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The phrase box office bomb (also referred to as a flop) refers to a film for which the production and marketing costs greatly exceeded the revenue retained by the movie studio. This should not be confused with Hollywood accounting when official figures show large losses, yet the movie is a financial success.

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 Statesmarker and Canadamarker, and other film industries typically define as their home country) 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.

Possible success of flops

If a studio recoups the production and marketing costs of a film, 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 North America due to its $180 million 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; 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. An example of this would be the 2003 film Gigli, starring Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. 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 (Heaven's Gate), Carolco Pictures (Cutthroat Island, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest box office flop of all time.), Fox Animation Studios (Titan A.E.), The Ladd Company (Twice Upon a Time), Franchise Pictures (Battlefield Earth) 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 disasters 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' Slither. The Golden Compass was seen as a significant factor in influencing Warner Brothers decision to take direct control of New Line Cinema. In 2001, Square Pictures released its first movie, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, an animated motion picture inspired by the world-famous Final Fantasy series of video games. However, the movie was the second-biggest animated box office bomb in cinema history, despite relatively positive reviews, losing over $120 million.

Causes of a movie's failure

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 enable negative word of mouth to spread rapidly.

Lack of promotion

Promotion is one of the factors in a film's success. Other studios do not promote films on purpose. Warner Bros. released many animated films but put out little to no promotion for each of the films. As a result from the failures from the films produced by the studio's Feature Animation department, the studio shut down after producing Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Afterwards Warner's later animated releases, such as The Polar Express and Happy Feet, would fare better. The earlier films, however, garnered later praise and cult followings, such as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and The Iron Giant.

External circumstances

While it is rare, films which might have otherwise fared well may fail due to issues unrelated to the film itself, with the timing of the film's release being perhaps the most common. This was one the (several) factors involved in the commercial failure of one of Hollywood's first flops, Intolerance. Due to production delays, the film was not released until late 1916, by which time the widespread anti-war sentiment it reflected had started to shift in favor of U.S. entry into World War One. While the film would later be considered groundbreaking, its failure drove D. W. Griffith's production company, Triangle Studio, out of business. Another example is that a recession causing less disposable income resulting in less ticket sales, and could make a film drastically fail. Also movies that open during times of despair such as the September 11 attacks, failed miserably at the box office.

Independent films

The 2006 independent movie Zyzzyx Road made just $30 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, Texasmarker, 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 £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".

Publicly financed films

The critically acclaimed Canadian film The Law of Enclosures (2000) took in about C$1,000 at the box office due to an extremely limited release in the year 2001. The movie was exhibited in only one theater in Toronto for exactly one week. Costing C$2 million, Law won three Genie Award nominations, including nods to its stars Sarah Polley and Brendan Fletcher. (Fletcher won.) The film was publicly financed due to Canadian legislation mandating the production of Canadian-content films to compete with product imported from the United States, which dominates the Canadian box office. Despite the praise and the participation of the Oscar-nominated Polley, a major movie star in Canada, the film was a flop at the box office, and was not released on to DVD.

See also



References

  1. Guinness World Records (archive.org)
  2. Cinematical: BREAKING: New Line Cinema Says Goodbye!
  3. http://www.boxofficeguru.com/091701.htm
  4. *


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