It's been a slow climb out of the hole that 2020 dug for the box office, as the pandemic straight-up upended the movie business as we knew it. The good news is that 2022 brought us a great many hits, such as "Top Gun: Maverick," "The Batman," and "Smile," accounting for an increase of more than 80% in ticket sales compared to this same time last year. It's mostly good news. However, the word "mostly" is doing quite a bit of heavy lifting there, if we're being totally honest.
Indeed, even in a year where every movie in the top 10 earned at least $400 million worldwide, Hollywood also suffered a number of high-profile flops that are indicative of the state of the industry right now. Everything from Oscar bait to star-heavy dramas to blockbusters that once seemed like a sure thing didn't live up to box office expectations. Even R-rated comedies with reasonable budgets failed. Nothing seemed safe outside of superheroes (save for you, Morbius) and horror flicks. So, while it brings me no joy to highlight failures, here are the biggest box office bombs of 2022, with a little bit of insight regarding what we can learn from them along.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. David O. Russell once directed surefire, adult-friendly hits such as "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle." Yet, in 2022, he helmed an ensemble dramedy in the form of "Amsterdam" that was anything but successful. Despite an A-list cast led by Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington, this one was dead on arrival due to its $90 million budget. With a mere $31.1 million haul — globally — Disney and 20th Century Studios lost its ass on this one and it's going to make the Mouse House think twice before betting on adult friendly fare in the future. At least theatrically.
Sometimes, all of the right pieces can seem to be in place and yet, everything can still go wrong. Universal bet on Billy Eichner to deliver the first R-rated, gay studio rom-com ever, and he delivered in the form of the critically-acclaimed "Bros." Unfortunately, even with Nicholas Stoller ("Neighbors") directing and Judd Apatow producing, audiences just couldn't be bothered to go see this one in theaters. Against a reasonable $22 million budget, the film earned less than $12 million domestically and almost nothing internationally, pulling in a grand total of $14.7 million. The real shame here is that this could discourage studios from taking similar bets in the future, or they could be relegated entirely to the streaming world.
DC League Of Super-Pets
$90 million is certainly approaching the blockbuster budget range and, at that rate of spend, a studio expects quite a bit in return. Especially when you're talking about a movie connected to the DC Universe. Such was the case with the animated "DC League of Super-Pets," which boasted a stacked cast led by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Kevin Hart, amongst many others. Not to mention John Krasinski as Superman and Keanu Reeves as Batman. Even with decent reviews, audiences were only compelled to turn up for this one to the tune of $203.8 million worldwide. Granted, over time, between VOD and streaming revenue, the film could get into the green and is barely a flop relative to many others on this list. But it most certainly was a relative disappointment that likely isn't going to start a franchise, save for perhaps a much cheaper direct-to-video sequel or something of the like.
Death On The Nile
It's hard not to feel a little bit bad for Disney on this one. The studio inherited a bundle of big flops after the merger with Fox, including "Dark Phoenix" and "The New Mutants." But given that "Murder on the Orient Express" was such a big hit ($352 million against a $55 million budget), the follow-up "Death on the Nile" seemed destined for similar success, right? Not so much. Unfortunately, the Armie Hammer of it all, coupled with the uncertainty of the post-pandemic marketplace, doomed Kenneth Branagh's sequel from the jump. With a much larger $90 million budget, several delays, and controversy working against it, Hercule Poirot's latest adventure floundered with $137.3 million worldwide, including a very poor $45.6 million domestic haul. Yet, amazingly enough, Disney seems to be happy with what it did on streaming: a sequel, "A Haunting in Venice," is on the way. Still, the raw theatrical numbers make this a flop, no two ways about it.
Boy, it sure does feel like that $90 million budget number is a cursed one, doesn't it? "Devotion," a war movie about the first Black fighter pilot in the history of the Navy, may rank as one of the biggest bombs of the entire year. While it's still wrapping up its run, as of this writing, the director J.D. Dillard's latest has earned a mere $17 million domestically and just shy of nothing internationally. An absolutely brutal result, especially considering that star Glen Powell starred in another fighter pilot movie ("Top Gun: Maverick") earlier this year that went on to become one of the highest-grossing movies ever made. Lightning did not strike twice, in this case.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore
On the one hand, in terms of raw dollars, "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" is far and away the highest-grossing movie on this entire list, as it earned $405.1 million worldwide. The problem? The third installment in the "Harry Potter" spin-off series headed up by the ever-controversial J.K. Rowling cost a whopping $200 million to produce (before marketing). Coupled with poor reviews, that was enough to kill the franchise dead in its tracks, with the fourth entry halted by Warner Bros. Granted, the Ezra Miller of it all didn't help anything either. In any event, this is also the only movie on this list that killed what was once a very promising, financially viable, mega-budget franchise. So yeah, a pretty big flop for sure, despite the decent raw ticket sales.
