13 Disney Movies That Flopped Over the Years

Deadline just released a list of five of the biggest box office bombs of 2022 and surprisingly, two of them are animated movies created by Disney (Lightyear and Strange World). Ever since Mickey Mouse first graced the big screen, Walt Disney Pictures has been churning out movies that have been hits with kids and grown-ups alike. But you might be surprised to learn just how many of classics were once considered flops. Sometimes a movie flops because it received bad reviews, or it just didn’t resonate with audiences. Then again, a film could receive high praise and still flop because the budget was set so high, it was hard to recoup the money and make a profit. (Of course, many of those films eventually did make a profit thanks to various re-releases.) And sometimes, movies fail due to world events that keep audiences away like World War II or even a pandemic. At any rate, here are some of the biggest flops created by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar.

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Budget: $3 million
Box Office Gross: $2.4 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%

Despite the fact that many movies have been made from Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the story has always been difficult to pull off. Walt Disney found this to be true himself when he set out to make his own version of the story mixing in storylines from Carroll’s sequel, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. The story features a young Alice spending the first half of the movie chasing a white rabbit and the second half trying to get back home. It is one of the Disney’s shorter movies but features more songs than any other Disney film (and none of them were hits). It has been said that American audiences didn’t get the movie and English audiences thought the film was a disaster. Critics complained that the film lacked heart and Walt actually agreed with them!

Fantasia (1940)

Budget: $2.2 million
Box Office Gross: $1.4 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

While many people called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs “Disney’s Folly” his third film, Fantasia, seemed to embrace the nickname better. The ambitious project was a musical anthology film that featured eight animated sequences set to classical music performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the leadership of Leopold Stokowski. One segment featured Mickey Mouse as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” which was designed as a comeback role for the rodent. While praised by movie critics, Fantasia wasn’t released as a typical movie. Instead, it was released as a roadshow where theaters were equipped with “Fantasound” which was an expensive venture. World World II had also begun cutting off Disney’s plan to release the film in Europe. The movie was reissued a year later in with a shorter run time and mono soundtrack.

Home on the Range (2004)

Budget: $110 million
Box Office Gross: $76.5 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 52%

This forgetful cartoon was set in the Old West and starred three dairy cows set on capturing a local rustler in hopes of winning his bounty so that they could save their farm from closing. One of the last hand-drawn movies to be produced by the Mouse House, the film didn’t resonate with audiences. Nobody seemed to really like this film including Disney who barely promoted it. The animation was lazy, the story uninspired and it got so-so reviews. When it was released, Home of the Range’s biggest competition was Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, which didn’t help matters.

Lightyear (2022)

Budget: $200 million
Box Office Gross: $226
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

Considered a spin-off tale, Lightyear was intended to be the film that inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy seen in the Toy Story films. The movie got fairly high marks from critics but not audiences. With a different look and voice (Chris Evans instead of Tim Allen), this “human” story was not the Buzz Lightyear that they were expecting. This space ranger makes multiple attempts to find a way for this crew to find a way back home from a hostile planet. Though ultimately the film made money in ticket sales, it is still considered a bomb in that it lost the studio over $100 million when factoring all of the film’s expenses to promote it.

Mars Needs Moms (2011)

Budget: $150 million
Box Office Gross: $39.2 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 37%

This oddball of a movie was based on a book of the same title by Berkeley Breathed (the cartoonist behind Bloom County and Outland comic strips) telling the story of a nine-year-old boy who must save his mother after she has been taken by aliens from Mars. Why the premise sounds like fun, nobody went to see this film. It was animated using performance capture (like The Polar Express) which was popular for a hot minute. There is something strange about hyper realistic cartoon characters. Some have speculated that when adjusted for inflation, Mars Needs Moms is in the top five for largest box office failures in history.

Onward (2020)

Budget: $175 million
Box Office Gross: $142 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

You can blame the Coronavirus pandemic for this one. The story of Onward takes place in a modern version of a fantasy land where two elf brothers go on a quest to find an artifact that can bring their deceased dad back to life for 24 hours. While generating fairly good reviews, the movie was released in theaters on March 6, 2020. Unfortunately, movie houses across the country began closing their doors two weeks later. While still being shown in drive-in movie theaters, Onward became available digitally on March 20, 2020 and was also offered free on Disney+ on April 3, 2020.

