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Bombs Away!

March 2, 2012

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…”—Rudyard Kipling

Wikipedia defines a box office bomb as a film for which the overall costs greatly exceed the revenue regained by a movie studio. But to anyone in the industry, the definition is…a disaster! Indeed a flop is so feared there are executives that have maintained their positions by saying no to anything and everything that comes across their desk. Pretty frightening stuff, right? Well, what does this mean for you as an actor? Let’s take a look at some of the most notorious box office debacles of all time and some of the more recent disasters, and see what we can glean.

For some, the post apocalyptic science fiction thriller Waterworld is the gold standard of box office bombs. Winner of multiple Razzie awards including Worst Picture, Worst Actor, and Worst Director, Waterworld tanked on just about every level of the filmmaking game. And yet its stars, Kevin Costner and Dennis Hopper, enjoyed tremendous careers by just about any standard. Indeed, Dennis Hopper died as one of the most celebrated actors in recent history. Similarly, The Adventures of Pluto Nash lost an estimated one hundred million dollars! And yet Eddie Murphy walked away from that turkey and became one of the most profitable donkeys in film history with the beloved Shrek series. Indeed, Eddie just participated in another box office debacle, Tower Heist. Do you think that will stop him? I think not. Eddie Murphy refuses to be identified by his failures. Same with Jennifer Aniston. She’s certainly had her share of box office washouts. Rumor Has It, Friends with Money, The Bounty Hunter–all lost money, all critically panned. You think Jen’s going to stop working? Not on your life!

Emile Hirsch parlayed his critically acclaimed role as Christopher McCandless AKA Alexander Supertramp in Into The Wild to cash in on the big-budget science fiction epic, Speed Racer. Speed stalled at the box office in a gargantuan way, in fact, one of the biggest net losses in film history. Emile then turned around and blew everyone away with his portrayal of gay activist Cleve Jones in Gus Van Sant’s Milk.

We are all looking for approval in our relationships, our careers, our appearances, in our very souls. The acting field in particular can be a very unforgiving world. But it is good to know that if you do blow it, you can recover. Be it an audition, a project, a role, a meeting, a lousy night at karaoke–you can always learn from it, and keep moving forward. The great ones are undaunted by their failures. And indeed famous actors often cite their lowest grossing films as their greatest triumphs. Francis Ford Coppolla called Rumble Fish his greatest film, and the pride of his career–needless to say, the box office disagreed.

It’s the wise who take to heart that some projects are going to fail and some are going to succeed. Don’t let either one define you or your career.