Remembering some classic chokes
Distraught Atlanta Braves players sit in the dugout after the Philadelphia Phillies pulled ahead 4-3.
September 29th, 2011
04:31 PM ET

Remembering some classic chokes

The Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals won wild card berths in the playoffs after dramatic victories Wednesday thanks to some major-league choking.

Trailing 7-0 to the American League East champion New York Yankees in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Rays launched an astonishing comeback to win in the 12th inning. The Rays' victory capped a remarkable turnaround, with the Florida-based team having been nine games behind the Red Sox on September 3.

There was similar drama in the National League, as the Cardinals capitalized on the Atlanta Braves' 4-3 loss to the National League East champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Cardinals beat Houston 8-0 to earn the other wild card spot.

Naturally, the teams' massive letdowns led to a large discussion of the biggest chokes in history. It'd be easy to count down the biggest ones in sports history (ahem, Bill Buckner), so instead, we're taking a look at pop culture and business to bring you the products and companies that put a whole lot of hype behind something, only for it to massively fail.

Let us know what other cultural and business "chokes" we may have missed in the comments below.

New Coke

It has long been the epitome of a total marketing fail. On April 23, 1985, after some apparently insanely misleading taste tests, Coca-Cola trotted out a new formula for its tried-and-true flagship soft drink. It had been 99 years since Coca-Cola had tampered with the recipe, and the company quickly learned to appreciate the “if-it-ain’t-broke” adage.

By June, the soft drink king was receiving 1,500 outraged calls a day. Even Coca-Cola had trouble completely spinning it to its advantage, saying consumers “had a deep emotional attachment to the original, and they begged and pleaded to get it back.” The company relented on July 10 – that’s 78 days later, folks – and presented Coca-Cola Classic – i.e. the original formula – to the delight of millions. New Coke was left to the cult following of Max Headroom.

Watch Bill Cosby introduce the product:

And now, you can see Pepsi's brilliant commercial rebuttal.

The Edsel and the Aztek

At Pontiac, the Aztek was designed as a cross between a minivan and an SUV. But it was kicked to the curb by car buyers – and Time magazine, which called it one of the worst cars of all time. Later, Time added to the Aztek’s nonlegendary status by terming it one of the 50 worst inventions in history.

Critics said the Aztek’s exterior styling was, in a word, hideous. Produced for the 2001-2005 model years, the vehicle was marketed toward young drivers, but it was priced too high for many.

Of course, there’s a reason why “Edsel” has become another word for failure.

In the late 1950s, Ford Motor Co. rolled out the Edsel, an automobile that featured, among other things, a push-button transmission control that was in the center of the steering wheel. Many drivers confused it with the horn.

But that wasn’t all. The Edsel – which happened to be the name of company founder Henry Ford’s son – was lambasted for its design, which included a “horse-collar” grille that some critics said resembled “an Oldsmobile sucking on a lemon.”

Ford spent about $400 million to develop the cars, or about $3 billion in today's money, according to Hagerty Insurance, a company that insures collectible cars. During the Edsel's short life, only 118,000 cars were sold, about half of what Ford needed to break even.

The company threw in the towel on the Edsel in late 1959.  Those familiar with the same fate? The Chevy Citation, Renault Alliance and Plymouth Volare: All were destined for the scrap heap, and every one of them was a critics' pick.

“Cleopatra” (1963)

What started out as a relatively inexpensive costume drama remake of a 1917 silent film quickly became the movie that almost sank 20th Century Fox. Tremendous cost overruns, start-and-stop production bungles and incredible off-screen drama (especially Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s torrid affair) eventually ballooned the budget to $44 million – almost $300 million in 2005 dollars. The film didn’t make its money back until it was sold for two network TV showings in 1966.

“The Jay Leno Show” (2009-10)

NBC had a great idea. Conan O’Brien was going to take over “The Tonight Show,” Jay Leno needed a job, and the network’s 10 p.m. dramas were tanking. How about Leno at 10, five nights a week? Whoops. Not only was the comedy mediocre and the ratings terrible, the ensuing wreckage forced NBC into a series of decisions that created bad publicity and eventually prompted an angry O’Brien to leave the network. (He now works for TBS, which, like CNN, is a division of Time Warner.)

Watch fellow late night comedian Jimmy Kimmel rip on the show with Leno.

“Ishtar” (1987)

Put Hollywood legends Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman together with comedy writing genius Elaine May, and what do you get? A painfully unfunny film about two lounge singers traipsing around North Africa. The critics raved: “It's not funny, it's not smart and it's interesting only in the way a traffic accident is interesting,” wrote Roger Ebert. The film, which cost a rumored $55 million, earned just $14.4 million at the box office.

“Waterworld” (1995)

“Fishtar.” “Kevin’s Gate.” This 1995 film produced by and starring Kevin Costner as a post-apocalyptic mariner, sailing the Earth's waters after the polar ice caps have melted, was one of the most expensive ever made at an estimated $175 million. It made just half that at the U.S. box office, but actually received some decent reviews and did well overseas, thus blunting criticism. Still, there are few fond memories: Joss Whedon, who did some late script rewrites, described his experience as “seven weeks of hell.”

