Movies That Flopped So Hard They Practically Put Studios Out Of Business

Making a movie requires a lot of time, effort, and talent. But more importantly, making a movie requires a lot of money. No filmmaker wants their movie to flop, but none more so than studios whose very existence depends on their releases putting butts in seats. While studios have always put their bets on tentpole movies to produce good profit margins, because of the popularity of superheroes and other big-budget franchises, it seems that studios are putting less focus on smaller films that would ensure they wouldn't suffer too much due to their modest budgets (even if they failed). As budgets have gotten bigger, so too has the pressure for these films to not only break even but to break box office records.

Filmmakers face serious career problems when their movies flop with audiences, as a failure or, worse, a string of failures, could lead to a dream project being squashed. For example, it's hard to imagine director Robert Zemeckis – the man behind such beloved films as the "Back to the Future" trilogy, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "Forrest Gump," and many others — getting one of his planned works canceled. But according to The Hollywood Reporter, that's exactly what Disney did to his proposed remake of the Beatles film, "Yellow Submarine," due to the box office failure of his 2009 film, "A Christmas Carol." While Zemeckis is still going strong, many more victims — namely full studios — have resulted from movies that flopped.

The Golden Compass

2007's "The Golden Compass" is an adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel, "Northern Lights." It's set in an alternate version of our universe, wherein the souls of humans take the form of animal partners referred to as daemons. A young girl named Lyra Belacqua lives a boring life at Oxford's Jordan College but is soon called to adventure when her closest friends have been kidnapped, and she sets out to find them with her daemon, a witch, an armored bear, and more.

According to the Independent, the film had a massive budget — about as much as the entirety of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy — and was intended to be the first of a blockbuster series of movies. It had many of the elements to make it a surefire hit: The film was based on a popular and well-known property; it had an impressive cast that included Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Sam Elliott, and others; and was being produced by New Line Cinema, the same risk-taking studio that struck box office and critical gold with the "Lord of the Rings" series. Unfortunately, "The Golden Compass" was a huge flop, grossing only $70 million domestically — roughly a third of its budget. Because of the monumental failure of the film, New Line Cinema could no longer operate as an independent studio and was absorbed into Warner Bros. in order to survive. While they've continued producing films since then, the output of their movies and their budgets have shrunk considerably.


"Cleopatra" tells the story of the eponymous queen and her years-long lust for power. While she at first rules over Egypt with her brother, she carries out a scheme to wrench control from him that results in her being the sole ruler of her country. Julius Caesar arrives from Rome, resulting in an opportunity for her to expand her influence; the two become romantically entwined, she gives birth to his son, and the plan is for them to form an alliance between Rome and Egypt. However, Caesar is assassinated before that pact can be finalized. Cleopatra gets another chance to join forces with Rome years later when Marc Anthony arrives in her life, now a high-ranking official.

As stated in Den of Geek, the production of the film was fraught with so countless problems, and "Cleopatra" nearly ruined 20th Century Fox. The budget was one of those problems; while its production cost of $44 million may not seem like a lot by today's standards, adjusted for inflation it totals around $370 million, which is massive, even in the modern age of Marvel movies. The studio was forced to cut the budgets of its other films in production at the time to stay afloat while making the movie. "Cleopatra" ended up being somewhat profitable, but it was five years before that happened, leaving Fox on the brink of shutting down until the success of "The Sound of Music" saved it two years later.

Rise of the Guardians

Jack Frost is the embodiment of winter, spending his existence bringing snow to kids the world over. He enjoys his job but doesn't enjoy the fact that nobody knows who he is. Pitch Black, more well known as the Boogeyman, is bedeviling young children around the globe with nightmares, and so an alliance is formed between the greatest Guardians of all time — Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy — to stop him. Together, they are a force to be reckoned with, but they're still not strong enough to stop Pitch Black. Jack Frost must step up to prove that he has what it takes to be the next Guardian.

"Rise of the Guardians" got respectable reviews from critics but was far from the box office smash that DreamWorks Animation was hoping it would be, especially considering it was a family-friendly movie released during the holiday season. According to Deadline, the studio's CEO Jeff Katzenberg said that the film "was the first movie of ours in 17 in a row that didn't work. And when that happens it makes you rethink everything ... We've done a reset and we've done it across the board." Katzenberg wasn't kidding about the "reset," as it consisted of DreamWorks Animation laying off 350 employees, forcing the studio to find new ways to make films more quickly and for less money. This is not the sort of move a business would make if it had money to spare.

