When Disney Rides Failed at the Box Office

Since Disneyland first opened in 1955, there has been a crossover between Disney’s theme parks and their studio’s movies. Initially, this relationship revolved around the parks adapting Disney’s films in ways that ranged from attractions like the famous Fantasyland dark rides to various promotions, parades, and character appearances linked to whatever then-new film Disney was about to release. In the last two decades, the relationship has also begun flowing the other way, with Disney’s iconic theme park attractions inspiring films. However, for every mega, franchise-spanning hit like Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl or Jungle Cruisethere have been box office bombs based on Disney theme park attractions.

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Mission to Mars (2000):

Many Disney fans may not remember that the first film based on a Disney attraction was 2000’s Mission to Mars. Based on the proto-simulator ride that was a staple of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland from 1975 (when it replaced the similar Flight to the Moon) until the early 1990s, this Brian De Palma sci-fi epic eschews most of the ride’s characters, story, and aesthetic. Instead, the film’s story revolves around a rescue mission to save the first-manned Mars exploration mission, and stars Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O’Connell, and Kim Delaney.

The Mission to Mars Attraction – Disney

while Mission to Mars wasn’t as big a financial bomb as some of the other entries on our list – the film actually eked out a small profit, pulling in $111 million on a $100 million budget – it was a failure in the sense that it was very quickly forgotten by audiences.

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The Country Boys (2002):

While many Disney fans may not even remember Mission to Mars exists, the majority is certainly aware of 2002’s The Country Bears…though they likely wish they weren’t. Despite being technically based on the iconic opening day Walt Disney World animatronic musical show (which also ran in Disneyland from 1972 to 2001), the film mostly ignored the songs and characters from the beloved show. Instead, the movie focused on modern country music and original characters in a story that satirized the then-popular Behind the Music style “rise & fall & return” format, by having a young fan attempt to reunite his long-broken-up favorite band.

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Despite some very impressive technical work — especially the puppetry involved in the creation of the bears — and some memorable cameos, The Country Bears was a massive box office and critical flop. The film left some critics and audience members alike thinking that Disney would never be able to successfully adapt a theme park attraction into a film. However, that would all change the following year…

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The Haunted Mansion (2003):

2003 should have been a banner year for Disney films based on theme park attractions. That July, the company released Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl to critical and commercial acknowledgment. The film was a surprise smash hit, becoming one of the biggest films of the year and proving that theme park attraction-based films could draw in massive audiences. Disney was flying high in the wake of Black Pearl’s success… until The Haunted Mansion brought them crashing back to Earth.

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Hopes had initially been high for the cinematic adaptation of Disney’s masterpiece attraction, however the film failed with both critics and fans alike. The former felt that the humor was forced, the story was weak, and the special effects didn’t work while the latter were disappointed that the film focused more on a human family (lead by patriarch Eddie Murphy) than classic Haunted Mansion characters like Madame Leota, Master Gracey, and the Ghost Host.

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The film did technically turn a profit, however the negative reaction from critics and movie-goers put any thoughts of a sequel six feet under.

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Tomorrowland (2015):

Following the concurrent massive success of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and failure of The Haunted MansionDisney (perhaps understandably) didn’t release a non-POTC sequel theme park adaptation for over a decade. That finally changed in 2015 with the release of Tomorrowland. The film, helmed by Incredibles other Ratatouille writer/director Brad Bird, combined numerous elements of Disney history and mythology — including Walt Disney’s futurism, the 1964 World’s Fair, and (obviously) the Tomorrowland areas of the theme parks — into a story that revolved around a historic secret society, robots, and an alternate dimension.

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Beyond the film itself, Disney marketed Tomorrowland through a series a viral websites mixed with a real-world scavenger hunt-style game known as The Optimist which built out the alternate Disney history presented in the film. However, despite this effort, an all-star cast led by George Clooney, and some popularity among hardcore Disney fans, Tomorrowland was a massive box office bomb. Industry estimates found that the company lost between $120 and $150 million on the film, which immediately scuttled any plans for sequels, spin-offs, or other expansions of the franchise.

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What are your opinions of these Disney attraction-based box office bombs? Do you think they deserved to fail, or do you find any other better than their reputation suggests?Are you excited about the upcoming, supposedly more true to the attraction Haunted Mansion reboot movie? Let us know in the comments below.

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