Some of the most memorable classics in film history were financial disappointments upon first release. Citizen Kane, Wizard of Oz, and several others can be counted on that list.
But there’s also the other side of the cinematic coin, films that crushed the box office, thereby doing the same to any critical reviews. These are the worst films ever to make a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, and there’s more to choose from than you might think.
Such films as Iron Man 3, Fate of the Furious, and Avatar weren’t much more than mind-blowing spectacles, offering little substance otherwise. The same could be said for Jurassic World. In fact, out of the 30 movies that have broken a billion—without inflation—there aren’t many sure-fire future classics. Films like Jurassic Park, The Dark Knight, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King are in the minority.
And in the case of these ten films, they’re whether disappointments that crept over the billion line with previously built fanbases or had enough effects-driven scenes to pull in international audiences. Either way, being this bad and crossing a billion almost seems to be an artform. Except for the fact that it certainly isn’t one.
10. Beauty and the Beast
The separation from the beginning of this list to the end of it is mighty steep, but that doesn’t exactly excuse this cash-grab.
The original Beauty and the Beast was the first animated movie to be nominated for best picture, and brought along the inception of a separate category altogether for non-live action films. But Disney played it safe this spring with the remake, knowing they’d at least have Jungle Book live-action numbers ($967M) no matter how the movie was received by critics.
While it did add a little extra to Belle’s backstory and produced some quality performances from a supporting cast that included Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, and Ewan McGregor, it also lacked many other creative additions. And for as much as it copied and pasted from the original movie, the effect of nostalgia wasn’t felt that strong on-screen. But it was at the box office, where Beauty and the Beast will probably round out above $1.15 billion.
It gets more points taken away from it for a near-complete rehash though, and it’s the reason it lands at number 10, and not Fate of the Furious.
9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
As wonderful as The Dark Knight and original Star Wars trilogies are, Lord of the Rings can certainly state its case at the mountaintop of movie trios.
So when Peter Jackson decided to make another three films in Middle Earth covering The Hobbit, there was naturally quite a bit of buzz. The problem was, unlike the Lord of the Rings series, The Hobbit is only one book. And trying to spread out three movies over one book left us with a lot of drawn out bore-fests for scenes, and several others that served more as a tourism documentary for New Zealand rather than a fantasy epic.
The movie did have a few redeeming factors, including J.R.R. Tolkien’s well-told voyage and the visual splendor that went well beyond the effects. But any momentum the film ever had got bogged down in a runtime that did not under any circumstances need to be nearing three hours. Had it not been so long, it may’ve improved its already magnificent $1.02B mark with more showings.
The next two movies would narrowly miss out on the billion-dollar club, even though The Desolation of Smaug was a much-needed improvement. As for Unexpected Journey, it still has a lot of fan-backing (if you always trust IMDb for your recommendations), but you couldn’t help but notice Jackson bleeding every detail dry. And as for the deus ex machina eagles: that’s just one part of this story we and Tolkien would never have been able to agree on.
8. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Perhaps we’re being a little easy on the film that ruined childhoods around the globe, but this isn’t a list of the most disappointing billion-dollar films. Otherwise, this would’ve easily risen to the top.
The Phantom Menace had more pomp and circumstance upon release than any movie ever created. And for many, this movie single-handedly dumped a bucket of waste on George Lucas’ legacy. Next-to-nothing clicked with this film, as the script made it almost emotionless. And who puts trade negotiation and treaty talks in what amounts to a children’s film? Then again, the bumbling senate Lucas created was ten times funnier than Jar Jar Binks ever could be.
We can give John Williams credit for the last great score of the 20th century and perhaps key on the final lightsaber battle, though it was overchoreographed. But Lucas made most adults wish they hadn’t seen the origins of Anakin Skywalker, and leaving Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan to do nothing but sit on a ship for half a movie didn’t help either.
They wasted characters (Yoda, Mace Windu, etc.), used others too much (Binks, Boss Nass, etc.), and didn’t properly establish others (Obi-Wan, Anakin, etc.). Amid all the worldbuilding, special effects, and politics, there was no one to latch onto and no heart at the center of everything. Just a lot of bad dialogue and talent that wasn’t exactly elevating it.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Though absolutely nothing on this planet could cause superhero fatigue at this point, Age of Ultron could’ve easily started the downward spiral.
Joss Whedon was pushed to the max and nearly broke. The movie itself certainly broke in the latter half. But the film still made over $1.4B and was gifted with generally favorable ratings. So goes the life at Marvel and Disney.
After the first Avengers movie took the world by the tail, Ultron clunked its way through most of its 143 minutes before getting to a finale that produced more migraines per capita than any other film outside of the Transformers franchise. The mindless destruction of irreplaceable robot henchmen seemed endless, and disappointed many Marvel fans who hoped to see a more straightforward showdown between the Avengers and Ultron.
Marvel and Whedon literally packed as much as they possibly could in three quarters of the movie, and out of the backstories they could’ve expanded, they chose Hawkeye’s. Sure, it has some tender moments, but the attempts at intimacy could’ve been a little better spread out.
It instead leaves us with another ending that seems to have no real stakes (because it’s Marvel) and doesn’t know when to end.
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
If you were expecting the movie version of Pirates of the Caribbean to be akin to the experience of the ride at Disneyland, you got what you asked for with The Black Pearl. It was high-octane, landed some humor here-and-there, and Johnny Depp had not yet turned into a caricature of himself.
Then came Dead Man’s Chest, where Disney threw intelligible plot ideas to the wind and went headfirst into non-stop action instead. Sure, there’s some basic entertainment delivered from a few scenes, but there’s absolutely no direction to this film. Unlike The Black Pearl, it couldn’t keep from tripping over itself and barreling off the tracks, relying on marvelous CGI and circus-level shenanigans to keep one’s attention.
The one thing the franchise did keep alive was a short stretch of interesting villains, as after Geoffrey Rush’s Barbosa in Pearl, Bill Nighy followed suite as the slimy Davy Jones. But the whole Jack Sparrow bit for Johnny Depp was already starting to get old by the end of this movie, and so was this franchise in general.