Bing Search

Movie News

Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty crawl across the desert in "Ishtar"
© Everett Collection
Bombs Away!
The top 10 biggest box office failures 

By Kat Giantis
Special to MSN Movies

"Gobble, gobble. It's turkey time." Those prophetic words are spoken by Jennifer Lopez in "Gigli," a movie that cost $56 million to make, millions more to promote, and yet took in only $3.8 million during its opening weekend. Heck, that's probably less than Bennifer have spent on Bentleys and Rolls-Royces this year. In Hollywood terms, it's a bomb, a turkey, a dud, a big old stinkeroo.

But don't cry for Ben and Jen. While "Gigli" may be a disaster (one critic called it "the worst movie of our admittedly young century"), it's certainly not the biggest flop ever to grace the big screen. Not even close. That dubious honor is shared by 10 films (well, 11, including a war-themed double bill) that tanked so spectacularly that their failures shut down studios and ended careers. So, without further ado, here are our picks for the 10 biggest turkeys of all time.

Gobble. Gobble.

10. "Howard the Duck" (1986, Universal)
Budget: $37 million
U.S. Box Office: $16 million

The Plot: Based on Steve Gerber's '70s Marvel comic-book character and executive produced by George Lucas, this charmless, pun-filled fowl-fest centers on a smart-aleck quacker from another planet who's accidentally beamed into Cleveland, where he hooks up with punk rocker Lea Thompson, battles various villains using "quack-fu," and saves the planet.

Turkey Trivia: Lucas reportedly spent $2 million on the duck suit, in which eight separate actors waddled their way into film infamy. "Howard" also contained one of the most disturbing seduction scenes ever: After Thompson's character discovers a condom in the birdman's wallet, she coos, "You think I might find love in the animal kingdom?" Ew.
What the Critics Said: "The movie is too scuzzy to beguile children, too infantile to appeal to adults ..." -- Richard Corliss, Time

The Aftermath: Lucas escaped unharmed from the debacle, but director/co-writer William Huyck wasn't so lucky. Despite co-writing credits on "American Graffiti" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," his career was effectively over. Meanwhile, Universal head Frank Price quit shortly after the film was released. Variety reported the news thusly: '''Duck' Cooks Price's Goose.''

9. "Hudson Hawk" (1991, Columbia TriStar)
Budget: $60 million-plus
U.S. Box Office: $17.2 million

The Plot: A reformed cat burglar (Bruce Willis, who also co-wrote) is blackmailed into stealing priceless Leonardo da Vinci artifacts. The heist flick features Willis and fellow thief Danny Aiello warbling ditties such as "Swingin' on the Star," which might explain this piece of dialogue: "I'll torture you so long, you'll think it's a career."

Turkey Trivia: Before a single frame of film had been shot, TriStar shelled out a cool million to construct da Vinci's gold machine, the film's first big sight gag. And once filming was completed, more moolah was reportedly needed to digitally buff up Willis' fading hairline.
What the Critics Said: "A movie this unspeakably awful can make an audience a little crazy. You want to throw things, yell at the actors, beg them to stop. But the film drags on, digging horrible memories into the brain ..." Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

The Aftermath: "Hudson" swept the 1991 Golden Razzies, "winning" Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Director for Michael Lehmann, whose career was heavily dinged. Willis, whose vanity project this was, survived several more bombs (e.g., "The Last Boy Scout," "Striking Distance," "Hart's War") and is still going strong. 

8. "Ishtar" (1987, Columbia)
Budget: $55 million
U.S. Box Office: $12.7 million

The Plot: Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman insult the memory of the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby "Road" movies in this Elaine May-directed desert-set tale of two supremely untalented singer-songwriters who land a Moroccan gig but make a pit stop in the fictional kingdom of Ishtar. Soon, they're embroiled in an extremely volatile Middle East political situation, which, if possible, is even less funny now than it was then.
Turkey Trivia: Notorious perfectionist May spent months editing the film, reportedly turning in a print only when the studio threatened legal action.

