The Year of the Flopbuster: 2023's 10 Biggest Box Office Failures


For Hollywood, 2023 wasn’t just a bad year — it was a disastrous one.

Since the COVID pandemic blocked theater-goers across the world from going out to see their movies, studios have had a hard time convincing audiences to come back.

But we know now that COVID  isn’t the only factor to blame for poor-performing movies, especially now that the pandemic is years behind us.

Additionally, audiences are getting sick and tired of the socio-political messaging embedded throughout many modern-day films, a reality Disney executives are just now beginning to acknowledge and come to grips with.

But it isn’t just Disney.

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All of the big five Hollywood studios — Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Disney and Warner Bros. — inject partisan messaging into many of their movies. And as a result, all five also put out films that suffered major losses this year.

Another factor that didn’t help the situation was bloated budgets. In many cases, the big five’s blockbusters needed to make over a half billion dollars just to break even.

That’s not a great recipe for success.

Perhaps more than any other in recent memory, the year 2023 was riddled with massive box office flops.

Do you trust Hollywood to produce good movies nowadays?

Here are the top ten box office disappointments along with some honorable mentions.

A short disclaimer before diving in — to calculate losses for this list, we used the well-accepted 2.5 times rule, i.e. taking a film’s production budget and multiplying it by 2.5 to determine its break-even point. The 2.5 times rule accounts for marketing costs and the profit splits movie studios make with theaters and different countries outside the U.S.

Though the 2.5 rule is generally considered accurate, it is not always 100 percent true for each movie. Some may need to make more or less money. Read this great breakdown of box office profits if you’d like to know more. 

All numbers used in these calculations were rounded to the nearest $100,000. The ranking is a subjective determination factoring in financial losses, expectation and other factors.

Honorable Mentions

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For honorable mentions, we’d be hard-pressed not to include DC films like “Blue Beetle” and “Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom.” Why? Because despite both likely losing over a hundred million dollars per the 2.5 times rule, they weren’t even the two worst-performing DC films of the year (the other two made our top ten below).

Out of the four DC films Warner Bros. produced this year, not one was a financial success. The most successful of the bunch was “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”

Its prize as the best-performing DC film? An estimated loss of “only” $114.1 million.

Other notable mentions include three Disney films that just missed matching their bloated half-a-billion-dollar-and-up break-even marks: Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” remake, Disney-Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and Disney-Pixar’s “Elemental.”

10. “Fast X

“Fast X” didn’t have quite enough fuel to make it past the finish line. Heck, it barely had enough to move past the starting line. That doesn’t mean fans didn’t go out to support the movie, however. For most films, a $700 million box office haul would be a massive success. For “Fast X,” it’s a substantial loss.

That’s probably why the next “Fast and Furious” film — the franchise’s finale — is reportedly operating on a much smaller budget, according to MovieWeb.

Break Even: $850 million

Gross: $704.9 million

Box-Office Loss: $145.1 million

9. “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

At first glance, Tom Cruise’s latest Ethan Hunt adventure did alright. But, thanks to expensive COVID reshoots and other production costs, the production budget of this film was a whopping $291 million, the highest budget of any “Mission: Impossible” film. To be considered a success (not just make its money back), the film likely needed to make over a billion dollars, a tall order for any star, even Cruise.

Paramount Pictures is already trying to distance itself from this disaster. According to Variety, the film is being renamed to simply “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning” on Paramount+. The studio apparently thinks it’ll have an easier time convincing audiences to see the next “Mission: Impossible” if they don’t have to see “Part One.”

Break Even: $727.5 million

Gross: $567.5 million

Box-Office Loss: $160 million

8. “Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Warner Bros.-DC lost big on all four of its movies this year. Many factors were at play exacerbating the situation. Superhero movie fatigue is no doubt one (or maybe it’s just bad movie fatigue).

Another factor affecting DC specifically is the brand’s upcoming movie universe reboot. James Gunn, the new DC Studios co-head, made the head-scratching decision to announce the reboot head of this year’s DC releases, which are all set in the preexisting continuity, essentially telling audiences “Don’t bother watching our next few movies — were just going to start over again in a year anyway.”

Break Even: $312.5 million

Gross: $134 million

Box-Office Loss: $178.5 million

7. “Expend4bles

The “Expend4bles” has always been a Sylvester Stallone-driven franchise. For the first three, the “Rocky” star was heavily involved in the production, whether as a director, screenwriter or producer. So, it’s no surprise that the first film without his heavy involvement (other than briefly appearing as his character) is also the first film to fail financially.

“Expendables” star Dolph Lundgren sure seemed convinced Stallone’s absence was the reason for the sequel’s failings. “I know [Sylvester] Stallone wasn’t involved, like he usually is… and when he’s in charge, the quality is going to be pretty good, it doesn’t drop below a certain level.”

