Hollywood filmmaking has always been a tricky business to predict. Film studios often gamble on the success or failure of properties that are worth millions. In Hollywood, even the least expensive mainstream movies cost over a million dollars to stage. As such, it is a risky proposition to create an original film within the industry. Many studios simply rely on leaving their larger budgets to films which are guaranteed bigger returns. Traditionally, these blockbuster films were adaptations of well-regarded novels, such as Jaws (1975), and reliably popular series, such as the Star Wars series or the Indiana Jones franchise.
In recent years, comic book adaptations have been at the forefront of Hollywood’s higher budget films. Often, these adaptations are taken from the most popular and well-known properties in comics, such as Superman and Batman. However, occasionally studios will give a chance to a less well-known property, such as Guardians of the Galaxy. This approach can yield inventive, well-liked movies. Unfortunately, this system also runs the risk of leaving audiences cold. Few are willing to give a chance to a film about which they know nothing, as opposed to an adaptation that they recognize. As a result, audiences all too often miss out on some superb films.
Below, we have compiled a list of ten movies that lost millions despite their brilliance.
10. Fight Club (1999)
In 1999, Edward Norton and Brad Pitt were two of the hottest stars in Hollywood. Norton had grown popular through various roles in which he played an edgy everyman, whilst Pitt had wooed the women of America by playing various boys next door and darker, more rebellious heartthrobs. Director David Fincher drew a fantastic performance from Pitt in 1995’s Seven. Playing a young detective, Pitt held his own with established co-stars such as Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey.
As a result, expectations were high when the trio of Norton, Pitt and Fincher united for an adaptation of Chuck Palahnuik’s novel Fight Club. The film did not disappoint critics, providing a bruising, brutal satire of pre-2000 culture and society. However, despite largely stellar reviews, the film tanked at the box office, earning under $40 million domestically on a $60 million budget. Audiences found Fight Club’s characters and plot too difficult and dark to follow, and Fincher’s masterpiece was almost ignored until its video release.
9. The Beach (2000)
In 2000, director Danny Boyle and Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio were two of the hottest properties in Hollywood. Boyle had recently released his breakthrough hit, Trainspotting, to both rave reviews and massive box office returns. This feat was made even more impressive by the fact that the film had dark subject matter and a small budget. Meanwhile, DiCaprio was fresh from Titanic, one of the biggest films ever made and a smash success in terms of the holy trinity of awards, box office and reviews.
When DiCaprio signed on to star in Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel The Beach, the film was anticipated to be one of the biggest of the year. However, controversies plagued the making of the film, with a rising budget and mediocre first reviews spelling out trouble for its future. The film was expected to be a runaway success, but only earned $40 million in America, despite costing over $50 million. However, many critics have since revised their opinions, admitting that the film is a flawed but often brilliant adaptation.
8. Bambi (1942)
Bambi is now seen as one of Disney’s first animated classics. A coming of age tale, the film is a beautiful, funny and subtle ode to the universal pains and joys of growing up. The film is famously adept at mixing serious, heartfelt scenes with light-hearted slapstick, and helped to create the studio’s reputation as the foremost figures in family entertainment. However, it will surprise many readers to discover that Bambi was not a financial success upon its initial release. The film earned under $300,000, and cost Disney studios almost three times that amount to produce.
Hunters were appalled at the villainous portrayal of their hobby and business in the film, whilst reviewers were unsure of what to make of the film’s tone. Modern audiences often cite Bambi as one of the most impressive films made by the House of Mouse, but audiences of the time were not so kind in their appraisal of the film.
7. Citizen Kane (1940)
Orson Welles was a mere 26 years old when he wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane. For many viewers and critics, the film remains the greatest motion picture ever made. Citizen Kane is a thinly veiled biopic of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and Welles’ script and direction are mercilessly critical of the man, his life and his legacy. As a result, Hearst did everything he could to keep the film under wraps. The millionaire even attempted to blackmail Welles by framing the director for having an affair with an underage starlet. Welles struggled through regardless, and the film eventually saw the light of day. Critics immediately adored the stylistic innovation of the film, and universally praised the performances and direction. However, the film was virtually ignored by the public as a result of Hearst’s smear campaign, and had earned back $150,000 less than its $900,000 budget.
