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The 10 Biggest Movie Flops Of All Time

Film4 The Wizard of Oz

What have Gone With The Wind, The Wizard Of Oz and Citizen Kane got in common? They're all box office flops - or at least were when they came out.

The Wizard Of Oz, one of the most treasured films in cinema history, didn't actually make money until 20 years after its release. Gone With The Wind, at the time the most expensive movie ever produced, couldn't even come close to recouping its production costs at its first run in the cinemas. Two re-releases in the 1940s and 1950s saw the Civil War classic limp towards the black, but it took television in the late 1950s to see MGM into the money. And Orson Welles may have directed what many regard as the greatest film of all time at the tender age of 25, but his thinly disguised biopic of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst ran into booking problems when the media magnate pressured cinema owners not to screen the film - meaning Citizen Kane couldn't get enough screen time to recover.

The cemented position of these all-time classics in the cinema canon means they could never be described as flops. Neither, believe it or not, can Waterworld. A notorious 1995 would-be epic about 20th-century civilisation destroyed by the seas, it was hit by a tsunami of negative publicity and crippling production costs when its floating sets were destroyed by... er, the sea. The common assumption is that this Kevin Costner turd sank without trace, but Waterworld proved to be a plucky little floater, eventually doing Kev proud after worldwide TV and video sales came in.

So what is a flop? What does it take to make it onto this, our Top Ten all-time suckfest? In a business in which most films fail to make money, or even fail to get the thumbs up from jaded critics, noble failures do not count. No, to be a true flop, we decided a film had to fail in every sense of the word. There may have been worse films out there in your opinion, but each film here has inflicted lasting damage on all concerned with it. Financiers haven't just lost but gone bust, while punters haven't snuck out quietly... they've run screaming. And while you ponder over these turkeys that 'ain't just for Christmas', remember that it's an ever-adjustable list. There's bound to be another gem, coming along soon to a cinema near you.

Film4 Town & Country

TOWN & COUNTRY (2001)

With a negative cost of $85 million (that's the cost of the actual film before the studio starts shelling out for prints and advertising) and only $6.7 million taken after a month at the cinemas, Town & Country is reported to be, officially, the biggest flop of all time, with only 8% of its total cost recouped. Starring Warren Beatty as a man who cheats on his wife on their wedding anniversary, propelling him into a series of mishaps as he tries to resolve his mid-life crisis, this sex 'romp' struck a chord with US audiences - a jangling, atonal one that kept them away in droves. Will film critics ever throw light on the word 'romp' historically being a presage of doom? Nine times out of ten, they give the impression of having been far more fun to shoot than they are to watch.

This one may have started with good intentions, but its three-year production history betrays the script problems, edits and re-shoots of a film in crisis. "A little idea that looked good on paper, didn't work on the set, and only got worse the more money and talent was thrown at it", read a review in Entertainment Weekly. This turkey will have done nothing for the career of Warren 'Ishtar' Beatty, who is now associated with not just one, but two of the biggest movie flops of all time.

PSYCHEDELIC COP (2002)

The story of an undercover policeman who finds he has a split personality. Haven't heard of it? Not that surprising – it was made in Hong Kong. Problem is, the Chinese haven't heard of it either. The film has made history as one of the biggest flops of all time by attracting fewer than 10 viewers. According to reports, it took a total of £26 at the box office. The South China Morning Post stated the movie was given a one-week run at a cinema in the Fanling district of the city, then given a 'limited' release on video (presumably to an audience of friends and relatives). The second worst-performing movie in Hong Kong was 2002's Colour Of Pain. Made by casino owner Stanley Ho, who bankrolled the project for his daughter Josie to star in, the film took £150 over a two-week run.

BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000)

A richly deserving Razzie winner, some will have you believe that John Travolta's monumental sci-fi (or make that Scientology-fi) misfire is so bad it's good. Some films, however, are just so bad they're worse. No, that doesn't make any sense. Neither does Battlefield Earth.

