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. EricD

    In the last nine years, seven of the 18 clubs that have played in the World Series have been wild-card teams and almost all of them have been hot at the end of the regular season.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. M. Manchel

    Question did the carrie musical have 6 min of gratutious nudity to start off with.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buck Naked

      Maybe more people would have gone to see it if it did

      September 30, 2011 at 4:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. nwi

    Walter White takes exception to your Aztek comments.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nathan

      Haha, awesome. Every time I see him in that car, I think, if you want to make millions of dollars in drug trafficking and lay low while doing it, THAT is the car to drive.

      September 30, 2011 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  4. CS

    Headline is about "classic chokes". Not one of these examples is a choke, they are all simply flops.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • I.P. Freely

      I think the CNN Senior Editor is a bot written by a GT intern.

      September 30, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  5. carla

    I wish the ORIGINAL Coke was still around. It never did go back to what it was.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kent Bowen

    This is a SPORTS story...I was expecting to find examples of other chokes by SPORTS teams. Get it, CNN?

    September 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kent Bowen

    OK, so no one cares...I'll make one last comment and then slip into the night...Coke is only relevant when it comes to SPORTS teams chocking when their star is using it on a regular basis and that affects his performance. And, I ain't talking soda, here, folks...

    September 29, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ridiculous

    "ahhhm Bill Buckner." That's the best you could come up with? It's pretty safe to say you are not a sports fan. 2004 Yankees are synonymous with biggest choke in sports.

    September 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • dholmes40

      I don't think anything beats the Sox choking this year. Sorry Sox fan..

      September 30, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Jake

      The 2004 win by the Sox definitely overshadows this year's collapse. And I'm not a Sox fan.

      September 30, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  9. yankees

    the only reason tampa bay won was because of the stupidity of the yankees management, who put in players who'd played minimal games and were very unknown

    September 29, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      please. they had a 7 run lead.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • ron

      The fix was in when they brought in Scott Proctor in extra innings. That's when I became convinced NY was throwing the game.

      September 30, 2011 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Sox Fan

      You're an idiot. As a Sox fan, I have to say it was a well managed game by the yankees. Why would you risk hurting any of your players or your good relievers? Please have a basic understanding of baseball before showing off your idiocy.

      September 30, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  10. gedwards

    "Let us know what other cultural and business "chokes" we may have missed in the comments below."
    The Obama Administration. It even gave rise to ODS – Obama Disappointment Syndrome.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Doug Baumken

    Regarding the implication that the launch of New coke was a massive mistake , is not necessarily the truth as to what really happened . Coke announces the NEW COKE to the masses [ tastes somewhat like PEPSI ] the public goes crazy , demanding the old Coke . They relaunch the old Coke . Now ask yourself How much airtime and print media did the company get , but most of all what was the sales of both New coke and the relaunch of old coke . Having a retail background we can state that it was the first time that inventories were depleted . and that coke could not supply . Did they increase their market share , they sure did . It may be the best marketing ploy that we have witnessed , but still to this day people still think it was a massive mistake – WAS IT

    September 29, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • gedwards

      President and CEO: "Some critics will say Coca-Cola made a marketing mistake. Some cynics will say that we planned the whole thing. The truth is we are not that dumb, and we are not that smart."

      September 30, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. Priscilla

    Roger Ebert is not God. Anybody who actually saw Ishtar and didn’t think it was funny has a humor malfunction. Most critics who gave the movie a bad review didn’t even bother to watch it, but were infected by bad publicity generated by Puttnam who had a bone to pick with the three major players in Ishtar: Elaine May, Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty. That;’s not fiction, that’s fact.

    September 30, 2011 at 4:38 am | Report abuse |
  13. champ

    barak obama's presidency.

    September 30, 2011 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
  14. bezerkur

    patriots beating the rams in S.B 36 was the biggest scam ever and i choked with disgust. it was fixed all the way.

    September 30, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  15. Mike

    A Choke is an example of a proven winner not performing up to their standards. Mostly, these example are not chokes but bad or misinformed decisions just not panning out.It isn't like the Edsel was a success and then turned into a flop. A better example of that would be the Ford Torus.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
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