Is there a formula for what makes a movie flop?

Illustration for article titled Is there a formula for what makes a movie flop?

We've all seen movies bomb, but what makes them a flop? Do we just know one when we see it, or is there a way to codify what makes a movie bomb, and by how much.


In response to a post on whether Guardians of the Galaxy might be Marvel's first real flop, a discussion began about just what we meant by a flop these days — and whether we hadn't all gotten a little too free with its usage:


I feel like the definition of a 'bomb' or 'tanking' has really been stretched lately. People point to movies like Superman Returns, Green Lantern and John Carter (of Mars) as 'bombs'. But in reality none of those actually were.

When you take in the international box office, all of those movies made back their production budget and then some . . .

Budget / world wide gross –

Superman returns: 270 / 391
Green Lantern: 200 / 220
John Carter: 250 / 284

Lone Ranger: 215 / 260

Every one of these movies made money. Maybe not a lot, but still not only didn't 'bomb', they didn't LOSE money . . . I think in order to be a real 'bomb' it has to make something like only 60% of it's production budget back in the box office. (This is from memory, so the number might be off.)

And considering that studio costs and profits are wildly manipulated, even movies that come pretty close to break even still tend to make a little bit of money.

Some legitimate recent bombs are movies like RIPD, Ender's Game (surprisingly), and Jack the Giant Slayer.
But even The Lone Ranger made a profit.

But other commenters suggested that a mathematical approach taking into account the costs of launching a movie, especially the marketing and distribution costs, might be a good reason for still counting movies that technically turned a profit as tanking all the same:


A good rule of thumb is that for every dollar in production, another dollar will be spent in marketing and advertising.

I'll also throw out there that most people don't understand the funding formulas for studios and film financing. Studios alot budgets for movies going into production in two years based on what they expect certain films opening in one year to recoup and make in profit. To say that a 'studio X' would simply be disappointed that 'Movie A' only made back its production budget of $150M + another $50M in profit would be grossly inaccurate, since 'Studio X' probably NEEDED the movie to make $300M to cover it's production and marketing costs and and another $100M to cover expenses for films that it had green lit based on the expectation of having $400M in available cash flow.


A movie has to make a MINIMUM of 2.5 times its budget to be successful. There's advertising, marketing and distribution, which these days can cost upwards of $100 million. (Star Trek Into Darkness had a reported marketing budget of $125 million.)

Overseas markets return only a fraction of what the North American box office does. In some places it's as little as 20-25%. So when you see "made $100 million foreign" you should automatically cut that in half.

Merely making its production budget back is a flop. Dramatically under-performing is a bomb.

Of course, there's also another possibility: Complaining that a movie bombed isn't just about whether or not it succeeded at the box office, it's about whether you thought it deserved to do well:


I'll go one better: I think many people use "bomb" to mean a film that "they" didn't like, and therefore perceive as not being successful because they didn't like it and they assume enough others didn't like it, as well.


So, what do you think? Do you agree with one of these definitions? And what makes a movie a flop in your eyes?



Unless you're actually involved in financing movies, why do you care whether they're profitable? Here's a movie that gave me huge pleasure:

And it made $6.2M. And here's one that did not:

And it made $2.8B, 450 times as much. Whatever it is that you value in movies - imagination (if you're an io9 reader), emotional resonance, or just new sights or sounds - has almost nothing to do with how much it cost to make or makes.