'Ben Hur' to 'BFG': Hollywood's Biggest Box-Office Bombs of 2016

7:00 AM 12/29/2016

by Pamela McClintock and Mia Galuppo

Fourteen titles landed on the year-end lineup.

'Deepwater Horizon,' 'The BFG,' 'Alice Through the Looking Glass,' 'Ben-Hur'
'Deepwater Horizon,' 'The BFG,' 'Alice Through the Looking Glass,' 'Ben-Hur'

Despite record-breaking highs, the 2016 box office also will be remembered for devastating lows that left top filmmakers (Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee) and A-list stars (Brad Pitt, Will Smith) badly bruised. 

Below are some of the movies — from big-budget players to more reasonably priced fare — that lost Hollywood studios and independent distributors major bucks in 2016. Not even Disney, which set a new industry record with more than $7 billion in worldwide ticket sales, was immune.

The Hollywood Reporter consulted with several box-office experts in calculating losses, factoring in production budgets and marketing spends, which can vary wildly, and ancillary revenue, including home entertainment. In some cases, losses are given as a range. THR also calculated how much of a film's production budget was covered by worldwide box-office returns. Studios get back only about 50 percent of the box office total, known as "rentals."

  • 'Ben-Hur'

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures International

    Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov's Biblical-themed epic grossed only $26.4 million at the domestic box office following its August release. It fared somewhat better at the international box office, bringing in $67.7 million for a global total of $94.1 million. But the movie cost at least $110 million to make and required a major marketing spend, meaning it lost as much as $120 million, making it the biggest loser of 2016, according to box office analysts. MGM and other partners financed more than 80 percent of the budget, taking the biggest hit. Paramount, which distributed the film, lost about $13 million.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 43 percent.

  • 'The BFG'

    Courtesy of Storyteller Distributuion Co.

    Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the classic children's book marked one of the biggest box-office bombs of the acclaimed director's career. The July 4th tentpole topped out at $55.8 million domestically and $178 million worldwide after costing a hefty $140 million to make before a major marketing spend. The BFG lost $90 million to $100 million for partners Disney, Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Participant Media.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 64 percent.

  • 'Gods of Egypt'

    Courtesy of Lionsgate

    Lionsgate's ancient fantasy epic derailed at the box office following its late February release. The pricey $140 million movie grossed $31.1 million domestically and $119 million internationally for a global total of $150.7 million. Gods of Egypt likely lost as much as $90 million, but Lionsgate's loss is mitigated dramatically via its foreign output deals. (Also, Lionsgate doesn't spend as much on marketing as the six major Hollywood studios.)

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 53 percent.

  • 'The Hunstman: Winter's War'

    Courtesy of Universal Studios

    Sans Snow White — played by Kristen Stewart in the first film — Universal's sequel/spinoff The Huntsman: Winter's War failed to cast a magic spell at the box office following its late April release. The movie, which saw Chris Hemsworth reprise his role as the Huntsman opposite Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt, topped out at $164.6 million despite costing at least $115 million to make, plus a major marketing spend. Box-office analysts put the loss in the $75 million-plus range. The first film, Snow White and the Hunstman, grossed $396.6 million in 2012.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 71 percent.

  • 'Allied'

    Paramount Pictures

    Director Robert Zemeckis' WWII spy adventure was one of several big misses for Paramount in 2016, and could lose $75 million to $90 million. The Thanksgiving release, costing at least $85 million to make, is all but done with its North American run with a lowly total of $39.3 milion. The news isn't much better overseas, where Allied has grossed $41 million (it's now opened in all of its major markets) for a global total of $80.3 million. It certainly didn't help that Brad Pitt had to scale back a major publicity push because of his divorce from Angelina Jolie.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 47 percent.

  • 'The Finest Hours'

    Courtesy of Disney

    In March, Disney chairman Bob Iger told investors the company was taking a $75 million hit for The Finest Hours. The U.S. Coast Guard historical drama, released in January, cost $80 million but earned only $52.1 mililon at the global box office, including $25.6 million domestically. It's rare to announce a write down, since the loss of a specific movie can generally be absorbed.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 33 percent.