If I were to label one movie on this list as my biggest surprise of the year, it would be "Lightyear." Pixar was once one of the most reliable brands in all of cinema, but after several of the studio's movies went direct to Disney+ during the pandemic, audiences started to set a new expectation that these movies were "free." That hurt this unique "Toy Story" spin-off immeasurably. With a massive $200 million budget, the Chris Evans-led space adventure barely eclipsed that in ticket sales, taking in $226.4 million worldwide. When factoring in a hugely expensive marketing spend, this is a downright shocking result for Disney and Pixar. Heck, even if audiences largely felt this was an unnecessary spin-off, one might think it could have at least coasted to $300/$350 million just on the strength of the brand alone. But Disney has severely damaged Pixar by sending so many of their films to streaming first, and it remains to be seen if that damage can be repaired.
Not to be dramatic, but it's quite possible the director Roland Emmerich's "Moonfall" will go down as one of the biggest blockbuster financial disasters in history. The man who once brought us "Independence Day" has had his fair share of big misfires over the years, but this one takes the cake. Unfortunately, Lionsgate got caught in the crosshairs. With a huge budget said to be in the $140 million range, the film topped out at a disastrous $67.2 million — worldwide. Yep! It only made $19 million domestically, which is panic button stuff for a movie this expensive. This is the kind of flop that ruins careers and gets people fired. It's about as bad as things get, rivaled perhaps only by legendary disasters such as "The Adventures of Pluto Nash."
In the aftermath of "Venom," a movie that was panned by critics and earned well over $800 million worldwide, it sure seemed like Sony was going to hit it out of the park with these "Spider-Man" spin-off movies. What could possibly go wrong in casting Oscar-winner Jared Leto as the so-called Living Vampire in "Morbius"? Everything, it seems. The movie was delayed a dizzying number of times due to the pandemic, edited so many times that tons of scenes from the trailers were missing from the final cut, and was absolutely dragged by critics upon arrival. While that wasn't an issue for Tom Hardy's symbiote, it was a big one this time around. Despite topping the box office in its first weekend, "Morbius" petered out fast, taking in just $73.8 million domestically and $93.5 million internationally for a not-so-grand total of $167.4 million. Morbin' time didn't last and the Marvel brand only gets you so far, it would seem. The only saving grace here is that Sony was thrifty with this one and the budget was said to be just $75 million, though the delays and re-edits were surely costly. In any event, this was a grave disappointment compared to expectations, and a new franchise is dead in the water.
Paws Of Fury: The Legend Of Hank
Honestly, while the long-in-development "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" ended up being a financial disappointment for Paramount, the studio was probably just happy to finally have this seemingly cursed project off of its books. The movie had been in development for years, suffering setback after setback. Against all odds, it was finally finished somewhat quietly and was released in July, right in the heart of the summer movie season, where it mostly kept to itself and tanked with as much dignity as a movie can. It topped out at a mere $41.6 million worldwide, failing to even match its $45 million budget. Fortunately, Paramount seemed to know this was a lost cause and didn't market it all that hard, saving some money that way. In time, this one could get into the green through VOD and streaming, but, at the very best, it's going to be drops of juice that simply weren't worth the squeeze.
Maybe it was too soon? Maybe it was under-marketed? Maybe this kind of movie truly is mostly dead for moviegoers? Maybe it's a bit of all of the above. In any event, Universal flopped and flopped hard with "She Said," a true story film documenting the downfall of Harvey Weinstein and the rise of the MeToo movement (read our review here). While it may still be in the awards season mix, the film is a bomb of epic proportions, taking in just $10.2 million globally to date while already being available on VOD. All of this against a pretty steep $32 million budget. Steep, relative to the kind of movie this is in the modern marketplace. Even if this thing goes on to win some Oscars, there's no way it can make up for the boatload of cash the studio is going to lose. Unfortunately, this kind of film is having a tougher and tougher time theatrically, with other Oscar hopefuls such as "The Fabelmans," "Tar," and "Till" also struggling. While I didn't include all of those on this list, they're all part of the same pattern. Adult-friendly, original dramas are dying. How long will Hollywood keep trying? That is the big question right now.
