Over 40 of the Biggest Flops, Bombs and Misses for Film in the First Half of 2023
(Welcome to the Entertainment Strategy Guy, a newsletter on the entertainment industry and business strategy. I write a weekly Streaming Ratings Report and a bi-weekly strategy column, along with occasional deep dives into other topics, like today’s article. Subscribe here.)
It’s August, which means it’s that time of year...1
It’s streaming flops, bombs and misses time! 2
You might ask, “Why spend so much time highlighting which TV shows and movies flopped?” First, everyone knows the hits, especially mega-hits like Wednesday, The Last of Us, The Mandalorian, and The Night Agent; people don’t know what flopped.3 Second, I cover the hits each week in the SRR! My weekly sections on the flops and bombs makes up a very, very small fraction (just a few bullet points) of my weekly Streaming Ratings Report.
So twice a year, I share all of the TV shows and films that flopped. And it matters for a few reasons:
Knowing what works and what doesn’t matters (or it should) to everyone in Hollywood. Heck, it’s the main reason that, pre-strike, in March, I wrote a whole article suggesting that the WGA and SAG-AFTRA demand ratings transparency. Film and TV production isn’t sustainable without it.
We’re in a streaming bubble right now. Sharing how many TV shows and films flopped is one of the only ways to convey this to the rest of the Hollywood.
Hit rate matters. It doesn’t just matter who has the most hits; you need to balance those hits with the misses. This exercise helps everyone know which companies are up and which are down from a content perspective. Or which genres aren’t working.
Do you want a strategic insight? Here’s one. Compiling this list (covering all the straight-to-streaming film flops, bombs and misses), one take away is really clear:
Send your films to theaters!!!!
To which you might be like, well, don’t you owe me part four of your giant series “Future of Film” series? (Find the whole thing here: “The Data Is In: Theatrical Films Massively Outperform Straight-To-Streaming Films”) Fair enough! I totally do. I don’t want to promise you a fourth edition in August, but I promise you’ll get one. (Maybe.)
Not every film in this list should have gone to theaters (some are just too small to go to theaters, but too expensive to make money on streaming, which means they probably shouldn’t have been made at all) but a bunch of them should have at least taken a shot at a theatrical run (and all the extra awareness that comes with that).
Before we get to the meat of this article, one last appeal: it’s not easy compiling all of this data! It takes a ton of work collecting these titles all year, then organizing them and ranking them, then writing up this article, then double-checking it. (The “Entertainment Strategy Guy” isn’t a one man job anymore...)
We need your support to keep doing it.
No one else is out there collecting all of these misses like we are, especially the major trade publications. I just read a whole articles on how people don’t know what TV shows are flops...that didn’t actually mention any TV shows that flopped! So if you want to support independent journalism, please subscribe. Even signing up as a free subscriber helps!
If you remember the ground rules, feel free to skip this next section and get right to the good stuff. BUT if you want to complain, please re-read this section first. I get more feedback on these articles than anything else I write, so read this section before tweeting or emailing me.
As best I can, I track every new release from every major streamer: Apple TV+, Peacock, Paramount+, Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max and Netflix. (Apologies to AMC+, Shudder, etc.)
We used to focus just on “Dogs Not Barking” (find the explainer here) AKA films and TV shows that failed to make any of the ratings charts that I track, but now I’m tracking all of the flops, bombs and misses. (Most of the titles missed all of the charts we track anyway...) If we do have data for a specific title, I’ll include it below.
These articles tend to be light on “visuals”—charts or graphs—because you can’t really visualize “nothing” when a show misses the charts.
I’m including unscripted content this year. For films, that means documentaries and standup specials. I tend to think that unscripted titles aren’t as big a flop as scripted titles—since they don’t cost nearly as much—unless they look expensive or star someone famous.
My primary focus is on first run, exclusive, “Original”, straight-to-streaming titles. If a film went to theaters, it’s not on here. (This doesn’t include limited releases, especially fake limited releases with no official box office numbers.) This may change in the future, since most streamers are now limiting how many films they send straight-to-streaming. (For good reasons!)
This is a “US”-only look. America is the most lucrative, and thus important, battleground in the streaming wars. Plus it has the most robust data at this time.
Related, I’m only looking at English-language films and TV shows. (If I didn’t, believe me, there’d be dozens and dozens of foreign flops.)
I do consider “budgets” in this analysis, which is tricky, since there isn’t one data base for budgets I trust. When in doubt, I ask, “Does this have expensive talent and/or look expensive on the screen?” That’s a good rule of thumb.
Remember, I’m just going with what the data says. This article does not represent my personal opinions on these films or TV shows.
Please Send Me Feedback
If I get anything wrong, let me know! Send me a tweet, note or email. I’ll update this article because I don’t mind running corrections at all. (It still amuses me when folks ask for a correction and say, “Though I know you won’t do it!” when I always do!) Also, if you’re a reporter or podcaster who would like to talk to me about these lists, reach out too!
Especially if you think that I may have missed something, reach out. Just compiling this list, I found multiple titles that I didn’t catch at first. (If I can’t keep track of all the flops, how can the average development exec, screenwriter, director and so on?)
