Damaging Disney: 15 Of Their Lowest Performing Films
It goes without saying that Disney is a powerhouse when it comes to entertaining just about every demographic under the sun. When they couldn’t seem to reach boys as easily as girls, they scooped up Marvel and Star Wars. These acquisitions helped Disney become known for so much more than just Princesses and their Pixar collaborations like Finding Nemo and Toy Story. They’ve hit the nostalgia market with releasing gorgeous live-action versions of their Animation Renaissance films like The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. Not to mention they’ve purchased properties with a high nostalgia factor such as The Muppets. They also have some majorly successful films outside of their acquired properties, like Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney is firing on all fronts and they have something for absolutely everybody. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few misfires. While Disney has always been a powerhouse in entertainment, there were eras were things weren’t so perfect.
People refer to a certain era of Disney’s animated features as “The Disney Renaissance” because those beloved animated features were book-ended by some pretty bad features. On top of this, when you make as much content as Disney has made over the past several decades, the law of averages would suggest that there are bound to be some bad apples in the bunch. For every Cars, there’s Planes. For every Frozen, there’s Home on the Range, for every Toy Story 3, there’s…
15. Mars Needs Moms
Not only was Mars Needs Moms the biggest financial failure in the apparently not always so “magical world of Disney”, but it was one of the biggest box office flops of all time by any studio’s numbers. The film had a budget estimated at $150 million and only managed to gross a bit over $21 million. That’s a loss of nearly $130 million going by the production budget alone. Who knows what Disney spent on promoting the film?
There was nothing wrong with the movie in terms of its visual appeal, but the story was a little uninspired. Martians have been raised by robotic nannies for some time, and they steal an Earthling mother to implant her “momness” into their next wave of robots. Milo, the son of the abducted mother, learns to appreciate his mom once she’s gone – easily one of the most cookie-cutter morals imaginable.
14. Around the World in 80 Days
Around the World in 80 Days wasn’t one of Disney’s biggest flops, but it most certainly lost money. With a combined production and marketing budget of $140 million, the Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan buddy-flick very loosely based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name only managed to pull in about $96 million from both its US and Worldwide releases. Many critics and audience members were disappointed that the film didn’t follow the source material at all. There probably weren’t many people begging for a screen adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days, so since they did decide to do it they probably should have just stuck to the source material and pleased the people that actually showed up to the theater.
13. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Do you remember when you were watching the Disney masterpiece Fantasia and the segment featuring Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice started? Remember how geeked out you were? If you saw Fantasia as a kid, it was probably your favourite musical piece from the film as it was the only one that featured a Disney character you were familiar with. After your excitement quelled, remember when you thought to yourself, “they really need to stretch this into a live-action film except they need to get rid of Mickey Mouse and use the guy from Raising Arizona and the kid from The Trotsky?” Now, I can’t be around all 7 billion people on the planet at once throughout time and space, but I’m pretty confident that no one has ever said that sentence.
12. The Black Hole
It’s unfortunate this flick didn’t do very well as it was quite the visual spectacle. Unfortunately, Disney blew their wad on set pieces and effects in an attempt to be the next Star Wars (you know, back in the late 1970s before Disney was the Star Wars) and everything else that makes a movie great was left to sputter around the galaxy in a junk heap of a spaceship.
While the movie wasn’t necessarily a huge financial failure (it more than tripled its budget between rentals and ticket sales), it certainly didn’t become the Disney answer to Star Wars that they had hoped it would become in 1979.
11. Something Wicked This Way Comes
Something Wicked This Way Comes, based on the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name, was a great movie. Unfortunately, there were a lot of problems with the production, including a rift between the director Jack Clayton and Ray Bradbury himself over a script rewrite. Disney stepped in and fired Clayton’s editor, scrapped the entire score, and spent about five million making changes to the final project. This usually spells doom for a film’s quality, but in the end it won some awards, received mostly praise from film critics, became a cult classic, and Bradbury himself even liked it. The only real problem with the film is nobody went to see it. The film made a little over $8 million against a $19 million budget. Do yourself a huge favour and check this one out.
10. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Like most movies adapted from video games, Prince of Persia didn’t clean-up at the box office. One could argue that we didn’t know most video game movies performed poorly back when Prince of Persia was released, but it was released in 2010. That was a short enough time ago that the notion of spending $200 million on a video game adaptation might not be in a studio’s best interests. The trend was most definitely there to be seen at that time. Not only did Disney think they were going to turn a video game franchise into a hit, but they and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were expecting this to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean.
While Prince of Persia sold a lot of tickets and did extremely well for a video game movie, it probably sold about a third of the tickets Disney and Bruckheimer were expecting. What was expected to be another franchise approaching the billion dollar mark, only $335 million was grossed worldwide.
Speaking of Pirates of the Caribbean, here’s another movie based on a theme park ride. I’d say basing a movie on a theme park ride is a terrible idea but it’s worked once to the tune of a few billion dollars. You can’t really blame Disney if they wanted to try it a couple more times.
Like several of the movies on this list, Tomorrowland is actually a pretty good movie. It wasn’t one of the best movies to hit theaters in 2015, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fairly decent. Much in the same way a bad movie might be seen by a lot of people, the opposite is equally possible – a good movie can be seen by hardly anyone. Unfortunately, the film barely clipped its production budget during its theatrical run. Once marketing is figured in, it’s likely that Tomorrowland lost quite a bit of cash.