Combining outdated visual designs, ragtag special effects and silly dialogue, watching it was a "quite miserable experience", according to the LA Times. The New York Times was even more categorical: "It may still be a little too early to pass judgement, but the chances are good that Battlefield Earth will gain the reputation of being the worst film of the new century".

How is it possible to blow $90 million in such an amateurish manner? Travolta, described by some as the unofficial spokesman for the self-help religion Scientology, had been trying to get finance for a film of the novel written by the movement's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, for years. When every studio door slammed, he turned to outsiders (a Lebanese producer and a German backer) and waived his fee. Critics immediately suggested the movie was a glorified recruitment ad, something Travolta flatly denied, though the idea never went away.

In reality, the timing of its release probably did more damage than anything. The film would have been smothered in an average month, but it came out at the same time as Gladiator. Travolta, who raised a few eyebrows when he said it was a cult movie, still claims he is thrilled with the picture and predicts a sequel. We wish him well.

Film4 Showgirls

SHOWGIRLS (1995)

"There are not enough synonyms for the word bad in the English language to allow an adequate description of Showgirls. This is, beyond doubt and without reservation, the worst movie I have ever seen". This opinion, gleaned at random from the internet, is not an unusual one. Director Paul 'RoboCop' Verhoeven and writer Joe 'Basic Instinct' Eszterhas claimed at the time that it was a satire on the American Dream. Everyone else, including presumably the backers, thought it was a great way to get pole dancers up on the big screen.

Populated with repugnant characters, devoid of moral focus and graced with senseless violence, Showgirls failed in even its basest objective – it's as unarousing as An Inconvenient Truth. It still holds the record (13 nominations, 9 awards) for 'success' at the Razzie Awards, the unofficial Hollywood awards ceremony for each year's worst movies. At the end of the 1990s, it was further recognised as their Worst Picture Of The Decade.

HEAVEN'S GATE (1980)

Heaven's Gate nearly falls into the noble-failure category. Riding the wave of Oscar success for The Deer Hunter (1978), director Michael Cimino insisted on full creative control for an epic Western depicting the bleak struggle between wealthy landowners and impoverished farmers.

Cimino shot entirely on location, the sets were incredibly authentic and the message was post-imperialist – a brave stance so soon after the debacle of Vietnam. Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken both did fine work as the idealistic lawman and hired gun, but the cost of the location shoot climbed to an unprecedented $36 million. When Cimino finally screened his first 219-minute cut to United Artists, the studio panicked - they had a elliptical, impressionistic and not terribly good arthouse film on their hands, with no real stars.

The critics had a field day, lambasting Cimino for his self-indulgence. United Artists pulled the picture, re-releasing it five months later and 70 minutes shorter. It bombed again. Today, Heaven's Gate may be regarded as a flawed cult classic, but it came at an incredible price. Cimino never got to handle an A-list project; the Western virtually disappeared as a genre for an entire decade; United Artists, the studio founded by Chaplin and Mary Pickford, went bust. Perhaps worst of all, an entire generation of directors like Coppola and Scorsese were forced from the driving seat, as Hollywood no longer agreed to bankroll risky, big-budget auteur projects.

THE POSTMAN (1997)

In 1990 Kevin Costner made Dances With Wolves in the face of overwhelming scorn, cynicism and plain indifference. It went on to storm the box office and won seven Oscars. He then made Waterworld in the face of overwhelming scorn, cynicism etc, and even that film eventually went on to make a profit. (No Oscars, mind.) Then came The Postman. After the box-office dream team of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks passed on the project, Costner became determined to realise David Brin's fantasy post-apocalyptic novel into a modern-day epic that spoke to the present.

With Eric 'Forrest Gump' Roth and Brian 'LA Confidential' Helgeland writing, things looked good. On paper, The Postman was about epic, noble themes, the founding of nations, the strength of community in the face of oppression, how ideals can become larger than the man who invented them. But, as the joke went at the time, those intentions got lost in the mail. Costner mugged vaingloriously to camera, the film was long, vague and boring and, inexcusably for the writers, the dialogue was shambolic. Post-Civil War America in Escape From New York was a brutal and believable place. In The Postman it was brutal... but not quite in the same way.

