What the Summer's 7 Biggest Box-Office Bombs Says About America's Changing Appetite

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What the Summer's 7 Biggest Box-Office Bombs Says About America's Changing Appetite

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | August 27, 2012 | Comments ()


Thanks mainly to two very huge films (The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises), some overperformers (Ted and Magic Mike) and some reliable mainstays (Spider-Man and Pixar (Brave)), the summer of 2012 was a huge success in terms of overall revenue. But like every summer, this one had its share of box-office flops, but unlike many summers, most of those failures were actually heartening for what they say about the appetites of the American moviegoing public.

Let's take a look (domestic box-office only):

0328_totalrecall_630x420.jpegBattleship -- $65 million domestic; $209 million budget ($144 million loss). We've been ridiculing the idea of building a huge blockbuster around a board game since the day this movie was announced, and the film ended up being just as hopelessly bad as we'd predicted. It was part two in the 2012 Trilogy of Failure for Taylor Kitsch (along with John Carter and, less so, Savages), but more importantly, it demonstrated that moviegoers are slightly smarter than Hollywood gives us credit for. Brand recognition may be important, but it's not enough to make up for a movie based on a board game with only a tenuous connection to the actual gameplay. Don't expect the long in-development Clue, Candyland, and Monopoloy movies to progress any further, although unfortunately, the Ouija movie is still in active development.

Total Recall -- $55 million; $125 million budget ($70 million loss). Likewise, America is not above remakes, obviously, but we're clearly over remakes of 80's projects that were decidedly products of their time. You just can't reproduce the cheesy greatness of the 1980s (see, also, The A-Team, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Fright Night) , and no one wants to see a Schwarzenegger original remade without Schwarzenegger (see also Conan the Barbarian). The Robocop remake is already in the works, but I wouldn't expect Hollywood to rush their Commando or Red Sonja remakes. Sadly, it's also not great news for Collin Farrell's big-budget career, either.

MIB 3 -- $178 million; $225 million budget ($47 million loss). Conceding that MIB 3 was a huge worldwide hit (grossing $650 million), I nevertheless wouldn't expect a fourth movie in the series. A decade between installments is too much time (see also the middling TRON: Legacy). Especially when the most previous outing was lackluster, Hollywood can't expect the passage of time somehow to create new buzz.

reg_600.roa.ls.61112.jpegRock of Ages -- $38 million; $75 million budget ($37 million loss). Again, Hollywood has to stop mining the 80s for ideas, including both 80's music and Tom Cruise. Personally, I loved Rock of Ages for how cheesy awful it was, but save for CW shows, cheesy is not a quality that most of this generation appreciates.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter -- $37 million; $70 million budget ($33 million loss). This was the first historical revisionism plus a monster out of the gate and it doesn't bode well for the success of future projects in this vein, including Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I thought there was a modest amount of fun to be had in this movie, but audiences aren't responding particularly well to genre mash-ups.

Thats-My-Boy.jpegThat's My Boy -- $36 million; $70 million budget ($34 million loss). There is both good news and bad here. Audiences do not respond to R-Rated Adam Sandler movies anymore (yay!), but the jury is still out on Sandler family fare (Grown Ups was a huge success, and a sequel is due out next summer).

The Watch -- $33 million; $66 million budget ($33 million loss). You can't really say that Ben Stiller's career is dead, but -- again -- unless he's making family films, audiences are less receptive. Hopefully, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty remake will be the death knell. As for Vince Vaughn's career, well, put a fork in it.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Tom

    Most of the movies on your list didn't lose money because everyone else in the world loved them. Battleship, though a horrible movie made $237 million overseas for a $302 mil total. Ghost Protocol made $485 mil foreign. Aside from the comedies all of these movies did well overseas.

  • This article says absolutely NOTHING about movie-goers' tastes. It's just another list among an ocean of internet lists.

  • SpikeHK

    The calculations here are totally bizarre and without any real meaning. The budget of the film vs. domestic gross is a useless comparison for many reasons

    1 - The "budget" is not the true cost of the film. Add in marketing and distribution costs and studio overhead, which at this point everyone should know adds anywhere from 50-100% to the original budget cost.

    2 - The "gross" isn't a meaningful comparison to the amount spent because it is gross and not net and doesn't account for the share that theater operators get.

    3 - The international market is increasingly important to studios and only looking at US figures means you're only looking at a portion of the picture and not the whole.

    4 - Ancillary revenues from home video, streaming, cable, etc. are significant, though the slower revenue stream is offset somewhat by interest payments.

    So, MIB3 grossed $650 million worldwide from just its theatrical run and you consider it a financial flop? It makes zero sense.

    But I suppose it's a good way to get people looking at your posts - it worked for me.

  • Devil Child

    Sandler and Stiller's modern careers are like tumors, you can tell me they're gone from the vital organs, but I'm not cheering up until I know it's out of the bloodstream for good.

  • Lurked

    Stiller better not drag Richard Ayoade down with him.

