Television Listings

Top 10 movie flops of the decade

 John Travolta portraying the alien chief of security Terl in
John Travolta portraying the alien chief of security Terl in 'Battlefield Earth'. REUTERS/Franchise Pictures
— image credit: Reuters

By Gregg Kilday, Jay Fernandez and Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Movie flops aren't just about losing money. Yes, big budgets that go bust are one consideration. But flops are also about lofty expectations dashed and high profiles brought low. They trigger embarrassing catcalls from the peanut gallery and a general whoever-thought-that-was-a-good-idea-in-the-first-place bewilderment.

Any judgments of flopitude are necessarily subjective, but here are 10 movies from the past decade that made those few moviegoers who saw them cringe. Disagree? Talk among yourselves.

10. THE SPIRIT

* Release date: December 25, 2008

* Estimated cost: $60 million

* Domestic gross: $19.8 million

Frank Miller, the man who created the comics "300" and "Sin City," and who redefined Batman and Daredevil for the modern age, directed this adaptation of Will Eisner's comic-strip hero. Starring Samuel L. Jackson and a bevy of beauties, it may have looked good on the page. But onscreen, the heavily stylized, nearly black-and-white results were disastrous. The expensive movie was killed by comic fans, who wanted Miller to go back to comics, and critics, who trashed the movie's over-the-top tones and aesthetics. Consequently, the partners at the company behind the production, Odd Lot Entertainment, parted ways after 23 years together. It even killed plans for a Miller-directed version of "Buck Rogers."

9. GRINDHOUSE

* Release date: April 6, 2007

* Estimated cost: $67 million

* Domestic gross: $25 million

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez managed to turn twice the filmmaking firepower into half the box office (and a third of the critical praise). With "Grindhouse," what began as an explicit exercise in joyous B-movie cinema homage -- a double bill of '70s-style schlock, one film from each director -- ended up aping its scuzzy genre ancestors a little too closely in the receipts department. After the three-hour-plus "Grindhouse" opened to a mere $11.6 million, Harvey Weinstein split the film's two parts -- "Death Proof" and "Planet Terror" -- and shuttled them to international markets individually. While that recouped a little of the Weinstein Co.'s money, it incurred the wrath of purists who were angry that the original film had been corrupted. Tarantino and Weinstein are famously loyal to each other, and while the writer-director eventually made good on the losses with the $120 million-grossing "Inglourious Basterds" this year, "Grindhouse" was one instance where loyalty nearly brought down the house.

8. ROLLERBALL

* Release date: February 8, 2002

* Estimated cost: $70 million

* Domestic gross: $19 million

Norman Jewison's 1975 comment on violence, corporatism and spectacle has its place in the paranoid '70s-era cult film pantheon. John McTiernan's remake, on the other hand, would be totally forgettable if it weren't so spectacularly misconceived in every way. The cast -- Jean Reno, Chris Klein, LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos -- was a C-list mishmash closer to reality TV than big-budget studio moviemaking. McTiernan had long since dented his box-office bona fides with "Last Action Hero" and "The 13th Warrior." And the studio releasing it -- MGM -- was so aware of its bomb-worthiness that it pushed the release back four times, out of the summer 2001 field and into the barren wasteland of February. In a last act of desperation, the movie was also re-edited from an R to a PG-13 rating, sabotaging any last chance it had at an audience. Ultimately, it pretty much wrecked McTiernan's career (he has directed only one film since).

7. THE INVASION

* Release date: August 17, 2007

* Estimated cost: $80 million

* Domestic gross: $15.1 million

Nicole Kidman couldn't have started the decade any hotter, scoring with "Moulin Rouge," "The Others" and "The Hours." But after 2002, her career went cold in the U.S. ("Stepford Wives," "Bewitched," "Australia" and "The Golden Compass"); it's as if the actress was abducted by some sort of soul-draining body snatcher. But wait, isn't that what she's fighting in "The Invasion," Hollywood's latest remake of the 1956 film "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"? This time around, the eerie premise, based on a novel by Jack Finney, failed to catch fire. The Wachowski brothers' second unit director, James McTeigue, was called in to shoot additional scenes written by the "Matrix" whiz kids after original director Oliver Hirschbiegel was sent packing, having filmed the bulk of the movie. In an omen of things to come, Kidman suffered an on-set fender-bender during the reshoots. When the film arrived in theaters more than a year late, Kidman's regal bearing took another dent.

6. CATWOMAN

* Release date: July 23, 2004

* Estimated cost: $100 million

* Domestic gross: $40 million

It was inevitable after Michelle Pfeiffer stole scenes as Catwoman in "Batman Returns" that her black-latexed anti-heroine would get a spinoff of her own. But when the inevitable occurred in 2004, this time with Halle Berry playing the character, audiences tried hard to cover up the kitty litter. No one involved with the movie came out unscathed. Not Berry, who just two years earlier had won an Oscar for "Monster's Ball"; not Sharon Stone, who chewed up the scenery as the movie's villainess; and not Pitof, the French filmmaker making his American directorial debut. He went back to his native land and hasn't directed a theatrical feature since. The movie is another example cited by studios in their long-held contention that female superhero movies just don't work.

