Show Me The Money: 15 Times Hit Movies Shockingly Lost Money

Movies are expensive to make. Productions on some of our
favorite films can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and in
some cases, these are costs that are extremely hard to earn
back. Unless a producer sets out to make the most inexpensive
film possible, a movie studio needs to have a blockbuster on
their hands to recoup some extremely high costs and sometimes,
even that isn’t enough.

When you consider that some of our favorite films have A-list
actors who demand mega-money or these movies include marketing
campaigns that are so aggressive that promoting the film can
cost more money than making the film, it’s no wonder why some
of these extremely good movies struggle to earn a profit. Then,
when you consider that some of the best films of all time don’t
receive the adulation they deserve or find the cult-like
following they do until after they’ve been released, it makes
predicting a hit even more tricky.

Of course, even movie home runs can report losses, thanks to
“Hollywood accounting.” It’s frankly amazing when you think
about how many movies “lose” money than there are any
profitable movies at all. You almost have to be Disney to
ensure that you don’t lose your shirt with any one film. Even
then, you might not be immune. Want to know which 15 films
became huge hits but lost money? Keep reading to see if you’re
as shocked as we were. It may make you look at these films a
bit differently.

15. Blade Runner

One of the most iconic science fiction movies ever didn’t make
any money until it was discovered well after its release in
1982. It had to compete with movies like E.T. the
and it made a mere $6.5 million in its
opening weekend. No one thought it would amount much and it
lost out to other competition. After Warner Bros. re-released
the film, it was through home video viewings almost a decade
later that the film became the cult classic that it is now.

The movie became so popular. In fact, there is a sequel being
released this year entitled Blade Runner
 The film stars
Ryan Gosling
as a new blade runner and a returning
Harrison Ford
reprises his role as Rick Deckar. The
film is set to take place some thirty years after the first
Blade Runner did.

14. Batman

When Warner Bros. decided to make Batman in 1989, they
Michael Keaton
Jack Nicholson
to play the character of Batman and Joker,
respectively. They also wanted
Tim Burton
to direct the film. To get these big actors, the
studio had to promise a percentage of gross profits. For
Nicholson, that number was escalated each time the movie did
better at the box office. Needless to say, he did quite well.
Those who were stuck with net profits, like two of the
producers who actually sued the film over the money they
thought they were due, never really got their money.

The first Batman movie was a combination of paying way
too much money for the actors and director, an outlandish
marketing campaign and a bit of movie accounting to make the
blockbuster film seems not so big a hit. Since it “appears”
like Batman lost money, why did they make so many

13. It’s A Wonderful Life

When the film was released in 1946, it didn’t get much
attention from its audience. Despite earning five Academy Award
nominations, the film actually lost $525,000. Calling the film
a flop, National Telefilm Associates didn’t renew its
copyright and it became public domain, which then allowed cable
companies to start airing the movie on television royalty free.
Other companies picked up the film for video release and over
many years, it became one of the most recognized
holiday movies ever. People who worked on the film have
said that they are amazed at what the movie has done in the
years following its release. Many didn’t even consider the
movie a holiday film considering how dark the undertones were
in the story. It’s A Wonderful Life took years before
it ever made a profit.

12. Return Of The Jedi

The third installment of the Star Wars trilogy was a
massive box office success. Yet somehow, David Prowse (the
actor who played Darth Vader) continually received notices in
the mail that there were no forthcoming payments based on net
profits or residual cheques to cash because Lucasfilm said the
movie had never gone into profit, thus there was nothing to
send. Some of this may have been due to high production and
marketing costs, but most of it is because of something known
as “Hollywood accounting.” It’s the first of a few times this
phenomenon will come up on our list.

Hollywood accounting refers, in part, to the whacky way
bookkeeping is done to exclude those who have a share of net
profits from ever seeing their money. Studios in these
scenarios only pay out profits after deducting all their
expenses. Most of the expenses are purr garbage, but no net
profits mean no official payouts are required.

11. Shawshank Redemption

Considered one of the best films ever made and #1 on’s
Top 250 list, The Shawshank Redemption was a
box office bomb when it was released in 1994. It received tons
of critical adulation and was nominated for an Academy Award,
but it wasn’t until it was released on VHS and purchased by TNT
for airing on television that audiences everywhere got to see
how fantastic of a film this really was.

Most people have seen the film so many times that they’ve lost
count. It’s a far cry from the days the movie first appeared
and no one saw it. This movie is one of the reasons to still
own regular cable since TV stations still show the
movie on a regular basis. It’s hard to imagine what movie life
would be like without the Andy Dufresne character.

10. The Big Lebowski

I’ll bet you can quote a line from one the most quotable movies
ever made. After all, who doesn’t know “the Dude?” Film geeks
everywhere list The Big Lebowski as one of the
all-time faves and the Coen Brothers’ slacker comedy only cost
$15 million to make, which makes it even more idolized by the
underground community. All that said, when released in
theaters, the film made a mere $2 million profit. Ouch!

Later, this cult favorite found its audience on DVD/VHS and
over time, became known as one of the best comedies of the last
20 years. Today, it is one of the most idolized films ever,
with its own festival and millions of adoring fans. Like the
Dude who somehow ends up victorious despite all his
shortcomings, the film seems to do the same.

9. Office Space

If you’ve ever felt like you hated your job, your boss, or your
life, then you probably know the movie Office
 Almost everyone who loves funny movies has now
seen the cult comedy masterpiece, but it took them a while to
make it as popular a film as it is now. Fox did a lousy job of
marketing and releasing the film and poor timing caused the
film to enter and leave the theater without much attention. It,
by all measures, was a box office bust until it became
popular on cable TV channels. It took about two years for the
film to make any money. But by 2006, DVD sales had reached over
six million in the US alone. With the right initial marketing
campaign, this film would have done much better

8. Wizard Of Oz

Still one of the all-time movie classics, The Wizard
of Oz
was a stinker when it first came out in 1939. It
didn’t help that the giant sets and elaborate special effects
cost the studio so much money and in that day and age, the
budget for the film could be equated to the massive budgets of
major productions today.