6. Donnie Darko (2002)
Superstar Jake Gyllenhall‘s Hollywood career began with Donnie Darko, a twisty cult film for first time director Richard Kelly. The film is a bizarre combination of horror, time travel and teenage angst, and Gyllenhall’s performance as the title character is viewed by many as a quintessential portrait of teenage angst.
Donnie Darko was loved both by alternative audiences and critics, but proved too dark and strange for mainstream viewers. As a result, Kelly’s debut was not a success, earning just over $500,000 of its $6 million budget. Numerous critics have also noted the possibility that the importance of a plane crash in the film’s plot may not have been appealing in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11. Despite this initial failure, the film kick-started Gyllenhall’s career and has since become viewed as a classic cult film.
5. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Released in 2014, Edge of Tomorrow was an action thriller expected to follow in the footsteps of recent Tom Cruise blockbusters such as Oblivion and Mission Impossible 4. However, the film was advertised as a standard, cookie-cutter Hollywood action flick. This fact annoyed many critics, as they considered Edge of Tomorrow a more creative, funny and original story than its marketing implied. Audiences apparently agreed, as very few flocked to see Cruise’s latest starring vehicle. The film earned $100 million in America, on a budget of over $175 million.
Unfortunately, audiences missed superb performances from Cruise and Emily Blunt, as well as an interesting plot and beautifully choreographed action sequences. The film was frequently found on lists of the year’s most underrated films, and even featured on some critics’ best of the year lists. The film was renamed Live. Die. Repeat for its DVD release, and has since garnered a respectable audience.
4. Detention (2011)
Director Joseph Kahn has shot music videos for some of the world’s most popular artists, from Britney Spears to Taylor Swift. His unique visual style, combined with a sharp sense of humour, has lead to iconic works such as the promotional videos for Toxic and Blank Space. As such, expectations were high when Kahn shot his first feature film, 2003’s Torque. Despite featuring future stars such as Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott, the film flopped, and it was almost a decade before Kahn wrote and directed his next film.
A hyper, hilarious satire of slasher films and contemporary culture, Detention was financed through the director’s own money. The film had an ingenious script and featured future stars such as The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson and The Conjuring’s Shanley Caswell. Despite this, Detention was another financial failure for the director, failing to earn back its $10 million budget.
3. Big Trouble (2001)
Big Trouble was a starry adaptation of humorist Dave Barry’s debut novel, scheduled to be released in late 2001. The film featured a host of established actors, rising stars and recognizable faces and featured a hilarious, labyrinthine plot directed to perfection by Men in Black’s Barry Sonnenfeld.
The film, which featured Tim Allen, Zooey Deschanel, Johnny Knoxville, Sofia Vergara, Jason Lee and DJ Qualls, was expected to be a huge comedy hit. However, the plot centred around a pair of incompetent criminals attempting to hijack a plane with an atom bomb. In a case of spectacularly poor timing, the film was scheduled for release immediately after the September 11 attacks. The studio distributing the film chose to shelve its release immediately, and the film was almost entirely forgotten. Big Trouble went on to earn less than $10 million domestically, an embarrassing return on the film’s $40 million budget.
2. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a classic family film beloved by generations of children and adults alike. The film proved perennially popular enough to warrant a Tim Burton helmed remake in 2005. Starring Johnny Depp, this re-imagining of Roald Dahl’s novel was a smash at the box office. Many believe the remake’s popularity was due in part to the nostalgia audiences had for the original film.
However, at the time of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s original release in 1971, the film was not a financial success. The film would go on to recoup its budget, but opened to a mere $2 million in its first weekend of release. Gene Wilder’s now-iconic portrayal of the titular candy-maker left audiences cold, and author Roald Dahl was disappointed by the finished film.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Hollywood stars Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins had their careers revived through their respective roles in Frank Darabont’s cult classic The Shawshank Redemption. Like Citizen Kane, Darabont’s Stephen King adaptation is widely considered one of the finest films to ever come from Hollywood. Based on a novella from the collection Different Seasons, The Shawshank Redemption unfortunately has more than critical acclaim in common with Welles’ film.
Released in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption flopped at the box office, facing stiff competition from the likes of Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction. On its initial release, the movie made back only $16 million of its $25 million budget. The film was, however, a huge success on video, and soon became a widely loved classic through cable showings and television re-runs.