  • 'Deepwater Horizon'

    David Lee/Summit Entertainment

    Thanks to tax incentives, Peter Berg's real-life disaster movie cost somewhere in the $110 million to $120 million range, down from an initial production budget of $156 million. But the movie, starring Mark Wahlberg, was still a major bust following its September release, earning $61.4 million domestically and just $118.7 million worldwide. The overall loss is likely well north of $60 million, although Lionsgate's share is estimated to be $31 million.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 54 percent.

  • 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2'

    Paramount Pictures

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows limped to $82.1 million domestically and $245 million worldwide — half as much as what the first film earned in 2014 ($493.3 milion). The June release, costing $135 million to make before a major summer marketing spend, lost at least $75 million for Paramount.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 64 percent.

  • 'Ghostbusters'

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures

    The remake of the classic comedy, featuring female leads, topped out at $229 million worldwide on a $144 million production budget and a major marketing spend. Sony insiders had said the movie would need to do $300 million to break even. Losses were in the $70 million range, although Sony's hit is closer to $50 million because of various partners, including Village Roadshow.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 80 percent.

  • 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'

    Disney

    In spring 2010, Disney and director Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland grossed a fantastical $1.025 billion. But the follow-up, Alice Through the Looking Glass, was a major bomb, topping out at $299.4 million globally after its late May release. (While stars Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska returned, Burton did not.) The $170 million film — which lost at least $70 million for Disney — was among a slew of sequels, prequels and reboots that were struck by the sequelitis virus. It came in 70 percent behind the first film.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 88 percent.

  • 'The Divergent Series: Allegiant'

    Murray Close/Lionsgate

    The Divergent Series: Allegiant was a devastating blow since its poor box-office performance resulted in Lionsgate announcing that it would produce the final film in the YA franchise, The Divergent Series: Ascendant, for television rather than the big screen. Allegiant grossed $66.2 million domestically and $179.2 million worldwide against a $110 million budget and marketing spend. (The first film, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, grossed $297.2 million globally.) Allegiant likely lost Lionsgate $50 million.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 81 percent.

  • 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk'

    Ang Lee's technological wonder, Life of Pi, grossed $600 million worldwide in 2012 but his follow-up, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, was entirely rejected by audiences. Lee used cutting-edge frame-rate technology to shoot the film, but only a few theaters were equipped to play Billy Lynn in its intended format, so it played in the usual format everywhere else. Billy Lynn, costing at least $40 million to make, earned an abysmal $1.7 million in North America following its Nov. 11 release and $26.2 million globally, meaning it could lose $40 million or more for Sony/TriStar Pictures and its partners. Part of the reason the loss is so high is that — even though Sony cut its marketing spend — Billy Lynn is likely to do little business on home entertainment or TV.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 33 percent.

  • 'Assassin's Creed'

    Twentieth Century Fox Films

    The adaptation of the Ubisoft video game opened to a meek $14.9 million over the four-day Christmas holiday, putting its six-day launch at an underwhelming $22.4 milion. Assassin's Creed, starring Michael Fassbender, cost a hefty $125 million to make. Even if the movie takes in $150 million worldwide, it will only make back 60 percent of its budget, with losses between $75 million and $100 million. New Regency financed and produced the movie, with Fox handling distribution duties.

    Estimated portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: 60 percent.

  • 'Rules Don't Apply'

    Fox/Screenshot

    Warren Beatty's passion project, which he spent a decade developing, finished its short domestic theatrical run with just $3.65 million. New Regency and a host of influential Hollywood names and billionaires — including Donald Trump's pick for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin — backed the $25 million film, which stands to lose most of its budget, although the loss will be spread around. Fox released the movie, which is one of its lowest-grossing wide releases of all time.

    Portion of budget covered by box-office rentals: Less than 1 percent.

  • Honorable Mentions

    Facebook/Columbia Pictures

    Other duds that didn't make the list include Sacha Baron Cohen's The Brothers Grimsby, which grossed $25.3 million on a $35 million budget, making the film the worst in Cohen's career; Andy Samberg's Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, which grossed $9.4 million on a $20 million budget; sequel Zoolander 2, which grossed $55 million on a $50 million budget; and the Matthew McConaughey-starring Free State of Jones, which grossed $25 million on a $50 million budget.

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