Film Fails

Hollywood’s Biggest Flops: John Carter, Ishtar, Cleopatra, More (PHOTOS)

Disney’s John Carter is expected to stumble to a $200 million loss, earning it a place in the record books under ‘worst bombs.’ From Battlefield Earth to The Postman, see other movies that failed spectacularly at the box office.

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John Carter

The epic sci-fi flick John Carter was set up for success. With a quarter of a billion dollars in production costs, an award-winning Pixar director, and the Disney conglomerate backing its name, the film should have been the next Avatar. But even a sweaty, loincloth-wearing Taylor Kitsch couldn’t save the project. Against all odds, it’s expected to stumble to a $200 million loss, bringing in only $184 million in sales. From Battlefield Earth to Cleopatra, we take a look at other movies that have bombed spectacularly at the box office.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash

Eddie Murphy’s 2003 space odyssey, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, cost about $120 million to produce and grossed a mere $7 million. Set in the year 2087, the film features Murphy as a nightclub owner who owns a bar on the moon. Murphy reportedly refused to promote the film, and Variety gave it a grave review, saying, “This ill-conceived and expensive project winds up looking like a bunch of talented thesps slumming it.”

United Artists / Courtesy Everett Collection

Heaven's Gate

Giving the Hollywood Western a bad, er, terrible name, Heaven’s Gate has something to do with wealthy landowners, European immigrant farmers, and a love triangle. The 1980 film cost a whopping $44 million to make, but brought in just $3.5 million. “It is the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen, and remember, I’ve seen Paint Your Wagon,” wrote Roger Ebert of the flick.

MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

Cutthroat Island

Aside from Geena Davis’s sassy one-liners, there is nothing enjoyable about 1995’s Cutthroat Island. Lost in a sea of swash-buckling pirates and billowing white tunics, the bandit adventure fell flat, with production costs of $115 million and only $18.5 million in sales. USA Today wrote of the film, “If the sight of half-naked, tattooed sailors firing cannons at each other shivers your timbers, climb aboard.”

Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Ishtar

Infamous as one of the biggest bombs of all time, Ishtar stars Dustin Hoffman, before he was the Rain Man and after he was Tootsie. With a 19 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Ishtar follows a musical duo who move to a small city in North Africa in the hopes of making it big. Costing $55 million to make and earning about $14 million in sales, Roger Ebert gave the 1987 film half a star, a feat hard to manage even with today’s cinema. “Ishtar is a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy,” wrote the Chicago Sun-Times critic.

Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

Battlefield Earth

Centuries away from the oiled-up crooner he portrayed in Grease, John Travolta was almost unrecognizable in the 2000 sci-fi action flick Battlefield Earth. Also starring Barry Pepper (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Bret McKenzie in Lord of the Rings, and Forrest Whitaker, Battlefield Earth racked up more than $100 million in production costs but grossed just $29.5 million. Apart from the dreadlock-ish type tubes sticking out from the noses of Travolta and Whitaker, the film, adapted from L. Ron Hubbard’s novel of the same name, was criticized as recycled and unoriginal in design.

TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Hudson Hawk

“A movie this unspeakably awful can make an audience a little crazy. You want to throw things, yell at the actors, beg them to stop,” wrote Rolling Stones’s Peter Travers of the 1991 bomb Hudson Hawk. The Bruce Willis action flick had neither the stunts nor the bravado of Die Hard, and grossed only $17 million from a $65 million budget. This did not include money in post-production spent to beef up Willis’s receding hairline.

20th Century-Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection

Cleopatra

The 1963 flick was once billed as the most expensive movie of all time, and still ranks near the top. The historical drama boasts elaborate costumes and scenes shot with thousands of extras. But even Hollywood gossip of a sultry off-camera affair between costars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton couldn’t rescue this $60 million flop from drowning in the Nile. Grossing only $26 million, Cleopatra is recognized as the original Tinseltown bomb.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

The Postman

Kevin Costner directed and starred in The Postman, a post-apocalyptic film in which the protagonist leads a group of exploited people to rebel against their oppressor. Renaissance-man Costner also cast three of his kids in the flick and lent his voice to a song in the closing credits. But his overachieving did not pay off—the film cost $80 million to make and collected a mere $17.5 million in sales.

Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everette Collection

Speed Racer

The 1960s family-friendly Speed Racer was better left for Japanese anime. The 2008 live-action remake of the cartoonish story cost about $200 million to make and grossed just $93 million. One could argue it was doomed for failure from the start, with a release date in the middle of two blockbuster hits, Iron Man and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. But the candy-coated PG flick had little going for it, with action sequences too stylized to induce tension and a pet chimp named Chim Chim.