Things That Never Turned a Profit

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I just read on the IMDb website this morning that the Tolkien heirs have yet to be paid their 7.5 percent of profits because the studio has claimed that the movies never made a profit. This reminded me that I had previously read that Return of the Jedi never turned a profit, and that’s why the Lucas People haven’t paid David Prowse for his amazing performance walking and pretending to choke people with his fingers.

A lot of people surely draw from this further evidence that the true creative talents in Hollywood aren’t the writers, directors, actors, etc. but the accountants. But what a lot of people are forgetting is that many of the most famous products in history never made (or allegedly never made) a profit. So, that’s why I’ve written up this quick list of some of the most spectacular unbelievable failures, along with the reasons for their failure (or alleged failure).


The official exercise machine of lazy bums everywhereThe Bowflex has dominated the nation’s airwaves for more than a hundred years now, having been released alongside the Model T as half of Henry Ford’s two-pronged assault on American wallets. But like the assembly line process that was the true genius of the Model T, the Bowflex’s true genius was not in its design but in its method of distribution: infomercials.

Now, TV was not yet in its infancy, nor was it even in the womb. Radio, however, had already been born, but it was still in its infancy, and so was not an appropriate medium for infomercial advertising either. Instead, Ford used newspapers.

Yes, Henry Ford would purchase an entire days’ worth of newspapers, usually a day that no one read the paper on, like a Thursday, and filled it with page after page of dubious claim and questionable celebrity endorsement. The most famous being, of course, Chuck Norris, whose increasing demands for profit sharing eventually caused the Bowflex Corporation (long since spun off from the Ford Motor Company when they realized that the Bowflex Machine did not have a motor) to go bankrupt.

Now, I know a lot of misinformation has been spread about Chuck recently, but the truth of the matter is that Chuck’s beard was going bald, and the only thing that would stop the steady advance of peach fuzz was Rogaine. Rogaine is pretty cheap now, but in the early twentieth century, it cost about a hundred bucks a bottle.

Soon, the Bowflex Corporation could not afford to pay Chuck’s demands (which had grown, through years of incredibly successful negotiation from Team Norris, to almost 96% of gross receipts). So, in turn, the Bowflex Corporation decided to declare that they had never made a dime, and if Chuck Norris wanted to disagree, then he would have to show them where the money went by examining a hundred and fifty pages of extremely complicated accounting.

Now, Chuck Norris is many things: a fighter, an actor, a recording artist, but he is not a member of the intelligentsia. (For proof: see his endorsement of Mike Huckabee.) As a result, Norris was unable to unmask the Bowflex Corporation’s treachery, and has had to rely instead on licensing his image to ironic T-shirts.


Proactiv, while suffering from the same sorts of celebrity-endorsement related problems of Bowflex, never succumbed to the increasing profit demands of its Famous Faces, primarily because there is no shortage of acne-afflicted singers who want to make an extra buck.

Unfortunately, Proactiv failed precisely for the same reason it succeeded. Proactiv’s collection of creams and ointments are so effective in treating skin blemishes because they are blessed by a team of wizards and witches attuned to the vibrations of the Universe. And it ain’t just magic spells that go into their products. A single tube of Proactiv Solution requires the blood of three virgins, ice from the top of Mt. Everest, a lock of hair from an American Idol Winner (no finalists), and half a can of New Coke. Needless to say, this combination is quite expensive. Proactiv loses three-thousand dollars on every tube sold, a disparity they hoped to make up through a combination of increased volume and a magic spell designed to slowly transform their customers into zombies.


Concept art used in the development of the E.L.V.I.S. Mk. 5.

Few people know (though it can be learned by just a few clicks on that powerful information resource we call Wikipedia) that Elvis, or as he is more correctly known, the E.L.V.I.S. Mk. 5, was created in a lab in 1956 as an Ultimate Weapon to fight the spread of communism. The idea was that Elvis’ hip-shaking tunes, which had been extracted from black people through a painful mental procedure, would cause the youth of the Soviet Union to rebel against their leaders and riot in the streets. Hopefully, the E.L.V.I.S. Mk. 5 would lead to the rise of anti-establishment Soviet rock which would supremely weaken their authoritarian control.

Unfortunately, Elvis was accidentally released in Memphis, where it managed to do the same thing to Western culture that its inventors had hoped it would do to Soviet culture. Luckily for them, they had built a self-destruct feature into the E.L.V.I.S. Mk. 5, which gradually lead to his addiction to pain-killers and association with Col. Parker.

The reason that, despite selling more than a billion records worldwide, the E.L.V.I.S. Mk. 5 never made money is that it left, in its wake, drug and fast food bills totaling in the trillions, and the creators/owners of the robot still feel they will never repay the exceptional peanut butter and banana bills the King of Rock and Roll left in his wake.


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