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Movie History – Why Sahara and The Alamo Qualify as Two of Cinema’s Seven Biggest Bombs

As any movie fan knows, there are more examples of box-office disasters than can be summarized in a quick list. For this one, we selected among the most notorious films that pushed a studio into bankruptcy or had the most major losses, after setting total production and marketing costs against worldwide grosses. This short list, unfortunately, leaves out many noteworthy flops, such as Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar, The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Postman, Battlefield Earth, and Gigli. History is bound to repeat itself, so the story hardly ends here.

Cutthroat Island (1995)
Total Cost: $115 million
Worldwide Gross: $10 million

Director Renny Harlin’s bloated pirate-themed film continues to enjoy the reputation of being the biggest box-office bomb of all time. Its losses were so phenomenal — costs were nearly equaled by net losses of almost $105 million (after inflation, $147 million) — that its production company, Carolco, was forced to file for bankruptcy even before it opened, selling most of its assets, for $50 million, to 20th Century Fox. The adventure tale featured wooden acting (from Matthew Modine, opposite Geena Davis), a deficient and often incoherent script, continuity problems and spectacular-but-boring special effects. There were six writers credited for the dubious film’s story and script, an indication of its significant problems.

The Alamo (2004)
Total Cost: $145 million
Worldwide Gross: $25 million
John Lee Hancock’s bloated, boring Disney production starring Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton was an expensive remake of John Wayne’s 1960 film about the heroic 1836 battle. It was criticized as having a threadbare, sluggish script; characters that were cartoonish (especially Santa Anna); a bombastic score; mostly bloodless violence; and jerky editing, though it was much more historically accurate than its predecessor. Preview screenings were disastrous, thanks to its original three-hour-plus running time, so it was cut down to 135 minutes, causing delays in its release — and resulting in terrible box-office returns. Net losses were $120 million (after inflation, $135 million).

Adventures of Pluto Nash

Total Cost: $120
Worldwide Gross: $7 million

Megastar Eddie Murphy’s
futuristic science-fiction comedy suffered one of the largest
financial losses (percentage-wise) ever recorded for a film. Net losses
were $113 million (after inflation, $134 million). The ill-conceived
film was in development for about fifteen years and then shelved for
two, following a negative preview. The unfocused effort suffered from an
inadequate publicity campaign and an infantile, unfunny script that
approximately a dozen writers worked on. Filmed episodically, like a
vintage action serial, the movie’s special effects were expensive, and
it was further diluted by a Razzie-nominated turn by Murphy.

Sahara (2005)
Cost: $241 million
Worldwide Gross: $119 million

Breck Eisner’s summer action-adventure film suffered from exorbitant
costs that inevitably dwarfed its revenue intake. Net losses were almost
$122 million (after inflation, $133 million). The overlong film’s
intent was to be the first of a new Indiana Jones-style
franchise, starring Matthew McConaughey, but the flop had substantial problems: a frivolous plot, an
out-of-place pop soundtrack, and a plodding pace were only a few them.
The muddled production and cheesy dialogue were the result of its twenty
producers and screenwriters, and there was an excised airplane-crash
sequence that cost $2 million. Sahara author Clive Cussler filed a
highly publicized lawsuit against Paramount just before the film’s
release, and further issues developed upon the discovery that over $200K
had been spent on bribes on location in Morocco.

13th Warrior
Total Cost: $160 million
Gross: $62 million

Antonio Banderas starred in this tenth-century Viking saga by Die Hard
director John McTiernan as an Arab nobleman
who traveled northward as an ambassador and became the titular warrior.
Unfortunately, the film — filled with bloody scenes of graphic
violence and lots of decapitations, sword fights, and battles — was
derivative of other hero-led stories, such as The Seven Samurai, Braveheart,
and Beowulf. Producers thought, incorrectly, that Banderas might
repeat the success of The Mask of Zorro, but the disastrous film
was delayed repeatedly, choppily reedited, and then released without much fanfare. Even with a strong overseas
box office, its total losses were $98 million (after inflation, $125

& Country
Total Cost: $105 million
Gross: $10 million

New Line Cinema’s clichéd, clumsily-executed
romantic comedy about bed-hopping older adults had a troubled
history of multiple rewrites, recastings, reshoots (reportedly demanded
by 62-year-old star Warren Beatty), and lengthy postproduction problems.
The sitcomlike film’s opening date suffered continual postponements,
and the original $44 million price tag ballooned to twice that. It
became one of the biggest box-office losers in film history, with losses
of $95 million (after inflation, $115 million). After a major savaging
by critics, it was pulled from
theaters, after only four weeks.

Heaven’s Gate (1980)
Total Cost: $44 million
Worldwide Gross: $3 million

The title of director Michael Cimino’s disastrous western epic has now become synonymous with any failed enterprise. The pretentious auteur had been given unprecedented creative control after his multiple Oscar wins for The Deer Hunter, and he overspent with lavish sets and historical recreations. Multiple retakes put the film way behind schedule, and the first cut was almost five and a half hours, leaving United Artists with an incomprehensible work almost six times above-budget. The movie became the biggest flop in film history at the time (total box-office was about $3.5 million) and lost at least $40 million when the final tally was taken.

Looking for more? Read further
commentary on the Greatest
Box-Office Bombs, Disasters, and Flops


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