Films that lost their stars a fortune

Battlefield Earth, Waterworld, Cutthroat Island.

Just because movie stars get paid millions upon millions of dollars, doesn’t mean they can afford to be reckless with their money.

These actors poured their hard-earned cash back into their own movie projects, but Hollywood’s house always wins.

Geena Davis – Cutthroat Island (1995)

Geena Davis and Matthew Modine with ash and dirt on their bodies in a scene from the film 'Cutthroat Island', 1995. (Photo by Beckner/Gorman Productions/Getty Images)

Amount lost: $1 million

“Hey honey, come star in my cool pirate movie,” director Renny Harlin probably said to then-wife Geena Davis. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Short of being attacked by actual pirates, everything that could have gone wrong DID go wrong on set: cast drop-outs, leaking raw sewage, stunts gone wrong and a budget that spiralled out of control all led to Cutthroat Island becoming the by-word for nineties Hollywood failure.

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Even with an injection of one million dollars from Davis and Harlin’s personal funds, the movie sank without trace, debuting at #13 on the US box-office chart on its opening week, effectively killing the careers of everyone involved, and giving screen piracy a bad name.

Gary Oldman – Nil By Mouth (1997)

British actor Gary Oldman poses at the Carlton beach in Cannes, French Riviera, Saturday May 10, 1997. Oldman is in Cannes to present his first movie as a director "Nil by Mouth" which is in competition during the International Film Festival. (AP Photo/Rhonda Galbraith)

Amount lost: $1.4 million

In Hollywood, the term ‘passion project’ usually means ‘trumped up star vehicle’ and almost always sinks under the weight of said movie star’s ego. However, Gary Oldman had a movie in him that was under his skin, and he was prepared to take a financial hit to get it made. Hot off blockbusters The Fifth Element and Air Force One, Oldman spent over a million dollars of his own money to direct Nil By Mouth, an excoriating kitchen sink drama about spousal abuse starring Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke. The movie was not a financial success by any means – it was never meant to be commercially viable after all – but it remains an incredibly powerful piece of work, of which Oldman rightly continues to be proud.

Jerry Lewis – The Day The Clown Cried (1972)

US comedian, director and singer Jerry Lewis (L) talks to Pierre Etaix, on March 22, 1972, during the shooting of the film "The Day the Clown cried" he directed at the Cirque D'Hiver in Paris. (Getty Images)

Amount lost: $2 million

Around halfway through production, Jerry Lewis must have realised that setting a comedy during the holocaust probably wasn’t all that smart an idea. Lewis directed and starred in the movie about a circus clown who inadvertently led Jewish children to the gas chambers: sounds like a laugh riot, right?

Read more: Legendary flops that didn’t actually flop

The movie was eventually finished thanks to Lewis’s own contributions, after the film’s producer failed to deliver the goods; however, Lewis subsequently decided the movie was “unfit for release” and it has never been publicly screened. The film remains in Lewis’s own vault and has only seen by a handful of people, including Spinal Tap actor Harry Shearer, who confirmed it was “perfect in its awfulness”. Money well spent, then.

Kim Basinger – Boxing Helena (1993)

Julian Sands holding a gun Sherilyn Fenn's face in a scene from the film 'Boxing Helena', 1993. (Photo by Mainline Pictures/Getty Images)

Amount lost: $3.8 million

Maybe Kim Basinger was having an off day when she signed on to star in Boxing Helena, a movie about an amputee who is kept in a box and used as a sex toy – it’d go down as one of the worst decisions of her life. So terrified was Basinger of the reception the movie would get, she backed out at the last minute, ultimately being replaced by Sherilyn Fenn.

Kim Basinger testifies in civil court for a breach-of-contract lawsuit brought against her over Boxing Helena. (Steve Starr/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Producers of the movie were furious and sued Basinger to the tune of $8.1 million, later reduced to $3.8 million as part of a settlement package. The ruling forced Basinger into bankruptcy, leading her to sell off her stakes in Braselton, the small town in Georgia she’d bought and had planned to turn into a tourist destination.

John Travolta – Battlefield Earth (2000)

John Travolta in scene from the film 'Battlefield Earth', 2000. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Amount lost: $5 million, plus undisclosed salary reduction

“There’s no way I’m going to lose if the movie does $35 million domestically. And Travolta has never had an action movie do under $35 million.” That’s ex-dry cleaning mogul turned movie producer Elie Samaha there, fatally over-estimating the pull of his Scientologist chum and underestimating his audience’s ability to smell a turkey in the offing.

Read more: The most overpaid movie roles ever

So convinced was John Travolta that the L Ron Hubbard-penned sci-fi epic was going to be a success, he poured five million dollars of his own money into it – he even labelled it “like Star Wars, but better”. The bonkers sci-fi – with its weird dreadlocked aliens and overt Scientologist themes – could only manage to recoup around $30 million of its $100 million budget, making it the first true mega-flop of the 21st century.

Warren Beatty – Town & Country (2001)

Goldie Hawn scolds Warren Beatty in a scene from the film 'Town & Country', 2001. (Photo by New Line Cinema/Getty Images)

Amount lost: $10 million

Beatty’s 2001 comedy was a flop of such magnitiude, it even threatened to overshadow 1987 calamity Ishtar as the biggest bomb of his career. Shooting began in 1998, with a budget of $44 million, ten million dollars of which came from actor/producer Warren Beatty’s personal funds. The shoot ran long, thanks to Beatty’s insistence on multiple takes, and the film’s cast departed for other projects, forcing reshoots in 2000. By this point, the movie’s budget had ballooned to almost $100 million, and multiple screenwriters had tried and failed to make the story work. It limped into cinemas in 2001, was savaged by critics and made just $10 million at the box-office – and we’re guessing, seeing as the studio lost around ten times its total take, that money didn’t go back into Warren’s pocket.

Kevin Costner – Waterworld (1995)

Kevin Costner behind bars in a scene from the film 'Waterworld', 1995. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)

Amount lost: $22 million

Back in his glory days, Costner was a serial self-financier. Time and time again, he’d stump up his own cash for movie projects no one else wanted to touch – Dances With Wolves, Open Range and The Postman were all made off the back of Kev’s own coin. But Waterworld was different. Not since the days of Cleopatra had a Hollywood movie’s budget spiralled so out of control. Filming on water proved incredibly costly, as did floating sets, as did high speed wind damage. In short, the movie was a disaster, but one that Costner was heavily invested in – he personally provided over $20 million dollars to keep the movie afloat.

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The film, though initially deemed a flop, eventually clawed back a modest profit on home video almost a decade later, although Costner was unlikely to have seen much of it. Fittingly, however, Costner went on to make millions from a company he created that made machines that could separate oil and water, so in a way, he finally profited from the environmental themes that Waterworld had been preaching all along.

Errol Flynn – The Story Of William Tell (1953)

Australian-born American actor Errol Flynn (1909 - 1959), circa 1955. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Amount lost: $430,000

Dashing screen legend Errol Flynn, best known for his role as Robin Hood, attempted to bring another swashbuckling icon to the screen in The Story Of William Tell, but little did he know the movie would be the undoing of him. Flynn put up around half of the film’s total budget himself – and remember, $860,000 in 1953 was no small amount – but the movie was fated never to be finished. After a torrid production, in which a model village was built for the exorbitant cost of $20,000, the budget was eventually depleted and set equipment was seized by creditors – not to mention Flynn’s personal car and the furniture from his house – leaving the actor bankrupt. Flynn died of a heart attack in 1959.