Many fantastic movies were released in 2021, but some of the most-anticipated turned out to be the biggest flops. It is surprising how many top-tier films made far less than their budget this year despite featuring star talent, great directors, and powerhouse studio promotions. These films prove that any movie can still fail regardless of merit if audiences don’t fill theaters, a feat much harder in today’s media environment.

Many factors contribute to a box office bomb, including how well a film is promoted, its appeal to audiences, and the movie’s budget. While advertising efforts seem relatively consistent and audience interest in a movie is unavoidably subjective, a new issue has arisen to complicate box office success: accessibility. While the enormous popularity of streaming services, the main method of relying on theaters for films’ main fiscal return is becoming outdated. Though films like Dune indicate theaters may still be viable, the motivation for audiences to go to theaters is extremely low, especially under large-scale circumstances, such as public health crises. The smaller audience limits profits, thereby encouraging box office bombs.

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It should be noted that a financial bomb is not necessarily a critical failure. Some of the following films have received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, while some critically derided films have been financial successes. The budget appears key to this distinction; even highly appealing movies cannot make up for an astronomical budget. Defying the common misconception that popular or well-known films can’t fall flat, here are the biggest movie box office bombs of 2021.

Dear Evan Hansen

Stephen Chbosky’s film adaptation of the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen lost between 8.1 and 9.1 million dollars during its theatrical run. In the film, a socially anxious high schooler plays along when a letter he wrote to himself gets mistaken for a peer’s suicide note. The film most likely underperformed due to audiences limited by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic paired with unfavorable reviews by critics, citing a frustrating plot and the miscasting of its titular lead. Though audiences seemed to receive the film more positively, Dear Evan Hansen still didn’t have enough appeal to pull a profit at the box office.

In The Heights

Another film based on a popular musical, originally created in part by Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights, made back only 43.9 million of its 55 million dollar budget, losing 11.1 million. Taking place over three days in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, In the Heights shows each community member working to achieve their dreams. Unfortunately, the film simultaneously premiered in theaters and HBO Max on the same day, and the film’s stars and title had relatively little name recognition, influencing a box office failure. However, In the Heights was loved by critics and audiences alike for its joyous music and excellent direction. Though the film is questioned for the reliability of its cultural celebration, In the Heights should have been more of a success than it turned out to be.

The Suicide Squad

James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad eclipses its DCEU predecessor, although it failed at the box office with a loss of 17.6 million dollars. Building on the ideas set in the previous Suicide Squad, a team of supervillain convicts is sent to destroy a giant starfish bent on taking over the world. Though the film performed comparably well to other R-rated features premiering in theaters during the pandemic, it’s possible its release on streaming and home media limited its success. Despite this, critics raved at The Suicide Squad’s energy, humor, and almost satirical violence; audiences also highly enjoyed the movie. It seems The Suicide Squad performed about as well as it could, although its high, 185 million dollar budget and tricky circumstances of its release caused it to be a financial failure.

King Richard

Starring Will Smith, King Richard may have only cost 50 million dollars to make, but it still only amassed 26.2 million back, a total loss of 23.8 million dollars. The biopic follows Richard Williams as he manages his daughters, Venus and Serena, early careers in tennis, setting them up to be two of the greatest athletes of all time. While its simultaneous release as a streaming movie was blamed for its commercial failure, King Richard’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime may also be a cause. Audiences were highly receptive to the film, which was also nominated for multiple Best Picture awards. King Richard goes to show that even the best movies of 2021 can financially stumble upon release, never to recover.

The Many Saints Of Newark

A prequel to the crime series The Sopranos, The Many Saints of Newark netted a loss of 37.3 million dollars. Amidst the 1967 Newark race riots, a mobster and his nephew, a young Tony Soprano, deal with gang rivalries and familial drama. The Many Saints of Newark performed far worse than expected in theaters, although it proved a highly popular film to stream on HBO Max. Audiences and critics showed no strong feelings for the Sopranos prequel; the story of a criminal underbelly proved once again intriguing, but ultimately nothing particularly fascinating. Since the movie appears to have revived an interest in the original series, it’s likely that The Many Saints of Newark should have been intended purely for streaming.

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Reminiscence

The neo-noir thriller Reminiscence, starring Hugh Jackman, set a record for worst film debut of all time and lost between 38.5 and 52.5 million dollars. In the film, a man uses a memory-recreating device on clients and enemies to investigate his wife’s disappearance. Neither audiences nor critics were impressed by Reminiscence; while its science-fiction premise had ambition, the film was highly derivative of preexisting works. Part of Reminiscence’s failure could be attributed to its release date, which was changed numerous times to avoid other films’ releases. However, Reminiscence appears simply not to have the necessary appeal to be a box office success.

Snake Eyes

Somewhat functioning as a reboot of the G.I. Joe film series, Snake Eyes ended up losing between 47.9 and 69.9 million dollars at the box office. The origin story for the titular ninja, Snake Eyes, learns to curb his bloodlust in order to redeem himself and save a martial arts clan. High production and promotional costs clashed with audiences’ newfound selectivity caused by pandemic anxieties to drive profits down. Additionally, critics did not receive Snake Eyes preferentially, although lead actor Henry Golding was lauded; audiences also seemed fairly indifferent to the movie. If Snake Eyes could have been made on a smaller budget, it might’ve made a profit, but the lackluster story prevents it from any real achievement.

West Side Story

The second film adaptation of the 1957 musical West Side Story may have been directed by Steven Spielberg, but it still lost 63.2 million of its 100 million dollar budget. A retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the story follows a young man and woman of rival Manhattan gangs who fall in love, despite their families’ opposition. Unfortunately, the film’s debut weekend coincided with the rise of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, drastically limiting theater audiences. However, premiering near Spider-Man: No Way Home may have also sapped potential viewers. Critics praised West Side Story for improving upon much of the previous adaptation’s already acclaimed standards, although noting not much was done to improve the films’ Puerto Rican representation; audiences also were highly receptive to the film. Overall, bad timing is what ruined West Side Story’s chance for commercial success.

The Last Duel

Ridley Scott’s star-studded historical epic The Last Duel notoriously underperformed in the Fall of 2021, losing 69.5 million dollars. The film consists of three perspectives on the first trial by combat in medieval France; a knight, his wife, and the friend that supposedly violated her. The film’s difficult subject matter was primarily hard to market, especially to its older demographic, who were not returning to theaters en masse due to the ongoing pandemic. Scott, however, notably blamed the millennial generation for The Last Duel’s failure, decrying streaming media over mobile technology. Nevertheless, both audiences and critics found the film moderately appealing, bolstered by its excellent acting and thought-provoking content. The main struggle for The Last Duel was its relevancy; it failed because it was not made for any audience willing to see it.

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Chaos Walking

Starring Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland, Chaos Walking could have been a success, but many problems led to its enormous 73.6 million dollar loss. Chaos Walking follows a woman who crash-lands on a dystopian planet devoid of other women and the young man who helps her escape. Although audiences had no strong feelings about the movie, critics condemned its badly paced, overly-simplified plot, and misuse of characters, although lauding the visual effects. Chaos Walking might have performed better in a normal year with a wider theater-going audience, although it is unlikely the film would have made a profit; it appears to be a lackluster movie, made even more unprofitable by the dismal conditions it debuted in. Lack of audience engagement, critical derision, and poor conditions for theaters, Chaos Walking proved to be the biggest movie box office bomb of 2021.

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