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Box-office bomb

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A box-office bomb, box-office flop, box-office failure, or box-office disaster is a film that is unprofitable or considered highly unsuccessful during its theatrical run. Although any film for which the production budget, marketing, and distribution costs combined exceed the revenue after release has technically "bombed", the term is more frequently used for major studio releases which were highly anticipated, extensively marketed, and expensive to produce, and ultimately failed commercially.[1][2] Originally a "bomb" had the opposite meaning and referred to a successful film i.e. a bomb "explodes" at the box office and is successful, and continued to be used in that way in the United Kingdom into the 1970s.[3]


Negative word of mouth[edit]

With the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in the 2000s, word of mouth regarding new films is easily spread and has had a marked effect on box office performance. A film's ability or failure to attract positive or negative commentary can strongly impact its performance at the box office, especially on the opening weekend.[4]

External circumstances[edit]

Occasionally, films may underperform because of issues largely unrelated to the content of the film, such as the timing of the film's release. This was one of the reasons given 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.[5] Another example is the 2015 docudrama about FIFA entitled United Passions. A glowing portrayal of FIFA, which had mostly funded the film, United Passions was released in theaters in the United States at the same time FIFA's leaders were under investigation for fraud and corruption. The film grossed only $918 at the US box office in its opening weekend.[6]

Sometimes, a film's performance may be adversely affected by national crisis or a disaster, such as the September 11 attacks in 2001, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020–2021.[7][8][9]

High production costs[edit]

In evaluating box-office gross numbers, it is important to keep in mind that not all money is returned to the film studio. Some of the gross is kept by the film exhibitors and the film distributor. The scratch formula for making a rough estimate of a studio's portion of the gross is that the studio usually gets half.[10]

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,[11] causing its budget to inflate from $12 million to $44 million.[12] The film only earned $3.5 million at the box office.[13]

For the 2005 film Sahara, its budget ballooned to $281.2 million for production, distribution, and other expenses.[14] 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.[14][15] 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.[16]

The 2007 film The Golden Compass had a production budget of $200 million. To be able to fund the film, New Line Cinema had to sell all of the film's international distribution rights to various film distributors around the world. The film underperformed domestically, but was an international success; however, New Line did not have a cut of the international box office. These events were major factors in New Line becoming a division of Warner Bros. Pictures.[17]


Films initially thought of 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.[18] Films may also recover money through international distribution, sales to television syndication, distribution outside of cinemas, and releases on home media.[19] The 1995 post-apocalyptic action film Waterworld was the most expensive film ever made at the time after undergoing significant production difficulties. While it performed relatively well in the US box office, it did not initially turn a profit and became known as a box-office flop. However, international box-office takings and video sales led it to turn a profit.[20] In 2023, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, which underperformed at the box office, was given a COVID-19 insurance payout, which amounted to £57 million ($71 million).[21][22]

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,[23] Blade Runner, The Wizard of Oz, It's a Wonderful Life, Citizen Kane,[24] The Shawshank Redemption,[25] The Thing,[26] and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,[27] each of which initially lost money at the box office but has since become popular.

Studio failure[edit]

It is common for a single film's lackluster performance to push its studio into the red, in the sense of recording a net loss on its income statement. However, in extreme cases, a bomb may push its studio into bankruptcy or closure. Examples of this include United Artists (Heaven's Gate)[28] and Carolco Pictures (Cutthroat Island).[29][30] The Golden Compass was a success at the international box office and grossed $372 million worldwide; however, its underperformance at the box office in North America was seen as a significant factor in influencing the decision by Warner Bros. Pictures to take direct control of New Line Cinema.[31]

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[32] and is now a consolidated subsidiary of Square Enix as Visual Works.[33] In 2011, Mars Needs Moms was 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. Regardless of this loss, the decision to close the production company had been made a year prior to the film's release.[34]

Independent films[edit]

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.[35][36] According to co-star Leo Grillo, it sold six tickets, two of which were to cast members.[37]

Previously, the 2000 British film Offending Angels had become notorious for taking in less than £100 (~$150[38]) at the box office.[39] It had a £70,000 (~$105,000[38]) budget but was panned by critics, including the BBC, who called it a "truly awful pile of garbage",[40] and Total Film, who called it "irredeemable".[41]

