Predicting whether a movie would be a critical and commercial success is not as easy as it may seem. Though factors such as frequent script changes, production delays, and the studio showing little to no faith in their own product guarantees that a movie would bomb, this is not always the case. Here are the 15 hit movies that were expected to flop:
15. Jaws (1975)
Back when Steven Spielberg was a rookie director, he was hired to direct the thriller movie Jaws. With only one feature movie under his belt that was made on a low budget, he was not the perfectionist he is today so naturally, he encountered dozens of technical dilemmas while directing Jaws.
The production was going over the budget and way past the schedule. Worst of all, the mechanical shark used in the movie kept malfunctioning so Spielberg had no choice but to minimize its screen time and rely on composer John William’s score to build the tension while showing water waves instead of showing the actual shark.
Jaws was expected to flop since the shark character was barely in it but upon its release, the movie was a massive success and overcame its production costs in just two weeks. Spielberg achieved his very first blockbuster but in doing so, he made numerous people legitimately scared of going near the ocean.
14. World War Z (2013)
Based on the 2006 apocalyptic horror novel of the same name by Max Brooks, World War Z had a bright start when Brad Pitt was announced as the lead. However, expensive reshoots, major deviations from the source material, and the complete alteration of the third act raised some eyebrows.
Eventually, the budget reached $190 million and it seemed that the presence of Pitt was not enough to save the movie. Moreover, he was the only A-lister among the entire cast. Upon its release, World War Z received positive reviews with critics particularly praising its thrilling storyline and earning $540 million at the box office.
13. The Terminator (1984)
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s agent heavily warned him of accepting the lead role of The Terminator in the sci-fi action movie of the same name; saying that it would be the end of his career. The actor still accepted the role believing that it would not hurt his career due to the movie’s low-profile status.
When a friend of his asked about a pair of boots he would wear in The Terminator, the actor responded,
“some shit movie I’m doing.”
Orion Pictures were also not hopeful about the movie as well since it was now-acclaimed director James Cameron’s debut movie.
When The Terminator ran out of its $6.4 million budget, Orion Pictures refused to finance it anymore and Cameron poured money from his own pocket since he believed in his movie. Once The Terminator was released, it was a critical and commercial success and made Schwarzenegger a household name.
12. Deadpool (2016)
While Deadpool is currently the highest-grossing R-rated superhero movie today, expectations were far from being high before its release. Actor Ryan Reynolds’ track record in superhero movies was terrible and the movie was not even going to feature Hugh Jackman reprising his role of Wolverine.
The movie’s measly budget guaranteed that very few mutant characters were going to be in it. In fact, its budget was $17 million short of the very first X–Men flick. Not only that, but the R-rating assured that Deadpool would be seen by a limited audience. Upon its release, the movie reached unprecedented heights and widened the landscape of X-Men movies.
11. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
On paper, it seemed that the first installment of Pirates of the Caribbean was destined to fail. It was based on a Disney theme park ride, had a PG-13 rating and the pirate movie genre had run its course several years ago. As revealed by actress Keira Knightley, most of the principal cast were embarrassed to star in the movie as they thought:
“was going to be total shit.”
At one point, the production of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was almost canceled because it was exceeding the $100 million budget.
The hiring of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was an overly worrisome ordeal for Disney executives as they thought he was performing as either drunk or gay. Disney CEO Michael Eisner even proclaimed that Depp was “ruining the film.” After the movie was released, Pirates of the Caribbean became a global phenomenon.
10. Casablanca (1942)
With all honesty, the production behind the romantic drama movie Casablanca was an utter mess. It was adapted from an unproduced play and the shooting began even before the script was finalized.
It gets even more complicated. The script would alter with every passing day and the cast would literally ask what they had to do when they showed up for work. While the success of Casablanca is often attributed to the romantic on-screen chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, it is shocking to know that both disliked each other and did not speak to each other off the camera.
The hectic production foreshadowed that the final product would not be dazzling the audience at all but much to the shock of everyone associated with the movie, Casablanca was lauded with overwhelmingly positive reviews and received eight Academy Award nominations and three wins including Best Picture and Best Director.
9. Taken (2008)
No one could have predicted the unexpected triumph of the French action movie Taken. At the age of 56, Liam Neeson was offered an action role despite being primarily known for his dramatic performances. After discovering that the plot of the movie was too basic, he recommended that Taken should have a direct-to-video release.
While shooting, Neeson thought that the movie will not be more than a “little side road” for his career but Taken turned out to be a thunderous success at the box office, spawned two sequels, a television series, and established Neeson as a new action movie star.
8. Back to the Future (1985)
You know that the fate of the movie is wobbly when its leading star is recast midway through the shooting. Originally, Eric Stoltz was hired for the role of Marty McFly but four weeks into filming, director Robert Zemeckis realized that he had been miscast and replaced him with Michael J. Fox.
Due to the incestuous theme, studio executives were quite concerned that the movie would underperform. Additionally, Fox was unable to promote the movie due to his acting commitments concerning the sitcom Family Ties.
With his unavailability coupled with the inappropriate sub-plot, the studio was prompted not to spend much money on promoting the movie. To everyone’s surprise, Back to the Future became one of the most universally loved movies of all time.
7. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
While Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs now stands out as a landmark in animation, it is often overlooked how much of a risky endeavor it was for Disney. It was the very first animated movie that went over 80 minutes and there was a legitimate doubt about whether or not children would sit for that long to watch it.
