From the outrageously expensive flops to big budget blockbusters, we pick four of the riskiest cinema spends
Apocalypse Now, 1979
This epic war film was an obsession for its writer, director and producer Francis Ford Coppola. And it could have ruined him.
Hugely expensive sets were destroyed by severe weather, lead actor Martin Sheen (who played the tortured Willard) suffered a near-fatal heart attack while on location and the costs soared. Those in the business took to calling the project ‘Apocalypse When?’
The film was based loosely on Joseph Conrad’s classic 1899 novella Heart of Darkness but sets the action during the Vietnam War.
The film performed well at the box office when it opened in August 1979. It originally opened in selected theatres in New York City, Toronto and Hollywood, grossing $322,489 in the first five days. It ran exclusively in those three locations for four weeks before opening in an additional 12 theatres on October 3, 1979 and then several hundred the following week.
The film grossed more than $78 million domestically with a worldwide total of approximately $150 million.
John Carter, 2012
This was one of the biggest stinkers in film history racking up huge losses and critical ridicule.
Released in theatres in March with much fanfare by film company Disney this sci-fi flick was presented in Disney Digital 3-D, RealD 3D, IMAX 3D and conventional formats – but nothing could save it.
JB Alderman, a columnist in the San Jose Mercury news said of John Carter: ‘The reported quarter of a billion spent to make this otherworldly junk could have fed more than 5 million hungry children for an entire year. But instead, that money was completely wasted on creating this vile crud.
‘The nonsensical script, summer stock wannabe acting, autopilot directing and 1989-quality special effects come together in a vortex of God-awful that should never be repeated.’
Perhaps not surprisingly the mud flung at the film stuck and it performed poorly at the box office (although it did set an opening day record in Russia). It grossed $284 million at the worldwide box office, resulting in a $200 million write-down for Disney.
Many asked upon hearing that director James Cameron was to make the most expensive film of all time about the doomed ship: ‘But doesn’t everyone already know what happens in the end?’ It was a fair point yet one the general public ignored as they flocked to the cinema to seen the stunning visuals.
It had a production budget of $200 million – but the gamble paid off and it was also the first to reach the magic billion dollar revenue mark. The film was a huge success winning 11 Oscars and was the highest-grossing film of all time until Cameron’s Avatar surpassed it in 2012. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship, a 3D version of Titanic was released in cinemas in 2012 which earned an additional $343.6 million worldwide which pushed the film’s worldwide total to $2.18 billion.
In the mid-1990s Kevin Costner could do no wrong with a string of box office blockbusters behind him. Then came this turkey and nothing would ever be the same again.
Critics called it ridiculous – and it was. The action is set in a watery future where Costner’s hero has webbed feet, gills and drinks his own pee. There have been worse films made for more money but the critics enjoyed piling in one after the other seemingly trying to out do each other with ever more brutal reviews. The pre-release negative hype was so bad the film was dead in the water even before it opened.
The release of Waterworld was accompanied by a novel, video game and three themed attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood, Singapore and Japan called Waterworld: A live sea war spectacular. The film had a budget of $100 million but production costs ran to an estimated $175 million. It grossed $88 million in North America, it performed better overseas with $176 million at the foreign box office for a total worldwide total of $264 million.