  Unfortunately, whereas other big domestic flops were able to recoup money on international audiences, this decidedly American story didn't do well overseas and thus had to rely on its abysmal U.S. domestic revenue to balance the ledgers - which, it failed to do in a spectacular fashion.

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No. 8 - Final Fantasy (2001) - $233 Million in Losses

There are financial flops that looked like sure things on paper, and then there are financial flops that looked ridiculous risky even on paper, such was the case with Final Fantasy.  One of the first all-digital animated films, it took a property that was virtually unknown outside of video game circles and then, to add to the riskiness, made it as a cartoon rather than a live-action feature.  It didn't really appeal to little kids like a Disney movie would, but adults weren't really intrigued by watching a cartoon about a property they had never heard of.  Plus, the film is sort of confusing - I watched it and still don't understand what the Final Fantasy franchise is supposed to be about.

What Went Wrong:  It was a cartoon for adults about a property most adults had never heard of.

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No. 7 - Lone Ranger (2013) - $235 Million in Losses

Disney had unexpected financial luck with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  That was a film which had bad worth of mouth, and then exploded upon release into one of the biggest hits of all time.  Disney thought, "Hey, maybe all we need to do is re-hire Johnny Depp to play a kooky character and re-hire the director of the first Pirates film, to get ourselves a new the franchise!"  But Disney was wrong.  Whereas Captain Jack Sparrow was immediately identified by audiences as one of cinema's most iconic characters, Depp's role as Tonto didn't really amuse anyone.  Plus, it was you know, a western, a franchise that rarely means box office gold.  The film recouped a lot of money overseas, but the massive cost and the accompanying global market campaign, meant that after the studios gave over half the box office revenue to the theaters, the film was still $235 million in the red.  This was a franchise that started and ended with one film.


What Went Wrong:  Depp played an unfunny character in a Western, an action genre that rarely earns money.

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No. 6 - Pluto Nash (2002) - $239 Million in Losses

This Eddie Murphy space comedy cost $100 million to make and earned $3 million its opening weekend, and just $7 million over it's entire global theatrical run.  Fortunately, the studio didn't spend much on advertising, desiring to cut their losses early.  Little hint:  Sci-fi doesn't work as comedy, sci-fi is sci-fi.

What Went Wrong:  It was a comedy science fiction film...that's never worked before...ever.

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No. 5 - RIPD (2014) - $244 Million in Losses

The sixth biggest financial flop of all time belonged to a cop buddy movie starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as two cops who are killed in the line of duty and come back to life as ghost cops...but, of course, they do.  An odd combination of Ghostbusters and Men in Black, the film struck a comedic tone, which meant despite being about ghosts, there wasn't a single fright in the whole film.  Moreover, the film had no rules governing the world it created, there was no explanation for how anything worked the way it did; it was supposed to just be wild, comical mayhem as those two crazy dead cops get into all sorts of troubles!  (As you might expect, audiences didn't care about their exploits.)

What Went Wrong: The film had no rules for its world and was a poor hybrid of Men in Black and Ghostbusters - it needed to be its own thing.

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No. 4 - Cutthroat Island (1995) - $249 Million in Losses

It's 1995 and Die-Hard 2 director Renny Harlin was given $100 million to make an action film; this is an amount that was unheard of in that age, putting that price tag on the film all but required the movie to be one of the years's biggest hits just to earn back its costs.  And then, Harlin decides to make an action movie about pirates, which, as a pre-Pirates of the Caribbean concept, wasn't one that was strong (the public has never had a collective desire for more pirate films).  And lastly, Harlin also put his then girlfriend Geena Davis in the film as the star - which, as luck would have it - was another film type audiences weren't clamoring for, "More Geena Davis starring action films."

What Went Wrong:  It was a pirate movie.  A pirate movie starring Geena Davis as the action lead.  That's what went wrong.

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No. 3 - Sahara (2005) - $257 Million in Losses

This aspiring Indiana Jones franchise left audiences bored and not understanding what the film was supposed to be - a drama, an action thriller, a comedy?  The film attempted to do all of these things and did none of them well.  This "franchise in waiting" was quashed after its first attempt, and chalked up an estimated $257 million in losses.

What Went Wrong:  The film simply wasn't any good.

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No. 2 - Alexander (2004) - $294 Million in Losses

Medieval action and war films rarely do well at the box office; Gladiator being one of the only recent exceptions.  Yet Hollywood keeps making these extravagant, massively budgeted, bloated historical productions.  This one about Alexander the Great, and starring Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell, and directed by Oliver Stone was three hours long and never explained to audiences why they should care about Alexander as a historical figure; three hours of film and Stone couldn't articulate why any of this mattered, or who Alexander was.  It was a hugely expensive film at $160 million twelve years ago, and it earned only $70 million worldwide.

What Went Wrong:  Another film that was just bad in a medieval genre that rarely does well.

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No. 1 - 13th Warrior (1999) - $311 Million in Losses

The biggest financial loser of all time goes to this Antonio Banderas film, a film which was virtually unheard of upon its release and to this day, strikes almost no name recognition in the mind of your average film watcher.  It's not good to not have audiences having never heard of your film when you've invested $160 million into a production budget, a cost which is insanely large for 1999.  Factor in distribution and marketing, and you've added another $100 million to the cost, and it earned only $80 million worldwide, half of which went to pay cinemas that screened the film.  

Unlike many of the more modern financial losers, the international filmgoing public wasn't watching Hollywood movies as much as they are now, hence it was a film that largely relied on the U.S. public to make back its costs.  This is a film, by the way, that even I, as an action films expert, had never heard of.  (Apparently, it's about vikings or something, but it's not supposed to be very good.)

What Went Wrong:  Antonio Banderas was not an action lead and medieval films are rarely hits.  Plus, no one had heard of this film prior to its release.