10 Actors Who Unfortunately Self-Funded Box Office Flops

10 Actors Who Unfortunately Self-Funded Box Office Flops

For all the romanticism surrounding important stories and the artistic endeavor of filmmaking, Hollywood is ultimately a business like any other, which is to say money is usually worth a hell of a lot more than good intentions. This cut-throat fact has seen a number of actors pitch in their own money to get a film they are passionate about up and running.

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While this sometimes results in a huge success where the actor pockets millions of dollars as profit, it just as often backfires with disastrous consequences. From passion projects that audiences weren’t so passionate about to red-hot A-listers betting big on themselves and losing, there have been plenty of actors who helped fund their own movies and never saw their money again.

1 John Wayne – ‘The Alamo’ (1960)

Image via united Artists

As John Wayne’s passion project, The Alamo had been conceived as early as 1945 but took years to get off the ground in the way that Wayne envisioned. He later concluded that he himself would direct the film and produce it through his production company, Batjac Productions, but was adamant he wouldn’t appear in it.

As Wayne tried to enlist financial support however, it became evident that he would only get the money needed if he starred in the picture. Wayne eventually struck a deal with United Artists in which he contributed $1.5 million from his own pocket to the making of the movie. While The Alamo made just enough for United Artists to be reimbursed, Wayne’s investment failed to reap financial rewards.

2 Kevin Costner – ‘The Postman’ (1997)

The Postman
Image via Warner Bros.

Kevin Costner is no stranger to funding his own movies. This worked a treat when he put $3 million into Dances with Wolves which grossed almost twenty times its budget, and he managed to scrape away from financial disaster on Waterworld thanks its post-theatrical revenue streams, but he wasn’t so lucky with The Postman.

Costner directed, starred in, and produced the three-hour-long, post-apocalyptic epic on a hefty budget of $80 million. Whatever luck he started the decade with though had clearly run dry as The Postman made just $20.8 million after being marred by a horrific opening weekend and disastrous critical reception.

3 John Travolta – ‘Battlefield Earth’ (2000)

Terl with his headgear on in Battlefield Earth.
Image via Warner Bros.

Widely regarded to be one of the worst films ever made, Battlefield Earth – based on the novel Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard – became John Travolta’s passion project through the 1990s. A scientologist himself, Travolta was gifted a signed copy of the book from Hubbard upon its publication in 1982 and used his career resurgence to try and have it adapted by a major Hollywood studio.

While it struggled to find studio interest due to its ties to Scientology, the film was eventually picked up with Travolta contributing millions of dollars of his own money, and sacrificing a significant portion of his own paycheckto get the movie made. Against a budget of $73 million, Battlefield Earth earned a meager $29.7 million, and the planned sequel was never made.

4 Tommy Wiseau – ‘The Room’ (2003)

The Room Tommy Wiseau
Image via TPW Films

As far as cult films go, The Room is a monumental hit as a celebrated champion of so-bad-it’s-good cinema. Unfortunately for Tommy Wiseaupeople didn’t view it as being quite the pop-culture phenomenon upon its theatrical release with the film grossing just $1,900 against a budget of $6 million.

While the exact nature of how he got his hands on such a sum of money remains somewhat mysterious, Wiseau contributed the entirety of the budget in order to maintain creative control. Despite its disastrous initial run, pop-culture influence has seen the film’s earnings rise to $4.9 million so, who knows, it may yet prove to turn a profit.

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5 Matthew McConaughey – ‘Sahara’ (2005)

The cast of Sahara
Image via Paramount Pictures

One of the more infamous and controversial production processes, Sahara’s budget started at a modest $80 million but ballooned out beyond $160 million by the time filming wrapped, with an additional $61 million being tied to distribution expenses. Based on Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels, the action-adventure film was planned as being the first of a series.

That obviously never came to be, as the film’s $119 million box office earnings accounted for just over half of its overall expenditure. Matthew McConaughey had even blogged a promotional road trip in a bid to market the movie that he had invested his own money inbut it proved to be to no avail.

6 Brad Pitt – ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ (2007)

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Solid proof that not all actor-funded box office flops are bad movies, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford star and producer Brad Pitt conceded that working on the film cost him money. A revisionist Western epic detailing Jesse James (Pitt) and the unraveling of his gangthe film won praise from fans and critics alike for its performances, depiction of 1880s America, and Roger Deakins’ breathtaking cinematography.

However, the film flopped, becoming a box office bomb even with its restrictive budget of $30 million. Grossing less than $4 million through its theatrical release, it has since boosted that figure up to $15 million through DVD sales and amassed a large fan following.

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7 George Clooney – ‘Leatherheads’ (2008)

Image via Universal Pictures

After striking gold with 2005’s Good Night, and Good Luckin which George Clooney mortgaged his house to help fund the $7 million budget (the film grossed $54.6 million), Clooney tried to replicate his success with Leatherheads. A sports comedy with a loose basis in history, it was far from a terrible movie, but it didn’t perform well at the box office.

Clooney was clearly passionate about the film, serving as the writer, director, star, and produced it through his own production house, Smokehouse Productions. It proved to be a costly gamble though, as Leatherheads made just $41.3 million, failing to breakeven by some margin.

8 Mel Gibson – ‘Get the Gringo’ (2012)

Mel Gibson in Get the Gringo
Image via 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Up to 2012, Mel Gibson had a terrific record when it came to making financial contributions to films he was involved with. He helped fund his directorial efforts of The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto with huge financial success, but the well ran dry when he produced and starred in Get the Gringo.

While the 2012 action movie played well with critics, it was released around the time Gibson came under fire for making antisemitic comments. Made on a budget of $20 million, it was also marred by a video on demand release strategy and ended up making just $8.8 million.

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9 Will Smith – ‘After Earth’ (2013)

Jaden Smith and Will Smith in After Earth
Image via Columbia Pictures

With ambitions of being a huge sci-fi adventure spectacle, After Earth saw Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith share the screen as a father-son duo who crash-land on Earth a millennium after humanity was forced to flee the planet. The film made $243.8 million through its theatrical release which sounds impressive, but against the $150 million budget and the extra $100 million poured into the marketing campaign, it fell short of expectations.

While Will Smith himself didn’t contribute any money to the film’s sizable production, his production company, Overbrook Entertainment, did. Off the back of the film’s critical and commercial failure, Smith described After Earth as “the most painful failure of [his] career” in an interview with Esquire and stated his regret at leading his son into the project.

10 Tina Fey – ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ (2016)

Image via Paramount Pictures

An audacious effort to mix comedy with war drama, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot couldn’t have been handled by anyone lacking the sensitive poise and comic prowess of Tina Fey. Based on Kim Barker’s memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistanthe comedy star set the pre-production process in motion in 2014 with her own production company, Little Stranger, in charge.

With a budget of $35 million and Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman among the film’s leading cast members, it seemed as though it would surpass that figure easily. Despite positive reviews, it was hamstrung by a poor opening weekend and never recovered, making just $25.4 million.

NEXT: 8 Underrated Performances From Modern Box Office Flops

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