Continuing on with our 90’s flops series – we are going to take a look at 7 failed action movies:
Table of contents
1. Hudson Hawk (1991)
Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2 (1990) not only launched a franchise for Bruce Willis, but turned him into an A-list bankable star, and then he spent most of the 90s churning out rubbish that bombed. A few months after Die Hard 2, Willis starred alongside Tom Hanks in what was supposed to be one of the biggest films of the year and a major prestige picture — The Bonfire of the Vanities. It was one of the worst-reviewed movies of that or any year and was a commercial fiasco. His next vehicle was the big-budget event film Hudson Hawk, which was a pet project of the rising star and the success of the Die Hard pictures gave him the clout to get this nonsense greenlit.
Columbia chief Victor Kaufman greenlit Hudson Hawk with a $35 million budget. As production was nearing, the script was problematic, Bruce Willis’ ego was soaring and the project was shaping up to be a major headache for Sony’s newly appointed studio chief, Peter Guber. There were talks of canceling the film, but $12 million had already been spent during development and this doomed movie went into production.
Director Michael Lehmann landed the job from his work on the low-budget indie Heathers, but he had no experience mounting a big-budget action production, and Bruce Willis controlled most of the decision-making. There were constant rewrites while on set, Willis would have scenes shot over and over inserting different jokes to have a choice during the edit, there were bureaucratic problems with securing locations in Italy — and this troubled, runaway production ballooned to a pricey $58 million.
Hudson Hawk tested poorly, landed reviews even worse than the Bonfire trainwreck, and bombed with $17,218,080. Willis followed Hudson Hawk with a supporting role in the huge flop Billy Bathgate (1991) and then landed a midlevel hit with The Last Boy Scout (1991). He had a supporting role in the hit Death Becomes Her (1992) and his next solo vehicle was the turkey Striking Distance.
2. Striking Distance (1993)
The screenplay was sold for $900,000 in 1990 and Columbia attached Bruce Willis with a $13 million pay or play deal, who was fresh off the success of Die Hard 2. Then Hudson Hawk, Bonfire, and Billy Bathgate happened and the studio demanded Willis take a pay cut. He refused to lower his salary and the project was put on hold. The success of The Last Boy Scout kept Willis on the A-list and Columbia began to move forward with Striking Distance. Willis agreed to a $10 million payday for this low-rent action project that easily could have substituted him for any lower tier B movie action star.
The movie was expected to land a summer ‘93 release but it was delayed after a week of reshoots were ordered earlier in the year. Then the film was sent back for two more weeks of reshoots and rumors began to buzz that the movie was a mess. The budget was estimated to have come in around $40 million after the extensive tinkering.
Striking Distance was dated for September, had awful buzz and Sarah Jessica Parker had complained publicly that the movie had become too violent. The movie was shaping up to be another setback for Willis. It landed poor reviews and tanked with $24,107,867.
3. I Love Trouble (1994)
Fluff specialists Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer chose this debacle as their follow-up project to their hit Father of the Bride (1991). Julia Roberts took a year off after her strong 1991 which included Sleeping with the Enemy, Dying Young, and Hook, and after her break, she did two back-to-back productions — the hit The Pelican Brief and the flop I Love Trouble.
This $40 million production had an unpleasant shoot, with both Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte despising each other and reportedly the few times they were not arguing — they were arguing with Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, who demanded they improv instead of sticking to their lousy screenplay.
The hatred between the actors became quite intense that in many scenes one actor was acting alongside a stand-in for the other actor. The animosity between the leads leaked to the public and what was expected to be a four-quadrant blockbuster turned into a movie trailed by toxic buzz. Disney began to market this trainwreck as a romantic comedy, but the public was already aware there was no chemistry between Roberts and Nolte and the mouse house switched the promotional campaign to an action thriller. This turned off Roberts’ female fanbase and the sanitized PG-rated movie drew no interest from male audiences looking for action.
