A-List | 10 Amazing Sci-Fi Books That Were Box Office Bombs

When you think about the best sci-fi books ever, you consider the authors like Bradbury, Asimov, Orwell, Clarke, Wells, and the guy most recently searched online, Frank Herbert. He is the mastermind behind the Arrakeen universe in the year 10,161.

The Internet has been buzzing, and for good reason, about the insanely anticipated Denis Villeneuve project, Dune. And although it has been more than three decades since we last saw Frank Herbert’s imagination come to reality on the big screen, Dune appears to be the most important tentpole of the winter blockbuster season.

This will prove that once again, sci-fi books are genetically enhanced fertile soil to make a big cinematic blockbuster. Almost guaranteed cash grab, right? Eh, not so much.

Take the aforementioned 1984 cult-classic from David Lynch. He may hate his own film. Some Herbert enthusiasts may as well, but is among the pantheon of beloved sci-fi books to become movies. Even though, when you consider its theatrical release, you couldn’t tell anyone knew who Herbert even was?

Dune had a $40 million budget back in 1984, and it almost earned $31 million worldwide. By many definitions, this was a “bust.” And it’s happened before.

Here are 10 other sci-fi books considered classics that have become box-office busts.


10. Ender’s Game (2013)

  • Book: “Ender’s Game” (1985)
  • Author: Orson Scott Card
  • Director: Gavin Hood
  • Budget: $110 million
  • Gross: $125 million

Talk about anticipation; yet, few fans of sci-fi books or its respective movies even remember this being made. A young Hailee Steinfeld coupled with a not-so-young Harrison Ford. Those matched with a young adult novel from the ’80s kids adored. Earning only $61 million in its domestic release, Ender’s Game featured this alien bug race called the “Formic.” And by the time most saw the film, folk just wanted to stomp on those bugs and call it a day.

P.S. Gavin Hood would later director X-Men Origins: Wolverine so…there’s that.

9. Brazil (1985)

  • Book: “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949)
  • Author: George Orwell
  • Director: Terry Gilliam
  • Budget: $15 million
  • Gross: $10 million

Yes, really. Brazil became a satirical take on the George Orwell classic. Not like it needed to be flipped, 1984 is considered one of the best-ever sci-fi books, but Terry Gilliam decided to create some unexpected. He succeeded. What was created as a somber rom-com for a man going after the woman of his dreams made a loud sound when it flopped. Why? It starred Jonathan Pryce and this Robert De Niro guy. No one expected it, knew it was coming, or bothered to watched it.

8. The Thing (1982)

  • Novella: “Who Goes There” (1938)
  • Author: John W. Campbell, Jr.
  • Director: John Carpenter
  • Budget: $15 million
  • Gross: $19 million

Yes, that’s it. John Carpenter‘s iconic horror film The Thing barely broke even. By box-office standards, it is considered floppy. The summer of 1982 had some steep competition. This was the year of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and E.T. And yes, John Carpenter got the idea from some sci-fi books — a novella called “Who Goes There.” At first, few people did. Fortunately, that changed over time at Blockbuster Video.

6. Blade Runner (1982)

  • Book: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (1974)
  • Author: Philip K. Dick
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Budget: $28 million
  • Gross: $41 million

It’s almost sacrilege to call Blade Runner a “flop.” It’s among the Mount Rushmore of best science fiction movies. Nonetheless, at the time in 1982 — yes, against The Thing — even the most respected sci-fi books couldn’t help interest many people in this movie. (You dopes back in 1982. Shame on you, nerds.) Of course, if you based an experience on the book, where were any animals in the movie?!

The funny thing: Rick Deckard is searching four deadly replicants in a futuristic Los Angeles. In 2019.

5. John Carter (2012)

  • Book: “Princess of Mars” (1974)
  • Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Director: Andrew Stanton
  • Budget: $250 million
  • Gross: $284 million

This shouldn’t be the only Disney product from a sci-fi book on this list. (Artemis Fowl, you know we’re looking at your streaming mess). Sure, John Carter broke even, but in the states, the Disney hopeful only earned $73 million. Widely known as one of Mouse’s most colossal flops, who knew it came from a family or rather respected sci-fi books? Let’s just say Mickey didn’t read it and move on. You know? Like most of the movie audience did.

5. Mortal Engines (2018)

  • Book: “Mortal Engines” (2001)
  • Author: Phillip Reeve
  • Director: Peter Jackson
  • Budget: $100 million
  • Gross: $83 million

Two reasons, other than the success of the Scholastic young-adult series this had: Peter. Jackson. The guy is the franchise deity, as the force behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal classics The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Yet, nothing resonated about this steampunk, steaming pile of nuts and bolts. And that includes only $15 million in U.S. tickets, where most of the marketing was placed. Four more sci-fi books in this highly successful series, and they’ll probably collect dust on bookshelves.

4. Children of Men (2006)

  • Book: “The Children of Men” (1992)
  • Author: P.D. James
  • Director: Alfonso Cuaron
  • Budget: $76 million
  • Gross: $70 million

Let’s be clear: This is an underrated movie. Period. Alfonso Cuaron took the P.D. James book and barely used dystopian tale among sci-fi books as source material. If you never knew this was based on a book (and most do not), you would think this could stand alone film with a sci-fi cult following. Cuaron leads Clive Owen through a film with some pressing political messages. Regretfully, those were mostly stamped “Return to Sender.”

3. The Fountain (2006)

  • Graphic Novel: “The Fountain” (2005)
  • Author: Kent Williams
  • Director: Darren Aronofsky
  • Budget: $35 million
  • Gross: $16 million

A beloved graphic novel from Vertigo Comics was thought to be competitive among some of the most interesting sci-fi books at the time. That’s probably why Darren Aronofsky recruited Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz to star in this adaptation. Human mortality. Medical breakthrough. Yeah, who is interested in that these days, huh? Oh wait…

2. Cloud Atlas (2012)

  • Book: “Cloud Atlas” (1974)
  • Author: David Mitchell
  • Director: Lana Wachowski
  • Budget: $102 million
  • Gross: $130 million

Don’t let that gross box office earnings fool you. The movie only made $27 million in the U.S., which quickly lit the fuse on this film being listed as a bomb. (And it sucks bad.) When someone has on their cinephile BINGO card: Tom Hanks. Halle Berry. The Wachowskis (makers of The Matrix trilogy). Those three are the makings of a winning card. It was a deep exploration of how lives are all connected. If only people thought all lives mattered back then. Sigh.

1. A Cure for Wellness (2016)

  • Book: “The Magic Mountain”
  • Author: Thomas Mann
  • Director: Gore Verbinski
  • Budget: $40 million
  • Gross: $8 million

When it comes to sci-fi books, Thomas Mann is an author who makes that list. “Doctor Faustus”, “The Holy Sinner”, and this mildly known “The Black Swan.” The guy digs psychology and laces his novels with the introspection of his characters. So, when Gore Verbinski attached himself to that author, A Cure for Wellness had to work.

This was a film that looked it was inspired by the video game franchise “Bioshock” — only in the Swiss Alps and a gothic snoozefest. And to think, the marketing campaign was literally based around “fake news.” In 2017, why wouldn’t that work?!

Featured Image: Clute Science Fiction Library, Telluride Institute

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