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From "Howard the Duck" to "Bonfire of the Vanities," big buck flops are the bane of the movie industry, and every season brings a bumper crop.

The high profile "Bonfire" is only the latest in a long series, according to an article in the current issue of Cosmopolitan, and the bad news about the movie version of Tom Wolfe's novel was delivered by Joel Siegel on "Good Morning America," who called it the "Bomb-fire of the Vanities."Any long Hollywood career will be decorated with a flop. Richard Zanuck, whose film "Driving Miss Daisy" won the best picture Oscar last year, also has among his credits the 1968 Julie Andrews musical "Star!," which he dubbed "my Edsel."

Two decades earlier his father, Darryl F. Zanuck, spent a fortune on "Wilson," a biography of Woodrow Wilson about which Zanuck said, "The Republicans didn't boycott it, but the American public did."

Even Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" was a bomb in 1946, although it has since become a classic, thanks to television reruns.

"The neorealism of postwar Italian movies and the seriousness of an American movie like `The Best Years of Our Lives' made `It's A Wonderful Life' seem sort of old-fashioned," star Jimmy Stewart said. "Frank made a few more pictures, but I think it discouraged him."

Director David Lean won two Oscars for "Bridge On The River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia," but the critics ripped him for "Ryan's Daughter" in 1970. Lean didn't make another film until 14 years later, when "A Passage To India" won great acclaim.

Mike Medavoy, chairman of Tri-Star Pictures, said, "The general saying goes that a director needs one hit for every three films to keep working."

He cited Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch director who attracted attention with his 1984 "The Fourth Man." His first American movie, a 1985 medieval adventure called "Flesh and Blood," was a disaster, said Medavoy, who backed it. Verhoeven went on to direct the 1987 box office bonanza, "Robocop," and last summer's even bigger hit with Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Total Recall."

Elaine May had no such happy ending. After her 1972 success with "The Heartbreak Kid," she bombed with "Mikey and Nicky." May shot three times more film on the movie than David O. Selznick did on "Gone With The Wind." It bombed.

No more directing offers came her way, but Warren Beatty hired her to co-write in his 1978 "Heaven Can Wait" and Dustin Hoffman asked her to contribute to the script of 1982's "Tootsie."

"The most successful movies have been adult comedies," said Columbia's then chief executive Guy McElwaine, explaining why, in 1985, he hired May to write and direct Beatty and Hoffman in "Ishtar," for a reported salary of $1.5 million.

The movie went $23 million over budget and was nicknamed Warrengate for producer Beatty. No one went to see it.

"Ishtar" probably will break even, however, thanks to markets in foreign countries, cable, network TV and videocassette distributors that make it almost impossible for a film made after 1985 to finish in the red.