A box-office bomb or box-office flop is a film that is unprofitable or considered highly unsuccessful during its theatrical run. Although any film for which the production, marketing, and distribution costs combined exceed the revenue after release has technically "bombed", the term is more frequently used on major studio releases that are highly anticipated and expensive to produce. Critical reception does not correlate with box-office performance.
Occasionally, films may underperform because of issues unrelated to the film itself, such as the timing of the film's release. This was one of the reasons for the commercial failure of Intolerance, D. W. Griffith's follow-up to The Birth of a Nation. Owing to production delays, the film was not released until late 1916, when the widespread antiwar sentiment it reflected had started to shift in favor of American entry into World War I.
Another example of external events sinking a film is the 2015 critically panned docudrama about FIFA entitled United Passions. It was released in theaters in the United States at the same time FIFA's leaders were under investigation for fraud and corruption, combined with general indifference to "football", and the film grossed only $918 at the US box office in its opening weekend.
Sometimes, films that open during times of national crisis and just after disasters, such as the September 11 attacks in 2001, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and the COVID-19 pandemic, underperform at the box office.
High production costs
A large budget can cause a film to fail financially, even when it performs reasonably well at the box office; 1980's Heaven's Gate, for example, exceeded its planned production schedule by three months, causing its budget to inflate from $12 million to $44 million. The film only earned $3.5 million at the box office.
For the 2005 film Sahara, its budget ballooned to $281.2 million for production, distribution, and other expenses. The film earned $119 million in theaters and $202.9 million overall with television and other subsidies included, resulting in a net loss of $78.3 million. In 2012, Disney reported losses of $200 million on John Carter. The film had made a considerable $234 million worldwide, but this was short of its $250 million budget plus worldwide advertising.
Films which are initially viewed as "flops" may recover income elsewhere. Several films have underperformed in their countries of origin, but have been sufficiently successful internationally to recoup losses or even become financial successes. Films may also recover money through international distribution, sales to television syndication, distribution outside of cinemas, and releases on home media. Other films have succeeded long after cinema release by becoming cult films or being re-evaluated over time. High-profile films fitting this description include Vertigo, Blade Runner, The Wizard of Oz, It's a Wonderful Life, Citizen Kane and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory each of which initially lost money at the box office, but have since become popular.
In extreme cases, a single film's lackluster performance may push a studio into financial losses, bankruptcy, or closure. Examples of this include United Artists (Heaven's Gate) and Carolco Pictures (Cutthroat Island). The underperformance of The Golden Compass was seen as a significant factor in influencing Warner Bros.'s decision to take direct control of New Line Cinema.
In 2001, Square Pictures, a division of Square, released its only film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. It received mixed reviews from critics and failed to recover its $145 million cost. Following the film's struggles, Square Pictures did not make any more films. They are now a consolidated subsidiary of Square Enix as Visual Works. In 2011, Mars Needs Moms is the last film released by ImageMovers Digital before Disney's stake got absorbed by ImageMovers to a loss of nearly $140 million – the largest box-office bomb of all time in nominal dollar terms. Despite this loss, the decision to close the production company had been made a year prior to the film's release.
The 2006 independent movie Zyzzyx Road made just $30 at the US box office. With a budget of $1.2 million and starring Tom Sizemore and Katherine Heigl, its tiny revenue is due to its limited box-office release – just six days in a single theater in Dallas for the purpose of meeting Screen Actors Guild requirements – rather than its ability to attract viewers. According to co-star Leo Grillo, it sold six tickets, two of which were to cast members.
Previously, the 2000 British film Offending Angels had become notorious for taking in less than £100 (~$150) at the box office. It had a £70,000 (~$105,000) budget but was panned by critics including the BBC, who called it a "truly awful pile of garbage", and Total Film, who called it "irredeemable".
- List of biggest box-office bombs
- List of films considered the worst
- List of films considered the best
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