Failure is just another opportunity to learn.
These Disney movies are considered “flops” for different reasons — some financially, some critically, and some even led to the end of a potential franchise. Let’s go over how these movies “failed” Disney.
You may know and love Sorcerer Mickey now but, back in the day, he wasn’t so beloved. Fantasia was released in 1940 with a budget of $2 million. Even though it made $77 million at the box office, at the time, it was considered a huge flop. World War II prevented Disney from being able to release the film in Europe, which accounted for a major loss in profits. This flop, on the other hand, eventually turned a profit over the years that followed.
Critically, it was a huge success, and it currently sits on Rotten Tomatoes with a cool 95% fresh rating. Since 1940, Fantasia has grown into a Disney icon, with Sorcerer Mickey in Disney World shows, merchandise, characters, and more. In 1999, Disney also released Fantasia 2000, a completely new version of Fantasia (aside from the inclusion of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice!). The lasting impact of Fantasia could even be seen in Mickey’s classic Sorcerer’s Hat being installed as a huge park icon in Disney’s Hollywood Studios from 2001 until 2015. Pretty good, for a flop!
Treasure Planet, released in 2002, was one of the most expensive animated films made at that time. With a budget of $140 million, Treasure Planet only made $110 million worldwide at the box office. Screenrant reported that it was scheduled for a sequel, but those plans were scrapped after it flopped. It had a star-studded cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bill Murray, Emma Thompson, Martin Short, and many others, but they couldn’t help the enormous budget turn a profit.
Critically, Treasure Planet did not totally fail. On Rotten Tomatoes, Treasure Planet has a score of 69%, and it was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award.
The Black Cauldron
In 1985, Disney made The Black Cauldron, which had a budget of $44 million. As of 1985, it was the most expensive animated film made at that time. It bombed, making only $21 million at the box office. Critically, it had mixed reviews as well, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 55%. Plagued with animator strikes, CEO changes, last-minute story changes, and dramatic budget cuts, the film went down as one that single-handedly almost killed Disney Animation.
The Black Cauldron achieved a few firsts for Disney animated films, such as the first PG rating and the first use of CGI imagery. It tells the complicated story of a pig-keeper and a princess and some consider it to be one of the most terrifying Disney animated films ever made.
John Carter was a highly anticipated Disney film in 2012. It was based on the Barsoom science fiction novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs and had been in development at various times for a film adaptation since the 1930s. Disney had plans for a sequel and director Andrew Stanton ultimately planned for a trilogy of films.
With mixed reviews and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 52%, John Carter lost Disney an estimated $200 million. It is one of the most expensive movies ever made at an estimated $350 million when all costs are factored in, making it a huge loss for Disney. Plagued with bad marketing, a lofty budget setting unrealistic standards, and a director who had never worked in live-action before, the film had a hard time getting off the ground. Many to this day think this was the major catalyst that pushed Disney to steer away from creating original films for a while, with them instead shifting their focus to sequels and spin-offs.
Speaking of original films that flopped, we have arrived at Tomorrowland. This was a science fiction film released in 2015, inspired by Tomorrowland located in Disney Parks. The film received mixed reviews, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 50%. Tomorrowland told the story of an alternate dimension known as “Tomorrowland,” from which animatronics visit earth to recruit creative and smart humans fit for Tomorrowland.
It’s estimated that Disney lost at least $120-150 million when factoring in all expenses on Tomorrowland, with a budget of $280 million and box office sales of $209 million. Critics cited the lack of development of the Tomorrowland dimension as a major negative. The film had a lot of hype and an engaging viral marketing campaign that created buzz, but the final product underwhelmed audiences. For a movie about hopefulness and the future it was kind of…a bummer. Even George Clooney‘s charismatic smile couldn’t charm this film out of the flop bucket.
Disney released a live-action version of Dumbo in 2019, after the successes of the live-action versions of The Lion King, Aladdin, and Lady and the Tramp. It received mixed reviews and was considered the least successful of the Disney live-action remakes.
While the 1941 animated film Dumbo sits at 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, 2019 Dumbo received a score of 46%. Tim Burton directed the film, and it did not feature any talking or singing animals, unlike the animated film. The film was very different from the original, with Burton’s signature dark and moody style all over it, and fans didn’t latch on to it. According to box office records, Dumbo appeared to be financially successful, but Deadline reported that it actually lost money.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
In 2010, Disney had high hopes for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, which was based on the Prince of Persia video game franchise. It was no secret that Prince of Persia was expected to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise for Disney, and, although it was financially successful, it was a critical bomb. Rotten Tomatoes rates the film as 37%.
