Have you ever been so excited to see a movie, you count down the days on the calendar until its release, buy the first set of tickets for sale, wait in the line to sit in a crowded theater, and then wonder why you bothered? The movie could have been so hyped up that it made millions the first weekend at the box office, but it sucked badly. Now, turn that around. There are movies that had little to no hype, were looked at as strange or boring or unappealing, so no one lined up at the theaters, no one rushed out to buy tickets and the movie was a box office failure. But, these were really amazing movies – so amazing some of them are now in the top of the top lists, have been saved for historical reasons and have cult followings. The following list is of 11 movies who made miserable returns at the box office but are such awesome movies that it really didn’t matter. The list comprises everything from a wonderful holiday classic to one so violent movie-goers had to leave the theater before the end.
11. Fight Club
The first rule of Fight Club is that you won’t make money at the box office. A dark comedy staring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, it is now a cult classic, but it was a very controversial film at the time of its release. With an incredible amount of violence and moral misconduct, critics worried it would incite copycat violence. With mixed reviews and a lack of marketing, people did not flock to see this movie at the theatres. Instead, it only lived up to half of its budget. But, the movie was either so hated or so loved that people decided to watch it just to see what the fuss was about. It made another $100 million once released on home video.
10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Adapted from the Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name, this film starred the remarkable Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro in a drug-hazed plot. Only making just over half of its budget at the box office, it was seen as a flop. Critics were also very polarized, just as they were for Fight Club, basically stating that it could never be as good as the book, although others stated there was no story at all. Despite the low box office numbers and critical reviews, it became a cult classic with quite the following after the DVD release.
9. Blade Runner
Taking in a half a million dollars less from the box office than its budget, Blade Runner was considered a box office flop. Seen as just another science fiction flop competing with the many released in the 1980s, people weren’t storming the theaters to see it. But, once people did see it, it became a cult favorite, with fans saying it is the best science fiction film ever made. So acclaimed it became, the Library of Congress preserved the movie because it is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The film ended up making back its budget and more after being released on VHS and subsequently on DVD and Blu-Ray.
8. The Shawshank Redemption
The amazing story of a seemingly innocent man in prison failed to captivate audiences in 1994. Even after being nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning other various awards, movie-goers weren’t flocking to the box office. It was only until it was released on VHS when it quickly began to be noticed and was one of the most-rented movies of 1995. Only making $28 million at the box office, it made a total of $80 million after its release on VHS and those numbers are even higher now with television license fees added on. It is also consistently rated as a #1 movie on critic’s lists, even surpassing the cult classic The Godfather. It is definitely a must-see classic!
7. Children of Men
Rotten Tomatoes says Children of Men is a “violent chase thriller, a fantastical cautionary tale, and a sophisticated human drama about societies struggling to live”. Despite having universal acclaim, it flopped at the box office and didn’t make much in the after-release either. With a filming budget of $76 million, it didn’t even make half of that in the theaters, bringing in a meager $35.5 million. While video sales after the fact brought in another $25.5 million, it still didn’t meet its hefty budget. Even still, it is touted as one of the top ten movies of 2006 by a number of sources, many who rated it the best film of that year.
6. Citizen Kane
Orson Welles’ 1941 hit Citizen Kane was praised for its innovative techniques in cinematography, narrative structure and music. It was nominated in nine categories for Academy Awards and even won the Oscar for best writing. Some critics tout it as the best film of all time. Despite this, it brought in meager earnings at the box office. Part of the reason this movie did so poorly was what you could call bad press, or no press at all. Loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, he banned mention of the movie in all of his radio networks and newspapers, which was a substantial undertaking at the time. The message was also lost on many people who at the time didn’t agree with the cynical view of the American dream that the film portrayed. It wasn’t long after that audiences realized they had been incredibly wrong.
5. Dazed and Confused
The 1993 release of Dazed and Confused had an amazing cast, some of whom are now very well-known, but were virtual nobodies at the time. The film brought in less than $8 million to the box office, surpassing its low budget, but definitely couldn’t be seen as a blockbuster film. Following a group of stoned teenagers on their last day of school in the 70s, it wasn’t until it received amazing acclaim by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Roger Ebert and Rolling Stone that people began to notice the film. It tops lists like Best Cult Film and Best High School Film on a regular basis. The soundtrack is also pretty kick ass.
4. The Wizard of Oz
It’s hard to believe this beloved classic from 1939 was a box office flop, but it was. Even though it made in the millions, it still lost money due to its high production and distribution costs. But, to everyone’s shock, it was received with great acclaim and boosted Judy Garland to superstardom. Ten years ago, it was re-released with an IMAX 3D version, so this once-money draining film is now one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
3. Office Space
Another black comedy on the list, Office Space gained a cult following from IT professionals who could relate to the themes addressed in the movie. With pages of quotable lines and conversations, underpaid and under-appreciated workers unite to reenact the scenes in this unforgettable movie. But, at the time it was released it flopped at the box office and received so-so reviews from critics. This hasn’t stopped all of those who want to “rise-up” from enjoying the film. It is now rated as one of the 25 best comedies from the last 25 years by Entertainment Weekly.
2. The Big Lebowski
Another stoner comedy on the list, “the Dude” wasn’t taken seriously at the box office and made dismal returns on the budget. With a talented and well-known cast featuring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore and many more, it was written, produced and directed by the infamous Coen brothers. There were big expectations for this film, but it was met with mixed reviews that included one that said the amount of profanity made up for obvious dialogue gaps. Others claimed the Coen brothers had created their own weird and unique sub-genre in film. Either way, box office receipts barely covered the budget until others recognized that this film was golden. Dudeism is now an actual religion with over 220,000 members. There is also an annual Lebowski festival, held every year in Louisville, Kentucky. It is hard not to see that this film has definitely become a cult classic and box office numbers be damned.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life
Among the many Christmas movies some might watch during the holidays, It’s a Wonderful Life will inevitably be on that list. The 1946 is definitely a holiday classic, playing either on television or as part of a DVD collection over the holidays. Now considered one of the best films ever made, it was nominated for five Academy Awards. But, because of high production costs and competition from other films like The Best Years of Our Lives at its release, sealed its fate as a box-office loser. Reviews were also unfavorable, likening the film as not being realistic of average people, as it portrays to be. It ended up with a half a million dollar loss at the box office. But, as we know, it became a beloved classic, and this was mainly due to its television release in the 1970s, 25 years after its original release. Now a cultural icon, the movie has been parodied many times since.