The end of the year is a cruel time for movies. Everything gets broken down into winners and losers: this film got a nomination, this one didn’t; this film is the best, this one isn’t. But movies aren’t nearly so black and white. A film can win over the hearts of every person who sees it, and still lose at the box office. Whether it’s because of marketing, piracy, word of mouth, or plain old bad timing, good movies fall through the cracks all the time. This list will celebrate a few of the best movies of the year that also happened to be some of the worst grossing movies of the year.
There are a variety of ways to define a flop. The Hollywood Reporter‘s list of the biggest flops of 2011 includes one or two movies, like “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” and “Sucker Punch,” that outgrossed their budgets (before marketing costs). Hollywood accounting is more of an art form — or a shell game — than a science. So I went with a simple qualification for the list you’re about to read: if the movie cost more to make than its worldwide gross, it was eligible.
Here are my picks for the best flops of 2011. Winners all, at least where it counts.
Directed by Jodie Foster
Estimated Budget: $21.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $6.3 million
A black comedy about a suicidally depressed man who finds stability (and later further insanity) in the form of a talking beaver puppet would have been a tough sell under ideal circumstances. In the wake of star Mel Gibson‘s ongoing personal problems, it was basically an impossible one. “The Beaver” was far from perfect — the subplot about Anton Yelchin as Gibson’s son went nowhere and director Jodie Foster weirdly gave her own character the short shrift — but Gibson himself was wildly impressive as a broken man in freefall. Even if he had some real life experience to drawn on. Read my full review here.
Directed by Gary McKendry
Estimated Budget: $70.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $52.9 million
“Killer Elite” wasn’t one of Jason Statham‘s best vehicles, but it was another rock-solid action movie from the most dependable star on the planet (his other 2011 vehicle, “The Mechanic,” was even better, but it cost less and made more money). Clive Owen made a fabulously evil (and fabulously mustached) antagonist for Statham, and the fight scene where Statham beats up two dudes at the same time while tied to a chair is the best scene of the year nobody’s talking about. The plot, about the machinations of a secret cabal of wealthy British businessmen called The Feather Men, definitely crept into so-bad-it’s-good territory — especially when The Feather Men spent an entire secret meaning explaining to each other why they’re called The Feather Men (“Because our touch…IS LIGHT!”). Plus Robert De Niro, playing an aging mercenary who’s obsessed with money, hasn’t been this believable in years. Read my full review here.
“Drive Angry 3D”
Directed by Patrick Lussier
Estimated Budget: $50.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $28.9 million
2011 was not a great year for Nicolas Cage. The combined revenue of his three starring vehicles — “Season of the Witch,” “Drive Angry 3D,” and “Trespass” — was less than the box office totals of either of his 2010 films, “Kick Ass” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” both of which were also considered disappointments. But if audiences didn’t show up to “Drive Angry,” that was their loss: it more than delivered on its promise of exploitative thrills. Patrick Lussier’s drive-in throwback was saddled with dual misfortunes: it came at the tail end of a slew of mediocre-to-bad Cage vehicles and at the tail end of a slew of mediocre-to-bad 3D movies. But Cage was great as a man who escapes from hell on a quest for revenge and William Fichtner was even better as the man hell sends to bring him back. Highlights included a simultaneous sex scene and gun fight and Cage drinking beer out of a dead man’s skull. Now that’s entertainment. Read my full review here.
“Conan the Barbarian”
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Estimated Budget: $90.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $48.7 million
The problem with “Conan” wasn’t so much what director Marcus Nispel made but how he made it. $90 million bucks on a schlocky barbarian flick? Even if that number is slightly inflated — IMDb puts the figure at $70.0 million — it’s still way too high. In comparison, the original “Conan” cost approximately $20 million to make back in 1982 or roughly $46 million 2011 dollars when adjusted for inflation. In other words: half as much. If they’d spent $20 million bucks on this thing, they’d have themselves a modest hit. Jason Momoa was no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he was good with a sword and a growly retort, Ron Perlman was fun as Harry from “Harry and the Hendersons,” and Rose McGowan gave a hilariously campy performance as an evil witch woman. The deaths were almost as spectacularly gruesome as the film’s box office flameout, if you’re in to that sort of thing.
Directed by Gavin O’Connor
Estimated Budget: $25.0 million
Worldwide Box Office: $23.0 million
Last but definitely not least — last but most, really. I already wrote about “Warrior” in our best genre movies of 2011 piece, where I called it “the most inexplicable flop of the year.” This movie really had everything you would want from a sports movie except maybe a bankable star, but this sort of rags-to-riches underdog story always works better with a relative unknown in the lead. Great acting, great MMA fights, great training montages; the only way I can make sense of “Warrior”‘s failure is by reassuring myself that people will find this movie on DVD and embrace it. Since the movie is about men who’ve gotten kicked around their whole lives finally making something of themselves, that outcome would be rather appropriate. Read my full review here.