National anthem ... attempts

It is the song you have to know the words to. In theory, that should be no problem, but the national anthem has been a part of some of the biggest musical flops in front of massive crowds because of both horrible singing, or the complete lack of knowledge of the words.

It'd be easy to make the "Oh say, can you sing?" jokes, so instead, you can check out the two dominant anthem choke artists at their finest: Roseanne Barr (turn the volume down for that one) and Christina Aguilera.

Corfam (1963)

DuPont spent years – and more than $100 million - creating this artificial leather. Though initially praised, the material soon revealed a host of problems – notably that, unlike real leather, Corfam didn’t breathe. The company pulled the plug in 1971. The New York Times called the product “DuPont’s $100 million Edsel.”

Webvan (1999-2001)

You get online. You order your groceries. Your groceries are delivered straight to your residence. What could be more convenient? Sounds like a good idea, but Webvan tried to grow too fast too soon, hit turbulence with the dot-com bust, and finally went out of business in 2001. CNet ranked it No. 1 on its list of “top 10 dot-com flops.”

“Carrie: The Musical” (1988)

The list of Broadway flops is a rich one, but few have touched this attempt to turn Stephen King’s novel (and the ensuing 1976 hit movie) into a musical. The production cost an estimated $8 million – a fortune at the time – and ran just 16 previews and five performances before backers backed out.

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. bigwilliestyles

    How about: CNN's Political Ticker, The Fraud of Free Speech?

    September 29, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. george lewis

    There can be some money to be made collecting some of these flops. Look at what a 58 Edsel is worth and what about an original movie poster of "Cleopatra". An original New Coke can is also worth bucks. The bigger the flop with all the negative intricacies the more valuable!!

    September 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    I choked on a candy one Hallowe'en.

    September 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kevin in Atlanta

    As a die hard Braves fan, I pretty much broke down in tears last night. The only comforting thought I had was that my roommate is a die hard Boston fan and I could rub it in her face as she kept saying the BoSox were going all the way...

    We ended up drinking our sorrows away at the local bar instead 😦

    September 29, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • nagrom

      Yeah buddy I thought both Atlanta and Boston had it tied up. After all isn't Atlanta the home of the former Boston Braves? How eerie is that dude? Wha Wahhh Wahhh TAMPA doesn't deserve a good team. They have no fans. How do they continue to exist. UGH the curse of Tampa.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Gouldan

    Crystal Pepsi.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Alex

    Wow, this jerk of an author decided to take a cheap shot a Bill Buckner.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • nagrom

      Yeah Sucks too. I really feel bad for Buckner. He had an outstanding career and for a stupid bounce like that to happen just didn't seem fair. And it was the damn right fielder who misplayed the fly ball and the pitcher who let a lead get away that were equally at fault. Not to mention the manager who made the calls. Can you tell it still hurts even until today.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gung hoe

    I think it was the 09 tigers had a stranglehold 7 game lead at the beginning of sept and lost a one game playoff to the dang twinkies ,But thats ok the tales are turned this year

    September 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Aaron

    Another vote for Crystal Pepsi

    September 29, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Andreas Moser

    I am very dizzy from smoking a big Cuban cigar. *walking like a drunkard*

    September 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. gung hoe

    How bout supposed to be a new kind scary movie BLAIR WITCH PROJECT what a joke litlle more than a hour in I was sound asleep ,My wife later told me didnt miss anything

    September 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Derweissengel

    Come on people, this is for the wild card. These teams will be history by early next week. The media has nothing else to write about.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • EricD

      Because the Yankees and the Phillies are very, very good, you are probably right. But check out the following teams have won the World Series as a wild-card winner: Florida Marlins (1997 and 2003), Anaheim Angels (2002), Boston Red Sox (2004).

      September 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bob

    buckner is amazing !

    September 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JohnBoy

    Author has to be Yanks fan. Still saying that Buckner was the biggest choke in history? Umm, everyone knows that 1. The game was already tied and 2. There was still a game 7. Everyone know that the biggest choke in baseball history was being up 3 games to 0 with 1 strike....and then losing 4 games in a row to their bitter rival. Those chokers my friends = The New York Yankees. It doesn't matter how many rings you have, it matters who can choke the worst. You can say the Sox choked this year, we are used to that. But until someone else blows a 3-0 championship lead, the Yankees still stand to be the BIGGEST choke in history.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sauce

      Bruins up 3 games to 0 agains the Flyers. Up 3 goals in the 2nd period. Lose game 4...5..6...7

      September 30, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. sonic10158

    I am a Braves fan, but sh!t they sucked this month

    September 29, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. C. Sheen

    There were some pretty good chokes in The devil & miss jones and Behind the green door.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
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