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10 Movies That Bankrupted the Studios That Made Them

Movies tell some amazing stories that go beyond the limits of our wildest imagination. But to accomplish such eye-popping wonders and next-level imagery, it requires a lot of the green to get those things to translate to a believable narrative. Studios are always on the lookout for the next potential blockbusters that they pray will open the doors to the next profitable franchise. Whether its remakes, reboots, sequels or spinoffs, the movie-making business is one that is built on dollars and cents.

There have been some very expensive tentpoles over the years which have resulted in some serious box office disasters. It is easy for a film these days to soar into massive budgets that can be a huge roll of the dice for a studio. If the numbers don’t roll out in their favor, they may have to close up shop due to the heavy losses sustained from a severe flop. While most people think studios are too big to fail, one would be surprised at how many times one bad movie sinks at the box office drowning studios in tremendous debt and leaving many employees out of work. These are ten films that notoriously took everyone down with the ship.

Titan AE (2000)

Titan AE

Titan AE was a bold move by 20th Century Fox. The Sci-fi animated film directed by Don Bluth criminally underperformed at the box office costing the studio a $100 million. The talented voice casting of famous actors such as Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, and Drew Barrymore couldn’t put fans in the seats for this one. It essentially cost Fox a million buckaroos per minute of the film’s hour and a half run time. Those numbers are no good when you are toting that kind of star power.

The film had an estimated budget of what was believed to be around $75 million, but when it released it took in less than $37 million in sales. This, along with its poor marketing, are what many claim to be the real source of the picture’s failure. It opened at the five spot on its initial weekend. One silver lining in this mess is that it has developed somewhat of a cult following. It was also nominated for a Saturn Award, which is a big deal in the Sci-fi community. But this didn’t help employees who lost their jobs at Fox Animation. Not very long after the film failed to resonate with audiences, Fox Animation Studios was officially shut down forever.[1]

Heaven’s Gate (1976)

Heaven’s Gate (1976)

Heaven’s Gate had everything necessary to churn out a solid hit. The film was helmed by the director of The Deer Hunter and starred a cast that included the talents of Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, and Willem Dafoe. Terry O’Quinn, Sam Waterston, Kris Kristofferson, and Mickey Rourke are also in the film and this seems like a sure fired recipe for success. Well, that is the farthest thing from what ended up happening with Heaven’s Gate.

Michael Cimino’s Western set in Wyoming in the 1890s was a massively troubled production that ended up going well over its budget by $13 million, bringing the grand total to around $44 million. The film’s runtime clocked in at a whopping three and a half hours long. It was only in theaters for two weeks and brought in a measly return of $1.4 million. This makes it one of the biggest disasters in history at the box office. The picture also faced accusations of cruelty to animals during production. Cimino’s unconventional directing style led to the decimation of United Artists and resulted in its sale to MGM Studios. Heaven’s Gate was truly the end of an era in Hollywood.[2]

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra (1963)

It isn’t every day that you have a film that is a success at the box office but somehow still be considered one of the biggest cinematic financial distress ever. Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra is that anomaly in the space-time continuum. The movie was 1963s highest grossing film. The film about the infamous ruler from Egypt pulled in $26 million. Even with that amazing run at the box office, it still managed to lose $18 million. This was mainly due to the massive production costs to get the film completed.[3]

Despite starting out with a decent budget, it increased to the amount of $44 million by the time principal photography had wrapped. The film had little to no chance of recouping its budget back which was a significant financial loss to 20th Century Fox, almost bankrupting the major studio. Having virtually no shot at ever earning that money back, the beautiful looking picture forced the studio to close its doors for weeks. To date, this is the only film to ever win the yearly box office and still managed to lose a ridiculous amount of money.[4]

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2000)

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Final Fantasy is a very popular long-running franchise that’s produced some of the best video games ever developed in history. In 2000, the game made the leap to the silver screen. The picture had recruited the voice talents of such famed celebrities like Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Steve Buscemi, and Ving Rhames. And even with that kind of star power, the results were not very good. It didn’t help that the story had nothing to do with any of the Final Fantasy video game titles, which has never gone over well when adapting a video game for the big screen.