5. TOWN & COUNTRY

* Release date: April 27, 2001

* Estimated cost: $90 million

* Domestic gross: $6.7 million

Twenty-five years after he seduced audiences in "Shampoo," Warren Beatty decided the time was ripe for another sex comedy, albeit one with a somewhat older circle of friends. He somehow persuaded New Line, which usually concentrated on the youth market, to foot the bill. And what a bill it was: With the script still furiously going through rewrites, Peter Chelsom began shooting in June 1998; 10 months and take after take after take later, the film was still shooting. That's when co-stars like Diane Keaton and Gary Shandling had to leave to fulfill other commitments. A full year later, the whole cast regrouped to finish the shoot, which had escalated to more than twice its original $44 million price tag. The completed film was actually something of a tepid affair. Beatty dithers as a New York architect who cheats on his wife with several women; Shandling's his best pal trying to come out as gay. And then there's Charlton Heston, playing against type, as a gun nut.

4. GIGLI

* Release date: August 1, 2003

* Estimated cost: $54 million

* Domestic gross: $6.1 million

If the course of true love rarely runs smoothly, then "Gigli" is an object lesson in how rocky it can get. As the new century dawned, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez -- tabloid code name: Bennifer -- were the couple of the moment. With an Oscar for writing "Good Will Hunting" and starring roles in "Pearl Harbor" and "The Sum of All Fears," his movie career was in high gear; she could boast a solid-gold music resume and rom-com appeal in movies like "The Wedding Planner" and "Maid in Manhattan." Onscreen romantic sparks seemed made to order. So what went wrong? Start with that title, "Gigli," that no one was sure how to pronounce. Add lots of lovey-dovey media appearances that erased a bit of their mystique. And then there was Martin Brest's film itself: a low-rent-mobster-boy-meets-enforcer-chick tale complete with a kidnapping, severed thumbs and Al Pacino in high dudgeon. Bennifer split in 2004, just before sharing the bill in another film not too far away on the flop-o-meter, "Jersey Girl."

3. LAND OF THE LOST

* Release date: June 5, 2009

* Estimated cost: $100 million

* Domestic gross: $65 million

Producer/puppeteers Sid and Marty Kroft were masters of the weird and cheesy; their old Saturday morning TV show, "Land of the Lost," is remembered fondly by kids who grew up in the '70s. But the material experienced something of a time warp when director Brad Silbering tried to give it a hipster spin this summer with the help of Will Ferrell, playing a paleontologist who journeys to a parallel universe where he meets the Sleestaks. Normally, any movie with a rampaging Tyrannosaurus (see "Journey to the Center of the Earth," "Night at the Museum") can't miss, but "Lost" was, well, lost in translation. The movie's PG-13 rating wasn't a comfort to many families when word got around of its toilet humor. Older moviegoers weren't interested, and Kroft purists weren't amused. Over the years, Disney and Sony had both held remake rights, but ultimately this hot potato landed at Universal, where it was one of the factors that resulted in the ouster of the studio's two top executives in October.

2. BATTLEFIELD EARTH

* Release date: May 12, 2000

* Estimated cost: $75 million

* Domestic gross: $21 million

Blame it on the Thetans if you want, but John Travolta's space oddity "Battlefield Earth" virtually imploded on the launching pad. Travolta's career was enjoying a resurgence in the wake of "Pulp Fiction" when he wagered a big chunk of his newfound credibility, as well as some of his own coin, on this passion project. "Battlefield Earth" was based on a 1972 sci-fi novel by Scientology guru L. Ron Hubbard, which Travolta promised would be "like 'Star Wars,' only better." Studios shied away, but Travolta found financing from Franchise Pictures, which would later be sued by investors for overstating the movie's costs as $100 million. Originally, Travolta hoped to play the young hero who leads a rebellion against the alien race that enslaves Earth, but the film took so long to assemble he ultimately opted instead to don dreadlocks and platform shoes to play the villain, barking lines like "Execute all man-animals at will, and happy hunting!" A planned sequel, which would have covered the second half of the novel, never materialized. "Some movies run off the rails," observed Roger Ebert. "This one is like the train crash in 'The Fugitive.'"

1. THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH

* Release date: August 6, 2002

* Estimated cost: $100 million

* Domestic gross: $4.4 million

Eddie Murphy is some kind of miracle. Five of his recent films lost more than $250 million, and yet he not only still gets hired but also commands his salary quote. But on the flop-o-meter, one Murphy title towers above even "Meet Dave," "Showtime" and "I Spy": Trumpets, please, for "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," whose release was delayed for 14 months. It instantly became the "Cleopatra" of our age. A sci-fi gangster comedy, complete with robot sidekick, set on the moon, "Pluto" was neither fish nor fowl -- but mostly foul. But unlike most stars who are tarnished by a mega-flop, Murphy -- who did take time off from broad comedies to redeem himself with his Oscar-nominated turn in "Dreamgirls" -- just keeps going and going and going.

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