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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
What makes a film flop?
By Tom Bishop
BBC News Online entertainment staff

As The Alamo bombs at the US box office, BBC News Online discovers what makes a flop movie.

The Alamo
The Alamo stars Patrick Wilson, Billy Bob Thornton and Jason Patric
Disney hoped its new version of The Alamo story would fill cinemas with patriotic Americans following the 11 September terror attacks.

Instead the film seems as doomed as the battle it portrays, to join the ranks of Hollywood's big budget flops.

The Alamo, which tells how Davy Crockett stood firm against a 5,000-strong Mexican army, cost Disney $107m (59m) to make yet earned only $9.2m (5m) in its opening weekend at the US box office.

Once spoken of as an Oscar contender, The Alamo instead received poor reviews and was described by The New York Times as "oppressively solemn" and "both elegiac and trivial".


The Alamo has all the ingredients of a flop, that is "a film that fails at the box office, and with critics and audiences". Movie fan website RealityFilm says you can call it a "bomb" if you prefer.

But if you want to make your own flop film, it is not simply a case of throwing money at a poor script and hoping no-one will come.

Flops can generally be said to misjudge the public mood. Disney's chief executive Michael Eisner hoped The Alamo would "recapture the post-September 11 surge in patriotism", yet by the time it was released support for the US "war against terror" had waned somewhat, both home and abroad.

Swept Away
Swept Away was "short on laughs, believability and credible acting"
A number of big movies have become big flops for very different reasons, however.

Despite a $175m (96m) budget and spectacular aquatic film set, Kevin Costner's Waterworld flopped after viewers failed to take its far-fetched plot as seriously as he did.

Waterworld took $88m (48m) in the US and only just broke even through worldwide sales, yet Costner flopped again two years later with 1997's equally long and vague The Postman.

Geena Davies was unafraid to follow Costner into the deep, taking the lead role in 1995's Cutthroat Island, directed by her then-husband Renny Harlin.


Despite impressive special effects, Cutthroat Island was viewed by the New York Times as "too stupidly smutty for children and too cartoonish for any sane adult". Viewers agreed and in the US it recouped just $11m (6m) of it $92m (51m) budget.

Pop queen Madonna also allowed her husband, director Guy Ritchie, to lead her into a watery grave in 2002's Swept Away.

Battlefield Earth
Battlefield Earth was called "a tired example of rotten science-fiction"
BBC correspondent Peter Bowes was not the only one to find the film "short on laughs, believability and credible acting" and a limited US release preceded its straight-to-video status in the UK.

Swept Away may have been forgivable had Madonna not already bombed alongside first husband Sean Penn in 1986's disastrous Shanghai Surprise.

Fellow pop star Jennifer Lopez and then-partner Ben Affleck became the proud bearers of their own film flop, Gigli, last year.

They failed to convince audiences that a lesbian assassin could fall in love with the thug she was sent to help, and the $54m (30m) film took under $6m (3m) in the US in its opening 10 days.


Yet even well-established actors can front a flop, as John Travolta discovered with 2000's Battlefield Earth.

The $73m (40m) epic was described by The Scotsman as "a tired example of rotten science-fiction" and took just $22m (12m) at the US box office.

And Warren Beatty's Town and Country was pulled from US cinemas after the 63m (35m) comedy took only 4m (2.2m) during four weeks of release in 2001.

So the formula for a flop seems clear - set your story on the high seas or in space, employ high-profile partners in key roles and make sure the sound effects are good and loud, but not loud enough to drown out the dodgy dialogue.

Then just sit back and hope the film isn't become bad enough to gain a cult following. You don't want another Showgirls on your hands.

Madonna movie sweeps Razzies
22 Mar 03  |  Film


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