Still, I have some specific warnings if—instead of a correction—you want to tell me that one of these flops, bombs or misses is actually a hit. Yes, I’m talking to some PR reps and diehard fans out there.
I don’t factor in awards or critical acclaim. Seriously, I don’t. If you email me saying, “But this show/film got great reviews or awards nominations” it won’t change my mind. I focus on “customers” from a strategy point of view, and what matters is what they actually watch, which means viewership. (Plus there's countless people and websites covering awards show buzz.)
I don’t care if other people “widely regarded your film or TV shows as hits”. I don’t know those people. If they don’t follow the data, that’s on them. I follow the data and I go with the data says.
If any PR execs still disagree with me, feel free to send me data that proves me wrong. You can pick the metric, but I also need a top ten list comparing that show to other shows on your platform with clear dates so I can put the show in context. If you don’t do that, feel free to not email me.
I don’t care if your show broke “internal records”. You’re not competing against yourself; you’re competing against other streamers. You streamers are allowed to publicly share ratings data. You can provide weekly top ten lists and, believe me, I’d love to have and analyze that data! You choose not to supply this data.
Recently, I got an email about social media. I’m not saying social media statistics are useless, but viewership is what really matters. Go here to read my explanation on how I rank various data sources.
Now to get to the good stuff, going in order from least numbers of flops, bombs and misses to most.
Honorable Mentions: Afghan Dreamers, At Midnight, Duran Duran: A Hollywood High, King Charles: The Boy Who Walked Alone, Teen Wolf: The Movie, Wynonna Judd: Between Hell and Hallelujah
All in all, Paramount+ didn’t release any notable film flops this year. Every film or documentary felt small enough that it just warrants a mention, but they’re not nearly as large or notable as other film flops from Apple TV+, Peacock, Netflix, Disney+ or Hulu.
(And yes…this list does NOT include theatrical titles. Unlike 2022, 2023 has been a rough year for Paramount between Dungeons & Dragon: Honor Amongst Thieves, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts and Mission Impossible: 27 Part 4 all underperforming.)
Marlon Wayans: God Loves Me
Sarah Silverman: Someone You Love
Honorable Mentions: Bama Rush, Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over
With just two documentaries and two standup specials, Max didn’t have a lot of misses. Warner Bros. Discovery is leaning on theatrically-released films (and HBO TV shows) to buoy their streaming service, and this strategy appears to be working. (What’s crazy is why other companies didn’t attempt this strategy first instead of diving headlong into deficit-financed, exclusive, straight-to-streaming Originals. Is the actual innovator’s dilemma just copying what a big tech company did without asking if it actually makes sense?)
Maybe in the future we’ll add theatrically-released films to this exercise, like Magic Mike’s Last Dance, which probably should have made the streaming ratings charts but didn’t earlier this year. (The trouble is we don’t know how much old-school premium cable viewing it had. Or digital rentals.) But again, for now, Max is doing just fine.
Ghosted (Nielsen: Week 1, 3.2 million hours, Week 2, 3.0 million; Samba TV: 330K in first two days)
Tetris (Samba TV: 90K in first two days)
If you want the good news, it’s that Apple went four for four in terms of getting every film they released (to be fair, just four movies so far this year) on to at least the TV Time charts, and most of these films have semi-respectable IMDb reviews. (The fourth film was Still: A Michael J Fox Movie.) According to Samba TV, Tetris had 90,000 households tune in over its first two days—which is really bad—and it never made the Nielsen charts, but it does have 64K reviews on IMDb. Sharper, from A24 and starring Julianne Moore and Sebastian Stan, only made TV Time for one week. Ghosted did make the Nielsen charts...with 3.2 million hours in week one and 3 million hours in week two, which is really, really low for a (presumably) big budget action romcom starring Captain America (Chris Evans) and Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas).
Bomb of the First Six Months: Ghosted
Apple Studios/Apple TV+ is going to have a TON of DNBs, flops, misses and bombs in terms of TV shows, so I won’t say more on their strategy here. What’s the “winner”/loser for film flop for Apple? Take your pick. Ghosted probably just edges out the others in terms of budget, but they’re all notable misses.
Honorable Mentions: Cocaine Bear: The True Story, 2023 Eurovision Song Contest
Since I’m not including theatrically-released films in these collections of flops, bombs and misses (especially since so many theatrically-released films tend to just make the charts anyway!) Peacock didn’t have a lot of misses. In fact, those theatrically-released films (like Cocaine Bear, Knock at the Cabin, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Violent Night, and M3GAN) all made the charts. Even Renfield made the TV Time charts!
As for the flops, Praise This seems small, so that’s probably not a huge miss. Still, if a film is so small that it’s not worth sending to theaters, but also it’s so small no one watches it on your streaming service, why make it at all? And Praise This has less than a thousand IMDb reviews, which is really bad. Sick, a horror film, just should have gone to theaters. Low budget horror films do well in theaters all the time, so why not try?
Which leaves one winner...