Causes of a film's failure
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. (January 2014)
Negative word of mouth
Beginning in the 1980s, cinemas started to drop films that suffered 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 enabled negative opinions for films to spread rapidly.
Another cause for failure is a troubled production history. This was the case for the film Heaven's Gate, which famously went three months over schedule and saw its budget mushroom from $7.5 million to $36 million. These facts caught the ears of journalists and critics who were refused access to the film's set by director Michael Cimino, and upon its release, the film was negatively portrayed by the American press.
Films may have low ticket sales if they are released at the same time as other films that attract more viewers. A notable example of this was the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. The film was a financial loss for RKO because it was pitted against the highly successful films Miracle on 34th Street and The Best Years of Our Lives. However, it became highly popular during the television era and is now considered a Christmas classic.
Occasionally, films may underperform because of issues unrelated to the film itself. These issues commonly relate to the timing of the film's release. This was one of the reasons for the commercial failure of one of Hollywood's first "flops", Intolerance. Owing to production delays, the film was not released until late 1916, which was a time when the widespread anti-war sentiment it reflected had started to shift in favor of U.S. entry into World War I. While the film would later be considered groundbreaking, its failure drove D. W. Griffith's production company, Triangle Film Corporation, out of business. Other examples include MGM's The Wizard of Oz and Walt Disney's Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi, all of which under-performed merely because they were released during World War II. This was a time period that cut off 60% of Hollywood's international release market. However, these films became popular and critically acclaimed in later years.
Another example of external events sinking a film is the 2015 docudrama about FIFA entitled United Passions. It was released in theaters in the United States at the same time FIFA's leaders were under investigation for fraud and corruption, and the film grossed only $918 at the U.S. box office in its opening weekend. Comedian John Oliver lampooned the film asking "Who makes a sports film where heroes are the executives?"
Other issues such as general economic malaise may cause less disposable income for potential filmgoers, resulting in fewer ticket sales. Also, many movies that open during times of national crisis and just after disasters such as the Hindenburg disaster, Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, the Oklahoma bombings, Columbine High shooting, the 2001 September 11 attacks, Manchester Arena bombing, Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the 2008 recession, the Las Vegas massacre, the bombing in Boston Marathon, Virginia Tech massacre, a major tsunami and earthquake in Japan, respective wars in Iraq or Vietnam, and hurricanes (i.e. Sandy, Katrina, Harvey, or Irma) under-perform at the box office. In the case of the 9/11 attacks, three movies that dealt with the subject of terrorism in various ways were scheduled for release in the time period between September 12 and December 31, 2001 (Collateral Damage, Big Trouble, and Bad Company). The release dates for these films were pushed back to 2002, and none of them performed well at the box office.
High production costs
Sometimes a film may do reasonably well at the box office but still be considered a bomb due to a large budget. For example, 2005's Sahara cost over $241 million to make (including marketing and distribution), due in part to exorbitant production costs. It took in $122 million, usually enough to be successful. However, in this case, this accounted for barely over half of its expenses. In 2012, Disney reported losses of $200 million on John Carter. The film had made a considerable $234 million worldwide, but this was far short of its $250 million budget plus worldwide advertising. Another example is 47 Ronin, which was released in 2013 and made over $151 million at the box office. However, the film cost a total of $225 million to make due to its exorbitant production costs, and its box office gross accounted for barely over 2/3 of its expenses.