When talk turns to Hollywood’s biggest box office turkeys, the final tallies for these cinematic stinkers typically fall somewhere in the seven- to eight-digit figure range. Case in point: 2013’s biggest bomb, the Johnny Depp starrer The Lone Ranger, which earned $260.5 million worldwide (but cost $250 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. Until now…
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.”
While box office analysts keep pointing 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.”
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.
Since co-directing The Blair Witch Project—the indie movie whose success all other indie movies attempt to re-create—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.
“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.
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).
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 people know who he is, 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.
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.
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.
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...
Imagine if this movie had actually been called Apartment 383? Oh, the irony! 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. But so little seen was the movie when it was eventually released in one theater for one week that it doesn’t even merit a critic score on Rotten Tomatoes (a paltry 24 percent of the audience liked it).