The movie did win two Oscars for Best Score and Best Original
Song for “Over the Rainbow,” but that wasn’t enough to make it
profitable. For ten long years, the film fizzled, losing money
for MGM. When it was re-released in 1949 (the 10th Anniversary
re-release), it finally started to make money. Warner Bros. now
owns the rights to the film and it’s one of the most watched
and decorated movies in the history of film.

7. Fight Club

Few films have the cult-like following that Brad
Edward Norton
’s action/drama movie, Fight
, did. When it was released in 1999,
audiences received the film with mixed reviews and the premise
of the film was a bit hard to market. To make matters worse, a
stubborn and pig-headed
Rosie O’Donnell
used her large talk show audience as a way
to shun the film by revealing the plot twist at the end. Her
audience decided not to see it since she’d spoiled the ending.
She reached so many people that it cost the movie millions of

Fox eventually released the film on home video and it
snowballed into the success it is now. It eventually made a ton
of money, but it took way longer than it should have. I’m sure
Brad Pitt is still upset about O’Donnell’s actions. It probably
cost him millions too.

6. Citizen Kane

Considered one of the greatest films in history, Citizen
was introduced to the world amidst some very
controversial circumstances. The movie was dark and unique
which made it an uncommon film for the time. So too, media
William Randolph Hearst
didn’t like that the movie was an
adaptation of his life and he banned mention of the film in his
newspapers and radio networks. Theaters decided not to carry
the film as a result.

The movie won nine Academy Awards but lost almost $200,000. Of
course, the Orson Welles classic has gone on to see much
better success but it still never earned the kind of money it
deserved. In fact, Welles never made a movie that turned a
profit and he died broke and alone in 1985.

5. Lords Of The Rings

Lord of the Rings grossed a ton of money, but the
producers blamed taxpayer fees for shooting in New Zealand and

Peter Jackson
‘s ridiculous fees for directing the film as
partial reasons for the loss. In reality, it was the fact
that New Line Cinema was owned by Time Warner which also
owned AOL, and the companies just simply paid each other to
avoid paying additional taxes. It’s easy to see how on paper,
the film looked like it reported a loss and why Peter Jackson
ended up suing.

Even though the money stayed in house, the film did not turn a
profit on paper. Subsequently, when the author’s estate
of The Hobbit was approached about selling the
new book to the producers of a Lord of the
franchise that lost money, the estate demanded
$150 million or the deal was off. Funny how a studio that
lost money so quickly paid for such a crazy amount for the
right to make the new film.

4. Dazed And Confused

Dazed and Confused grossed a mere $1.1 million upon
release in the US. While the movie didn’t garner much attention
at first, the success of the film came from its widely
acclaimed soundtrack which features bands like KISS, Deep
Purple, and Black Sabbath. As people fell in love with the
songs that shaped the film, people fell in love with the film
itself and through DVD sales, Dazed and
 added more than $30 million worldwide to its
bottom line. To know the movie means to know the music that
shaped the movie. But you probably didn’t know that the movie
made literally no money for the longest time. It hardly seems
fair for a film that so accurately described school life in the
seventies for so many people to do so poorly.

3. Iron Man

The director of the first Iron Man film,
Jon Favreau
, took home a pretty good chunk of change for
directing the smash hit. His contract was worth about $4
million guaranteed. Not bad work if you can get it. Apparently,
for Favreau, that wasn’t quite enough. He has said that he’s
also due 10 percent of the movie’s net profits. Despite this
fact, he came to expect that he’d likely never see a dime of
that money.

Again, the idea of “Hollywood accounting” rears its ugly head.
Iron Man wouldn’t have had two sequels and the Marvel
Cinematic Universe wouldn’t be as vast as it is if the film
didn’t turn a profit. The one thing everyone knows is that if
you want to make a film that’s a virtual lock to make millions,
make a Marvel superhero film. It’s the equivalent of free money
no matter how much you spend in production.

2. Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump is now a movie that has become
profitable. In fact, quite profitable. For the longest time,
that wasn’t the case. It starts with the fact that
Tom Hanks
got well over $30 million for his role in the
film. Huge expenses, the cost of making the film ($50
million) and promotion ($72 million), distribution fees ($62
million), and other big sums of money paid to
Robert Zemeckis
, were also to blame. Both Hanks and
Zemeckis had worked into their contracts’ payouts based upon
gross rather than net profits. As the movie made more, so did
the stars.

Two producers and a screenwriter didn’t see payouts for the
widely-adored film because of the accounting which excluded
their net profit deals from cashing in. Those huge amounts of
money have long since been paid and advances on those chunks of
money were even provided. But it’s amazing how such a hugely
successful movie appeared to be in the red for so long.

1. Harry Potter And The Order Of The

This is one of those movies (the entire Harry Potter
franchise, actually) that was so successful that it makes
absolutely no sense to suggest it lost money. Again, “Hollywood
accounting” made it appear possible…at least for a little
while. It was this particular film that was one of the movies
that brought to light the controversial topic of Hollywood’s
cooked books because an accounting document for the film leaked
online. It opened the door to a number of lawsuits filed by
television actors and businesses who were owed money on net
profit contracts.

Among the propped up expenses for the wizard film was a
$212-million distribution fee (Warner Bros. was paying itself).
There was also $130 million in advertising and $57 million in
interest. Essentially, the studio moved around $350 million to
look like it lost money on paper. Like some of the other movies
on the list, this one actually made money, just not on paper.

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