In recent years, superhero movies have been unstoppable at the box office. But Max Steel proved that action films–even one based on a Mattel toy–are by no means bulletproof.
Max Steel, which tells the story of a union between an extraterrestrial and a teenager with special powers, grossed just over $4.4 million at the global box office, leading this year’s list of biggest box office flops. Dolphin Films’ much-delayed bringing-to-life of Mattel’s action figure garnered little press for an intellectual property few potential audience members knew. Without a star to draw a crowd and weighed down by damning reviews, the movie languished.
The Open Road-distributed flick performed just a fraction worse than Matthew McConaughey vehicle Free State of Jones. Despite the Oscar winner’s leading role, the STX Entertainment drama failed to make back its production costs, grossing just $23.2 million worldwide on a $50 million budget for a 46% return.
This year’s list of Hollywood’s Biggest Turkeys uses information from Box Office Mojo, IMDB and other sources to find worldwide box office grosses and estimated production budgets. We ranked films based on the percentage of their budgets they earned back at the theater as of November 21st. We only included movies that opened wide in more than 2,000 theaters; we did not examine films released in November.
The ranking proved that when onscreen jokes fall flat, it is no laughing matter for movie investors. Comedies accounted for 50% of the flops on this year’s list of least profitable movies. The worst performing funny film: horror comedy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which made back just 58% ($16.4 million) of its estimated $28 million production budget at the box office.
Sacha Baron Cohen may be short on smiles this Thanksgiving, too. The Brothers Grimsby opened to a $3.3 million weekend, some $14 million less than his prior release, 2012′s The Dictator, managed in its first weekend. While foreign ticket sales eventually accounted for nearly three quarters of The Brothers Grimsby‘s $28.7 million gross, the movie marked the worst box office total of Baron Cohen’s career.
As McConaughey showed, staying in the black can be a tricky business even when you have a major-name star onboard. Emmy Award winner Tina Fey helmed the confused Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which balanced serious war storytelling with Fey’s comedic delivery, to mixed reception. The Paramount Pictures movie fared mostly favorably with critics (it earned a 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). But that translated to just shy of $25 million in box office receipts on an estimated $35 million budget.
Behind the camera, auteur Oliver Stone was not enough to draw hordes to see Snowden. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivered an uncanny performance as the NSA whistle-blower responsible for one of the biggest leaks in history, but the movie tallied just $34.3 million on a $40 million budget. The film, which was well received by critics, shows that not all the movies on the ranking suffered because they were bad: marketing failed some, while others simply couldn’t find an audience.
Snowden’s 86% return on investment would look good to many investors, but film industry economics obscure the true financial difficulties. Figures vary, but studios typically keep only about half of ticket revenues, with the remainder going to exhibitors. Production budget doesn’t include the cost of marketing, which easily inches well into the millions. And though our very limited definition of profitability in this case does not take into account revenue from a number of other sources, Snowden remains a poor performer.
Narrowly missing the list are several well-publicized under-performers, including Ben-Hur, which grossed just $94 million on a pricey $100 million budget. Zoolander 2, the long-awaited sequel to Ben Stiller’s 2001 male model comedy managed $55 million at the ticketing booth–a mere $5 million more than its reported budget.
Deloitte estimates that U.S. ticket sales will fall by about 3% this year, to some $10.6 billion. But fear not: 2016 has already borne witness to three movies that have grossed over $1 billion apiece, and next year will be no different.
Luckily for Hollywood, audiences will be quick to forget the aforementioned flops. That’s one thing to be thankful for.