I love Trouble opened against the action movies The Shadow, Blown Away, and Wyatt Earp, and Speed was still going strong at the box office. The movie tanked with $30,806,194.
4. Drop Zone (1994)
After Passenger 57 (1992) turned into a mid-level hit for Wesley Snipes his studio offers were mostly for action pictures and he received a bump in salary for Drop Zone to the tune of $7 million. He continued to ink numerous production deals at high salaries, but Drop Zone kicked off a series of flops for the actor. His next big-budget action movie was the bomb Money Train, followed by the very poorly performing The Fan and the box office failure Murder at 1600.
Paramount had high expectations for the $45 million Drop Zone and dated it for December 9 and it was the studio’s last major release of the year. Drop Zone was released 3 months after the similarly themed flop Terminal Velocity and it vanished from theaters with $28,735,315.
5. Money Train (1995)
This Wesley Snipes-Woody Harrelson re-teaming after White Men Can’t Jump was a very high-profile project at Columbia and Snipes was signed for $6 million. Money Train was announced as a $40 million production, but reports throughout 1994 and 1995 had estimated the movie was more than 30% over budget.
While some of the production was filmed in NYC, the bulk of the shoot was in LA, where one of the biggest (and longest) sets ever was constructed. Along with the enormous expense of building a mock NYC subway set, the studio spent a fortune to have 15 actual subway cars, weighing over 80,000 pounds shipped to LA. The LA Times reported that expenses on Money Train reached $70 million.
Commercial expectations were very high and theater exhibitors were reportedly very excited for the release of Money Train but the movie bombed with $35,431,113. Days after the picture opened, a controversy was manufactured when two psychotic idiots lit a subway booth on fire and the MTA employee inside eventually died from his wounds — which resembled two scenes from the movie.
6. Assassins (1995)
The Wachowski’s sold their Assassins spec script to Joel Silver for $1 million and the project was set up at Warner Bros, where he had a long-standing home. Richard Donner was hired to direct for $10 million(!) and Stallone landed a $15 million payday. Between the marquee lead, the director, the large salary commanded by Silver, Antonio Banderas’ unreported large salary, and Julianne Moore’s $1 million payday – the above-the-line talent cost this production nearly $40 million. Development on these big-budget studio pictures is also in the millions so that $50 million budget figure floated by boxofficemojo which has circulated is just a fabricated number.
At this time, Stallone had also inked an unheard of $60 million 3 movie deal with Universal. Then Judge Dredd opened to atrocious box office numbers and a few months later Assassins flopped. Universal attached him to D-Tox (Eye See You), a movie so lame it sat in the can for 3 years before the studio sold it off to Blockbuster and there was no second or third film.
Donner had the Wachowski’s very well received script rewritten and of course, Stallone had a hand in carving up the script. They tried to have their names removed from the credits, but could not.
Assassins was heavily marketed and was tracking well but it flopped with $30,303,072. Stallone’s star wattage had also dimmed overseas, where it pulled in a mediocre $53.2 million. The global gross was $83.5 million and about $45 million would be returned after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would not even cover worldwide P&A costs.
7. Fair Game (1995)
This stinker was packaged as a vehicle for supermodel Cindy Crawford, but her wooden and embarrassing performance put a quick end to her acting career. Instead of pairing her with a strong co-star to help shoulder the weight of carrying a big-budget movie — WB and Joel Silver hired the discount Baldwin, (Billy) who was coming off another erotic turkey Sliver (1993), where he gave a truly dreadful performance.
Fair Game was initially budgeted at $30 million but two weeks of reshoots were added, which cost north of $2 million. The last-minute salvage job delayed the summer release, which was postponed to November. There was high awareness of Fair Game since the press and tabloids were obsessed with Crawford but the movie looked ridiculous and more in line with direct-to-video action fare.
Fair Game was a punching bag for critics, audiences gave it a terrible C+ Cinemascore and it bombed with just $11,534,477.