With a budget estimated between $150-200 million, Prince of Persia made $336 million at the box office. Disney was criticized for casting and story choices, having crafted a new narrative rather than fully relying on the established video game storyline, and the future of this potential franchise was scrapped.
Mars Needs Moms
Mars Needs Moms was a 3D computer-animated film released in 2011 that amounted to the 4th largest box office failure in HISTORY. Yikes. Mars Needs Moms lost an estimated $100-144 million after making only $39 million at the box office. Rotten Tomatoes rates this film at 37%.
A major critical and financial flop, Mars Needs Moms was based on the novel by Berkeley Breathed. This was the final film created by Robert Zemeckis’ animation studio, ImageMovers. You might know their work on other equally creepy CGI films like Polar Express or Beowulf. Yep, same creepy CGI here. Critics complained about the uncanny valley issues evident in the CGI and the weak narrative of the film.
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Add another Tim Burton movie to the flop pile (though he didn’t direct this one, just produced!). Alice Through the Looking Glass was the 2016 sequel to Disney’s live-action Alice in Wonderland from 2010. In this film, Alice travels back to Wonderland to help the Mad Hatter. Especially when compared to the success of the first film, Looking Glass was a box office bomb, earning $299 million with a budget of $170 million.
It was also largely panned by critics for its weak storyline, sitting at 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film lost an estimated $70 million for Disney. There’s no amount of weird headless dancing Johnny Depp could do to save this film.
The Lone Ranger
Disney’s 2013 The Lone Ranger is one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Ouch. The Lone Ranger stars Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp as Tonto, a Native American character, whose casting was widely criticized.
Not only did it lose a huge amount of money, it also received negative reviews of both the film and the stars’ performances. It’s currently on Rotten Tomatoes at 30%, and it’s estimated that the film lost Disney at least $115 million. The production was plagued with issues — most notably going seriously over budget, director changes, and story changes. It was even cancelled outright at one point in production. Critics also noted that the film was way too long — coming in at a whopping 149 minutes.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the 5th (and, for now, final) movie in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. It received mostly negative reviews, with a score of 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. Although it was not a total financial loss, it received some of the worst reviews and profits of the Pirates films. Basically, 5 movies in, they were scraping the bottom of that rum barrel pretty hard to try and come up with a compelling story with many of the original players.
Disney originally planned to shoot a sixth Pirates installment, but so far the plans for that film are TBD. In June 2020 Hollywood Reporter wrote that Disney is planning to release an all-new female-led Pirates film starring Margot Robbie, but it will be separate from the sixth film. Sometimes the moral of the story is to quit while you’re ahead, especially when it comes to the sequel/series situation!
Head to the Imagination Pavilion in EPCOT and you might not know this film was a flop, but Disney’s Flubber, released in 1997, received overwhelmingly negative reviews. It scored a 24% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the critical failure, it was a financial success, earning $178 million worldwide.
Flubber is a good example of a film that can flop in one way yet succeed in another. Robin Williams stars as a mad scientist who invents “flying rubber,” aka Flubber. It was a remake of the 1961 film, The Absent-Minded Professor. Critics claimed the film wasted the cast while focusing too much on special effects.
The Haunted Mansion
Disney’s The Haunted Mansion has a 14% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the worst-reviewed Disney films. The 2003 horror comedy film stars Eddie Murphy, but critics felt that the film ultimately wasn’t scary OR funny. Many complained the film relied too heavily on Murphy’s schtick and not enough on the plot or the Mansion itself.
With a budget of $90 million, The Haunted Mansion made $182.3 million worldwide, making it not a total financial loss. It was RIGHT on the heels of the booming success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, so viewers were eager for more rides-turned-film. It was recently announced that a Haunted Mansion reboot is in the works, so hopefully, the new film will receive better reviews.
The Country Bears
Another theme park attraction adaptation didn’t take to the silver screen very well. It was released in 2002 with a disappointing 31% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As charming and knee-slapping as the attraction is in Magic Kingdom, it just lost some of its magic in film and left movie-goers wondering why they spent money to see it.
It had a decent cast, including Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, and Haley Joel Osment, and even had some special cameos from talented musicians like Don Henley and Elton John! The box office felt the hit on this one, only earning an abysmal $17 million. The Country Bears missed the mark on the financial earnings and the critical reviews.
You can find most of the movies on Disney+ if you want to form your own opinion. Keep reading DFB for all your Disney news!
Join the DFB Newsletter to get all the breaking news right in your inbox! Click here to Subscribe!
Have you seen any of these movies? Tell us in the comments!