Movies Reviews

The 10 Most Expensive Action Flops Ever Made

Many action movies have astronomical budgets. Hollywood studios sink hundreds of millions of dollars into these films, trying to make the greatest spectacles possible. These massive budgets attract bankable stars and afford action necessities like CGI, quality sets and locations, an array of props, vehicles that will either get blown up or totaled, and explosive pyrotechnics.

Not all action blockbusters are successful, though. In fact, some of Hollywood’s worst flops are big budget action films. Sometimes, the gamble doesn’t pay off, and box office numbers fall way below budget, turning these films into bombs rather than hits. Their producers end up losing tons of money – sometimes, just as much as they originally put in. Maybe the film was a critical catastrophe that didn’t resonate with audiences, or maybe its failure stemmed from poor timing and uncontrollable external events. Whatever the case may be, here are the biggest box office bombs in the action film genre.

10 Dark Phoenix (2019)

20th Century Fox

Dark Phoenix was an X-Men story that a lot of people were looking forward to. After the abysmal mess that was X-Men 3: The Last Stand, fans were ready to see a quality movie about Jean Grey’s (Sophie Turner) transformation into the Phoenix, one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe. But unfortunately, this movie turned out to be just as bad as X-Men 3. It bombed at the box office, losing upwards of $144 million.

This film sank the X-Men franchise, which had just been revived eight years beforehand, and there hasn’t been another installment since. But the X-Men aren’t through just yet. Marvel is reportedly planning to introduce them into their cinematic universe, which could be the breath of fresh air that both the X-Men and MCU need in this superhero fatigued climate.

Related: Dark Phoenix Director Would Love to Reboot X-Men for the MCU

9 The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)

The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Warner Bros

Comedy legend Eddie Murphy has appeared in some funny movies. The Adventures of Pluto Nash, however, is not one of them. Set on Earth’s moon in a futuristic society, The Adventures of Pluto Nash is a sci-fi adventure that blends action and comedy — and does not do it well. Not even two weeks of reshoots could save this movie. In fact, they did the opposite; the reshoots drove up the film’s budget, setting it up for disaster. Pluto Nash was lambasted by critics and was a box office flop. It lost $145 million and is regarded as one of the worst movies of the 2000s.

8 Mulan (2020)

Scene from Disney's Live-action Mulan

Mulan was Disney’s live adaptation of its 1998 animated hit and of the popular Chinese legend. Unlike the original, the movie was a box office bomb, though it wasn’t Mulan’s fault. The film was given a wide theatrical release in March 2020 — but we all know what happened that month. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, theaters around the world were forced to shut down.

Mulan was delayed until September 2020 when it premiered straight to Disney+ and received a limited theatrical release. It was the perfect storm for an underwhelming performance. Despite generally positive reviews and decent streaming numbers, Mulan lost approximately $148 million. But that hasn’t deterred the House of Mouse from developing a Mulan sequel.

7 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Via Warner Bros

Everyone knows the story of King Arthur and his legendary sword Excalibur. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword tried giving this classic tale a fresh spin by making it more of a modern action film than a fantasy epic. And who could achieve this better than Guy Ritchie? Or so producers thought, anyway. Legend of the Sword was filmed in typical Guy Ritchie fashion with violent scenes, energetic and fast-paced shots, and an over-the-top feel.

Unfortunately, this take didn’t work for audiences, though leading star Charlie Hunnam blamed the movie’s flop on miscasting. Whatever the reason, the film lost upwards of $169 million. Legend of the Sword was meant to be the first in a six film King Arthur series, but that plan fell by the waste side after the movie tanked.

Related: Why The Once and Future King Needs a Faithful Animated Adaptation

6 Battleship (2012)

Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna in Battleship
Universal Pictures

Battleship is exactly like it sounds — and also as bad as it sounds. It’s a sci-fi action film based on the famous board game. Here, naval ships battle a destructive alien species. The film strayed so far from its source material that its alleged connection to the board game seems ridiculous. Battleship garnered negative reviews from critics and minimal interest from audiences. Its unoriginal concept and formulaic structure sunk the film at the box office, losing $177 million. Not even superstar Rihanna survived this film unscathed and earned a Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actress.

