Learn About Disney’s Biggest Movie Flops

Disney, synonymous with blockbuster hits and animation masterpieces, has also experienced its share of flops. These films, while not achieving the commercial success or critical acclaim of their counterparts, offer a fascinating insight into the risks and challenges of filmmaking. From ambitious projects that fell short of audience expectations to well-intentioned ventures that missed the mark, Disney’s movie flops represent a varied and interesting chapter in the entertainment giant’s legacy.

In this article, we delve into some of the biggest Disney movie flops, exploring the factors that contributed to their underperformance and examining how these films have impacted the studio’s approach to storytelling and innovation.

1. Mars Needs Moms (2011)

UFO illustration

“Mars Needs Moms” is one of Disney’s most significant losses, with an estimated budget of over $150 million and only earning about $39 million worldwide. The film’s use of motion-capture technology was criticized for falling into the “uncanny valley,” and the plot failed to resonate with audiences.

 “Mars Needs Moms” is an animated science fiction adventure film that tells the story of a young boy named Milo. The plot revolves around Milo’s quest to rescue his mother, who has been abducted by Martians. In the Martian society, mothers are absent, and they abduct Earth’s mothers to extract their maternal expertise to nurture their own young.

Milo, initially indifferent to his mother’s care and discipline, embarks on an unexpected journey to Mars. Along the way, he is accompanied by a tech-savvy human named Gribble and a rebellious Martian girl named Ki. The film blends humor, action, and emotional depth to explore themes of family, appreciation, and the universal bond between a mother and her child.

2. John Carter (2012)

“John Carter” suffered from a massive budget of over $250 million and marketing missteps. It was unable to recoup its costs, earning around $284 million globally. The film struggled due to its complex narrative and lack of clear appeal to a broader audience.

“John Carter,” a 2012 science fiction film, is an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel “A Princess of Mars.” The story follows the titular character, John Carter, a disillusioned Civil War veteran who mysteriously finds himself transported to Mars (Barsoom). On this alien planet, Carter becomes embroiled in a complex conflict among the various inhabitants, including the humanoid Red Martians, the four-armed Green Martians, and other indigenous species.

Discovering that he possesses extraordinary strength and agility in the low gravity of Mars, Carter becomes a pivotal figure in the planet’s civil war. He allies with the fierce and independent Princess Dejah Thoris and the noble Tars Tarkas, the leader of the Tharks, a tribe of Green Martians. As Carter fights to protect his new friends and the future of Barsoom, he embarks on a journey of redemption and discovery, finding a new purpose in a world on the brink of collapse.

3. The Lone Ranger (2013)

silhouette of a cowboy

With a budget of $215 million, “The Lone Ranger” earned around $260 million, underperforming due to its high production costs. The film faced criticism for its portrayal of Native American characters and its lengthy runtime.

“The Lone Ranger,” released in 2013, reimagines the classic tale of the legendary figure from the American Old West. The film is a thrilling adventure that intertwines action, humor, and Western folklore. It follows the story of John Reid, a law-abiding attorney who is transformed into the Lone Ranger after a gang of outlaws led by the ruthless Butch Cavendish leaves him for dead. Saved by a Native American warrior named Tonto, who has his own personal vendetta, Reid dons a mask to become a vigilante. Tonto, played by Johnny Depp, serves as both Reid’s enigmatic companion and spiritual guide.

The film delves into their unlikely partnership as they seek justice against Cavendish and his gang. Throughout the movie, the Lone Ranger and Tonto grapple with their moral compasses and the corrupt forces that govern the expanding Western frontier. Directed by Gore Verbinski, this interpretation of “The Lone Ranger” provides a modern take on the iconic hero’s origin story, blending spectacular action sequences with a narrative that explores themes of justice, revenge, and destiny.

4. Tomorrowland (2015)

Despite its high-profile cast and crew, “Tomorrowland” failed commercially, earning $209 million against a $190 million budget. The movie’s marketing failed to communicate the plot effectively, leading to audience disinterest.

“Tomorrowland,” released in 2015, is a science fiction adventure film that weaves together themes of hope, innovation, and the power of imagination. The story follows Casey Newton, a bright and optimistic teenager with a passion for science, who discovers a mysterious pin that grants her brief visions of a futuristic world called Tomorrowland. Intrigued and determined to find this utopian realm, Casey encounters Frank Walker, a disillusioned inventor and former resident of Tomorrowland. Together, they embark on a dangerous journey to uncover the secrets of this enigmatic place, which exists in an alternate dimension.

As the pair delve deeper, they uncover a plot that threatens both their world and Tomorrowland. The film, directed by Brad Bird and starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson, is a visually stunning and thought-provoking exploration of the choices that shape our future, emphasizing the importance of dreamers and visionaries in creating a better world.

5. Treasure Planet (2002)

boat in space

“Treasure Planet,” an animated adaptation of “Treasure Island,” had a budget of $140 million but earned only about $110 million. Its unique sci-fi concept didn’t appeal to traditional Disney animation fans.

“Treasure Planet,” released in 2002, is Disney’s bold and imaginative adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel “Treasure Island,” set in a fantastical outer space universe. The film follows the adventurous tale of Jim Hawkins, a rebellious teenager who stumbles upon a holographic map leading to the fabled Treasure Planet, a distant world where the universe’s greatest fortunes are said to be hidden. Eager to break free from his mundane life and follow in the footsteps of his late father, Jim embarks on an intergalactic journey aboard the RLS Legacy.

