The phrase box office bomb
refers to a film
for which the production
costs greatly exceeded the revenue
retained by the movie studio
. This should not be confused with instances when official figures show large losses, yet the movie is a financial success; see Hollywood accounting
A film's financial success is often measured by its gross revenue. Studios expect that a film's "domestic" (which the American film industry defines as the United States and Canada, and the British film industry defines as the United Kingdom, and the French film industry defines as France) box office gross revenue will exceed production costs. This does not make the film profitable: typically, the exhibiting theater keeps 45% of the gross, with the remainder paid to the studio as the rental fee. However, if a film has a higher domestic gross than its production and marketing costs, it will almost certainly turn a profit once the overseas gross is included..
Possible success of flops
If a film recoups production and marketing costs, then it can be considered a success. Otherwise, if it does not do so by a significant margin, it is referred to as a box office bomb
, even though international distribution, sales to television syndication
, and home video
releases often mean some films that are considered flops in North America eventually make a profit for their studios. An example is Head
, a 1968 film
featuring The Monkees
. It was a flop that became profitable for the studio years later when its cult film
status led to its sale to Rhino Entertainment
and its re-release in various video formats. The popularity (and profitability) of DVD
sales has increased this trend significantly, leading many to doubt the significance of US domestic grosses as a predictor of a film's overall success.
The Golden Compass, based on the first novel in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, is considered a flop in the U.S. due to its $180 million dollar budget coupled with New Line Cinema's decision to sell all of the international distribution rights, but the unique circumstances of its international success have made the film's overall success a point of contention. However, it is the first film ever to make more than $300 million internationally but less than $100 million in the United States. New Line studio co-head Michael Lynne (who has since resigned) said "The jury is still very much out on the movie...
Different standards of success
Different genres of film are subject to different standards of success. For example, action movies
typically have higher production and promotion costs than love stories
. Typically, the most notorious flops are summer blockbusters
, which often entail huge costs to produce and face a highly competitive market. Advertising costs are not included in a movie's production costs, and can make a bomb more harmful to the studio.
Studios pushed into financial ruin
In extreme cases, a single film's poor performance can push a studio into bankruptcy
or equivalent financial ruin, as happened with United Artists
), Carolco Pictures
), Fox Animation Studios
), The Ladd Company
(Twice Upon a Time
) and ITC Entertainment
(Raise the Titanic!)
. Some have changed a company's agenda, such as Walt Disney Pictures
'decision to make only 3-D animation, which stemmed from the failure of Treasure Planet
and Home on the Range
(however, this decision was reversed a few years later). Others have prevented companies from wanting to explore certain genres such as the horror-comedy, with attempts to revive the genre with films like Gold Circle Films
. The Golden Compass
was seen as a significant factor in influencing Warner Brothers
decision to take direct control of New Line Cinema
Negative word of mouth
During the 1980s cinemas started to drop movies that suffer a poor opening weekend. This made the performance of a film on its opening weekend much more crucial to its perception. With the growth of the Internet during the 1990s, chat rooms and websites such as Ain't It Cool News
enable negative word of mouth
to spread rapidly.
Examples of non-career-ending flops
Most flops are not career-ending for the film's main cast and crew. The Marx Brothers
film Duck Soup
, for example, received critical notices and was not as popular as the team's previous films. It led to the group being fired from Paramount Pictures
. Nevertheless, it was still the sixth highest grossing U.S. film of 1933, and by modern accounting standards reasonably profitable
- but the internal economics of the Paramount studios during the Great Depression
were such that this was not enough to make the film a true financial success. Two years later, with help from Irving Thalberg
, the Marx Brothers starred in the successful A Night at the Opera
, which revived their career. Duck Soup
has since become a cult classic film in the political satire genre.
was a notorious flop, but both its stars, Warren Beatty
and Dustin Hoffman
, revived their careers.
Lack of promotion
Promotion is one of the factors in a film's success. The dark comedy Heathers
was not promoted because New World did not have enough money for advertising. Other studios do not promote films on purpose. Warner Bros.
released many animated films but did not put out promotion. Many of the films include Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Cats Don't Dance, The Iron Giant, The King and I, The Nutcracker Prince, Quest for Camelot
, and A Troll in Central Park
. The films, however, garnered later praise, such as Phantasm
and Iron Giant
Recently, the independent movie Zyzzyx Road
made just $20 at the box office. The film, with a budget of $1.2 million and starring Tom Sizemore
and Katherine Heigl
, may owe its tiny revenue to its limited box office release — just six days in a single theater in Dallas, Texas
for the purpose of meeting SAG
requirements, rather than to attract viewers. According to director Leo Grillo, it sold six tickets, two of which were to cast members.
Previously, a British film (Offending Angels) became notorious because it took (depending on the sources) £89 or £79 at the box office. It had a £70,000 budget but was panned by critics including the BBC, who called it a "truly awful pile of garbage", and Total Film, who called it "Irredeemable".