Mind The Political & Social Climates: 15 Films That Bombed At The Box Office Because Their Timing Was Off

It’s impossible to truly predict the future, especially within the movie industry. While most studios examine statistics, talent, and star power to anticipate the fate of their films, life sometimes has the tendency to ruin a release through bad timing. Natural disasters, tragedies, scandal, media competition—these are just a few real-life occurrences that can arise in conjunction with a film to hurt its public reception. Here are 15 examples of movies that were compromised by poor timing.


Ben Stiller PF WENN

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Though Zoolander ultimately emerged a modest hit for director/star Ben Stiller, the film received a very slow start at the box office. This has been attributed to the film’s proximity to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, which occurred weeks before Zoolander’s release. Many believe the film’s assassination-conspiracy plotline was too much, too soon for American audiences still grieving over the tragedy. Nevertheless, Ben Stiller and Paramount stuck to the release, which likely hurt the film’s chances to become the comedy hit many anticipated.

The Boondock Saints

Troy Duffy PF WENN

Photo: Nikki Nelson/WENN.com

Troy Duffy’s cult classic The Boondock Saints was originally intended to be a Tarantino-sized box office hit. Due to production complications and a revolving door of financing and distributors, the film would only receive a limited theatrical run before becoming a hit video exclusive. On a commentary track for the film, Troy Duffy would blame Saints theatrical failure on a poorly timed industry screening that happened after the 1999 Columbine Massacre. The director then goes on to claim that Saints was blacklisted by Hollywood thereafter. Nevertheless, the film would gain a considerable amount of success on home video and is now considered a cult hit.

Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck PF WENN

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While Ben Affleck’s freshmen directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone, garnered a decent profit and solid reviews from critics, the film’s international release was compromised in both the UK and Malaysia. The film’s child-kidnapping plotline was deemed poorly timed when UK toddler Madeleine McCann went missing from her parents during their stay in Portugal. As such, Gone Baby Gone’s December 2007 UK release date was pushed back to June 2008. The film’s Malaysian release date of September 2007 was similarly pushed back to March 2008 after the kidnapping and murder of eight-year-old Nurin Jazlin binti Jazimin.


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Clint Eastwood’s supernatural drama Hereafter earned three times its budget back, thanks in large part to international box office. In spite of this fact, the film’s popularity overseas was cut short a few weeks into its release. The movie’s opener featured a lavish, big budget recreation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. However, following the March 11th, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan, the film would be pulled from theaters weeks before the end of its run. Warner Bros spokespersons described the scene as “not appropriate” after the event. The film would subsequently become overshadowed for many viewers in the wake of the tragedy.

Jack Reacher

Tom Cruise PF WENN

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Following the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, many screenings of the Tom Cruise action vehicle Jack Reacher were canceled. This included the film’s premiere, which was nixed out of respect for the shooting. The film would go on to tank in the December box office, causing many to speculate the film’s gritty, gun play heavy plot was too much for audiences so soon after the tragedy.


Jaoquin Phoenix PF WENN

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One of Jaoquin Phoenix earliest films was SpaceCamp. The film had Phoenix (then billed as “Leaf Phoenix”) as the youngest member of a group of NASA campers who find themselves accidentally shot into space. The film came under heavy fire from critics due to its release six months after the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Audiences apparently agreed and the film failed to make even half its budget back.

Men Who Stare At Goats

George Clooney PF WENN

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Men Who Stare At Goats featured George Clooney as a spy who thinks he’s psychic. The military comedy should have been a slam dunk with audiences based on that premise alone. Unfortunately the film featured an introduction that involved a soldier opening fire on his fellow troops during an early morning training session. This sequence eerily recalled the November 5th 2009 shooting spree of Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood. Men Who Stare At Goats opened merely a day after the incident at Fort Hood. It would go on to make a small profit domestically, but underperformed in comparison to other Clooney films.

