Modest: Australia's Save Your Legs!, starring (from left) Brendan Cowell, Stephen Curry and Damon Gameau, was not a hit. Photo: Supplied
When it comes to box-office flops, The Lone Ranger grabbed headlines this year. Starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, the Disney blockbuster reputedly cost more than $US200 million ($223 million) to make and took $US260 million at the worldwide box office. After the costs of releasing the movie and the share of the ticket price that goes to cinemas, the studio was likely to write off up to $US190 million on the movie.
It was far from the year's worst movie but those staggering numbers make it a financial disaster.
Top money-burner of 2013: The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.
But an Australian had a prominent hand in what Forbes magazine has rated as the year's biggest box-office flop.
Julian Assange's relentless campaign against the WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate saw it fail miserably around the world. Made for a modest $US28 million by Bill Condon, coming off the back of two mega-successful Twilight movies, it took just $US8.5 million.
Showing a mastery of the dark arts that rivals anyone in Hollywood during Oscar voting season, Assange publicly urged Benedict Cumberbatch not to play him in the movie, railed against the movie in a long Skype session with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association then systemically released his own WikiLeaks film, the documentary Mediastan, free online territory by territory as direct competition to The Fifth Estate.
As an undermining strategy, it could not have worked better.
In Australia, a bookmaker offered odds on whether The Fifth Estate would take $500,000 on its opening weekend. Courtesy of the WikiLeaks branch office at the Equadorian embassy in London, it took a miserable $36,000.
Forbes ranked Sylvester Stallone's Bullet to the Head the year's second-biggest bomb (made for $US25 million, global box office $US9.5 million) followed by Robert Luketic's Liam Hemsworth and Harrison Ford thriller Paranoia ($US35 million, $US13.7 million) and the Jason Statham-Jennifer Lopez action thriller Parker ($US35 million, $US17 million, although it later reached $US46 million).
Then there was the Mark Wahlberg-Russell Crowe crime drama Broken City ($US35 million, $US19.7 million), the dance movie Battle of the Year ($US20 million, $US14.8 million) and the Ethan Hawke-Selena Gomez action movie Getaway ($US18 million, $US10.5 million).
The way Forbes judges flops — budget versus global box office before some movies have reached all international territories — only shows part of the picture.
Like The Lone Ranger, many of the year's biggest disappointments were meant to be global-conquering blockbusters that just fell way short of expectations.
And when a movie as bad as The Hangover Part III takes $US350 million, you know that familiarity often sells better than originality and success bears little relation to quality in big movies.
With Naomi Watts as Princess Diana, Diana was a critical and commercial flop that took just $US7.5 million around the world.
Just as some of the year's biggest hits were comic book movies and sequels, some of the year's biggest failures were from filmmakers trying something different — not to say they were great movies.
Made for $US130 million, the sci-fi action movie After Earth took $US244 million — no doubt thanks to the popularity of Will Smith for international audiences — after taking just $US60 million in North America.
With a budget of $US150 million, White House Down took $US205 million worldwide after just $US73 million at home.
Those figures dwarf any of the low-budget Australian films that disappointed at the box office after getting a wide release, including the cricket comedy Save Your Legs!, which took just $385,000 after opening in 176 cinemas.
They show one of the great triumphs of Hollywood's studios — marketing movies brilliantly around the world and making money even when they are dismal failures at home. If they were dud cars or laptops, there would be questions about even releasing them in Stockholm, Saigon or Sydney.