Stars like Travolta have rubberballed back from worse but Costner, perhaps because his previous commercial successes were linked to a measure of critical acclaim, has never fully recovered from this mega-turkey.

Film4 Cutthroat Island

CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1996)

Ever wonder why we don't see much of Geena Davis these days? Here's your answer. CutThroat Island was one of those films that should have died in pre-production, but somehow it limped onto the screen. After Michelle Pfeiffer wisely pulled out, director Renny 'Cliffhanger' Harlin cast Davis, then his wife, as the female lead and went looking for a male star with some box office clout.

Michael Douglas agreed to board, as long as his part matched Davis' in size and they start shooting immediately to fit in with his schedule. Harlin agreed and went scouting for locations, settling on Malta and Thailand – some 5000 miles apart. He built two life-sized galleons, perhaps the best decision of the movie since they were to provide the most (read only) spectacular set pieces in the film.

With a budget already bloated from the scramble to get the sets ready and the logistics of co-ordinating construction on two different continents, Douglas discovered the script was becoming a vehicle for Davis, and pulled out. When Davis heard this, incredibly, she wanted out too but found herself bound to the project in a watertight contract. Desperate to keep his wife happy, Harlin scoured Hollywood for a new male lead. When every A-list actor had slammed the door, poor Matthew Modine limped on board.

In the meantime, everything Harlin should have been doing – chiefly, supervising construction and the script – went unattended. When he did arrive on set, he hated the sets and found the script 'unusable'. Nevertheless, shooting got underway. A cameraman fell off a crane and broke his leg. Pipes burst and raw sewage spewed into the tank where the actors were supposed to be working. Harlin fired a camera operator after a row and a dozen crew followed in support. And so on and so forth.

Difficult productions sometimes end in masterpieces. Suffice to say CutThroat Island proved no Apocalypse Now. Occasionally spectacular effects were rendered meaningless by cue-card acting, laughable continuity errors and an appallingly clichéd script. "The film is too stupidly smutty for children and too cartoonish for any sane adult", wrote the New York Times. The $65 million budget had leapt to $115 million. To his credit, some of that was Harlin's own. The film was pulled from the cinemas after a month, earning back a mere $10m. Carolco, the production company responsible, in happier times, for the Rambo series, Terminator II and Total Recall, went bankrupt.

SHANGHAI SURPRISE (1986)

When Sean Penn was making a film called I Am Sam, in which he plays a mentally disabled man fighting to keep custody of his seven year-old daughter, the production company tried to clear a number of Beatles tracks to be used on the soundtrack. In the final film, they only used cover versions. Why? Because 16 years previously, Penn made Shanghai Surprise and the production outfit was Handmade Films, run by one George Harrison.

Back then everything had looked so good. Penn was the best up-and-coming screen actor in Hollywood. Madonna was already becoming the biggest female pop diva the world had ever seen. And to top it all, the frenzy of tabloid speculation over their recent marriage had reached every corner of the globe. Released on New Year's Day 1986, with a risible plot and zero on-screen chemistry between the newlyweds, the real surprise came for Shanghai when it was instantly nominated as the worst film of the 80s.

The filmmakers had hoped Madonna would be taken seriously as an actor; no one considered it would take considerable acting experience to eclipse the kind of megastar baggage which accompanied her.

HUDSON HAWK (1991)

"Oh come on, it's not that bad. Honestly, it's not. You should go back and watch it again, I'm telling you", said Andie McDowell about Husdon Hawk, the 1991 bomb in which she starred with Bruce Willis. Due respect to Andie, but we wouldn't take the word of a lady who doesn't notice when it's raining.

Silly coincidences, cartoon acting, unfunny jokes, unconvincing action scenes and zero chemistry - all the prerequisites of a 24-carat stinker can be ticked off as Willis plays a cat burglar who steals priceless Da Vinci artefacts from around the world. In well-structured movies, the plot gets more and more involving. Hawk, on the other hand, gets more incoherent with every loose end it tries to tie up. It lost $47 million.

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