Too Big to Fail?

When a mega-budget Hollywood production runs into serious problems - or even if it doesn't, but is simply one of those "biggest yet" productions - pundits will predict it to fail. Some of the movies in this list did just that: whatever success they had, it was not nearly enough to make back production costs. All the more interesting then, those that achieved record-breaking box office success, and what those results say about the future of Hollywood.
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1.
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A Jewish prince seeks to find his family and revenge himself upon his childhood friend who had him wrongly imprisoned. (143 mins.)
Director: Fred Niblo
 
2.
Hell's Angels (1930)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Brothers Monte and Ray leave Oxford to join the Royal Flying Corps. Ray loves Helen; Helen enjoys an affair with Monte; before they leave on their mission over Germany they find her in still another man's arms. (127 mins.)
Director: Howard Hughes
 
3.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A manipulative Southern belle carries on a turbulent affair with a blockade runner during the American Civil War. (238 mins.)
Director: Victor Fleming
 
4.
Duel in the Sun (1946)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
Beautiful half-breed Pearl Chavez becomes the ward of her dead father's first love and finds herself torn between her sons, one good and the other bad. (129 mins.)
Director: King Vidor
 
5.
The Ten Commandments (1956)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
The Egyptian Prince, Moses, learns of his true heritage as a Hebrew and his divine mission as the deliverer of his people. (220 mins.)
 
6.
Ben-Hur (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
When a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge. (212 mins.)
Director: William Wyler
 
7.
Cleopatra (1963)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Historical epic. The triumphs and tragedy of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. (192 mins.)
 
8.
Heaven's Gate (1980)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
A dramatization of the real-life Johnson County War in 1890 Wyoming, in which a sheriff born into wealth attempts to protect immigrant farmers from rich cattle interests. (325 mins.)
Director: Michael Cimino
 
9.
Ishtar (1987)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.2/10 X  
Two terrible lounge singers get booked to play a gig in a Moroccan hotel but somehow become pawns in an international power play between the CIA, the Emir of Ishtar, and the rebels trying to overthrow his regime. (107 mins.)
Director: Elaine May
 
10.
True Lies (1994)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A fearless, globe-trotting, terrorist-battling secret agent has his life turned upside down when he discovers his wife might be having an affair with a used car salesman. (141 mins.)
Director: James Cameron
 
11.
Waterworld (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
In a future where the polar ice-caps have melted and Earth is almost entirely submerged, a mutated mariner fights starvation and outlaw "smokers," and reluctantly helps a woman and a young girl try to find dry land. (135 mins.)
Director: Kevin Reynolds
 
12.
Titanic (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic. (194 mins.)
Director: James Cameron
 
13.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
A meek Hobbit from the Shire and eight companions set out on a journey to destroy the powerful One Ring and save Middle Earth from the Dark Lord Sauron. (178 mins.)
Director: Peter Jackson
 
14.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
While Frodo and Sam edge closer to Mordor with the help of the shifty Gollum, the divided fellowship makes a stand against Sauron's new ally, Saruman, and his hordes of Isengard. (179 mins.)
Director: Peter Jackson
 
15.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
Gandalf and Aragorn lead the World of Men against Sauron's army to draw his gaze from Frodo and Sam as they approach Mount Doom with the One Ring. (201 mins.)
Director: Peter Jackson
 
16.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Jack Sparrow races to recover the heart of Davy Jones to avoid enslaving his soul to Jones' service, as other friends and foes seek the heart for their own agenda as well. (151 mins.)
Director: Gore Verbinski
 
17.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Captain Barbossa, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann must sail off the edge of the map, navigate treachery and betrayal, find Jack Sparrow, and make their final alliances for one last decisive battle. (169 mins.)
Director: Gore Verbinski
 
18.
Avatar (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home. (162 mins.)
Director: James Cameron
 
19.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A reluctant hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sets out to the Lonely Mountain with a spirited group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain home - and the gold within it - from the dragon Smaug. (169 mins.)
Director: Peter Jackson
 
20.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. Bilbo Baggins is in possession of a mysterious and magical ring. (161 mins.)
Director: Peter Jackson
 
21.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness. (144 mins.)
Director: Peter Jackson