Big Money, Bad Movies: The Worst Films To Make Over $500 Million

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Scene from San Andreas. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

By Adam Wenger

A few weeks ago, San Andreas defiantly debuted at No. 1 at the box office, despite being largely panned by critics. The summer blockbuster, which attempts to show how doomed we all are when the next big earthquake hits, is the latest poorly received film that audiences nevertheless embraced. Inspired by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s ability to consistently turn tripe into gold, here’s a look at the worst reviewed films to earn over $500 million* at the box office.


The Day After Tomorrow (2004)


Worldwide gross: $544 Million

Rotten Tomatoes score: 44 percent

Another film that rankled critics and scientists alike, The Day After Tomorrow depicts climate change gone bad, very bad. It’s an apocalyptic Ice Age story that’s as scientifically accurate as Kylie Jenner’s tweets. Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers gave The Day After Tomorrow a one star rating, writing: “The only truly scary thing about this doomsday popcorn flick is the monumental ineptitude of the acting, writing and directing.”


Armageddon (1998)

Worldwide gross: $553 Million

Rotten Tomatoes score: 39 percent

Space cowboys who save the planet? Ben Affleck doing naughty things with animal crackers? Michael Bay’s space blockbuster is a film no one who grew up in the '90s wants to admit they liked, but everyone saw. Like a cheesy bowl of French onion soup, it was a rich recipe for commercial success that didn’t settle well with critics. Roger Ebert called it “an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained.” 


The Hangover II (2011)

Worldwide gross: $587 million

Rotten Tomatoes score: 34 percent

One of the most highly anticipated comedy sequels in recent memory, The Hangover II was destined for box office greatness. It didn’t really matter what was on screen. They could have filmed Zach Galifianakis throwing up for two hours and made money. Needless to say, the second installment felt about as good as your second hangover, or as the the Wall Street Journal put it: “rancid and predictable.” You knew exactly what you were in for, yet it still hurt.


The Smurfs (2011)

Worldwide gross: $562 million

Rotten Tomatoes score: 22 percent

Is this the worst children's show-to-film adaptation of all time? No. That would be Inspector Gadget. But The Smurfs is certainly one of the most painful to make a boatload of money. Lured by Katy Perry and crippling nostalgia, parents who grew up with the tiny blue creatures took their kids to theaters in droves. Hollywood cashed in. Critics sighed. TheWrap called it a “a poopy cerulean diaper” that “does for children’s entertainment what lead paint does for children’s toys.”


Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Worldwide gross: $570 million

Rotten Tomatoes score: 25 percent

Hollywood optioned this erotic novel faster than your mom could Google “What is S&M?” A turgid marketing campaign, a good dose of curiosity, and a built-in fan base all worked together to whip up the perfect storm. Terrible reviews couldn’t stop fans. Though Peter Travers called it “about as erotic as an ad for Pottery Barn,” Fifty Shades would go on to become just the sixth R-rated film to ever top $500 million.


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (2012)

Worldwide gross: $712 million

Rotten Tomatoes score: 24 percent

Of all the films in the Twilight Saga, it’s Breaking Dawn - Part 1 that made the most money in the face of terrible reviews. The movie earned over $500 million worldwide in just 12 days, which coincidentally is the current record for time needed to get Kristen Stewart to smile in a room filled with kittens. Slate called it a “terrible movie.” Roger Ebert actually liked it, but he also called Fast Times at Ridgemont High a failure. Even the best make mistakes.


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Worldwide gross: $1 billion

Rotten Tomatoes score: 33 percent

Calling this film a shipwreck is generous. Shipwrecks aren’t all bad; sometimes they leave treasure behind, or inspire James Cameron to build a really expensive fake boat! Keeping with the water-themed metaphors, On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in this Disney franchise, is a clogged toilet. You really want to flush the excrement away, but no matter how hard you try, the turd keeps floating back with a vengeance. The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern was so upset with the film’s score, he “wanted to chloroform an entire orchestra.” Naturally, a fifth film is scheduled for release in 2017.


Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Worldwide gross: $1.1 billion

Rotten Tomatoes score: 18 percent

USA Today called the sequel “deafening, deadening and about two hours too long,” while New York Post critic Kyle Smith wondered whether it was all an inside joke. “You get the feeling the guy who wrote Transformers: Age of Extinction used the entire script as a passive-aggressive running joke on his boss, director Michael Bay." Believe it or not, it wasn’t. Even more shocking: Replacing Shia LaBeouf with Mark Walbergh wasn’t enough to make this film watchable. 


The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Worldwide gross: $612 million

Rotten Tomatoes score: 49 percent

Back when Mel Gibson was still relevant, he made The Passion of the Christ. Depending on whom you ask, it’s either the most moving, intense film of 2004, or a gory, offensive piece of garbage. Roger Ebert gave it four stars, while the New York Daily News called it "the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II.” Not up for debate: The movie’s enormous box office haul.


*Total global box office revenue, not adjusted for inflation, courtesy