Under the guidance of the ship’s dogged cyborg cook, John Silver, who becomes a father figure to him, Jim navigates through black holes, supernovas, and space storms. However, he soon finds himself entangled in a mutinous plot led by Silver, facing treachery and epic battles. The film blends traditional animation with CGI, creating a visually stunning space opera. It’s a story of adventure, friendship, and self-discovery as Jim learns valuable lessons about trust, loyalty, and the true meaning of treasure.

6. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” was a departure from typical Disney formulas, lacking musical numbers and featuring a more serious tone. It grossed $186 million against a $120 million budget, considered underwhelming for Disney standards.

Released in 2001, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” marks Disney’s foray into a more action-packed and adventurous style of animation. The film centers around Milo Thatch, a young and idealistic linguist and cartographer who dreams of completing his late grandfather’s quest to find the lost city of Atlantis. Milo’s opportunity comes when he’s recruited by a group of explorers funded by the eccentric millionaire Preston Whitmore. The team embarks on a daring expedition in a submarine, navigating deep under the sea to uncover the long-lost civilization.

Upon discovering Atlantis, they encounter its inhabitants, who have a unique culture and language and a mysterious power source that keeps the city alive. The story takes a turn as Milo learns about the true intentions of his expedition team and the dangers that threaten the existence of Atlantis. He must then choose between his ambitions and the moral responsibility to protect the city and its people. “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” is a blend of science fiction and mythology, offering a unique narrative filled with action, ancient mysteries, and a depiction of a utopian civilization untouched by the modern world.

7. The Black Cauldron (1985)

black cauldron

This dark fantasy film was, at the time, the most expensive animated movie, but it failed to make a significant impact at the box office. Its darker themes and high production costs contributed to its poor financial performance.

“The Black Cauldron,” released in 1985, is a dark fantasy adventure film, a notable departure from Disney’s typical animated fare. Based on “The Chronicles of Prydain” book series by Lloyd Alexander, the story is set in a mythical land and follows the journey of a young pig keeper named Taran. Dreaming of becoming a warrior, Taran’s life takes a dramatic turn when he learns that his pig, Hen Wen, possesses magical powers that can locate the Black Cauldron. This powerful object is sought after by the evil Horned King, who intends to use it to unleash an army of undead warriors and conquer the world.

Joined by Princess Eilonwy, a minstrel named Fflewddur Fflam, and a lovable creature named Gurgi, Taran embarks on a quest to find and destroy the cauldron. Throughout their adventure, they encounter magical creatures, face formidable challenges, and discover inner strengths. “The Black Cauldron” is known for its darker tone, high-fantasy elements, and a more mature narrative, showcasing a different creative direction for Disney animation at the time.

8. Fantasia 2000 (1999)

The sequel to the original “Fantasia,” “Fantasia 2000” struggled at the box office due to its niche appeal and limited release format. Despite its artistic achievements, it didn’t resonate with a mass audience.

Released in 1999, the film consists of eight animated segments, each set to the tune of classical music conducted by James Levine and performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The segments are diverse in style and content, ranging from abstract motion to narrative storytelling. Highlights include a re-imagined version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” starring Mickey Mouse, an ecological-themed story set to Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” and a whimsical depiction of New York City life in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

The film also features a lively flamingo segment with Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” and a retelling of the Noah’s Ark story with Donald Duck to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.” “Fantasia 2000” preserves the original’s innovative spirit, blending classical music with cutting-edge animation, and serves as a showcase for the artistic and technical capabilities of modern Disney animation.

9. Home on the Range (2004)

Old West

With a more modest budget by Disney standards, “Home on the Range” still underperformed, grossing just over $103 million. The film’s humor and style did not connect widely with audiences, leading to its commercial failure.

“Home on the Range” is a Disney animated comedy set in the Old West. The story revolves around a trio of determined cows – the adventurous Maggie, the refined Mrs. Caloway, and the youthful Grace – who live on the small farm of Patch of Heaven. When they learn that their beloved farm is in danger of being foreclosed on and bought by the notorious cattle rustler Alameda Slim, they decide to take matters into their own hands.

Embarking on a daring mission to capture Slim and claim the bounty on his head, they hope to save their home. Their quest is filled with humorous escapades and is aided by a karate-kicking stallion named Buck and a bumbling bounty hunter. The film blends traditional Western themes with slapstick comedy and musical elements, creating a lighthearted and family-friendly adventure. “Home on the Range” is known for its colorful animation, quirky characters, and an array of fun, catchy songs, showcasing a different, more comical side of Disney’s animation repertoire.

10. The Good Dinosaur (2015)

While not an outright flop, “The Good Dinosaur” underperformed in comparison to other Pixar movies. It faced production challenges and story rewrites, earning $332 million against a $175 million budget, which is modest for Pixar’s high standards.

 “The Good Dinosaur,” released in 2015 by Pixar Animation Studios, presents an alternate history where dinosaurs never became extinct. The film focuses on a young Apatosaurus named Arlo, who is the smallest and most fearful in his family. After a series of unfortunate events, Arlo finds himself far from home and must embark on a perilous journey through a harsh and unfamiliar landscape. Along the way, he forms an unlikely friendship with a human boy he names Spot, who is more like a wild animal in behavior. Together, they encounter various dinosaur species and face numerous challenges, including treacherous terrain and predatory creatures.

As Arlo navigates this dangerous world, he learns about bravery, self-discovery, and the power of friendship. The film combines stunningly realistic animation with a heartwarming story, exploring themes of courage, family, and overcoming one’s fears. “The Good Dinosaur” is a unique take on the classic coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of a beautifully imagined prehistoric Earth.


These films showcase the various challenges Disney has faced, from marketing missteps and production issues to miscalculations in audience appeal, demonstrating that even giants in the industry are not immune to the risks of filmmaking.