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

GoDigital Media Group
GoDigital Media Group

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 2017's biggest bombs, George Clooney's Suburbicon, earned just under $5.8 million at the box office against a $25 million budget.

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 Kevin Spacey's latest film, Billionaire Boys Club, which is currently making headlines for its $126 opening day. 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, when the company’s marketing director told 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.

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 17 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (though 22 percent of the audience liked it).

9 Oscar Nominations That Were Revoked

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Although Oscars are usually set in stone (or gold-plated britannium, as it were), there have been some very rare instances where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has revoked or disqualified a nomination. Here are nine of those instances.

1. The Circus (1928)


Three Lions/Getty Images

At the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, Charlie Chaplin was nominated for four awards for The Circus: Best Actor, Best Writer, Best Director for a Comedy, and Outstanding Picture. Believing (or, more appropriately, fearing) that Chaplin would sweep all four categories, the Academy revoked his individual nominations and instead presented him with a special Honorary Award “for writing, acting, directing, and producing The Circus.”

2. Hondo (1953)

In 1954, the John Wayne western Hondo was nominated for Best Story. The film was later disqualified when it was discovered that the script was based on a short story called “The Gift of Cochise,” and not an original work.

3. High Society (1955)

In 1957, writers Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman were nominated for Best Story for the musical comedy High Society starring Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. There was only one problem: Bernds and Ullman didn’t write the 1956 musical comedy starring Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. They wrote the 1955 Bowery Boys comedy of the same name. The Academy confused the two movies, and mistakenly nominated Bernds and Ullman, who very graciously withdrew their names from the final ballot.

4. Young Americans (1967)

The film Young Americans won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1969. However, a month after it received the Oscar, the award was revoked when it was discovered that the film had played in a theater in October of 1967, making it ineligible for the 1968 movie awards season. The Oscar was given to the first runner-up, Journey Into Self, instead. Young Americans is the only movie in Academy history to receive an Oscar, then have it taken away after the ceremony.

5. The Godfather (1972)

In 1973, Francis Ford Coppola’s mob crime drama The Godfather was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Marlon Brando (who won, but famously sent a woman named Sacheen Littlefeather to collect the statue, and announce that the actor “very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry”). Composer Nino Rota was also nominated for Best Original Dramatic Score, but the accolade was later revoked when the Academy learned that Rota used some of his own score from the 1958 Italian comedy Fortunella in The Godfather. Two years later, Rota won an Academy Award for his work on The Godfather: Part II.

6. A Place in the World (1992)

Uruguay submitted A Place in the World as their official selection for the 65th Academy Awards in 1993. It received one of the five nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, but it was later removed from the final voting ballot because it was an Argentine film and Uruguay had insufficient artistic control over its production. It was director Adolfo Aristarain who asked neighboring Uruguay to submit the film on his behalf, as it was partly financed in Uruguay (and several Uruguayan artists contributed to the film). In response, Aristarain sued the Academy.

7. Tuba Atlantic (2010)

Tuba Atlantic is a 25-minute Norwegian short film about a 70-year-old man who only has six days to live and spends that time reconciling with his estranged family. It was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film in 2012, but the nomination was later rescinded after it was discovered that the film aired on Norwegian television before its theatrical release, which goes against the Academy’s rules.

8. ALONE YET NOT ALONE (2013)

In 2014, the title song from the Christian film Alone Yet Not Alone was nominated for Best Original Song, then disqualified two weeks later. The Academy discovered that Bruce Broughton, the song's composer and an executive committee member of the Academy's music branch, “had emailed [some of the other 239] members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period,” which goes against Academy rules.

“No matter how well-intentioned the communication,” said Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, “using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage.”

“I’m devastated,” Broughton told The Hollywood Reporter of the Academy's decision. “I indulged in the simplest grassroots campaign and it went against me when the song started getting attention. I got taken down by competition that had months of promotion and advertising behind them. I simply asked people to find the song and consider it."

9. 13 Hours (2016)

David Denman, John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, and Dominic Fumusa in 13 Hours (2016)
Paramount Pictures

In 2017, 13 Hours—a Benghazi action-drama starring John Krasinski and directed by Michael Bay—earned a single Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, with four members of the sound team (Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Mac Ruth, and Greg P. Russell) singled out for their work. But on February 25, 2017—just one day before the ceremony—the Academy announced that they were rescinding Russell's nomination as a result of "telephone lobbying." The Academy's full statement on the matter read as follows: 

Upon recommendation by the Sound Branch Executive Committee, the Academy’s Board of Governors voted Thursday (2/23) to rescind the Sound Mixing nomination for Greg P. Russell from 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi for violation of Academy campaign regulations. The decision was prompted by the discovery that Russell had called his fellow members of the Sound Branch during the nominations phase to make them aware of his work on the film, in direct violation of a campaign regulation that prohibits telephone lobbying. An additional nominee for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi will not be named in his place. The remaining Sound Mixing nominees for the film are Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth.

