A fickle game, the movie-making business. As the big-budget masters hedge their bets with solid stars, rock-em sock-em action, and scintillating special effects, we know this: Nobody knows nothing about anything. That’s why a handful of features come up short each year, financial disappointments in an industry that doesn’t take loss lightly. And the crapshoot continues. Here’s our take on 10 films in 2012 whose box office returns had a few studio decision-makers scratching their heads in hindsight.
In order of domestic box office earnings:
1. John Carter, $73 million
Nearly every element of this long-anticipated Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation pointed to success. A strong creative pedigree in Pixar writer-director Andrew Stanton (WALL-E) and co-writer, Michael Chabon; a science-fiction entry with a built-in fan base; and some 250 million Disney production dollars behind it. Yet, nothing clicked with the public. John Carter appears to have made back its production nut, with a global gross of nearly $283 million, but the Mouse House had to believe this one would clear $100 million in the US alone within the first three weeks. Instead, it didn’t even come close after a four-month run.
2. Battleship, $65.2 million
This may be unprecedented, but the first two titles on this list star the same actor, Taylor Kitsch. We don’t think the lesser box-office performances of Battleship and John Carter have a direct correlation to the Friday Night Lights TV star, but perhaps one of these films needed a bigger name. At least a very healthy international audience helped Battleship earn over $302 million worldwide. But maybe it’s best not to rely on Rihanna for acting, huh?
3. The Three Stooges, $44.3 million
As the years progressed for this never-say-die pet project of the Farrelly Brothers, casting went from wow! to who? What could the box office totals have been if Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro were still starring? The Three Stooges landed on a handful more theaters than Hotel Transylvania, but made less than 1/3 the money.
4. Rock of Ages, $38.5 million
Warner Bros. / New Line
If The Three Stooges was a disappointment, Rock of Ages was a disaster. Running in U.S. theaters only nine weeks, this big-budget musical production had plenty of ramp-up time and promotional exposure (the Tom Cruise TV spot was everywhere), yet it practically sputtered out from the first note. In its opening weekend, Rock of Ages earned less money per theater than Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy. The film’s total global box office, $56.3 million, is what Snow White & the Huntsman earned in the U.S. in its first weekend.
5. The Pirates! Band of Misfits, $31 million
Sony / Columbia
Stop-action animation is a particularly painstaking process. The pain must be worse when the audience for the final product is less than expected. This Aardman Animations project opened poorly (averaging just $3300 per theater) and earned less than $100,000 during four of its theatrical weeks.
6. The Words, $11.5 million
You’d think Bradley Cooper could lock up an audience. He can. But probably not the older crowd to which The Words was apparently marketed. Though the film’s production budget was quite modest, The Words didn’t even break $12 million worldwide, making it the worst-performing feature of CBS Films’ young life.
7. Fun Size, $9.4 million
This ill-timed release proved that high schoolers wanna see horror movies on Halloween weekend, not comedies. Fun Size has the unenviable honor of being the lowest-grossing film of any movie in 3000 or more theaters.
8. Won’t Back Down, $5.2 million
Though this underdog story about American schools is based on true events and stars two strong female leads, Won’t Back Down didn’t have much fight. In its opening weekend, in more than 2,500 theaters, the film barely cracked the box office Top Ten.
9. Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, $1 million
Kenn Viselman Presents
We don’t know what this kids film is based on or where it came from and, obviously, neither did anyone else in America. The Oogieloves’ release was an absolute catastrophe, making a per-theater average of just $206 in its opening weekend. That’s $206, as in roughly 30-40 tickets sold per location. Nearly 90% of all theaters yanked Oogieloves after its first week, and the film disappeared after just three weeks. An historic failure.
10. High School, $139 thousand
This limited-release stoner comedy featuring Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis and Colin Hanks became a little too limited. High School opened in just 200 theaters and was gone a week later, when it earned just about $3000 across four measly screens. Bad trip, man.