Did Barb Wire lose money?

Barb Wire is a 1996 American superhero film based on the Dark Horse comic book series of the same name. Directed by David Hogan, the film stars Pamela Anderson as the title character. Barb Wire was produced on a budget of approximately $9 million and grossed just over $3 million at the box office, making it a significant financial loss for the studio.

Opening Weekend Performance

Barb Wire opened in 1,436 theaters on May 3, 1996. In its opening weekend, it grossed $3,794,000, ranking #4 at the domestic box office behind The Craft, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, and The Quest. With an opening weekend gross of just $3.7 million on a $9 million budget, Barb Wire was already on track to lose money theatrically based on its poor initial showing.

Total Domestic Gross

In its entire theatrical run, Barb Wire grossed $3,793,614 at the domestic box office according to Box Office Mojo. This was far below its production budget and indicated the film would be a significant money loser for the studio.

Performance Compared to Other Superhero Films in 1996

To provide context on the poor performance of Barb Wire in 1996, it is illustrative to compare its gross to other superhero films released that same year:

Film Domestic Gross
The Phantom $17,323,326
The Crow: City of Angels $17,917,287
Barb Wire $3,793,614

As this table shows, Barb Wire grossed less than a quarter of what The Phantom and The Crow: City of Angels made the same year, underscoring its weak box office performance relative to other superhero films at the time.

Critical Reception

In addition to its disappointing box office, Barb Wire was savaged by critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently holds a rotten rating of just 9% based on 32 reviews. Critics consensus states: “A punishingly inept sci-fi misfire, Barb Wire is too slow, stiff, and clumsy to deliver any absurd escapist fun.”

Some sample critical reviews:

  • “Take away the hyperactive visuals and the tired, hyperventilating MTV soundtrack and what you have left is boring at best and corny at worst.” – Desson Howe, Washington Post
  • “The comic-book adaptation Barb Wire is a monotonous succession of messy fights, chases, explosions, torture scenes, kinky sex and fascist imagery stolen from better sci-fi movies.” – Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle
  • “Barb Wire is a rock video gone bad, so wrapped up in style that it seems to have forgotten to be a movie.” – Chris Hicks, Deseret News

The overwhelmingly negative reviews clearly hurt Barb Wire’s ability to attract audiences and make money. The poor critical reception was another factor in its losing money.

Lack of Star Power

While Pamela Anderson was a huge star at the time due to Baywatch, she did not have proven box office draw outside of her famed red swimsuit. Being unable to open a movie to bigger numbers showed she lacked the true star power needed to carry an expensive action movie.

Her co-stars also lacked the level of fame to attract audiences. Temuera Morrison, Victoria Rowell, and Udo Kier were not major stars capable of putting people in seats. The lack of A-list star power hurt Barb Wire’s box office earnings versus other action and superhero movies with more famous leads.

Poor Timing of Release

Barb Wire’s release date of May 3, 1996 put it up against the second weekend of mega-hit comedy The Craft and the opening weekend of The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Trying to compete with two popular female-driven movies likely fractured its potential audience. Releasing on a less competitive weekend could have increased its opening box office take.

Additionally, mid-1990s audiences did not yet have today’s massive appetite for comic book superhero films. Outside of Batman and Superman, superhero movies were not as surefire then. Barb Wire’s more obscure source material was not the selling point it may have been just a few years later after comic book movies exploded.

High Expectations from Pamela Anderson’s Fame

As arguably the biggest sex symbol in the world at the time, Pamela Anderson’s casting likely raised expectations for Barb Wire’s performance. The studio may have overly relied on her stardom versus evaluating the lack of audience for a female comic book character. Unrealistic hopes for her to turn it into a hit led to a budget and marketing campaign too large for its actual demand.

Competition from Other Films

Looking at the wider film releases in Spring 1996, Barb Wire also had to compete with other major action fare for the male-driven audiences. The Crow: City of Angels released just a week after Barb Wire, likely syphoning away comic book and action movie fans. The mega-hit action flick Eraser with Arnold Schwarzenegger opened the same month. Facing off against these testosterone-fueled movies was another hurdle for Barb Wire’s success.

R Rating Limited Audience

Barb Wire was rated R by the MPAA for sexuality and violence. This restricted audiences under age 17 from seeing the film and limited its revenue potential versus a more accessible PG-13 rating. R-rated comic book movies typically need strong reviews and buzz to overcome the reduced audience, which Barb Wire sorely lacked.

No Breakout Hit Songs

Music is key to many action blockbusters, but Barb Wire failed to produce a breakout Billboard hit song. Its soundtrack included songs from Pearl Jam, Iggy Pop, and Bob Dylan but no signature single that took over the airwaves. Lacking a Top 40 smash robbed the movie of the musical momentum often vital to drive box office these days.

Poor Marketing

According to contemporary reports, studio Gramercy Pictures struggled to effectively market Barb Wire amidst management changes. With reported internal conflicts and turnover, the marketing campaign lacked cohesion. Posters failed to generate strong interest despite reliance on Anderson’s sex appeal. The trailers also failed to showcase the movie’s story or ingredients for success. Weak marketing failed to build solid buzz or convey an intriguing concept to audiences.

Stiff Competition Following Release

In the weeks after its debut, Barb Wire faced mounting competition sucking away audiences. Mega-hits Twister and Mission: Impossible opened shortly after, dominating moviegoer attention and ticket sales. Even competing against those movies for a few weeks hurt Barb Wire’s ability to show any box office legs in subsequent weekends.

Lack of Awards Recognition

Despite campaigns by Gramercy Pictures, Barb Wire was completely shut out from major awards recognition following its release. It failed to pick up any nominations from the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, MTV Movie Awards, Kids’ Choice Awards, or other ceremonies. Lacking this validation from the Hollywood community damaged its reputation and inhibited word of mouth that may have extended its run.

Low Home Video Sales

Upon its release on VHS and DVD later in 1996, Barb Wire again underperformed expectations. Without strong reviews or box office to drive interest, home video sales and rentals failed to pick up significant slack. Weak performance in both theaters and the home video market capped its ability to eventually turn a profit.


Analyzing Barb Wire’s terrible opening weekend, disappointing total gross, overwhelmingly negative reviews, lack of star power, poor release timing, high expectations for Anderson, stiff competition, R rating limiting audiences, ineffective marketing, immediate competition after opening, lack of awards recognition, and weak home video sales – it becomes abundantly clear why the movie lost significant money.

The film failed to resonate with critics or audiences on nearly every front. In the end, the hype surrounding Pamela Anderson did not translate into a hit movie vehicle. The lack of a compelling story or buzzworthy elements doomed Barb Wire to a fast slide into obscurity and the stigma of a notorious box office bomb. All empirical data and expert analysis shows Barb Wire losing many millions for Gramercy Pictures, a loss the studio no doubt came to regret greenlighting.

Leave a Comment