8. The Alamo
You most certainly don’t remember The Alamo. Nobody does. That’s because nobody went to see it. The 2004 version of The Alamo is one of the biggest Box Office flops of all time. The film had a pretty large budget for 2004 at a whopping $107 million. The Alamo, worldwide, only managed to pull in $25 Million. Over a third of that gross was made over the opening weekend. Needless to say, word spread quickly that The Alamo was not worth the price of a movie ticket. To throw a bit more salt into Disney’s wounds, the opening weekend was overshadowed by The Passion of the Christ. That doesn’t seem weird at first since a whole heck of a lot of people went to see The Passion, but this was during a second run!
While most critics called the movie “forgettable”, there was a newspaper that gave it at least a somewhat good review. That paper? The Houston Chronicle. There may have been a little bias there, but even they gave it a “B”.
7. The Black Cauldron
The Black Cauldron, based on the first two novels of The Chronicles of Prydain series (which are in turn based on Welsh mythology), did so poorly that it actually put the future of Disney’s animation department in jeopardy. While the official budget for The Black Cauldron was initially reported as $25 million, the production manager later admitted the film cost $44 million to produce, a healthy sum for an animated film in 1985. The movie performed so badly that Disney held off on a home release for over ten years.
Lloyd Alexander, the original author of the book series, said he found the movie to be enjoyable but that it had little resemblance to the source material.
6. Meet the Deedles
Almost every movie on this list suffered from nothing worse than mixed reviews, save for Meet the Deedles. Reviews for the film were unanimously bad from both critics and general audiences alike. The surfer-buddy comedy relied too heavily on surfer slang for laughs, and the tired fish-out-of-water plot combined with the overdone mistaken identity plot was absolutely ridiculous. Almost all of the jokes were seeing the Deedle brothers learning that you couldn’t surf in Yellowstone National Park and that Wyoming gets colder than Southern California.
At the time, Disney had made a couple made-for-TV surfer movies that fared pretty well on the network. Perhaps they thought a theatrical release would also do well. The flick made only $4 million against a pretty modest budget of just $24 million.
5. The Lone Ranger
You can’t make a list about Disney’s missteps, or even box office bombs in general, without mentioning The Lone Ranger. This is another one that was expected to be the next big Pirates of the Caribbean sized franchise. That’s made even more obvious when you see that both Pirates and The Lone Ranger were both directed by Gore Verbinksi, both had Ted Elliot on the writer’s staff, both starred Johnny Depp, and both were produced by Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer. They were literally putting all the same pieces in place in an attempt to bottle that same exact lightning.
Unfortunately, nobody went to see The Lone Ranger as the early reviews were absolutely horrible. Most of the major cast and crew felt that if you read the reviews, they were reviewing the reported production troubles and budgets, and the reviews spoke very little about the film itself. That being said, according to Rotten Tomatoes even general audiences were split pretty evenly down the middle. The film isn’t great, but it doesn’t watch as the kind of movie that should have lost over a $100 million. It might be worth watching now that all the negativity has had four years to be quelled.
4. Return to Oz
Classic cinema, schmlassic schminema! 1985’s Return to Oz was an acid trip of a film and any person who is actually being honest with themselves will admit that a young Fairuza Balk in Return to Oz is a thousand times better than the Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland. Nobody wants to see or hear that, but it’s objective fact. How this amazing, surreal, train-wreck of a film isn’t on everyone’s Top Ten or Must Watch list is a travesty!
I’m exaggerating…but only a little bit.
This film has become quite the cult classic in its own right, but the sequel to Wizard of Oz didn’t quite perform as expected. The film had a budget of $25 million, which was nothing to shirk at in 1985. To put it into perspective, Back to the Future, released the same year, had a budget of $19 million. Return to Oz brought in only $11 million. Back to the Future brought in $11 million during its opening weekend alone.
3. John Carter
If you’re sitting at home and there is absolutely nothing else to watch on television or Netflix, and if books have become outlawed, and everyone you know is dead, watching John Carter wouldn’t be a complete waste of your time. There’s some incredible special effects and a great deal of action, but a book based on a character that first appeared in 1912 is bound to have some problems. The major issue being the numerous contradictions between what we know about Mars now versus what Edgar Rice Burroughs thought Mars might be like over 100 years ago. Mars could have been anything in 1912 based on the knowledge they had at the time. Now, the idea of man suddenly appearing on Mars and gaining super powers because of it is asking for a pretty big suspension of disbelief. The whole thing seems incredibly silly and audiences seemed to think so as well.
2. Treasure Planet
Treasure Planet was an incredible piece of animation as it was one of the earlier films to put 2-D hand animation over 3-D computer animation. It was absolutely lovely to watch but this science fiction rendering of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island seemed to fall flat with audiences. Believe it or not, this film was pitched all the way back in the 1980s at the same time The Little Mermaid was pitched. Treasure Planet wouldn’t come out for another 13 years after The Little Mermaid. Perhaps Disney should have waited a bit longer – Treasure Planet couldn’t even cover its production budget after the end of its run.
If you look at it differently, the failure of boy-targeted features likes Treasure Planet and Atlantis is probably what led to Disney acquiring boy-oriented properties like Marvel and Star Wars as opposed to continuing to try and make their own. Disney’s loss has been our gain.
This might come as quite a surprise since Fantasia went on to become a rather beloved addition to the Disney library of classic animation. Initially, Disney couldn’t get the film to make a profit as costs went high and distribution was hindered due to World War II. This led to the film only being screened as a roadshow in just thirteen cities. The film was highly acclaimed, but very few people could actually go see it. Between these roadshows starting in 1940 and a number of repeat runs going all the way up to 1963, the film still couldn’t turn a profit. Finally, in a new run in 1969 (almost thirty years later), the film finally began turning a profit. Several more repeat runs would follow including a complete re-issue, and the film would eventually become the 22nd highest grossing movie of all time. That’s right! If you release your movie ten times over fifty years, it will eventually make a lot of money!
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