The movie grossed $32 million domestically and $85 million overall. This makes the CGI animated feature one of the biggest box office flops in recent history. The Spirits Within had a hefty price tag of $137 million. And it did not come anywhere close to getting back its budget. This forced Square Pictures to shut its doors. Its parent company Squaresoft planned to merge with its rival developer Enix. The financial losses from the Final Fantasy film put this necessary partnership in turmoil. Enix needed two more years to be convinced that the merger made fiscal sense.[5]

The Golden Compass (2007)

The Golden Compass (2007)

The Golden Compass was supposed to be the next big fantasy adventure on the same scale as the Harry Potter films. This fool’s dream never came to fruition. Despite bringing in some serious talents with the newly appointed James Bond aka Daniel Craig, alongside the likes of Nicole Kidman, Eva Green and Sir Ian McKellen, the adaptation of the books written by Philip Pullman didn’t come anywhere close to where it was supposed too, financially or story-wise. The $180 million budget quickly became New Line Cinema’s most lavish purchase at the time. It also was the main reason New Line was forced into merging with Warner Brothers Studios. This ended their reign established by the imaginative success with The Lord of the Rings films.[6]

Globally the film was not actually considered a flop at the box office. The American take was too low for studio execs to stomach. New Line sold the international rights for The Golden Compass so they missed out on the worldwide profits. Although the film took in a respectable $375 million, it still ended up taking down the once prolific movie studio to be eaten up and swallowed by a larger entity.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

In 1938 Alfred Hitchcock put out another title to add to his prolific filmography with The Lady Vanishes. This was a popular thriller that takes place on a train. In true Hitchcock fashion, the film was a success and ended up becoming part of the Criterion Collection. Around fifty years later the magic that Hitchcock found in The Lady Vanishes attempted to be recreated with Cybil Shepard starring in the new version. While this all but seemed like an easy win at the box office, this was not the case at all.

The film that follows two Americans traveling by train across Germany in 1939 saw the setting change from the original fictional country to a pre-Second World War Germany. The remake of the Hitchcock classic was a poor enough attempt at cinema greatness that ended up dooming the poor people at the Hammer Film Production company and forced its doors to close. The Lady Vanishes was the final feature made by them for at least 29 years, that is until the 2008 film Beyond the Rave was released ending their hiatus from the industry.[7]

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Superman IV is the greatest defeat the Man of Steel has ever encountered. It doesn’t matter what comic books you have read because the biggest flop the Last Son of Krypton was ever involved in is without a doubt Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. The story, the villain, and the whole approach are just some of the worst things the superhero genre has ever produced. When the foolish executives at The Cannon Group told the tall tale to Superman himself, Christopher Reeve, that they had a budget of $36 million, they actually had less than half.[8]

This thing is just a mess from start to finish. It is a far cry from the masterpiece that Richard Donner had created with the original Superman film. This film wasn’t a hit with average moviegoers and is universally hated by hardcore comic fanatics worldwide. Cannon Films eventually died off from their debt and did something Lex Luthor or Darkseid had so much trouble doing in the comics, kill Superman for nearly twenty years.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s a Wonderful Life

It would surprise many to find out that the most iconic Christmas film was a huge financial disaster. It’s a Wonderful Life is remembered to have not resonated well with critics during its release as well as bombing badly at the box office. The movie grossed a pathetic $3.1 million and skewered the career of famed director Frank Capra. How a film with a title like It’s a Wonderful Life could have had such a negative effect on an icon within the world of cinema is one of the most baffling things ever heard of.

Capra’s production studio ended up going bankrupt because of this and his future was in fact in jeopardy. The Christmas classic was a solid gut punch to the genre as well as the people involved. The beloved family feature enjoyed by viewers everywhere during the holiday season was such a massive financial disaster and so many that enjoy it so much have no idea of this at all. It was not until the film received this very same television syndication that it finally managed to achieve some financial success.[9]

Life of Pi (2012)


Life of Pi was notoriously known to have been shot almost entirely against a green screen. This was thought by some to be a visual effects milestone and it was poised to make a significant impact during awards season. The book-to-movie adaptation many people have enjoyed was a solid contender and thought to be a sure-fire win at the box office. The final product was nothing short of stunning and went on to win an Academy Award for its game-changing visual effects. And it did end up making a ton of money at the box office. Despite raking in a whopping $609 million worldwide, the special effects company responsible for that success ended up going under.[10]

When accepting the coveted Oscar for best visual effects, the artists begged for money because the movie put the talented folks at Rhythm & Hues out of jobs. The excessive workload the industry continually demands from the VFX community took a terrible toll forcing R&H into bankruptcy. This was met with much disdain throughout the entertainment industry, even starting a social media campaign demanding change.[11]

One for the Heart (1981)

One for the Heart (1981)

Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most recognizable names in all of cinema history. His name is synonymous with such classic titles as Apocalypse Now and The Godfather. The latter was a massive box office success, so it seems Coppola, like his mob characters, is simply untouchable at the box office. Those that think so would be so wrong they may end up sleeping with the fishes. Coppola’s musical starring the likes of Raul Julia, Teri Garr and Frederic Forrest was anything but a financial success. The film started out having a modest budget from MGM that eventually got inflated all the way up to $26 million at the request of Coppola.

These numbers were considered astronomical in the year 1982. These were also considered to be some pretty crazy figures for bringing a simple love story to life. The critics were not fans of the film and it barely recouped a fraction of it its hefty budget. The infamous filmmaker was forced to file for Chapter 11 in order to bail out his two production companies and his family.[12]

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