What the Critics Said: "This movie is a long, dry slog. It's not funny, it's not smart and it's interesting only in the way a traffic accident is interesting." -- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The Aftermath: The stars, who pocketed a then-impressive $5.5 million apiece, emerged relatively unscathed from what was billed as the most expensive comedy ever made. Hoffman won an Oscar the following year for "Rain Man," but May never directed again, preferring to stay behind the scenes as a writer (e.g., "Primary Colors," "The Birdcage"). The film's title is now synonymous with movie bombs: Kevin Costner's gill-filled "Waterworld" was infamously dubbed "Fishtar," although at least that movie eventually broke even.

7. "Inchon" (1981)/"Battlefield Earth" (2000, Warner Bros. Pictures)  
Budget: $50 million/$73 million
U.S. Box Office: $1.9 million/$21.5 million

The Plot: A truly dire moment in the Laurence Olivier oeuvre, "Inchon" finds the famed thespian committing multiple dramatic atrocities as he channels Gen. Douglas MacArthur in this failed Korean War epic. In "Battlefield Earth," it's the year 3000 and humans are slaves. In the campiest performance this side of a Judy Garland imitator, John Travolta plays a dreadlocked, platform-shoed 7-foot alien baddie named Terl, who was "groomed from birth to conquer galaxies." Too bad he wasn't groomed to conquer the box office.

Turkey Trivia: We've paired these turkeys together because of their spiritual connections. Namely, "Inchon" was produced by Rev. Sun Myung Moon (he of the mass marriages) and his Reunification Church, while "Battlefield Earth" was based on a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology. Travolta, a vocal proponent of the religion, was instrumental in getting the film made.
What the Critics Said: "The worst movie ever made." -- Multiple reviewers on "Inchon"

"A million monkeys with a million crayons would be hard-pressed in a million years to create anything as cretinous as 'Battlefield Earth.'" -- Rita Kempley, Washington Post

The Aftermath: "Inchon" was quickly pulled from theaters, and Moon has thankfully shied away from making more movies. As for "Battlefield Earth," Travolta had no remorse, even though the film collected seven Razzies, tying the record haul of "Showgirls." "The bottom line is that I feel really good about it," said the unrepentant star, who has threatened to make a sequel. Yeah, good luck with that. Travolta subsequently bombed in follow-up fare such as "Domestic Disturbance" and "Basic."

6. "Cleopatra" (1963, 20th Century Fox)
Budget: $44 million ($259 million today)
U.S. Box Office: $26 million ($153 million today)
The Plot: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton begin an adulterous on-set affair that turns into a worldwide media sensation. Oh, the plot of the movie. Once billed as the most expensive film of all time (and might still be champion), this Joseph Mankiewicz-directed historical costume epic stars Taylor as Cleopatra and Burton as Marc Anthony. There are some truly amazing sets and a cast of thousands (literally).
Turkey Trivia: Four years in the making, "Cleopatra" went through seven writers, two directors (Mankiewicz finished it, reportedly with the help of some stress-relieving uppers and downers), and the near-death of its leading lady (Taylor came down with meningitis and had an emergency tracheotomy, delaying production for months). The actress received an unheard-of million-dollar payday to essay the Queen of the Nile, a fee that reportedly ballooned to $7 million with all the overtime. A four-hour version debuted to tepid critical response in New York in June of 1963.
What the Critics Said: "A monumental mouse." -- Judith Crist, New York Herald Tribune

The Aftermath: Though "Cleopatra" was the highest-grossing movie of 1963 and was nominated for nine Oscars (it won four), it wasn't enough to rescue 20th Century Fox, which was fighting to survive. To save money, the studio shut down for four months, forcing 2,000 people out of work, and sold off its expansive back lot. The era of extravagant historical epics was over, and Mankiewicz's career suffered the consequences. Oh, and Taylor and Burton married and divorced ... twice.

Next page -->

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
showtimes & tickets
Search by location, title, or genre: