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. But John Travolta's newest film—The Fanatic, directed by Fred Durst—will be lucky if it even makes that much. Experts are questioning whether the film, which has already been labeled the biggest failure of Travolta's career (it made less than $10 in some of the 52 theaters where it's playing), will even cross the $15,000 mark.

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. 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 Projectthe indie movie whose success all other indie movies attempt to recreate—in 1999, Daniel Myrick has kept a relatively low profile, directing just a few other films. 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, Charles Dance, 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).

Can You Guess J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beast From Its Magical Power?

The Many Lives of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In the late 1970s, Leonard Cohen sat down to write a song about god, sex, love, and other mysteries of human existence that bring us to our knees for one reason or another. The legendary singer-songwriter, who was in his early forties at the time, knew how to write a hit: He had penned "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Lover, Lover, Lover," and dozens of other songs for both himself and other popular artists of the time. But from the very beginning, there was something different about what would become "Hallelujah"—a song that took five years and an estimated 80 drafts for Cohen to complete.

In the 35 years since it was originally released, "Hallelujah" has been covered by more than 300 other artists in virtually every genre. Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Brandi Carlile, Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix, and Alexandra Burke—the 2008 winner of the UK version of The X Factor—are just a few of the individuals who have attempted to put their own stamp on the song. After Burke’s soulful version was downloaded 105,000 times in its first day, setting a new European record, “Hallelujah” soon became a staple of TV singing shows.

It's an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you consider that "Hallelujah"—one of the most critically acclaimed and frequently covered songs of the modern era—was originally stuck on side two of 1984’s Various Positions, an album that Cohen’s American record label deemed unfit for release.

“Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen recalled CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff telling him, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.”

 

Yetnikoff wasn’t totally off-base. With its synth-heavy ’80s production, Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” doesn’t announce itself as the chill-inducing secular hymn it’s now understood to be. (Various Positions was finally released in America on the indie label Passport in 1985.) Part of why it took Cohen five years to write the song was that he couldn’t decide how much of the Old Testament stuff to include.

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end,” Cohen said. “Finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore. And I rewrote this song; this is the ‘secular’ ‘Hallelujah.’”

The first two verses introduce King David—the skilled harp player and great uniter of Israel—and the Nazarite strongman Samson. In the scriptures, both David and Samson are adulterous poets whose ill-advised romances (with Bathsheba and Delilah, respectively) lead to some big problems.

In the third verse of his 1984 studio version, Cohen grapples with the question of spirituality. When he’s accused of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Cohen responds, hilariously, “What’s it to ya?” He insists there’s “a blaze of light in every word”—every perception of the divine, perhaps—and declares there to be no difference between “the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Both have value.

“I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world,” Cohen once said. “The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

 

Amazingly, Cohen's original "Hallelujah" pales in comparison to Velvet Underground founder John Cale’s five-verse rendition for the 1991 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. Cale had seen Cohen perform the song live, and when he asked the Canadian singer-songwriter to fax over the lyrics, he received 15 pages. “I went through and just picked out the cheeky verses,” Cale said.

Cale’s pared down piano-and-vocals arrangement inspired Jeff Buckley to record what is arguably the definitive “Hallelujah,” a haunting, seductive performance found on the late singer-songwriter’s one and only studio album, 1994’s Grace. Buckley’s death in 1997 only heightened the power of his recording, and within a few years, “Hallelujah” was everywhere. Cale’s version turned up in the 2001 animated film Shrek, and the soundtrack features an equally gorgeous version by Rufus Wainwright.

In 2009, after the song appeared in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Cohen agreed with a critic who called for a moratorium on covers. “I think it’s a good song,” Cohen told The Guardian. “But too many people sing it.”

Except “Hallelujah” is a song that urges everyone to sing. That’s kind of the point. The title is from a compound Hebrew word comprising hallelu, to praise joyously, and yah, the name of god. As writer Alan Light explains in his 2013 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah,” the word hallelujah was originally an imperative—a command to praise the Lord. In the Christian tradition, it’s less an imperative than an expression of joy: “Hallelujah!” Cohen seemingly plays on both meanings.

 

Cohen’s 1984 recording ends with a verse that begins, “I did my best / It wasn’t much.” It’s the humble shrug of a mortal man and the sly admission of an ambitious songwriter trying to capture the essence of humanity in a pop song. By the final lines, Cohen concedes “it all went wrong,” but promises to have nothing but gratitude and joy for everything he has experienced.

Putting aside all the biblical allusions and poetic language, “Hallelujah” is a pretty simple song about loving life despite—or because of—its harshness and disappointments. That message is even clearer in Cale’s five-verse rendition, the guidepost for all subsequent covers, which features the line, “Love is not a victory march.” Cale also adds in Cohen’s verse about sex, and how every breath can be a Hallelujah. Buckley, in particular, realized the carnal aspect of the song, calling his version “a Hallelujah to the orgasm.”

“Hallelujah” can be applied to virtually any situation. It’s great for weddings, funerals, TV talent shows, and cartoons about ogres. Although Cohen’s lyrics don’t exactly profess religious devotion, “Hallelujah” has become a popular Christmas song that’s sometimes rewritten with more pious lyrics. Agnostics and atheists can also find plenty to love about “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered more than 300 times because it’s a song for everyone.

When Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82, renewed interest in “Hallelujah” vaulted Cohen's version of the song onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Despite its decades of pop culture ubiquity, it took more than 30 years and Cohen's passing for “Hallelujah”—the very essence of which is about finding beauty amid immense sadness and resolving to move forward—to officially become a hit song.

“There’s no solution to this mess,” Cohen once said, describing the human comedy at the heart of “Hallelujah. “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all—Hallelujah! That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

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