In the end, the film lost the award to Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2017.

15 Facts About Singin’ in the Rain

MGM
MGM

Singin’ in the Rain isn’t just an upbeat musical from 1952. It’s also a history lesson about Hollywood in the late 1920s, when silent pictures were giving way to talkies. And, of course, it’s also a valuable tutorial on how to be an awesome dancer (i.e. be Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor). It is many things! Here are some facts about Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's classic musical to enhance your next viewing.

1. It wasn't adapted from a Broadway musical.

Many movie musicals of the 1930s, '40s and '50s were based on stage shows, but this wasn’t one of them. Rather, it was a new script, written just for the movie, featuring old songs written for previous movies. Some 30 years later, after the film had become a beloved classic, it was reverse-engineered into a stage musical, premiering in London’s West End in 1983 and subsequently appearing (with revisions and more songs) on Broadway

2. It was conceived by producer Arthur Freed as a means of showcasing songs he had written, but it wasn't (just) an ego trip.

Freed was a successful lyricist in the 1920s and '30s, collaborating with composer Nacio Herb Brown on dozens of songs for MGM musicals. In 1939, after essentially serving as an uncredited producer on The Wizard of Oz, Freed was given his own unit at MGM, where he oversaw the production of about 45 big-screen musicals (some originals, some Broadway adaptations) over the next 23 years, making MGM synonymous with the genre. The term “jukebox musical” didn’t exist yet, but there were a few films in that era that fit the description, using old sets of songs with nothing in common but their authors as the framework for new stories. Warner Bros.’s Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and MGM’s own Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) had done it with the songs of George M. Cohan and Jerome Kern, respectively.

In 1951, as Freed was shepherding the George and Ira Gershwin-based An American in Paris into existence, he thought of doing the same thing for the songs he’d written with Brown. Many of those ditties were big hits, and Freed had certainly earned the clout at MGM to advance what might have otherwise been seen as a vanity project. The studio head in the movie, R.F. Simpson, is based on him. 

3. The one "original" song written specifically for the movie is actually a rip-off.

As the film was about to commence shooting, directors Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly realized Donald O’Connor didn’t have a solo number. Nothing in the Freed/Brown collection seemed to fit, so they asked the pair to whip up something new, something along the lines of “Be a Clown,” from Cole Porter’s 1947 MGM musical The Pirate. Freed and Brown did exactly that, delivering “Make ‘em Laugh,” a song that Donen later called “100 percent plagiarism” of “Be a Clown.”

The similarities were overwhelming and undeniable. (Compare for yourself: here’s “Be a Clown”; here’s “Make ‘em Laugh.”) But Freed, you’ll recall, was the producer of Singin’ in the Rain. One doesn’t really tell one’s boss, “Uh, sir, I think you might have stolen this,” so the song stayed. The story goes that Cole Porter didn’t mind (or didn’t sue, anyway) because he was grateful to Freed for all the career support he’d given him. “Moses Supposes” was newly written for the film too, with music by Roger Edens and lyrics by the screenwriters. But it’s not a complete song, lyrically speaking, so usually isn’t counted.

4. Debbie Reynolds had no dance experience before she made the movie.

She pointed this out when she was asked to be in Singin’ in the Rain, but Kelly said he could teach her, just as he’d done with Frank Sinatra for Anchors Aweigh. Reynolds had been a gymnast, so she wasn’t completely unfamiliar with physical movement requiring grace and stamina. Ever the trouper, she buckled down and rehearsed day and night until she could share a dance floor with Kelly and O’Connor without embarrassing herself. She was quite young, too, turning 19 during the shoot. (Kelly, her love interest, was 39.) She later said, “The two hardest things I ever did in my life are childbirth and Singin’ in the Rain.” 

5. Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor had never worked together before.

O’Connor, born into a vaudeville family in 1925, had been onstage since infancy and in movies since he was 12. He had 36 film credits, mostly musicals and Francis the Talking Mule pictures, under his belt when he got the Singin’ in the Rain gig. Kelly was 13 years older and came to Hollywood a bit later than O’Connor, yet still racked up 18 films between 1942 and 1951, when at last their paths crossed. And they almost didn’t: Freed, the producer, wanted Kelly’s An American in Paris co-star Oscar Levant for the Cosmo role, but everyone else—screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen—wanted someone who could dance.

6. Gene Kelly choreographed his dance scenes with Cyd Charisse in a way that hid the fact that she was taller than him.

Or she was when she wore heels, anyway, as she does in the film. To keep the height difference from being obvious, Kelly arranged the routine so that they were never both standing upright when they were next to each other, always bending toward (or away from) one another instead.

