Box-office flops used to be not only more plentiful, but easier to calculate. Huge international grosses and risk-averse studios, however, have made straightforward box-office bombs a rarity. Remember Warcraft? The movie cost $160 million to produce and made only $47 million in America. Flop, right? Not when you account for worldwide grosses, where it added another $386 million. Now, a movie poorly received in the United States has an actual shot at a sequel because globally, Warcraft is the most successful video-game adaptation of all time. Likewise, Michael Fassbender’s poorly received Assassin’s Creed is laying eggs at the box office here in America, but it’s likely to make up the difference — and then some — internationally. Did anyone want anther sequel to The Da Vinci Code? The American box office ($39 million) suggested no, but with international box office factored in, Inferno made $220 million on a $75 million budget.
Determining exactly what flopped and did not in 2016, however, is not an exact science. We get the box-office figures and the production budget, but we don’t know exactly how much the studio gets of that money and how much goes to theaters, nor do we have access the marketing budgets. Those vary from movie to movie. In calculating the biggest bombs of the year, however, we used a simple formula: Production Budget + 30 – (Box Office Gross x .70) = X. In other words, we assumed the studios would receive around 70 percent of the box office take and spend around $30 million in marketing, which gives us a rough estimate of how much each film lost.
For instance, Ghostbusters made $229 million at the box office globally. It cost $144 million to make. Assuming the studio received 70 percent of the take and spent $30 million in marketing, the film ultimately lost around $15 million. That’s why a sequel is not being fast-tracked, although we can assume that the studio made up the difference in streaming, licensing, and toys, so even a misfire like Ghostbusters will likely break even in the long term.
The formula here is not an exact science, but an estimate. With that in mind, here were the biggest flops of the year (and their estimated box-office losses).
Honorable Mention: Zoolander 2 (-$20 million)
Paramount dragged its feet on a Zoolander sequel for years, and for good reason. The original wasn’t exactly a smash hit (it made $60 million globally on a $30 million budget). It did have something of a cult following, but a 15-year gap between installments is not sustainable for most sequels that are not Star Wars. Its stars Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller also lack the relevance they once did, and to be honest, it was a terrible movie, the murder of Justin Bieber notwithstanding. Paramount probably should have stuck with its original decision and declined to make the sequel.
10. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (-$46 million)
The film, based on the novel co-written by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, was originally conceived in 2009 at the height of the mash-up concept. It seemed like a bad idea at the time, but the very modest success of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter apparently convinced Sony to give this one a shot, but not before it chewed through three directors (including David O. Russell) and at least one lead actress (Natalie Portman). The fact that great talent kept leaving the project should have been a huge red flag for the studio, but it chose to go ahead anyway with Burr Steers (Charlie St. Cloud) at the helm and a cast of young mostly unknowns (Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote). Mixed to poor reviews ultimately helped to sink the project.
9. The BFG (-$47 million)
A Steven Spielberg adaptation of a beloved Roald Dahl seems like a home run at the box office, or at least it would have 10 years ago. However, I doubt any studio is willing to say no to Spielberg. The BFG was not a bad movie, either. It was charming and whimsical, but it didn’t connect as much with audiences as previous Spielberg outings. It also suffered from being a movie geared toward kids but that held little appeal for the younger children. Still, at $178 million, this was not a failure of box-office. It was a failure of budget. Put simply, $140 million was too much to spend for a film without a broader appeal.
8. Snowden (-$49 million)
Edward Snowden is a fascinating person, and his decision to whisteblow on the NSA will probably make him one of history’s heroes. However, his story makes for lousy entertainment, and what little drama there is in Snowden is contrived. The film also had the misfortune of premiering during an election campaign where new political conspiracies were more fascinating than the dramatic reenactments old ones. It doesn’t help that much of America just doesn’t care that much anymore about having their privacy invaded. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s laughably awful voice didn’t help matters, either.
7. Keeping Up with the Joneses (-$50 million)
When it was greenlit, I’m sure that a spy comedy starring Jon Hamm — fresh off of Mad Men — Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, and Gal Gadot sounded like a surefire hit. Director Greg Mottola (Adventureland, Superbad) also has a good track record. Joneses, nevertheless, completely failed in execution. Simply put, it was a terrible movie (19 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and Fox seemed to know it because it didn’t put a lot of marketing power behind it.
6. Nice Guys: (-$55 million)
Movies like Nice Guys, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Miss Sloane are exactly the kind of mid-budget movies aimed at adults that the multiplexes are sadly missing. Their box-office grosses are exactly why we will continue to miss them, although there are some exceptions. Now You See Me 2 succeeded thanks to China’s box-office, The Accountant performed well thanks to Affleck, and Money Men benefited from George Clooney’s international appeal. The failure of Nice Guys hurts, though, because it’s one of the best movies of the year, it had familiar stars in Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, a great director in Shane Black, and a cult following from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang looking for a spiritual successor. I don’t know what to blame here except for the timing of the release. It’s a fall movie that was released during a packed summer, forced to go head to head with Neighbors 2 only two weeks after Captain America: Civil War.
5. Deepwater Horizon (-$57 million)
Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg’s Deepwater Horizon wasn’t a bad movie, either, but it was a hard sell, because it celebrated the blue-collar heroes of the biggest oil spill in the nation’s history for preventing it from being an even bigger spill. That’s not exactly a great marketing hook. Movies about American events also have limited international appeal. Still, this was a $110 million film that should’ve been made instead on a $50 million budget, and had it done so, it could’ve achieved a marginal profit like Berg’s Lone Survivor ($150 million on a $40 million budget) had.
4. Allied (-$59 million)
Allied hasn’t ended its box-office run yet, so it may squeeze out a few more million at the box office, but it’s not going to avoid the flop label. Again, Allied is a movie that costs way more than it should have. It ran $85 million, and I’m not sure where much of that money went because — despite what the trailers might have you believe — there’s very little action in Allied. I suspect much of the money went to Brad Pitt, and not even Pitt can sell a glacially paced adult-oriented film meant to have echoes of Casablanca. It wasn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t a great one, either, and it’s the kind of movie that needed critics to get behind it to sell. They didn’t materialize.
3. Free State of Jones (-$63 million)
A historical drama set during the Civil War is never the kind of movie that’s going to put up huge box-office numbers, and even those that perform modestly need strong critical backing and a release during awards season, Free State of Jones opened against the Independence Day sequel in the middle of the summer and was met with poor reviews. This movie didn’t have a chance, and the $50 million price tag on it is absurd for a film of this ilk.
(tie) 1. Ben Hur (-$65 million)
MGM had just emerged from bankruptcy when they decided to greenlight a remake of Ben-Hur, a remake that nobody wanted. It cost too much for a faith-based historical drama ($100 million); the marketing was bad; it had little star power; no buzz; and it was met with miserable reviews. In the end, Ben-Hur made less in America ($27 million) than the original did ($74 million, before inflation) did in 1959.
(tie) 1. Gods of Egypt (-$65 million)
Gods of Egypt was doomed in the casting phase when it cast white actors as Egyptian characters. The only buzz around this film pertained to the whitewashing, and director Alex Proyas spent the three months before the film issuing apologies. Box-office prognosticators were predicting this would be a bomb months before its release, and the 16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes completely doomed it. It was a spectacular all-around failure and another reminder that unknown actors who look like the characters they’re meant to play are better than well-known actors who do not.