  • dahlia6

    Not to be a pedantic bitch (oh who am I kidding,) but didn't Dustin say in his argument, nee the title of this post, what its says about American audiences? So it does make sense to exclude foreign box offices. He didn't say it was an article about worldwide audience tastes, just American. It'd be interesting to see a point/counterpoint of how those numbers shape up regarding foreign box offices (broken down by country, yes I'm American but I do realize Europe is considered a continent, and is not in fact a country).

  • John G.

    Well, if you eliminate the international box office, then you eliminate the whole point. These movies are not made for the US. They are made to be extremely simple plots that can be as broad as humanly possible to entertain as many people from as many cultures and as many languages as possible, usually with lots of 'splosions.

  • ,

    You could probably make a good horror movie out of Ouija.

    True story, swear to Godtopus: When I was a teenager, I had a Ouija board. Some of my cousins were in my bedroom and we got it out and were playing with it. You know how it goes: Three people are supposed to put their fingertips on the heart-shaped thingie and see where it goes. Well, I had my eyes closed, concentrating, and soon the heart thing was zipping around the board, spelling out whatever it was spelling (I don't remember, seems to me like it was gibberish, but maybe not). Anyway, at some point I opened my eyes and a fucking chill went up my spine: I was the only one who had my fingers on the heart thing. The other kids had taken their hands off it, and they were laughing at me, because they thought they had caught me sliding it around deliberately, that I was trying to make it spell out something. Of course, no one believed me when I said I had done no such thing. I was barely touching it.

    That scared the fucking hell out of me. I put that evil motherfucker on the top shelf of my closet and I never touched it again.

    You could start the movie with that scenario. But I won't be seeing it, thanks.

  • piedlourde
  • BendinIntheWind

    I truly do not understand how Adam Sandler's production company is still standing. Is he just funneling his own personal wealth into shitty movies to hang out with his friends?

    Happy Madison's most recent film credits are That's My Boy, Jack and Jill, Zookeeper, and Bucky Larson. According to Box Office Mojo, that's a total loss of $48 million. They've got one TV show entering its last season, and another that was canceled pretty early on. If he has that much residual cash from goofy voices and poop jokes, I need to seriously reconsider some life choices.

  • Will Holston

    Hey, Battleship was dumb, but I had more fun with it than I did with The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man, etc. It's the only blockbuster from this summer I'll likely ever watch again.

  • Green Lantern

    Seriously? Wow. Okay, Will.

  • Repo

    Why the dig at Fright Night, Rowles? I'm pretty sure I've seen you praise it several times over in past articles.

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    I'm just going to say it: I enjoyed Total Recall. It was shiny, I actually liked that it had less Arnold (to the point of no Arnold), and it was a fun way to pass the afternoon. And now I feel like I have just made my first confession at a support group.

  • L.O.V.E.

    What does it say about our changing appetite? Well, lets visit the supper table to find out, shall we?


  • Three_nineteen

    That link naturally leads to this link:


  • L.O.V.E.

    which begets this link:


  • Three_nineteen

    No cheesecake in this one, but it's the only song of theirs I can stand. Plus I think that's Miss Ballbricker:


  • Three_nineteen
  • L.O.V.E.

    Van Halen? Not exactly a hair band, but the cheese and chesse cake factors are both high. I'll allow it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • jane

    Some of these movies were very successful overseas so I don't think it's fair to put the losses up there. I know that MIB and Battleship did pretty good elsewhere. Also, I would say that it's less the content and more the quality. None of these movies got particularly good reviews.

  • Bigzilla

    Poorly written, too many generalizations, and inaccurate representations of what each film "lost" (using only domestic box office, not including marketing costs, etc.). And your other posters are right, if some of these had actually been good movies, they might not have bombed. Don't give audiences too much credit. As a whole, they aren't sitting there saying, "No! I refuse to see a movie based on a board game!" Just a lazy post, man. Other than that, great article!

  • e jerry powell


    Marketing expenses can't legally be tacked on to production budget anymore. That money just comes out of thin air.

  • Wembley

    I think Lincoln took a bath because people were afraid they might learn something-you know, history and $#!+ like that.

  • I can tolerate no other Lincoln when a Daniel Day Lewis Lincoln is in the works. And vampires? No.

  • e jerry powell

    You may be onto something...

  • Slash

    The Kardashians are still making millions. So my opinion of America's appetite remains unchanged. Plus, many millions will be voting Republican in a couple months, so my estimation of America's intelligence continues its downward trajectory.

  • e jerry powell

    No lie.

  • no one

    I agree with space_oddity. None of that “board game”, “80s remake”, or “Adam Sandler” stuff matters. If any one of those had been a good movie people would have gone to see them.

    And as for “no one wants to see a Schwarzenegger original remade without Schwarzenegger (see also Conan the Barbarian)” My first impulse was to agree but on second thought I wouldn’t mind seeing Chris Hemsworth taking a shot at playing Conan.

  • e jerry powell

    Nah, you just want Hemsworth to run around showing off his massive breasteses, and character is completely immaterial in that situation.