Before the release, the Hollywood press would refer to the movie as “Disney’s Folly” and even Walt Disney’s own wife Lillian believed that it would be a commercial flop. The horror elements further fueled the speculations. Once Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs hit the theatres, it became an incredible commercial success and was bestowed an Academy Honorary Award.
6. Star Wars (1977)
At the time of its production, actors Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher were practical nobodies in Hollywood. All of them barely had any acting experience and director George Lucas thought that Star Wars was going to be crumbled at the box office by Steven Spielberg’s space movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Expectations were rock bottom due to a paltry budget of $11 million and cheap alien costumes. When a cut of the movie without special effects was shown to Fox executives and Lucas’ director friends Brian De Palma and Steven Spielberg, it was met with disappointment. Thankfully, the finished product with visual and special effects wowed the audience and critics alike and Star Wars became an iconic part of cinematic history.
5. Iron Man (2008)
Marvel Studios were in a tough situation when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was on the verge of taking off. Marvel’s A-list superheroes such as Spider-Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four were either sold to Fox or Sony and they were forced to utilize relatively unpopular superheroes.
Among them was Iron Man. Casting Robert Downey Jr. was a risky decision as well since he had become more renowned due to his arrests and most of his recent movies were not at all remarkable. To top it all off, it was predicted that even if Iron Man is any good, the audience would be more interested in The Dark Knight which was released the same year as well. Astonishingly, Iron Man became a booming success in terms of critical and commercial feedback.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
At first glance, Guardians of the Galaxy seems like an exceedingly weird B-movie. It had a talking raccoon, a talking tree, a dim-witted muscular alien, and a leading star who had had fourteen years of acting experience either as a supporting character or an extra.
Many predicted that Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be the first bomb of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Its superheroes were hardly known whereas actor Chris Pratt and director James Gunn thought that the movie was going to end their careers. Surprisingly, the movie was a tremendous success.
3. The Godfather (1972)
How quickly the tides turn. Widely regarded as the greatest movie ever made, it is surprising to know that The Godfather was frowned upon by its own studio during production. The problems surrounded the movie as soon as its director was hired.
Paramount Pictures originally wanted Italian director Sergio Leone but he declined. The studio was firm on its decision to hire an Italian director due to the movie focusing on an Italian family so due to the narrow criteria, Paramount Pictures settled with Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola barely had any directing credentials and numerous cases of studio interference ensued. Additionally, studio executives were strictly against Coppola’s choice of Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone; the actor had seemingly past his prime and had been starring in flops for a decade. Due to several other factors such as production being behind schedule, cost overruns, studio interference, dark themes, and Coppola threatening to be fired, the overall impression of The Godfather during the editing phase was a “long, boring, dark movie.”
It was not expected to be a commercial success either and even Al Pacino called it:
“the worst film ever made”
prior to its release. As soon as The Godfather hit the theatres, it instantly became a part of American culture and won three Academy Awards including Best Picture.
2. Titanic (1997)
Now widely regarded as a masterpiece in terms of the disaster genre, James Cameron’s Titanic received an overwhelmingly positive response from critics and for many years, held the top spot in the list of highest-grossing movies of all time. However, its production was anything but smooth sailing (pun intended).
Due to excessive budget increments, Titanic became the very first movie to have a budget of over $200 million. It had so many production delays that the Los Angeles Times ran a daily column titled “Titanic Watch” which shed light on the delays. Predictions about the fate of the movie were not bright as well since the audience would be watching a movie that was a major spoiler in itself (The ship would sink).
Titanic would shockingly defy all expectations by becoming the first movie in history to make more than $1 billion at the box office and impressively won eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director from its fourteen nominations. Above all, Hollywood would earn one of the most dependable and greatest actors of his generation – Leonardo DiCaprio.
1. Avatar (2009)
James Cameron pops up on the list again! Similar to the hurdles of Titanic, Avatar was riddled with numerous stubborn complications such as gradually increasing budget, production delays, and frequent script rewrites.
Moreover, the movie would have a running time of nearly three hours, an unknown actor in the leading role and the press was adversely labeling it as an extravagant overdose of CGI effects. History would repeat yet again as Avatar became a critical success and became the first movie to earn more than $2 billion at the box office.
We hope you enjoyed reading our list of 15 hit movies that were expected to flop. Feel free to share your views in the comments below!
You should have added Gone with the Wind. It was called a white elephant (meaning you threw lots of money into it and got nothing for it). Everyone made fun of David Selznick got his female search through the South (which was a publicity stunt). His male actors-Gable and Howard-didn’t want to do the movie and were lured in with deals. Selznick decided on Viven Leigh for a while (not at the last minute as the story goes). He knew if Hollywood actresses would have known he wanted Leigh all along, they would have gone for his jugular. He only signed her on days before the official shoot started. Leigh and DeHavilland were upset that director Cukor was fired and they saw him secretly for help with the film. There was never a final script, and he had almost every writer in Hollywood and New York help him with the script. Selznick changed key personnel including directors. When he ran out of money ($3.5 million from MGM), he had to get a loan from his friend Jock Whitney to help him finish. Finally, at the Academy Awards, when GWTW won a Lion share of awards, he complained to his publicist that he failed to get Gable the best actor award. Selznick apologized for being piggish later on. GWTW made millions after two re-releases and Selznick was told he couldn’t make anymore money out if it, he sold his interests to MGM. When the next release earned $7 million he was less than pleased. GWTW was expected to be the biggest flop of 1939-even actor Gary Cooper said he was glad it was Gable and not him to fall on his face.