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Sean Penn in All the Kings Men Heads the Hollywood Biggest Flop List

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LOS ANGELES from www.forbes.com — The 2006 film version of Robert Penn Warren’s political novel All The King’s Men seemed like a good bet at the time.

Sony had snagged Sean Penn and Kate Winslet to star in the film. It seemed a likely attention-getter to cast Penn, with his outspoken political stances, as a fictionalized version of Huey Long, a radical populist Louisiana politician.

James Gandolfini (nearing the end of The Sopranos’ run) and Jude Law also signed on. Steven Zaillian, who had great success as a writer with films like Schindler’s List and Mission: Impossible, was set up to write and direct the film.

But along the way something went wrong. Reviews for the film were awful. Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal wrote that the film had “no center, no coherence, no soul and no shame.”

Box office results weren’t any better. The film earned just $9 million at the box office worldwide on a budget of $55 million. To put it another way, it failed to earn back 84% of its budget.

Those results put All The King’s Men (and actor Sean Penn) at the top of our list of the 15 biggest flops of the last five years.

To calculate our list we looked at movies that featured big-name stars (like Penn, Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers) but failed to earn back their budgets at the box office. We used numbers from Box Office Mojo and IMDB to get estimated budgets and earnings. We then figured out what percentage of its budget each film failed to earn back. We’re only looking at box office revenue here, not DVD and TV sales, which can often make up for box office shortfalls. But we’re also not including the cost of advertising, which often adds another one-third or more to a film’s budget.

The star can’t always be held responsible for a film’s failure. Movies usually crash and burn because of a number of problems on the journey from script to screen. But for better or worse, the lead actor is the face of the film, and he or she will likely take the heat when a movie bombs.

Dennis Quaid’s The Express ranks second. The 2008 film about the first black Heisman Trophy winner earned $10 million at the box office worldwide on a budget of $40 million, meaning it failed to earn back 75% of its production budget.

Films about American sports (like college football) are often a tough sell outside the U.S. But the film in third place has no such excuse. Stay, starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, was supposed to be a tense psychological thriller. In addition to the high-class cast, the film was directed by Marc Foster, who also directed the award-winning films Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball. David Benioff, who wrote the script, also wrote the successful film Troy.

But sometimes all the talent in the world can’t save a film. The movie earned $8 million at the box office. IMDB reports the film’s budget at an estimated $50 million, but that seems incredibly high. We gave the producers at News Corp. studio Twentieth Century Fox the benefit of the doubt and estimated the budget at $30 million. Even at that level the film failed to earn back 73% of its budget at the box office.

One film that surprisingly didn’t make our list was 2007’s Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carell. The Universal Pictures follow-up to the successful 2003 film Bruce Almighty is commonly cited in Hollywood as a huge flop. The film cost an estimated $175 million to produce and earned $173 million at the box office, meaning it missed covering its production budget by only 1%. The film was still a disappointment for the studio, which expected great things from the comedy. But compared to the films on our list, it was a relative hit.

[Even Quentin Tarantino shows up on the list, courtesy of his co-direction of “Grindhouse” for the Weinstein Co. The 2007 movie that featured Josh Brolin and Bruce Willis failed to earn back 65% of its budget.

Other movies on the list of the 15 biggest flops of the past five years include “The Fountain” with Hugh Jackman, “The Invasion” starring NIcole Kidman and two movies with Eddie Murphy: “Imagine That” and “Meet Dave.”]

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