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11 Movies That Made Less Than $400 at the U.S. Box Office

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Lionsgate

When talk turns to Hollywood’s biggest box office turkeys, the final tallies for such cinematic stinkers typically fall somewhere in the seven- to eight-digit figure range. Case in point: one of 2016's biggest bombs, Steven Spielberg's The BFG, earned $178 million worldwide (but cost $140 million to produce).

While it’s the most spectacular studio failures that seem to bear the brunt of the financial scorn, there also exists a legion of films that have made so little impact at the box office that they’ve hardly been deemed worthy of mention at all. Unless it's Dito Montiel's Man Down, starring Shia LaBeouf, Kate Mara, and Gary Oldman, which is making headlines around the world because it somehow managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of selling just one ticket at the UK box office. There are plenty of films that haven't fared much better here in the U.S. Here are 11 of them.

1. ZYZZYX ROAD (2006) // GROSS: $30

If this film’s looks-like-a-typo title (it’s pronounced ZYE-zix, by the way) wasn’t enough of a turnoff, its tagline—“Dead Ahead”—should have served as a harbinger of the box office doom that would eventually befall it. To be fair, the thriller—which stars Tom Sizemore and Katherine Heigl—only played in one theater (the Highland Park Village Theater in Dallas). But it played in that theater for an entire week! By the time its run had ended, six people had seen it for a grand total of $30 in ticket sales, making it the lowest-grossing movie of all time (yes, even still today). This dubious honor became a key part of the marketing plan when the title was acquired by GoDigital for distribution in 2012, with the company’s marketing director telling The Hollywood Reporter, “I am confident it will make us more than $30.”

2. STORAGE 24 (2013) // GROSS: $72

While box office analysts pointed to The Lone Ranger as 2013’s biggest bomb, Johannes Roberts—writer-director of the British sci-fi flick Storage 24—would have been happy with just a fraction of that big-budget clunker’s ticket sales. Heck, he’d have been happy to just crack the $100 mark. But triple digits weren’t in the cards for this flick, which—like Zyzzyx Road—played in one theater for one week. “You take the film for what it is; we had no money,” co-writer/star Noel Clarke told Indiewire. “And we were ambitious.”

3. DOG EAT DOG (2009) // GROSS: $80

After winning a slew of awards and nominations at film festivals and other key industry events around the world—including a World Cinema Grand Jury Prize nomination at Sundance—you would think that Carlos Moreno’s Colombian crime world drama Dog Eat Dog would have the legs to sustain a single-cinema theatrical release. And you would be wrong.

4. THE OBJECTIVE (2009) // GROSS: $95

Since co-directing The Blair Witch Project—the indie movie whose success all other indie movies attempt to recreate—in 1999, Daniel Myrick has kept a relatively low profile, directing just a couple of other films, most of which have gone straight to DVD. But in March of 2009, IFC Films gave this sci-fi flick a limited theatrical release. Very limited. It spent a week in just one theater in New York, where it earned a grand total of $95. But there’s a little bit of conflicting info here: While sources like Box Office Mojo list this as its only box office take, IMDb’s stats show that it earned slightly north of $2 million when it was released in L.A. one month later.

5. THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X (2012) // GROSS: $117

“Ghastly” kind of says it all. This 1950s-inspired sci-fi musical—which stars Creed Bratton (a.k.a. Creed from The Office)—may have nabbed five awards on the American film festival circuit, but it only managed to scare up $117 during the week it spent in a single theater in Kansas City, Kansas in October 2012. Maybe that’s because it had screened at the Kansas International Film Festival less than three weeks earlier? In the spring of 2013, Johnny tried again, placing the movie in six theaters over the course of four weeks. While it managed to break the $1000 mark in revenues when it showed in two theaters in L.A. ($1356 to be exact), its total run earned back just $2436 of its estimated $2 million budget.

6. PRETTY VILLAGE, PRETTY FLAME (1998) // GROSS: $211

The 1996 Yugoslavian film Pretty Village, Pretty Flame proves that hit films don’t necessarily translate from continent to continent. While it received plenty of favorable reviews from American film critics, Pretty Village, Pretty Flame only managed to attract $211 worth of business when it received a one-theater/one-week release on January 16, 1998. A far cry from the nearly 800,000 moviegoers who caught it in Serbia (which was close to 10 percent of the country’s total population at the time).

7. PLAYBACK (2012) // GROSS: $264

It’s one thing when a movie starring relative nobodies and playing in one theater crashes and burns at the box office. It’s another thing when the lowest-grossing movie in a single year has a recognizable name in it. Okay, so it’s Christian Slater. But even before Mr. Robot, people knew who he was, right? Apparently not enough to merit this rip-off of The Ring—which cost $7.5 million to make—even a nicely rounded $300 in its one-theater run. Oh, and we should mention that the first $252 was made in its opening weekend, meaning that it earned just $12 in the week that followed. The good news for Netflix streaming customers is that they can watch it for themselves and decide.

8. INTERVENTION (2007) // GROSS: $279

One theater. Three days. $279 in 2007. That’s pretty much the full theatrical story of Mary McGuckian’s tale of addiction, which won the director a Best Feature Film Award at the 2007 San Diego Film Festival—and a Best Actress honor for Jennifer Tilly, who is just one member of an enormous cast that includes Andie MacDowell, Colm Feore, Rupert Graves, and former Baywatch babe Donna D’Errico.

9. TROJAN WAR (1997) // GROSS: $309

Two years after she became a series regular on Party of Five, Jennifer Love-Hewitt starred in this rom-com turkey that could roughly be considered a teenage version of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours: A kid (Boy Meets World’s Will Friedle) gets beat up, mugged, and arrested on his quest to find a condom so that he can score with his dream girl (played by Marley Shelton). Nope, not even the vast American population of hormonal teens could save this $15 million Warner Bros. production from being pulled from its one theater less than a week after its arrival.

10. THE MARSH (2007) // GROSS: $336

Less than one month after he accepted a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker was making news of a different sort when the supernatural thriller he starred in alongside Gabrielle Anwar was released in one theater for three days and recouped less than .005 percent of its $7 million budget. As the film’s tagline stated: "You can bury the past, but sometimes the past won't stay buried ..."

11. APARTMENT 143 (2012) // GROSS: $383

The financial failure of this Mexican horror flick certainly isn’t a result of shoddy marketing materials; its U.S. distributor, Magnolia Pictures, even earned a Golden Trailer Award nomination for Best Horror Poster. The film currently holds a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (though 22 percent of the audience liked it).

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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