It may surprise you to learn this, but it turns out that "Ten Most Disappointing Movies" lists are surprisingly commonplace. Most of them boil down to "films I liked the least" or "films I heard the most smack-talk about."
Here at io9, we consider ourselves above such easy methods. That's why we've brought you our list in the form of an illustration. Can't name them all? We've got the key below.
We know what you're asking: What makes these movies "flops"?
It seems like any good, solid list would need to represent both the commercial flops— the films that lost the most money from the production budget to the box office— and the critical flops— the ones critics would prefer to award black holes instead of stars. But even some huge money-losers are later labeled as "cult classics." And critical consensus is hard to find.
Ultimately, we went with a combined system. The ten films in our list have either a Golden Raspberry Award or a place on the list of least profitable films of all time, and a score of less than 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. And one ultra-unlucky film has all three.
TOP LEFT: That film is Kevin Costner's The Postman. Everybody thought Waterworld would be his Waterloo, but Costner was apparently able to bankroll one more "man alone in hostile environment" story after Dances With Wolves. Unfortunately, he found himself alone in a hostile environment when tickets went on sale.
TOP LEFT-ISH: Eddie Murphy beats out even Nicolas Cage for the title of "most questionable taste in roles." It can't be that he's forced into these chintzy parts in terribly-scripted bombs like Pluto Nash. Everybody liked him in Dreamgirls and Shrek.
TOP RIGHT-ISH: In John Travolta's case, Battlefield Earth might best be explained by brainwashing, or if you want to be really kind, "faith." Scientologists were able to propel the original book to the top of the bestseller lists in the 1970s. Box-office receipts and movie critics in the 2000s seemed to be beyond their reach.
TOP RIGHT: The character of Catwoman is, ordinarily, hot. Halle Berry is, ordinarily, hot. Both are ordinarily good in movies. Heck, even the 1966 Batman was a lot better for Catwoman's presence. Yet the most entertaining thing to come out of Catwoman was Berry's Razzie acceptance speech.
BOTTOM LEFT: Leonard Part 6 somehow flopped commercially despite starring Bill Cosby, who at the time was arguably the biggest star on TV. It didn't help that Cosby himself broke an unwritten showbiz rule and admitted the film was terrible while it was in theaters.
BOTTOM LEFTISH: Jonah Hex was always going to be tricky to adapt, since the comic book is either a beloved classic Western or a cult classic time travel series, depending on who you talk to. Making it into another Wild Wild West (see P.S. below) never should have been an option.
BOTTOM CENTER: M. Night Shyamalan and George Lucas: two directors, justly praised for visionary early work, who seemed, somewhere along the way, to lose the ability to tell their own stories, and who then tried and failed to tell other people's stories as well. The Last Airbender was based on the unluckily named, but fun fantasy cartoon series Avatar and Howard the Duck was based on a gleefully subversive comic-book satire. Shyamalan decided his project would be better as a grim, glum, generic epic. Even at his best, Lucas has never seemed to understand what satire is.
BOTTOM RIGHT: The rogue robot AMEE was easily the best thing about the critical and commercial bomb that was Red Planet. And Skids and Mudflap were... not easily, maybe, but probably the worst thing about the critically reviled blockbuster Transformers 2. So ill-remembered were they that even Michael Bay seems to regret them now. But they'll live on in our racist caricature-loving hearts.
P.S.: In case you're wondering about the supposed "worst sci-fi movie ever made"— Plan 9 From Outer Space— not only does it fit none of the above categories but its Rotten Tomatoes ranking is 65%, suggesting it might edge up into the "cult classic" category.
The other sci-fi Razzie winners were the relatively-unknown Ghosts Can't Do It, Star Trek V and Wild Wild West, the last two of which just missed the cut. The other money-losingest sci-fi films were Mars Needs Moms, The 13th Warrior, Speed Racer, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Treasure Planet and Outlander. At 70%, Treasure Planet is by far the best-reviewed of the lot. Could curiosity about its money-losing status lead it to join Plan 9 in the rare category of flops that flip... back to the realm of success?