Pinocchio (1940)

Budget: $2.6 million
Box Office Gross: $1.4 million and 1.9 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Walt Disney’s second full-length animated film is a much-loved tale. Some even praised it as even better than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Pinocchio was beautifully drawn and ultimately won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. However, this film had a huge budget that was twice as much as Snow White’s but the film sold less tickets. A large part of the problem was the fact that the movie was cut off from the rest of world due to World War II. However, thanks to many re-issues of the film, Pinocchio made up for its losses with a lifetime gross of $84.3 million.

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Budget: $6 million
Box Office Gross: $5.3 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Arguably, one of the most beautiful and artistic animated films ever made by Walt Disney and crew, Sleeping Beauty was also the studio’s most expensive film to produce up until that time. The movie was based on Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairy tale of the same name where a young princess and her kingdom is doomed when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel causing her to fall into a deep sleep only to woken up by a true love’s kiss. Unfortunately, the studio also went into a sort of hibernation mode. Disney did not release another movie about a princess until 30 years later with The Little Mermaid.

Strange World (2022)

Budget: $135-$180 million
Box Office Gross: $73.4 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%

Drawing inspiration from adventure movies that came before it like Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fantastic Voyage as well as pulp magazines, Strange World was the most-streamed film on Disney+ when it debuted. Unfortunately, ticket sells in the movie theaters were not so kind. Disney was expecting the film to make between $30 and $40 million during its five-day opening weekend but only pocketed about $11.9 million. Although not butchered by critics, this movie may have flopped initially from a poor marketing plan. Even so, those who did see the movie did not pass on good word-of-mouth.

Teacher’s Pet (2004)

Budget: $10 million
Box Office Gross: $6.5 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

Apparently 2004 wasn’t a good year for Disney. This cheaply made musical comedy wasn’t even created by Disney’s usual animation teams but rather by Walt Disney Television Animation and Toon City. Based on the hit Saturday morning cartoon series of the same name, Teacher’s Pet centered on a dog named Spot who wanted to be a boy so bad, he impersonated his 4th grade master and attended the boy’s school. While not entirely enthusiastic, critics didn’t hate this film. Audiences however failed to embrace a movie that was nothing more than an extended episode from a cartoon that they could watch on TV for free.

The Black Cauldron (1985)

Budget: $44 million
Box Office Gross: $21 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%

Based on Lloyd Alexander’s book, The Chronicles of Prydain, The Black Cauldron told the tale of the evil Horned King who set to find an ancient and magic cauldron. His goal? To conquer the world of course. With production beginning in 1980, the movie did not make it to theaters until 1985 due to many rewrites and disagreements with the animators and studio executives. The first Disney animated film to receive a PG rating, The Black Cauldron was also heavily edited making the story confusing to understand. The film performed so poorly that Disney did not release the movie for home media until 1998. The movie has since found a cult following.

Treasure Planet (2002)

Budget: $140 million
Box Office Gross: $110 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%

Disney went out on a limb with Treasure Planet which took over four years to produce. Trying something entirely new, the studio decided to re-tell the story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island by setting it in space. But updating the 1883 novel did little to capture ticket sales. It was actually Disney’s third version of the story following Treasure Island (1950) and Muppet Treasure Island (1996). The movie featured a mix of both 2D and 3D animation making it the most expensive Disney animated project up until that time. Despite a big marketing push, Treasure Planet failed to win over fans and today is mostly forgotten.

Turning Red (2022)

Budget: $175 million
Box Office Gross: $20 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

After Pixar’s Soul (2020) and Luca (2021) were pulled from a theatrical release schedule and to be shown direct-to-streaming on Disney+, Disney stated that Turning Red would indeed be released in theaters. And it was – a little. The story about a young teen who turns into a giant red panda when stressed was a hit with critics and would have been with audiences in better times. With the exception of a few one-week engagements in a handful of theaters in the U.S. and in countries where Disney+ was not available, the movie was also assigned as a direct-to-streaming release. So, it became a flop more because of a technicality of sorts.

Main Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios. All other images: Wikipedia/Disney

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