7. Yes, Kelly had a fever when he filmed the "Singin' in the Rain" number.

Contrary to legend, it wasn’t shot all in one take—or even all in one day. It lasted a couple of days, and on at least one of them, Kelly was sick with a fever of anywhere from 101 to 103 degrees, depending on who’s telling the story.

8. Costume designer Walter Plunkett said this was the most work he had ever done for a film—and he had worked on Gone With the Wind!

Both films were period pieces, but Singin’ in the Rain required a greater number of elaborate, ornately detailed costumes than Gone With the Wind did. They had to be more accurate, too, since 1952 audiences remembered Hollywood of the late ‘20s more clearly than 1939 audiences remembered the Civil War. All told, Plunkett designed about 500 costumes for the film.  

9. The last shot of the "Good Morning" number took 40 takes.

It’s the part where the three of them somersault over one couch and then tip another one over backwards before collapsing on it and laughing. Kelly was a demanding choreographer and director, and you’ll notice that most of the dancing in the film is presented without a lot of editing. The camera moves around, but it doesn’t cut to other angles very often, and the dancers’s bodies are usually wholly visible. So when there are, say, three dancers who are supposed to be in unison, and one part of one person’s body does the wrong thing, you’ve got to do it again. The whole shoot was difficult for that reason, and this number was particularly challenging. Reynolds said that at the end of a 14-hour day shooting the scene, her feet were bleeding.

10. The 10-minute "Broadway Melody" dance number near the end of the film was a late addition.

Freed was encouraged by how well a similar sequence in An American in Paris had turned out, so he suggested that Kelly and Donen conceive one for Singin’ in the Rain, too—after most of the rest of the film had been shot. That’s why Donald O’Connor isn’t in this part: he was under contract with Universal and had to go make another Francis the Talking Mule movie.

11. Cyd Charisse owed her role in the film to Debbie Reynolds's lack of experience.

Charisse is only onscreen for a few minutes, in the aforementioned “Broadway Melody” dream ballet sequence. The role would logically have gone to Reynolds, but she simply didn’t have the dancing chops to pull it off. Leslie Caron, who’d danced with Kelly in An American in Paris, wasn’t available. So the job went to Cyd Charisse, an acclaimed dancer whom Kelly had admired since seeing her work with Fred Astaire in Ziegfield Follies. (Charisse was actually supposed to have had Caron’s role in An American in Paris, but had to drop out when she got pregnant. She’d given birth only a few months earlier when she took the Singin’ in the Rain job.) 

12. There may have been some censorship in the ballet number.

Watch as Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse are dancing at the 1:22:03 mark in the film, and you’ll see a jump cut. The camera doesn’t move, but something’s clearly been snipped. The unconfirmed but probably true explanation is that censors deemed a portion of the dance too suggestive. (They’d warned Kelly beforehand not to choreograph Charisse wrapping her legs around his waist, even though real ballet dancers do that all the time.) The footage was removed, and the music was re-scored to match the new cut. Whatever was taken out is presumably lost forever, as the entire Singin’ in the Rain negative was destroyed in a fire. 

13. Donald O'Connor really should have died filming "Make 'em Laugh."

Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain (1952)
MGM

And not just because you could legitimately break your neck doing those run-up-the-wall flips (although that, too). The physical exertion required for the scene would have been demanding for anyone ... and O’Connor, by his own admission, was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day. And after the entire sequence had been shot? He had to do it all over again, because a technical error made the footage unusable. 

14. The first time we see Cyd Charisse, she's smoking a cigarette. It's the only cigarette she ever smoked in her life.

Kelly and Donen thought the character, the seductive girlfriend of a gangster, ought to be smoking. Charisse, who had never smoked before (making her a rare bird in 1951 Hollywood), told them she didn’t know how—so they stopped shooting long enough to teach her. Evidently failing to see the pleasure in it, she never smoked again. 

15. The film was a bit of a letdown after An American in Paris.

An American in Paris—also starring Gene Kelly; also built around a particular songwriter’s work; also featuring a large-scale dream ballet sequence—was released in November of 1951. It was a hit, eventually winning six Oscars, including Best Picture. Three weeks after the Oscar ceremony, Singin’ in the Rain came out. It did well enough with audiences and critics, but it got very little awards attention, and it wasn’t perceived as being nearly as successful as its predecessor. Over time, public sentiment changed. An American in Paris is still highly regarded today, but it’s Singin’ in the Rain that shows up on the “best” and “favorite” lists.

Additional sources: Featurettes and commentary track on the 60th anniversary Blu-ray.

This article originally ran in 2015.

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