It's A Wonderful Life

"It's A Wonderful Life" is one of the greatest feel-good movies of all time, due in large part to James Stewart's charming performance as George Bailey. Bailey is one of the nicest people in the small town of Bedford Falls, never missing an opportunity to help those around him. He's got a nice quiet life with a wife and kids, and runs the local building and loan company, doing everything he can from preventing the greedy Mr. Potter from buying him out. However, Bailey's business suffers a terrible setback on Christmas Eve, and so he is contemplating suicide, believing his life to be ruined. He's saved by his guardian angel, though, who shows him how much worse the lives of those he cares for would be without him.

While "It's A Wonderful Life" is a classic now, it took some time before that happened. Time states that the film, which cost $2.3 million, only earned back $2 million for the studio, Liberty Films. Considering it was founded by three top directors — Frank Capra, William Wyler, and George Stevens — as well as former Columbia Pictures executive Samuel Briskin, Liberty Films was considered to be one of the few independent studios to be able to take on other, more established companies. Unfortunately, the box office failure of "It's A Wonderful Life" led to Liberty Films being sold to Paramount Pictures. However, Capra, Wyler, and Stevens all signed deals with Paramount, so not all was lost.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The Right Stuff

After World War II, the U.S. military began to focus its efforts on flight, with the goal of breaking the sound barrier, which was finally achieved by Chuck Yeager. This inspires a competition among other risk-taking pilots determined to prove who's fastest. However, 1959 sees the Soviet Union launch their Sputnik satellite, kicking off a space race between them and the U.S. NASA then starts Project Mercury, and goes on the search for seven brave pilots to test the first spacecraft and become the first astronauts. The pilots are chosen and immediately become heroes to the public. But when Russia becomes the first country to send a man into space, the pilots of Project Mercury have their sights set on beating the record set by their rival.

"The Right Stuff" was produced by the Ladd Company, which had previously scored such hits as "Body Heat" and the Oscar-winning "Chariots of Fire." However, the box office success of these movies was offset by a string of flops, culminating in the failure of "The Right Stuff" to turn a profit. In fact, according to the New York Times, it was that film's disappointing box office receipts that contributed to the dissolution of the Ladd Company. While the studio's "Police Academy" was a big hit for them, it was too late to save them. Warner Bros., which was financing and distributing the Ladd Company's films, ended its partnership with the young studio, leading to its slow and quiet end.

Battlefield Earth

"Battlefield Earth" is set in the year 3000, when Earth has been dominated by a humanoid alien species called the Psychlos. Much of the human population has been decimated, with most of the survivors enslaved by the Psychlos and forced to mine the planet of its resources for their overlords. However, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, one of the few humans living outside of the tyranny of the Psycholos, deserts the safety of his hidden community, only to be captured by the aliens and forced to oversee a mining mission for them due to his resourcefulness. Jonnie is subjected to a rapid-learning machine that quickly teaches him the history of humanity, but this only makes him more dangerous to the Psychlos, as he concocts a plan to take back Earth.

"Battlefield Earth" is not only considered to be one of the worst sci-fi movies ever made but one of the worst movies ever made, period. What makes the film's existence especially tragic is that it played a large part in the demise of its studio, Franchise Pictures. As stated in the Hollywood Reporter, Franchise picked up "Battlefield Earth," which John Travolta had been trying to make for years. The film flopped big time, earning $29 million against its $73 million budget. Making things worse was the fact that Intertainment, the German distributor of the film, filed a lawsuit against Franchise for inflating the budget, and Franchise was forced to fork over more than $120 million, resulting in their bankruptcy soon after.

Raise the Titanic

It's believed that the Titanic, before it tragically hit an iceberg and sank in 1912, housed a large quantity of a rare and valuable mineral. Several Americans want to retrieve that mineral cache, as it can be used to fuel a powerful anti-nuke defense system. However, the Soviet Union is also on the trail of this mineral, asserting that it was originally stolen from them decades earlier. The Titanic is too far deep for divers to reach, and so it's decided that the only way forward is to raise the Titanic and bring it to where it was supposed to arrive: New York City. But this proves to be easier said than done, forcing the salvage team to great lengths to give America the edge over Russia.

