There were plenty of triumphs and turkeys at the multiplexes this year. Instead of just looking at grosses (head over to Box Office Mojo for that), Variety took a more subjective approach. We’re breaking down five of 2016’s most surprising or painful flops and five of its most important and impressive hits. It’s more art than accounting. So big hits like “Finding Dory” and “Captain America: Civil War” don’t get their due here, and duds like “Nine Lives” and “Free State of Jones” get a pass. We were more interested in the sure things that weren’t and the blockbusters that just as easily could have bombed. So without further ado, here’s a look at the year that was, the franchises that were created, and the ones that were snuffed out.
The Biggest Flops:
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (TriStar)
Global Box Office: $26.2 million
Production Budget: $40 million
Why it Made the List: Ang Lee was riding high after “Life of Pi” captured a best director Oscar and made more than $600 million globally. It makes sense why Sony would jump at the chance to work with the filmmaker, particularly when he had grand plans to push the limits of 3D by shooting in ultra-high frame rates. Unfortunately, his latest effort pleased neither critics nor audiences, many of whom griped that the film had an off-putting telenovela glow. It was in and out of theaters in a matter of weeks and ranks as the biggest bomb of Lee’s career.
“The BFG” (Disney)
Global Box Office: $178.4 million
Production Budget: $140 million
Why it Made the List: The combination of Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl was expected to result in a children’s classic. Instead of a new “E.T.,” the film about a big friendly giant was given a massive cold shoulder, losing tens of millions. For Spielberg, who hasn’t had a blockbuster hit since 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” it’s a sign that a filmmaker who once had his finger firmly on pop culture’s pulse, may have lost his feel for the zeitgeist. He’ll try to recapture his mojo with 2018’s “Ready Player One,” an adaptation of a hit sci-fi novel.
“The Divergent Series: Allegiant” (Lionsgate)
Global Box Office: $179.2 million
Production Budget: $110 million
Why it Made the List: This is how a franchise dies. The box office returns were so dreadful that Lionsgate, the studio behind the tween series, scrapped plans to make a final film. Instead, it will try to wrap things up with a new television series. It sounds like the studio may have some trouble convincing the stars to make the small screen transition, however.
Global Box Office: $94.1 million
Production Budget: $100 million
Why it Made the List: This chariot ride pancaked into the side of the coliseum, resulting in a nearly $50 million write down for MGM, one of the studios behind the misbegotten Biblical epic.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass” (Disney)
Global Box Office: $299.5 million
Production Budget: $170 million
Why it Made the List: Johnny Depp’s $20 million paychecks probably went up down the rabbit hole along with this money loser.
The Biggest Hits
Global Box Office: $782.6 million
Production Budget: $58 million
Why it Made the List: Ryan Reynolds reclaimed his spot on the A-list as the fourth-wall breaking, foul-mouthed, spandex sporting mercenary. The very R-rated comic book adaptation is also one of the most profitable films of the year. It was made for a mere $58 million –essentially the bagel budget on “The X-Men.”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (Disney)
Global Box Office: $323.5 million*
Production Budget: $200 million
Why it Made the List: The first Star Wars spin-off just proved that a galaxy far, far away is vast enough to support non-Skywalker stories. Star Wars should become an annual moviegoing event, much like the Marvel movies. Get ready for everything from Greedo origin stories to road trip movies about hitting up Tosche Station for some power converters!
“The Secret Life of Pets” (Universal)
Global Box Office: $875.3 million
Production Budget: $75 million
Why it Made the List: Cue the inevitable sequel! Illumination, the maker of “Despicable Me,” confirms that it’s an animation powerhouse.
“Sully” (Warner Bros.)
Global Box Office: $228.3 million
Production Budget: $60 million
Why it Made the List: At a time when studios are steering clear of serious dramas in favor of films about tights-wearing vigilantes, the Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks drama was a fall breakout. Yes, other films made more. But this was a reminder that sometimes quality rises to the top.
“Don’t Breathe” (Sony/Screen Gems)
Global Box Office: $153.2 million
Production Budget: $9.9 million
Why it Made the List: This low budget horror hit had no stars and wasn’t part of a franchise. What it did have was plenty of scares. Critics loved the home invasion chiller and so did audiences, who showed up to scream in droves.
*Still in theaters