  • Guest

    I am deeply, deeply satisfied by this overview.

  • When I heard about the first three my reaction was "Why are they doing this?". Never a good response you want from your potential viewer base. As for the other four, except for Abe my response was "meh".

  • bimboden

    As far as board game movies go, I'm appalled that anyone thinks they can top the original Clue. It still holds up, as far as I'm concerned. Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White was the tops.

  • Elfrieda

    There are people who want to remake Clue?

    I hate those people so much . . . flames . . . flames, on the side of my face, heaving . . . breathing . . . heaving breaths . . .

  • BendinIntheWind

    "He didn't like me very much - he had threatened to kill me in public."
    "Why would he want to kill you in public?"
    "I think she means he had threatened, in public, to kill her."

  • Rocabarra

    Yes to this, a million times over. You simply can't take anything Mr. Tim Curry was in, remake it without him, and expect it to somehow be better. This is an impossibility according to the laws of mankind.

  • e jerry powell

    Yet and still, MTV was trying to get a remake of Rocky Horror off the ground, despite the fact that no one asked for it. Fortunately, someone kicked some sense into whoever floated that idea (or at the very least, I hope whoever it was died the death of a thousand papercuts).

  • andrew

    Lee Ving as Mr. Boddy. That is all.

  • Of course, they have already made Clue, so that would be yet another remake. But I would totally go for a Commando sequel if they would promise to use Schwarzenegger and Milano again.

  • bimboden

    I linked to the YouTube clip of Mrs. White's best line in the movie (and my favorite Madeline Kahn moment ever), but apparently it wasn't allowed. Poo. Anyway... if anyone thinks they can make a better Clue than the original, they should be fracking shot in the fracking face.

  • space_oddity

    Also, want to add that they're welcome to remake Red Sonja any day. Cause there's no way it could be any worse than the 80s version with Brigitte Nielsen. That movie isn't even cheesy awful. Just groan-inducing, walk-out-of-the-theater awful.

  • e jerry powell

    I dunno, they could always pull a Lucas and CGI Flavor Flav into the original, complete with Viking helmet.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Gina Carano with red hair would work.

  • Sigh. Taylor Kitsch was so fantastic as Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights. I really want him to have a successful career. Maybe he should try talking Peter Berg into an FNL spinoff about Riggs. :)

    Side note: Battleship was awful, but I rather enjoyed John Carter for the sci-fi cheese fest that it is. I haven't seen Savages.

  • Anne At Large

    I had a similar experience, everybody I talked to that had SEEN John Carter really enjoyed it, but the people who hadn't were bemused as to why we would recommend it so highly based on the previews they had seen. I am going with the marketing people before I will blame Taylor Kitsch.

    Also, I totally had to go find the books as soon as I got home, they are dated but still very fun, I recommend them!

  • e jerry powell

    I think that the problem with John Carter was more marketing than filmmaking, but that's just me. I hate marketing executives.

  • Green Lantern

    Everyone I know that has *seen* "Carter" - all of whom are familiar with him as a seminal pulp hero - have enjoyed it. My distracted ass hasn't been able to sit down and concentrate long enough to watch yet. There were previous discussions about the failure of Disney's marketing to properly trump up the historical value of John Carter and the whole "Mars" series. I think there's a lot of truth in that.

  • mediapileup

    Yeah, it was cheesy and silly but not a bad movie. I went with my eight year old twin niece and nephew and they liked it too. (In fact, I'm pregnant and my nephew says I should name it John Carter if it's a boy). This was a huge marketing fail on Disney's part. Their entire marketing team should not only have been fired, but banned from Hollywood for life.

    No opinion on Taylor Kitsch...he was fine, but didn't blow me away with his acting skills or charisma on the big screen.

  • space_oddity

    I think you're reading too much into this. Couldn't it be a little simpler? American audiences have less tolerance for complete shit than before? All of these examples you give were largely panned, simply as crappy movies. And word spreads fast.

    And yes, I realize that how you are framing it here is probably how Hollywood execs think of it (eg "oh no, can't have 'Mars' in the title, that's the kiss of death" stupidity).

  • Guest

  • Uriah_Creep

    Good comment. Upvote!

  • Snath

    Robocop did not star Schwarzenegger...

  • e jerry powell

    Yeah. The metal body armor would have hidden his breasteses.

    Oh, and with any luck, the RoboCop reboot will sink like a stone. Has anyone on this side of the planet even seen Joel Kinnaman shirtless?

  • Wembley

    But what if it had...

  • James West

    ... I like Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller.

  • Green Lantern

    "Dodgeball" FTW, yo.

  • Snath

    Then what are you doing here?


  • Fabius_Maximus


    What are you doing here?

  • Snath

    What can I say, I'm a huge flaming hypocrite.

  • Green Lantern

    As am I, Snath.

  • Snath


  • Bert_McGurt

    "As for Vince Vaughn’s career, well, put a fork in it."
    I think Vince has been taking your advice for more than a few years now.

  • You win the internet for today!

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Low blow.


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