Den of Geek doesn't shy away from the details of how badly "Raise the Titanic," well, sank with audiences and critics when it was first released in 1980. Based on Clive Cussler's bestselling novel, it was widely believed that the film would be a surefire hit. However, it only made $7 million, a paltry amount compared to its budget, reported to be between $30 million and $40 million. One of the film's producers, Lord Grade, stated that "it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic." The film's failure was so bad that it almost forced its production company, ITC Entertainment, to shut down forever, a move that was prevented when Grade made a deal with Universal Pictures.

Cutthroat Island

After her father, Black Harry, dies, Morgan Adams inherits his ship, the Morning Star, as well as a piece of a map that leads to buried treasure, with the other pieces in the hands of Richard and Mordechai, Harry's brothers. However, Harry's other brother, the malevolent Dawg Brown, gets possession of Richard's portion of the map and is on a quest to get the rest of it to acquire the treasure for himself. On top of that, Morgan must contend with British Governor Ainslee, who's after her to take revenge for a past slight. Luckily, Morgan has a companion on her side, physician-slash-thief-slash-slave William Shaw, who's able to interpret the mystery of the map.

Other than the fact pirate movies were practically nonexistent in the 1990s, "Cutthroat Island" had much going for it, making its part in Carolco Pictures' demise all the more surprising. It was helmed by experienced action movie director Renny Harlin (who directed "Die Hard 2" and "Cliffhanger"); had A-lister Geena Davis in the lead; and was produced by the studio responsible for such hits as "Total Recall," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," and "Basic Instinct." Unfortunately, it flopped hard. According to Forbes, MGM, which was distributing the movie, didn't give it the marketing push it needed as the studio was being sold. Also, the movie's production went way over budget, and when it only made back $10 million against the $100 million spent on the film, Carolco had no choice but to declare bankruptcy.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" takes place decades in the future in the fallout of a massive meteor that has crashed on Earth, bringing with it countless alien creatures called Phantoms. With so much of the population consumed by Phantoms, humanity is on the brink of extinction. However, the resourceful young scientist Dr. Aki Ross teams up with her mentor Dr. Sid and a motley crew of soldiers to take one last shot at destroying the Phantoms. Their plan involves bringing together the eight Spirits, which, when combined, create a powerful force that can kill the Phantoms. However, General Hein is planning to use a more destructive weapon against the Phantoms, one that is capable of decimating the planet along with them.

"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" was considered groundbreaking at the time due to the creators' attempt to make the completely CGI world look as realistic as possible. However, this endeavor required a big budget that only got bigger throughout its four years in production, as stated in MovieWeb. Considering it was (loosely) based on the popular "Final Fantasy" video game series and the innovative technology involved in creating lifelike characters, the pressure was on for it to perform well at the box office. Unfortunately, it was a massive failure, only bringing in a little over $80 million against its $137 million budget. In fact, the loss was so great that it led to the collapse of its production studio, Square Pictures, as well as its parent video game company.

The Rocker

In the 1980s, Robert "Fish" Fishman was the talented drummer for the rock band Vesuvius, who's on the cusp of stardom with a potential offer from a major label. However, before a contract can be signed, the label recommends the band fire Fish so that the label president's nephew can take his spot. The band is reluctant, as they've all been friends for years, but they take the offer, and Fish is kicked out of the band, effectively ending his music career. However, Fish gets another shot to play drums for a rock band. The only catch is that it's his teenage nephew Matt's high school band. Nevertheless, Fish sees this as an opportunity to relive his old rock 'n' roll dreams.

Perhaps because the film was so similar to the Jack Black rock 'n' roll comedy "School of Rock," released only five years earlier, "The Rocker" was quite a flop for Fox Atomic, the production company founded by 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures. Even with a relatively small budget of $15 million, the movie only brought back $8 million. Its failure to break even with the modest production cost is pretty dismal, and also surprising considering it had Rainn Wilson of the popular series "The Office" as its lead. As stated in The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Atomic was established to produce movies that were aimed at the teenage demographic. The loss greatly contributed to Fox shutting down the label after only three years in existence.