How can we objectively measure how much people hate a film? One test might be the total amount of money the film loses. However, this measure favors big expensive stinkers and shoves from consideration terrible films that might have cost a lot less to make.

A better bet might be the ratio of box office receipts to total film production and marketing cost, but studios don't generally reveal the amount they spend marketing films, and their numbers for how much they spend making them are notoriously screwy. We can't do an objective review by this measure.

A few high points, in any case:

Total Money Lost

This section shows just a sample, not a comprehensive study of big money losers. Also, it is not adjusted for inflation.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) cost something like $50 million to make and took in only $4.4 million at the box office. This film had a rock solid cast and crew, but it wasn't the only Columbus film released that year, and audiences didn't care to see any of them. The film was also hurt, in writing and marketing, by continual political turmoil over how to portray the effects of European colonialism in the Americas.

Kevin Costner's The Postman (1997) cost $80 million and brought back under $18 million of it. Many people might expect to see Waterworld in this slot, but it doesn't qualify. I discuss that film below.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the hard work of John Travolta, Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 lost about $50 million.

Supernova (2000) cost something like $60 million to make and took in under $15 million in the theaters. Problems with director Walter Hill are typically blamed for this turkey of a movie.

Monkeybone (2001) cost around $75 million and brought back under $6 million when released. The studio overestimated the drawing power of Brendan Frasier. Also, who wants to see a film with the tagline "If It Yells, If It Swings, It's Got To Be Monkeybone" ?

Studios are apt to pay big money for stars who can "open" a film, and get people to show up to see them before bad reviews and bad word-of-mouth catch up. This technique is not foolproof. Witness Town & Country (2001), which supposedly cost $90 million to make, largely because of a pricey cast that included Warren Beatty, and because of countless reshoots and other delays. Rumors have it that costs might really have hit $120 million, but we'll give the studio the benefit of the doubt on this one. It brought in less than $7 million.

Treasure Planet (2002) cost $140 million to make, brought in a bit over $38 million domestically, and $53.7 million everywhere else.

The all-time winner (loser) among non-Saturday-Night-Live-related films is probably Cutthroat Island (1995), which cost about $100 million to make and brought in a paltry $11 million. It's actually an entertaining film, in a Renny Harlin-ish way.

Highest Percentage Lost

Orphans (1987), a critically favored Albert Finney flick, cost $15 million and made only $100,000 in theatrical release. That's a loss of 99.33%, probably the worst ever for a non-Saturday-Night-Live-related movie.

Heaven's Gate (1980) cost a then-staggering $44 million (including marketing expenses) and was screened for only a week. It lost almost 97% of its cost. In the words of Jerry Esbin, who was head of distribution for United Artists at the time, "It's as if somebody called every household in the country and said, 'There will be a curse on your family if you go to see this picture."

One From The Heart (1982) lost $25.1 million of its $26 million production cost. That's a 96.5% loss, sickening except perhaps when compared to Orphans. The film is important because of the damage that it did to the career of Francis Ford Coppola. In the decade of the 1970s, Coppola directed only four films: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, and Apocalypse Now. He also won an Oscar for writing Patton and he produced American Grafitti. All six of these films are giants. I have heard great directors credit Coppola with making two of the five best films ever made, and three of the ten best. They're all on that list.

Then he made One From The Heart and it stopped his career dead. He was a difficult director to work with and as soon as he demonstrated that he could make a money-losing film that audiences hated, studios stayed away. He had produced the film with his own money, and suffered personal financial difficulties for a decade as a result. To this day, he takes terrible jobs for the cash, if they are offered. I mean, this guy directed Captain Eo. Coppola remains a formidable talent, but he will never again have the freedom he had before One From the Heart.

Special Feature: Saturday Night Live Movies

It's Pat (1994) cost $10 million to make and had total global box office receipts of only $60,822. That translates to a loss of 99.39%. The studio would have done better had they thrown the money into a pile and burnt it; eventually the flames would have died down and they would have had more than 0.61% left.

Stuart Saves His Family (1995). Al Franken as a leading man? It is to laugh! Or in this case, not to laugh, or not to show up in the first place. The film cost $12 million to make and brought back $911,000 globally. That's a loss of 92.4%. It seems silly to even specify that these were global recepts. I mean, did the studio really think that people in Japan were going to line up to see this one?

Blues Brothers 2000 (1998). It cost only $28 million to make, a bargain when you consider that the original Blues Brothers had cost about the same amount, twenty years earlier. It is not a bargain when you consider that it brought back only $14 million in domestic release, a loss of 50%.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002). I appreciate that Eddie Murphy hasn't been on Saturday Night Live in decades, (he was the only living former cast member not to show up for the 25th anniversary special). However much he might like to forget it, he did start there, and the curse of Saturday Night Live movies strikes him too. The Adventures of Pluto Nash cost just under $100 million to make, and brought in under $4.5 million. Ignoring inflation, no movie has ever lost more money. Given that it opened on 2320 screens, and that each print probably cost $2000 to make, this film did not even recover the cost of sending it to theaters.

