10 Famous Companies That Went Bankrupt

When we see companies dominate a segment of the marketplace, generate billions in revenues, and become a permanent fixture of society, it is hard to envision these brands going out of business and entering the dust bins of history. But this is creative destruction at work – or just good old-fashioned incompetence. If you compare the list of top Fortune 100 companies from just 50 years ago to today, the list is halved, and it will be like that in another 50 years.

Do you think Facebook will be around in 2050? Will Amazon be the richest company in the world in the next couple of generations? Time will tell, but the way the market is, it’s very possible for any company – even the most successful or famous companies – to go bankrupt.

The Twitters and the Hudson’s Bays of the world could one day become insolvent and eventually join the long list of others that shuttered their doors. Don’t believe it?

Here is a list of 10 famous companies that went bankrupt:

1. Toys ‘R’ Us – Company went bankrupt in 2018

When you walked into Toys ‘R’ Us as a child, you felt like a kid in some kind of a store (sorry, that was a “Simpsons” reference). But, seriously, Toys ‘R’ Us was such a magical experience for millennial kids, whether it was purchasing the latest Power Rangers toy or a Super Nintendo game.

That’s why it was shocking – not shocking to those who followed its lack of innovation – when it was reported that it was filing for bankruptcy. It failed to go beyond the brick-and-mortar business model and was late to the show when ecommerce ballooned. Plus, pricing was not that much different compared to what you would find on Amazon or at Wal-Mart.

2. Payless ShoeSource – Company went bankrupt in 2017

In today’s marketplace, you can purchase your week’s groceries, buy a couple of mobile phones and a data plan, and acquire some new shoes all at the same place. So, if this is the case, why would you step foot inside a shoe store? Good question; you’re just wasting time.

Perhaps that’s what spelled Payless ShoeSource’s demise – in addition to failing to adopt a stupendous online ecosystem. It’s becoming a lot easier to buy dress shoes and sneakers online than ever before. Payless just couldn’t do this properly.

3. Kodak – Company went bankrupt in 2012

Back in the day, Kodak was one of the biggest companies around for its groundbreaking photography. However, in the age of digital photography, when everyone is carrying a camera in their pockets, Kodak failed to change its model of print photography. Eventually as most consumers turned to digital cameras for their picture needs, the company drowned in $6.75 billion in red ink.

A Kodak moment? Not quite.

4. Enron – Company went bankrupt in 2001

If you’re young, you have probably heard of Enron, but you still don’t know the exact story. It’s a bit complicated. To condense the scandal, here’s what happened: the electricity and natural gas business had cooked the books, so its bottom line was fictitious and fraudulent. By the end of 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy, but it produced a ripple effect across the entire economy, leaving thousands out of work, losing huge sums of money for investors, and launching a federal investigation.

5. Blockbuster – Company went bankrupt in 2010

Before the era of pirating motion pictures, sending and receiving DVDs in the mail, and streaming your favorite films and television shows, there was Blockbuster. You likely remember your family taking you after school to Blockbuster to grab a bunch of videotapes for your Friday night flicks.

Simply put: it was always an event to visit Blockbuster.

These memories were not enough to sustain its business model. It seems like the younger consumers liked the convenience of streaming the latest Hollywood blockbusters and TV shows on their computers and television sets. The company tried its best to maintain operations, but it failed, filing for bankruptcy in 2010. Blockbuster could still be around today if it bought Netflix.

There is a hilarious Blockbuster account on Twitter that pokes fun at 1990s references.

6. Radio Shack – Company went bankrupt in 2015

Radio Shack was the place to go for batteries in the 1990s. It was also the place to go for batteries in the 2000s. It was also the place to go for batteries in the 2010s. And that’s about it.

Radio Shack, despite the recommendations and warnings, failed to redirect the sinking ship. As other electronic retailers sold the latest gadgets and their supplies, Radio Shack still sold telephone extension cords and alarm clocks. Consumers were not pleased, even as Radio Shack attempted to have an online presence.

Since 2015, Radio Shack has filed for bankruptcy three times.

7. Pan Am – Company went bankrupt in 1971

Pan American World Airways, also known as Pan Am, was one of the first airlines in 1927. It flew mail and passengers between Florida and Cuba, and it was considered the best airline in the business with highly-trained staff.

The company’s demise began in the 1970s, when the energy crisis jacked up the cost of fuel prices and diminished demand for flights. Following a hijacking in 1986 and a terrorist bombing two years later, Pan Am flew no more and went bankrupt in 1991.

8. Pets.com – Company went bankrupt in 2000

There was one domain that represented everything wrong with the dot-com era: pets.com.

Founded in November 1998 and shut down two years later, the website sold pet supplies to online shoppers. By 2000, it lost $147 million as investors were no longer interested in the company. Pets.com will go down as the biggest dot-com disasters in history.

9. Polaroid – Company went bankrupt in 2008

Like Kodak, Polaroid was one of the biggest photography brands in the world, reporting $3 billion in revenues in its peak in 1978. And like Kodak, it failed to adapt to the changing times, filing for bankruptcy in 2008. However, the iconic instant film company did overhaul the brand, offering a wide variety of inexpensive digital products, from LCD flat-screen televisions to digital cameras to tablets.

But Polaroid will never have market share in any area like it did in the 1970s.

10. Marvel – Company went bankrupt in 1996

Yes, Marvel is a powerhouse brand today. That wasn’t always the case before it brought its iconic superheroes to the big screen. The parent company of Marvel Comics had serious fiscal issues in the early-1990s, and it was unable to reach a bailout measure with bondholders. As a result, it filed for bankruptcy in 1996.

For lovers of “The Avengers” franchise, you can thank the risky merger with Isaac Perlmutter’s Toy Biz for its rejuvenation.

If this list of companies that went bankrupt teaches you anything, it’s that any business – no matter how big or small – can close its doors at anytime. It may have been an innovative, cutting edge, and ultra-successful company in the past, but if it remains stagnant and fails to adapt to evolving market decisions, then it will fail. It’s hard to fathom Amazon closing its web portal doors, but there will be another business in the future that does something better than Jeff Bezos and Co.

  • Show Comments

  • Thomas

    Oh man, I still have such a hard time believing that Toys’R Us went bankrupt! I grew up with that toy store, it was like a major part of my childhood. I would beg my parents to take me there every weekend to buy new toys and stuff…and now it’s gone.

    • Juliet Bennett

      Yeah, I feel the same way and I bet a lot of people are shocked about their bankruptcy. If there’s any consolation, Toys’R Us seems to be still in operation here in Canada, for the time being anyway.

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