Gangster Squad

Ryan Gosling PF WENN

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Despite an eclectic ensemble cast, Ryan Gosling’s star power got much of the media attention when promoting the action film Gangster Squad.  Unfortunately, even he was overshadowed when the film was forced into re-shoots. New scenes were designed to replace a movie theater shootout sequence that unintentionally recalled the July 2012 massacre in Aurora, Colorado. Warner Bros would subsequently push back Gangster Squad’s proposed September release to January 11th, just weeks after the Sandy Hook school shooting. American moviegoers responded to the shoot ‘em up with lukewarm feelings and to date the film has barely surpassed its $60 million budget.

Big Trouble

Tim Allen PF WENN

Photo: Brian To/WENN.com

The Tim Allen starring film adaptation of Dave Barry’s novel Big Trouble was yet another film that was pushed back due to 9/11. The reason was a obvious—a plotline that involved the smuggling a nuclear weapon onto an airplane drew disturbing parallels to the World Trade Center attacks. The studio would retcon the film’s marketing campaign, but without the WMD plot being prominently featured Big Trouble‘s suspenseful hook was completely neutered. The film would be released in 2002 and become one of the biggest bombs of the year.

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Isla Fisher PF WENN

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Isla Fisher’s 2009 comedy Confessions of a Shopaholic received scathing reviews from critics for its celebration of material excess at a time when the worldwide economy was at an all-time low. Audiences apparently agreed with the sentiment as the film would underperform domestically. Luckily for the studio, overseas moviegoers felt differently and the film managed to rake in a profit despite its hazy morality.


Walter Hill PF WENN

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Action cinema master Walter Hill collaborated with Back To The Future writers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis on Trespass. The high-concept action film involved a pair of firefighters (William Sadler and Bill Paxton) who attempt to loot a burned down building of its hidden treasure, only to be discovered by a street gang (led by Ice-T). The film’s original title, Looters, was changed to the more generic Trespass to downplay any similarities to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots that occurred six months beforehand. Nevertheless, audiences may have detected similarities as they avoided the film in theaters, causing it to become a box office bomb.

Donnie Darko

Jake Gylenhaal PF WENN

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Though Jake Gyllenhaal would garner acclaim early in his career for his performance as the title character in Donnie Darko, it would come in spite of the fact the film was brushed under the rug by its distributor. Darko received a quiet domestic release roughly a month after 9/11, presumably due to a plotline that revolved around a mysterious plane crash. As a byproduct, the film failed to break even in the box office and found international release stalled by almost a year. Like Boondock Saints, the film would go on to become a cult success on home video.

Half Past Dead

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The urban action film Exit Wounds was released in 2000 and emerged as a surprising box office success. While many industry insiders predicted it as a comeback for star Steven Seagal, his follow-up, Half Past Dead, would effectively kill any hope of furthering his theatrical career. In the wake of 9/11, the studio opted to cut down on the film’s violence, creating Steven Seagal’s first PG-13 film and, ironically, an action film without a lot of action. The film tanked domestically and would only make a small profit back through international ticket sales.

Blade Runner

Ridley Scott PF WENN

Photo: WENN.com

Blade Runner is considered a science-fiction classic at this point. However, the movie would be hindered not by real-life tragedy, but by an American box office oversaturated by sci-fi films in 1982. The visionary, high-concept noir was predicted to be a box office sensation but instead died among the summer release clutter of John Carpenter’s The Thing, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, and E.T. Of these films, Blade Runner’s profits would emerge as the lowest. Fortunately the film would be rediscovered on home video. It has subsequently been ranked by critics as among Scott’s best films and has caused such a stir that a sequel is currently in the works.

The Last Stand

Arnold Schwarzenegger PF WENN

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Despite mostly positive reviews and sporting the return of former box office king Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Last Stand would barely cr-ack the top ten during its first weekend of release. Many Hollywood insiders have cited Schwarzenegger’s hiatus from cinema and recently scandalized reputation as deciding factors for audiences. These critics are ignoring the film’s blatantly pro-gun plotline, which goes as far as to sport an unhinged sidekick (played by Johnny Knoxville) who collects guns illegally and becomes one of the film’s lead heroes. On the heels of Sandy Hook, American audiences may have decided modern, pro-gun action films like The Last Stand are poorly timed to the point of insensitivity.

  • Elby

    A couple of these movies failed because they were bad movies. Not because of timing! Men Who Stare at Goats, I’m lookin’ at you…

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