5 Cutthroat Island (1995)

Cutthroat Island
MGM/UA Distribution Co. 

Long before there was Pirates of the Caribbean, there was Cutthroat Island. It’s an action-adventure film, where rival pirates race to find a hidden island and the treasure it holds. The movie was plagued with production issues that included rewrites and recasts. But the real issues came after the film premiered. Cutthroat Island was bashed for its weak narrative, horrible acting, and phony stunts. At the time, it was the worst box office bomb in history with a loss of $187 million. Cutthroat Island was such a failure that it allegedly bankrupted the studio that produced it. This box office bomb scared Hollywood away from the pirate genre for nearly 20 years — until a pirate named Jack Sparrow came sailing into our lives.

4 Mortal Engines (2018)

Hera Hilmar in Mortal Engines
Universal Pictures 

Mortal Engines is a steampunk action film based on the young adult novel of the same name. The film rights were purchased by Peter Jackson, the New Zealand filmmaker behind the wildly successful The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But Jackson and his team weren’t able to recapture that movie magic. Mortal Engines was lauded for its impressive visual effects, but that was about it. Its narrative and execution were criticized, and its content wasn’t enough to attract movie goers. The film wound up being an epic flop and lost $189 million at the box office.

Related: Best Steampunk Movies and Shows, Ranked

3 The 13th Warrior (1999)

The 13th Warrior
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution 

In 1999, Michael Crichton’s book Eaters of the Dead, a novel that mixed Beowulf with Vikings, was adapted into a film called The 13th Warrior. With Die Hard director John McTiernan on board and Antonio Banderas as the lead, The 13th Warrior had a lot of promise to be a stellar action movie. But like the novel it’s based on, the film was deemed a disappointment. One of its supporting stars, Omar Sharif, found The 13th Warrior so bad that he temporarily retired from acting.

Judging by the film’s $210 million loss, he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The movie did have some positives though, like its impressive sets, overall atmosphere, and fun though historically inaccurate depiction of Vikings.

2 The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone Ranger
Walt Disney Studios

Originally conceived on a 1930s radio show, The Lone Ranger has since become an American icon. He’s appeared in various forms of media, from novels and comic books to television shows and movies. In 2013, Disney attempted to bring this masked cowboy back to the big screen — and failed epically. Like with other entries on this list, there were budget concerns and production issues that nearly got the film canceled. And in hindsight, this might have been a better route for Disney to take. The Lone Ranger was met with negativity for its overly long running time and bloated story.

It was also rightfully criticized for whitewashing an iconic Native American character with Johnny Depp. It lost upwards of $221 million, forcing Disney to cancel their plans for a sequel. But The Lone Ranger’s underwhelming performance pales in comparison to the box office bomb that Disney had experienced just a year earlier with John Carter.

1 John Carter (2012)

Taylor Kitsch John Carter
Walt Disney Pictures

John Carter was meant to be a huge franchise for Disney. Based on the influential Barsoom novels, it was supposed to be the first in a series of films about the sci-fi adventures of a Civil War veteran, who is transported to the thriving world of Mars. With a whopping cost of $350 million, John Carter is one of the most expensive films ever made. And it became one of the worst box office bombs of all time with a staggering loss of $236 million. You could just tell from the trailers that this movie was going to be awful. In fact, the film’s marketing and promotion took most of the blame for its egregious performance.

To moviegoers, John Carter looked like a lame rip-off of Star Wars and Dune, even though the Barsoom novels are actually what inspired those same stories. The rest of the blame went to Rich Ross, the head of Walt Disney Studios, who resigned after the film tanked. This movie was such a commercial failure that plans for the franchise were scrapped, leaving John Carter to be a stand-alone bomb.

Related: John Carter Sequel Titles & Details Revealed by Director at SDCC

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