In 2011, the film The Worst Movie Ever! opened to just $11 at the US box office. It played in only one theater.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Greatest Box-Office Bombs, Disasters and Flops". Filmsite.org. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  2. ^ "The 15 Biggest Box Office Bombs". CNBC.com. August 23, 2010. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  3. ^ Pitman, Jack (April 29, 1970). "English as British Speak It". Variety. p. 172. Retrieved June 15, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ "A Century in Exhibition-The 2010s: The Great Disruption". boxofficepro.com. August 27, 2021. Retrieved January 17, 2022.
  5. ^ "Intolerance (1916)". www.filmsite.org. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  6. ^ "FIFA film 'United Passions' one of worst in U.S. box office history". ESPN. June 18, 2015. Archived from the original on June 18, 2015. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
  7. ^ Kelley, Seth (August 27, 2017). "Box Office Disaster: Lackluster Releases, Mayweather-McGregor, Hurricane Harvey Create Slowest Weekend in Over 15 Years". Variety. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  8. ^ "Weekend Box Office". Boxofficeguru.com. September 17, 2001. Retrieved December 8, 2011.
  9. ^ Erlichman, Jon (March 13, 2020). "Box office bomb: COVID-19's impact on the movie theatre business". BNN Bloomberg. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  10. ^ Hornaday, Ann (April 5, 2018). "We're awash in box-office statistics. But what do the numbers really mean?". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ Miller, Alexander (27 April 2015). "Unmaking of an Epic – The Production of Heaven's Gate". filminquiry.com. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  12. ^ Burr, Ty (November 24, 2012). "Ty Burr revisits 'Heaven's Gate'". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on December 8, 2018. Retrieved January 13, 2020.
  13. ^ "Heaven's Gate (1980)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 13, 2020.
  14. ^ a b Bunting, Glenn F. (15 April 2007). "$78 million of red ink?". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 7 May 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  15. ^ Bunting, Glenn F. (5 March 2007). "Jurors hear tales of studio maneuvering". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 27 March 2009. Retrieved 4 August 2021.
  16. ^ "John Carter flop to cost Walt Disney $200m". bbc.co.uk. BBC News. 20 March 2012.
  17. ^ "Failed Movies That Singlehandedly Put Their Studios Out of Business". University Fox. December 12, 2019. Archived from the original on May 9, 2019. Retrieved February 2, 2022.
  18. ^ Mendelson, Scott. "'Pacific Rim' And More Domestic "Flops" That Became Global Hits". Forbes. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  19. ^ "11 Beloved Movies That Were Box Office Flops". Mental Floss. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  20. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (August 7, 2013). "Isn't It Time To Take 'Waterworld' Off The All-Time Flop List?". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 13, 2013.
  21. ^ Black, Christian (September 10, 2023). "Mission possible as Paramount Pictures wins £57m Covid payout". The Times. Archived from the original on September 10, 2023. Retrieved September 11, 2023.
  22. ^ McPherson, Chris (September 12, 2023). "'Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning's Profits Boosted By $71 Million Insurance Payout bringing The Total box office to 637.1 Million". Collider. Archived from the original on September 14, 2023. Retrieved September 14, 2023.
  23. ^ "Vertigo: From box-office flop to 'greatest film of all time'". The Irish Times.
  24. ^ "11 Beloved Movies That Were Box Office Flops". Mental Floss. November 10, 2015.
  25. ^ "Why Shawshank Redemption Was A Box Office Failure (Despite Its Popular Legacy)". ScreenRant. May 5, 2021. Retrieved November 29, 2021.
  26. ^ "The Real Reason John Carpenter's The Thing Flopped At The Box Office". Looper. October 1, 2020. Retrieved June 20, 2023.
  27. ^ Laman, Lisa (April 5, 2023). "How 'Scott Pilgrim' Went From Box Office Bomb to Pop Culture Touchstone". Collider. Retrieved January 11, 2024.
  28. ^ Welkos, Robert W. "'Heaven's Gate': The film flop that reshaped Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
  29. ^ Sterngold, James (March 31, 1996). "Debacle on the High Seas". The New York Times. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
  30. ^ "Largest box office loss". Guinness World Records. April 30, 2012. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  31. ^ Davis, Erik (February 28, 2008). "Breaking: New Line Cinema Says Goodbye!". Cinematical.com. Archived from the original on October 28, 2012. Retrieved December 8, 2011.
  32. ^ Briscoe, David (February 1, 2002). "'Final Fantasy' studio to fold". The Independent. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
  33. ^ "Square-Enix Co, LTD. Annual Report 2007" (PDF). pp. 29, 30, 53. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 25, 2009. Retrieved March 5, 2009.
  34. ^ Finke, Nikki (March 12, 2010). "Disney Closing Zemeckis' Digital Studio". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
  35. ^ Faraci, Devin (December 31, 2006). "What if they released a movie and nobody came?". CHUD.com. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved January 2, 2007.
  36. ^ Brunner, Rob (February 9, 2007). "The Strange and Twisted Tale of ... The Movie That Grossed $30.00". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 24, 2008.
  37. ^ Mueller, Andrew (January 16, 2007). "This Film Is Absolute Dross – People Are Going to Love It!". The Guardian. London. Retrieved January 15, 2007.
  38. ^ a b Officer, Lawrence H. "Dollar-Pound Exchange Rate From 1791: 2000–2002". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  39. ^ logboy (February 3, 2006). "Offending Angels. £70k Budget, £89 Box Office. 8 DVD Sales to Double its Taking". Twitch.net. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved January 16, 2007.
  40. ^ Russell, Jamie (April 10, 2002). "Offending Angels (2002)". BBC. Retrieved January 16, 2007.
  41. ^ Harley, Kevin (May 2002). "Offending Angels review". Total Film. Retrieved June 15, 2021.
  42. ^ "The Worst Movie Ever! (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 25, 2011.

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