But What Did the Audiences Think?

A more interesting metric, and one that does not require us to adjust for inflation, is to study the speed at which revenues drop off for a movie. Even terrible films can open well if they feature popular stars and the studios spend aggressively to promote them. However, that won't buy more than one weekend; once bad word-of-mouth takes hold, these films are dead.

Therefore we can objectively study the stinkiness of a film by measuring what percentage of its total gross was realized on the opening weekend. The larger this percentage, the less people like the film.

For example, Forrest Gump brought in $24.5 million its first weekend, on the way to making $329.7 million. Its first weekend percentage was an impressive 7.42%. Clearly, people liked the film, told their friends, and it continued to bring in business for a long time after it opened.

Steven Spielberg's A.I., on the other hand, brought in $29.3 million in its first weekend and $78.6 million total, so the first weekend was an embarrassing 37.4% of the total.

The normal range for this measure is something like 20% to 35%. Films below that range are showing impressive legs; film higher than the range are probably terrible.

Limitations of this Methodology

I am restricting this study to medium and large films, efforts that brought in at least $12 million in their first weekends. Because of inflation and a huge growth in the number of screens in the United States, this test will strip out most films made before 1990. That's why this node is titled "the least popular films of the last 15 years", rather than "the least popular films ever".

Further, this restricts the study to films that people showed up to see in the first place. If the public didn't care about a film at all, and nobody showed up to see it even when it was first opened, it doesn't appear on my list.

Also, this metric tends to overstate the quality of films aimed at young children. Because they don't control their own schedules, and because they are often willing to see the same movie many times, young children don't pack opening weekends the way that teenagers and adults do.

Horror movies tend to do quite poorly by this measure because people who see them when they first open give away the endings to their friends, thus reducing the incentive for others to pay admission.

Also, I'm ignoring re-issues, even if they pass the $12 million test. Such films have already recovered the cost to make them, even if they lose a little bit on failed reintroduction efforts. (The reissues of Grease and E.T. would otherwise have made the list).

Because films stay open for a while, we don't have complete figures for any 2003 releases. Therefore, the fifteen years contemplated by this writeup are 1988-2002. (For what it's worth, no 1987 films would have made the list, had I extended it back another year). These calculations are based on U.S. domestic revenues only.

Ready?

The drums roll...

The ten most disliked films of the last fifteen years:

Film                                Year  First Wkd.   Total       Ratio
Blair Witch 2 : Book of Shadows     2000  13,223,887   26,421,314  50.05
Queen of the Damned                 2002  14,757,535   30,307,804  48.69
Crossroads                          2002  17,014,226   37,188,667  45.75
Resident Evil                       2002  17,707,106   39,532,308  44.79
Pokémon the Movie 2000              2000  19,575,608   43,746,923  44.75
The One                             2001  19,112,404   43,905,746  43.53
Alien 3                             1992  23,141,188   54,927,174  42.13
Random Hearts                       1999  13,012,585   30,980,221  42.00
Jeepers Creepers                    2001  15,831,700   37,849,949  41.83
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer 98  16,520,038   39,999,681  41.30

Additional money-losing film trivia

Cleopatra (1963) is widely regarded as a money-pit. It cost $44 million to make, an amount that, when adjusted for inflation, is worth $250 million today. However, by the end of the 1960s it had recovered its costs.

Ishtar (1987), whose name was for years synonymous with "out of control production", did lose a lot of money, but not enough to make any of the lists above. It lost $25.6 million ($41 million in today's dollars), or about 64% of its production cost.

Waterworld (1995) cost $175 million to make and made only $167 million domestically. However it brought in $255 million globally. It was a disaster of a production, but the studio made money in the end, and Costner was able to move on to The Postman (1997), a bigger stinker that I discussed near the top of this writeup.

Hudson Hawk (1991) cost $65 million and brought back only $17 million domestically. This was shocking at the time but was soon exceeded by others. Bruce Willis had just come off Bonfire of the Vanities, which had itself lost $31 million. Later he would do North (1994), which lost $33 million. Pulp Fiction (1994) stablized his career, and of course he had a later home run in The Sixth Sense (1999). Remarkably, when the chits were all counted, Hudson Hawk made $80 million in foreign release, leaving the studio with a profit.

Both Last Action Hero (1993) and The Fifth Element (1997) were controversial when they were made for having cost a lot of money and doing poorly in domestic release. However, both made money globally.

Legendary loser Howard the Duck (1986) doesn't come close to the disaster of the movies listed above. It lost only $13.7 million, 46% of its production cost. Even adjusted for inflation, it lost only $23 million.

Ironically, by the inverse of this metric (and by almost any other financial measure), the original Blair Witch Project (1999) was one of the most successful films of all time. Its financial performance was so amazing that another sequel is planned, despite Book of Shadows being, by my metric, the least popular movie of the last fifteen years.


Thanks to the many people who suggested bad, money-losing films that I had overlooked.