Disney is, to say the very least of it, a long way from its dizzying box office highs experienced in 2019 when the likes of "Avengers: Endgame," "Frozen II," and "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" all made well over $1 billion each. In the case of "Endgame," it actually got closer to $3 billion and was, for a moment, the highest-grossing movie ever. But that was an eternity ago, it feels like, and "Strange World" is perhaps the biggest evidence of that fact. The animated original debuted in theaters over the Thanksgiving holiday with next to no awareness from moviegoers, setting it up for a legendarily bad run. As of this writing, it has earned just over $53 million globally against a steep budget said to be as high as $180 million. Giving "Moonfall" a run for its money here and, when all's said and done, this will probably go down as the biggest flop in Disney's history, rivaled perhaps only by "John Carter." Brutal doesn't even begin to cover it.
It is never really a good sign when a movie is referenced and the response is likely something akin to, "That came out this year?" or perhaps, "I totally forgot about that!" Such is the case with the female-led, ensemble action flick "The 355." Another victim of pandemic delays, this A-list cast led by Jessica Chastain couldn't save director Simon Kinberg's latest, as it suffered bad reviews and little buzz heading into its release back in January. It topped out at an abysmal $27.8 million worldwide against a pretty hefty budget said to be as high as $75 million. Sure, it may have attracted some eyeballs on streaming, but this was yet another misfire for Universal this year, balancing out the studio's hits such as "Jurassic World Dominion," "Minions: The Rise of Gru," and "The Black Phone."
The Bob's Burgers Movie
When Fox (prior to the Disney merger) gave the green light to "The Bob's Burgers Movie," they were undoubtedly thinking about the time "The Simpsons Movie" made an astounding $536 million. But that was 15 years ago, and 2022 is simply not the same. To that point, the big screen adaptation of the long-running animated series petered out in a big, bad way, topping out at just $34.1 million worldwide. The vast majority of that, nearly $32 million, came domestically. Unfortunately, that didn't come close to justifying the $38 million budget. In the future, expect these movies to be made specifically for streaming, or not at all. Who knows? Maybe that's for the best, and maybe this is one of the few areas where it simply makes more sense to go the streaming route right from the jump.
Man, oh man, it sure seemed like "The Northman" had a lot going for it, didn't it? Director Robert Eggers was taking on a larger scale epic after directing smaller hits with "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse." The problem is, the budget of his Viking blockbuster ballooned to $90 million, that cursed budget number from earlier on in the list. Given that it is not exactly an audience-friendly blockbuster and is very much an Eggers film, it was straight-up doomed. With roughly a 50/50 split between domestic and international audiences, Alexander Skarsgard's Viking revenge tale earned a mere $69.6 million, which couldn't even account for the budget, let alone whatever Focus Features spent on marketing this thing. One can only hope this thing did exceedingly well on VOD, but it would be a real stretch to assume that would be enough to get it into the green in the short term. At the very least, it's going to discourage studios from taking big swings like this in the blockbuster space in the immediate future. From my point of view, this was one of the most irresponsible spends of the year, as this movie never should have been made for that amount of money. Granted, the pandemic pushed the budget much higher than originally planned, but even so, anything over $45 million, give or take, would feel like a stretch on something like this, with the current moviegoing marketplace being what it is. And it brings me not joy to say that, but flops like this hurt worse than a pared down budget ever could.
Three Thousand Years Of Longing
Last, but certainly not least, we have an entry that truly stings for many reasons. George Miller gave us one of the greatest blockbusters of all time with "Mad Max: Fury Road" and yes, he's busy revisiting the series with the upcoming prequel "Furiosa." But, before that, he decided to make a passion project in the form of "Three Thousand Years of Longing," with Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba leading the way. Tragically, for Miller and United Artists, this was one of the biggest whiffs of 2022. The film opened to less than $3 million and was DOA, topping out at a pathetic $8.2 million domestic, with just $10.9 million internationally. Yes, it made less than $20 million globally. Ouch. The worst part? It carried a $60 million budget before marketing. Again, a downright tragedy for those who wish to see original movies in theaters above the micro-budget level. Miller deserved better.
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