Take a beloved, established intellectual property from a comic book, add in some of Hollywood’s leading artists, technicians and performers, then multiply it by millions of dollars in budget and hundreds of millions of man hours and you should have something profitable, right? Well, as the superhero flops below prove, not so much.
For artistic, production or marketing reasons, sometimes studios just miss the mark when they try to make a hero jump from the page to the screen. Given the flash and visibility of their subjects, those misses can become legendary.
It’s important to note the definition of a “flop” or “bomb” is fluid in big-budget Hollywood. Sometimes a flop is just a marginally profitable film that failed to reach financial expectations. Other times, it’s a high-concept money fire that almost burned down the studio. It’s all relative.
Either way, when we dug into Box Office Mojo and The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Calculator for most notable comic book-hero flops in film history, here’s what we found.
Fantastic Four, 2015
The absolutely heartbreaking numbers below don’t take into account the fact that Josh Trank’s glum reboot took in a total of $171.1 million worldwide. Then again, they also don’t take into account the fact that, with marketing, the real cost of this massive failure was somewhere around $203 million. That’s a $31.9 million loss. Brutal.
Estimated Budget: $122.2 Million
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $57.1 Million
With $104.9 million collected internationally, the Halle Berry flick isn’t as big a money loser percentage-wise as, say, the low-budget The Punisher: War Zone. Coming at over $100 million to make and tens of millions to market, however, this was a much larger lead balloon. As well, it not only cost Warner Bros. dearly, it reportedly set back the value of female-led superhero films in execs eyes (Elektra didn’t help either).
Estimated Budget: $127.8
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $51.3 Million
Batman and Robin, 1997
With a worldwide total of $358.3 million, Warner Bros. didn’t go home poor here. But add in a $22.5 million marketing budget and the fact that the long-running series was showing diminishing returns (1989’s Batman made $488.8 million domestically) and the U.S. loss was enough to shut down the franchise and prep for a reboot.
Estimated Budget: $188 Million
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $161.4 Million
Jonah Hex, 2010
You might not even know that Jonah Hex—the Western DC comics character—or this movie even exist. No one would blame you. The statistics below bear it out. What makes it worse is that the Josh Brolin vehicle barely saw international distribution, a saving grace for many a poor-performing film. Overseas receipts totaled just $500,000.
Estimated Budget: $52 Million
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $12 Millon
The Phantom, 1996
Selling a movie based on a now-obscure pulp hero from the first half of the 20th Century was a stretch to begin with. Add in the fact that the actual film director Simon Wincer produced is creaky and uninspiring and you’ve got at least $42 million in burnt cash.
Estimated Budget: $69.2 Million
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $26.6 Million
Superman III, 1983
As bad as it was, the third installment of Christopher Reeve’s series did turn a profit as you can see. However, when you consider marketing costs and the fact that 1978’s Superman cost twice as much to make but earned roughly $351 million more, things don’t look so hot.
Estimated Budget: $94.4
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $145.2
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 2010
Scott Pilgrim is a non-traditional adaptation of a non-traditional comic book with a non-traditional hero. Stands to reason, then, that there’s some non-traditional financing going on here: The Canadian government offered up $27.6 in tax breaks to lessen producers’ burdens. Still, the pain is right there even if this has become a beloved cult fave on the home market.
Estimated Budget: $94.1 Million
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $34.8 Million
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016
It’s difficult to think of a film that earned over $873 million worldwide as a “flop”, but that’s exactly what happens in the minds of Hollywood executives. Reports have it that marketing costs ballooned up to $165 million with Warner Bros. targeting over $1 billion in worldwide receipts. They missed by about $127 million.
Estimated Budget: $250 Million
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $330.3
This is an interesting lesson in how Hollywood conceives of “bombs”. Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, which garnered $321.8 million worldwide, is viewed as an abject failure. Marvel Studios’ The Incredible Hulk, made five years later for $5 million less, took in $295.3 across the globe. Yet, because the later, lower-earning film had a better domestic/global split and was less of a pain to make, it’s considered a minor win. Go figure.
Estimated Budget: $173.2
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $179.7
Green Lantern, 2011
Even overseas sales of $110.7 million couldn’t turn this high-budget, low-energy DC movie around. Factor in marketing costs—estimated at $107.3 million—and the thin profit margin turns into a $80 million loss. Just for reference, the production budget of Ryan Reynold’s next superhero flick, Deadpool, was $59 million.
Estimated Budget: $214.6 Million
Estimated Box-Office Gross: $131.1
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