Sources
The Twentieth Century (David Wallechinsky, 1995)
Final Cut (Steven Bach, 1985)
http://www.boxofficeguru.com/
IMDB

uucp's theory of opening weekend gross compared to total gross is good, but the limit of $12 million opening gross leaves out many really bad movies which I think should rightfully deserve a place in this list.

Let's take, for example, a movie that is notoriously bad: Glitter (2001), starring Mariah Carey. Now, we can all agree that it's a really, really bad movie, right?

According to Box Office Mojo, it got $2,4 million in the opening weekend, and the total gross of $4,3 million. So, the opening gross/total gross ratio would be 55.81, which would make it go right in the top of uucp's list if it wasn't for the $12 million limit.

IMO the most reliable source of a movie's popularity is The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). The ratings are given by people all over the world, of different age and cultural backgrounds. The users must be registered in order to give a rating to a movie, and this eliminates the chance of someone voting the same movie over and over again. However, there are always some people who feel the need of giving a movie 10, no matter who bad it is. Or 1, even if the movie was really good.

Let's take an example again: Glitter (2001), starring Mariah Carey. Now, at this point, with the opening gross/total gross ratio of 55.81, we can all agree that it's a really, really bad movie, right?

Right. Glitter's IMDb rating is 2.3 (on a scale of 1 to 10), which is the average of votes of 9414 users. 5.9% of these users gave it a rating of 10, but the percentage of users who gave it a rating of 1 is a whopping 55%! I think that if more than half considers it that bad, it must be really, really bad.

Now, let's make some lists. Here are the ten most disliked films of the last fifteen years according to uucp, and their IMDb ratings:

Movie Title:		          Year:  IMDb     Number of
                                         rating:  votes in IMDb:

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2    2000    4.3      4158
Queen of the Damned               2002    4.8      3580
Crossroads                        2002    3.1      4440
Resident Evil                     2002    6.4      9165
Pokémon the Movie 2000            2000    3.9      419
The One                           2001    5.4      4299
Alien 3                           1992    5.9      12934
Random Hearts                     1999    4.8      4087
Jeepers Creepers                  2001    5.4      5699
I Still Know What You Did..       1998    4.0      6393

As you can see, almost all of these movies have gotten a mediocre rating in IMDb. Actually, only Crossroads has made it into the IMDb bottom 100 list, which lists the worst 100 movies of all time. Bear in mind though that some people use the scale differently than others, usually the higher ratings are used more even if the movie isn't really that good. Maybe it's the lack of seeing good films and thus not being able to compare a mediocre movie to a really good one. Or maybe most people just like all kinds of movies and don't like criticizing them. Anyway, in my experience, if the movie is rated 7 or higher it's usually worth watching, especially if you like the subject. And if it's worse than 6 it's most likely not worth watching, unless the subject really interests you. There are exceptions of course.

Now, to remain on the subject which is The Least Popular Movies of the Last Fifteen Years and not the voting behaviour of IMDb users, let's view another list.

The ten most disliked films of the last fifteen years (according to IMDb ratings*):

Movie Title:		          Year:  IMDb     Number of
                                         rating:  votes in IMDb:

Backyard Dogs                     2000    1.5      816
Space Mutiny                      1988    1.6      957
Future War                        1995    1.7      734
Troll 2                           1990    1.7      963
Santa with Muscles                1996    1.8      1663
Werewolf                          1996    2.0      647
Police Academy: Mission to Moscow 1994    2.1      3307
Glitter                           2001    2.2      2629
Kazaam                            1996    2.3      1712
Battlefield Earth:                2000    2.3      9422 
A Saga of the Year 3000

These movies are completely different than in the first list, mainly because none of them made $12 million in their opening weekend. Battlefield Earth was close though, with a gross of $11,5 in the first weekend, and the total of $21,5 million. None of the others came even close to collecting that kind of money. Of course Battlefield Earth's marketing costs were estimated to be $30 million so the aggressive marketing probably got most of the people to see it in the first weekend. Still, it didn't even make enough money to cover the marketing costs, let along its production budget of $73 million.

However, I think that the box office results don't have that much significance when considering the worst movies of all time or the last fifteen years. The IMDb ranking gives a pretty good idea of which are the worst ones, although there are a lot of things that may affect the votes. If a movie is aggressively marketed, like Battlefield Earth, and you have large expectations which turn to utter disappointment when watching the movie, it probably makes you hate it even more than if you would have seen it without never hearing about it before. The previous score might also affect your rating; if you are about to give a movie a rating of 5 and others have rated it 2, you might think that maybe it doesn't deserve 5 after all and decide to lower your rating. IMDb also draws certain kind of people (computer literate, english speaking, movie buffs). Another effect is that reviews may be polarized, e.g. people are only willing to vote / comment on really good or really bad movies.

The IMDb ratings are not accurate, but they still give a good perspective of what the global appreciation of a movie is, since the voters are from all over the world and the gross income figures used here and in uucp's writeup are only from US.


All the box office figures are from US only.

*only movies with 625 or more votes are considered

Thank you everyone for your views on internet polls and IMDb ratings.

Sources:

IMDb - http://www.imdb.com
Box Office Mojo - http://www.boxofficemojo.com

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