Flops are part of life’s menu,” Rosalind Russell once said, no doubt remembering a few of her own. Indeed, for every Titanic triumph, there’s a movie that collapses like an overstuffed souffle. In recognition of Ishtar’s premiere May 15, 1987, here’s a commemorative look at 10 true disaster movies (in order of flopitude).
1 Cutthroat Island (1995) Director Renny Harlin’s pirate-chick extravaganza starring Geena Davis and dweeby art-house fave Matthew Modine lavished $95 million on salaries, sets, props…but not on a script. The paltry $14 million worldwide box office makes Cutthroat Island one of Hollywood’s biggest money losers (about $100 million). Except for the defunct Carolco, the principals emerged unscathed. That is, until the now divorced Harlin and Davis made The Long Kiss Goodnight.
2 Heaven’s Gate (1980) An egomaniacal Michael Cimino turned a $11.5 million immigrant saga into a $200,000-a-day shoot (mostly for retakes and extravagant sets)”]. The final tally: $35 million for 200 hours of film. After horrendous reviews, the three-and-a-half-hour-plus film was pulled from theaters for retooling, though a shortened version fared no better. MGM/ UA lost an estimated $44 million. An Oscar winner (for 1978’s The Deer Hunter), Cimino never recaptured his early glory, making films like Year of the Dragon, The Sicilian, and Desperate Hours.
3 Howard the Duck (1986) Aiming to turn a popular comic character into a film franchise, exec producer George Lucas and director Willard Huyck bled their duck dry, making him too cuddly, while spending a large chunk of the estimated $37 million budget on charmless effects. Despite another $8 million for advertising, audiences ducked Howard. Huyck, who cowrote American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, has done nothing of note since.
4 Cleopatra (1963) Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz envisioned a sophisticated epic; Twentieth Century Fox just wanted a blockbuster. Neither got what they wanted. The pressure from working 21-hour days in Italy on the $44 million production nearly pushed Mankiewicz over the edge; he resorted to uppers and downers to get through the ordeal. The massive budget contributed to the cash-strapped studio’s shutting down for a time and laying off 2,000 employees, and despite juicy headlines about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s affair, the film fizzled. Cleopatra subsequently broke even when TV rights were sold.
5 Star! (1968) Since Julie Andrews and Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music was at that time the top moneymaker, it made sense for star and director to reteam. Not quite. This Gertrude Lawrence biopic was one of the year’s biggest flops, losing $10 million. According to Wise, ”audiences couldn’t accept Julie playing…a lady who can get drunk and get high.” Plus, old-fashioned, splashy musicals were quickly falling out of favor in the psychedelic era. Star! was cut down to two hours and rereleased unsuccessfully a year later as Those Were the Happy Times. Andrews floundered until hubby Blake Edwards’ S.O.B. and Victor/Victoria.