Break Even: $250 million

Gross: $37.9 million

Box-Office Loss: $212.1 million

6. “The Flash

Of all the DC movies to come out this year, this one had the best chance at success. Many believed Michael Keaton’s return as Batman would, in and of itself, help the movie achieve the same levels of nostalgia that led “Spider-Man: No Way Home” to pass the $2 billion mark.

But alas, even Keaton couldn’t save a film headlined by a crazed and controversial actor, terrible CGI effects and a studio that’s already moving on to a full-fledged universe reboot.

Break Even: $500 million

Gross: $271.3 million

Box-Office Loss: $228.7 million

5. “Haunted Mansion

The “Haunted Mansion” remake was a curious mixture of bad decision-making on the part of Disney. The film’s director touted the movie for being “as black as possible,” but as it turns out, he should have been more focused on being as good as possible.

Curiously, the House of Mouse opted to release the film in July rather than during the October Halloween season. With clever marketing, perhaps the studio could have enticed parents to take their kids to a spooky movie made for kids. Even that likely wouldn’t have made up for the film’s abysmal reviews.

Break Even: $375 million

Gross: $117.4 million

Box-Office Loss: $257.6 million

4. “Wish

Disney’s marketing push for “Wish” seemed based on nostalgia. The once-dominant entertainment giant seemed hopeful that parents would see the trailer for their new Disney princess story and associate it with many of the great Disney fairytales of past decades. But alas, Disney’s “not-so-secret gay agenda” has alienated many families. That’s probably a big reason why “Wish” turned out to be a financial failure.

It’s also likely the reason why 2023 marked the first year in decades that Disney failed to take in the number-one spot at the global box office. Instead, that honor went to Universal, who managed to entice many families to go see its agenda-free “Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which came in at number two at the worldwide 2023 box office, grossing over $1.3 billion according to Box Office Mojo. If Disney is done making family-friendly movies with traditional values, Universal seems perfectly willing to pick up the slack — and the subsequent profits.

Break Even: $500 million

Gross: $233.6 million

Box-Office Loss: $266.4 million

3. “Napoleon

Based alone on the initial marketing campaign, it appeared that Ridley Scott’s Napoleon Bonaparte biopic was set to make waves at the box office this year. However, poor reviews (the film had a 58 percent “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes) and bad word of mouth seem to have tanked its potential success.

The movie’s returns may have been undercut by its streaming release as well. The film landed on Apple TV+ on Jan. 9, a little over a month after its Nov. 22 theatrical debut. For those who had an Apple TV+ subscription, why go to the theaters when they could just wait just a few weeks to watch the film from the comfort of their homes?

Break Even: $500 million

Gross: $218.4 million

Box-Office Loss: $281.6 million

2.”The Marvels

“The Marvels” is the most “M-She-U” film ever created by the “M-She-U.” When Disney first acquired the Marvel and Star Wars properties, its goal was to add these “boy brands” to Disney’s expansive list of “girl brands” (princess stories, fairy tales and whatnot), per CNN Money. But somewhere along the way, that mission got lost and Disney opted instead to try and turn those “boy brands” into “girl brands.”

As it turns out, girls don’t want to watch women in tights. They’d rather go see “Barbie.” According to one survey, 65 percent of the audience of “The Marvels” was male. Women aren’t interested in feminized-boy brands. Disney should have stuck to the original plan.

Break Even: $550 million

Gross: $206 million

Box-Office Loss: $344 million

1. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

“South Park” famously satirized Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy in a much-talked-about special from earlier this year. The show repeatedly makes the joke that Kennedy’s only note for movies is to “put a chick in it and make her lame and gay.”

Joking aside, in recent years, Disney-Lucasfilm has repeatedly pushed one-dimensional, overly-competent female protagonists over their tried-and-true male heroes — namely Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones. As it turns out, fans like the old characters better than Disney’s feminist fill-ins.

Break Even: $736.8 million

Gross: $384 million

Box-Office Loss: $352.8 million

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Michael wrote for a number of entertainment news outlets before joining The Western Journal in 2020 as a staff reporter. He now manages the writing and reporting teams, overseeing the production of commentary, news and original reporting content.
Michael Austin graduated from Iowa State University in 2019. During his time in college, Michael volunteered as a social media influencer for both PragerU and Live Action. After graduation, he went on to work as a freelance journalist for various entertainment news sites before joining The Western Journal in 2020 as a staff reporter.

Since then, Michael has been promoted to the role of Manager of Writing and Reporting. His responsibilities now include managing and directing the production of commentary, news and original reporting content.
Ames, Iowa
Iowa State University
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