Jennifer Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy, Mark Wahlberg, Johnny Depp and Chewbacca don't carry as much weight as they used to.
2018 may go down as a record-breaking year for the collective domestic box office, but that doesn't mean everyone in Hollywood is celebrating.
As talent, budgets, and audiences continue to migrate to TV and streaming, it's getting harder and harder to make a box office hit, especially out of a movie that is not part of a pre-existing franchise. The top 10 movies at the box office this year were all either sequels, reboots, or parts of ongoing big screen stories, with five comic book movies, a fifth "Jurassic Park" movie, the seventh "Mission: Impossible," and some animated sequels leading the way. Increasingly, spending the money on a movie ticket requires some kind of guarantee.
There were a few surprise smashes in 2018 that weren't directly connected to geek franchises, including "Crazy Rich Asians" (which was based on a hit book), "A Star Is Born" (a remake of a remake, technically) and "A Quiet Place" (this one was actually original). But there were also some eyebrow-raising flops, and here, original films and franchise features shared the burden of losing tons of money for their backers.
Here are 11 of the biggest box office busts of the year. Keep in mind, studios only make half of ticket sales, plus pour tens of millions into marketing, so it takes a big margin between budget and box office take to turn a profit.
"Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" director Peter Jackson has spent the last two decades as the king of grand spectacle smash hits, but his first trip out of Middle-earth since the last trilogy was (mount) doomed. Jackson co-wrote and produced this adaptation of a quasi-dystopian YA novel by Philip Reeve, and while it was intended to be the first in a new franchise, its belly flop opening weekend in the United States suggests this will be a one-and-done affair.
Budget: $100 million
US box office: $28 million
In theory, a movie about an outlaw who steals from the rich and gives to the poor should be a timely hit right now. But this version of "Robin Hood," starring Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx, lards up a classic tale with expensive special effects and ridiculous action sequences, making for the kind of movie that seems more a product of a big, cynical corporate studio than any populist revolutionary. It earned just a 16 percent critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and flopped big time over the long Thanksgiving weekend.
"The Happytime Murders"
Budget: $40 million
US box office: $20 million
Americans can handle naughty puppets -- see "Avenue Q" and "Crank Yankers" -- but it seems that seeing puppets that look like they should be on Sesame Street work as prostitutes, blow each other's brains out, and masturbate was just too much to handle. It's a real testament to how bad this movie was that not even the universally beloved trio of Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph and Elizabeth Banks were able to save it from a 23 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and a future on worst-ever lists.
In a year filled with great movies led by women, this had the chance to be a true summer blockbuster comedy. Unfortunately, despite the stellar efforts of the always fantastic Kate McKinnon, the movie just plain wasn't funny enough to attract much attention; it didn't help that Mila Kunis was supposed to be playing the average, frumpy girl. It did well enough internationally to get closer to making its money back, but it was certainly a disappointment.
Budget: $50 million
US box office: $36 million
Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have made five movies in a row together since 2012's "Battleship," and after the high of 2013's "Lone Survivor," it's just been diminishing returns from there. They hit an all-time low with their rote, by-the-numbers CIA thriller "Mile 22," which was so nondescript that its 23 percent on Rotten Tomatoes seems generous. It did even worse internationally, which is pretty impressive for an action film.
Given the national environment and Jennifer Garner's own personal travails with men, a movie that features her seeking revenge like a remorseless Sarah Connor in mourning would be a hot ticket, if only for its promise of catharsis. Instead, the oddly titled "Peppermint" earned a miserable 11 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and got tagged as poorly made gun-porn, suggesting that America has gotten woke beyond demands for superficial equality. Sure, it was a woman on a murder spree, but that didn't make the sheer amount of unnecessary gun violence any more tolerable.
Budget: $69 million
US box office: $46 million
Not even Jennifer Lawrence is immune to a big ol flop once in a while. She re-teamed with her "Hunger Games" director Francis Lawrence for this espionage thriller, in which she plays a Russian ballerina-turned-spy, and as always, got good reviews for her own performance. But the brutality of the movie, its convoluted story, some poor reviews and the fact that it got released in the middle of the winter's "Black Panther" box office bonanza meant that "Red Sparrow" never really had a chance.
Budget: $88 million
US box office: $51 million
It didn't help the movie's box office prospects when co-star Olivia Munn created a (deserving, legitimate) firestorm when she told the press that writer/director Shane Black cast his sex offender friend in a small part in the movie. But what really sealed the movie's flop fate was the fact that it stunk. Black played a small part in the original 1987 film and Fox brought the "Iron Man 3" director back to pilot this sequel, but the final product certainly felt like the studio meddled in the editing room instead of the traditional job of overseeing the set and monitoring for sex offenders.
Guillermo del Toro's original "Pacific Rim" was an instant cult classic, which is a nice way of saying that a limited number of people passionately loved a movie that underperformed at the box office. The only reason it got a sequel is that it did so well at the international box office, especially in China; the first flick's breakdown was $100 million domestic, $300 million international. Del Toro exited this one and ceded the director's chair to Steven DeKnight, who leaned into the goofiness, pleasing nerd critics but making the initial movie's underperformance seem like a dream. The movie even fell short of its first film's take, with $230 million internationally boosting its global haul to $290 million.
"Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald"
Budget: $200 million
US box office: $149 million
Need evidence that sometimes franchises need to take a breather? Look no further than "Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald," the convoluted next chapter of the Harry Potter series. It's the latest entry of what feels increasingly like a cash-grab prequel story that only exists to extend the IP and brand. The movie, which traded the charming children of the original series for Johnny Depp, got the worst reviews of the franchise's history, with just 38 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (compare it to 96 percent for the last Harry Potter movie). It made money internationally, with $425 million outside of North America, but it's still by far the worst performer in the Harry Potter series.
OK, want more evidence that franchises should slow down at some point? Just six months after the release of "The Last Jedi," this Star Wars prequel hit theaters with a thud. In hindsight, it seemed doom to fail: It recast the most beloved and charming Star Wars actor with someone not nearly as charming (sorry, Alden Ehrenreich is good, but no one is Harrison Ford) and it was plagued with production problems, with the firing of directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord leading to months of reshoots and endless rumors leading up to the release. Its failure isn't going to slow "Star Wars" down, but the prequel movies now look to be on the backburner in favor of some TV shows for Disney's new streaming service.