There are many reasons a movie could flop at the box office. Poor or insufficient marketing, the release date, competition at the theaters, lack of star power, unfavorable reviews, etc. Some of these potential problem-causers could be the fault of the film makers themselves or the production company. Others, such as the response from critics, can’t really be prevented to the same extent. Plus, there’s that elusive phenomenon that can’t be tracked – word of mouth. The point is, many factors that could contribute to a movie flopping at the box office have little to do with the actual content of the film itself. Just because a movie flops doesn’t mean it isn’t any good or isn’t worth seeing. Here is our list of movies that are incredibly popular despite flopping.
For that reason, we’ve put together this list of movies flopped at the box office but today, because of how much they are loved, seems like they shouldn’t have. To clarify, a movie that flopped doesn’t necessarily mean it lost money. A movie that flops simply didn’t get the attention it deserved or was expected to get from audiences when it was released. Some of these movies are examples of the best movies ever made. For some reason they just didn’t catch on at the time of their release but have since gained immense critical and popular acceptance. Others started small but over the years gained a cult following and are now pop-culture staples.
Without further delay, here are the top ten most loved films that still bombed at the box office:
(Note: all box office figures are adjusted for 2013 and "budget" doesn't necessarily include advertising/promotions)
10. Office Space (1999)
Total Gross: $15M
Opening Weekend: $6M
Office Space is unique to this list in that unlike most of the others it was exactly right for the time it was released. It wasn’t misunderstood by audiences or critics, they recognized the film’s comedic genius right away. Today, it has a huge cult following and has sold extremely well on video and DVD. For this reason, it is difficult to pin down exactly why this movie had such a hard time making money. Part of the problem could be the film’s “R” rating. Back before The Hangover “R”-rated comedies didn’t really have the popularity or the draw that they have today. Plus, the film doesn’t really have any big-name stars or personalities. Finally, the film’s comedic set-up and tone isn’t easy for everyone to understand, especially if you can’t relate to the working conditions that the film is making fun of.
9. Blade Runner (1982)
Total Gross: $55M
Opening Weekend: $14M
Blade Runner was ahead of its time in many regards, and arguably started a genre single-handedly. For these two reasons, it has a huge cult following today. Movies that are “ahead of their time” have historically fared poorly at the box office, and Blade Runner was no exception. However, the tale of Blade Runner’s box office struggles is not just about the non-traditional storytelling. First, the advertising campaign for the film promoted the exciting visuals and action rather than the suspense. Audiences expecting another Star Wars left theaters disappointed. Second, producer Alan Ladd, Jr. picked a poor release date, putting the film in direct competition with two other sci-fi films in theaters at the time (E.T., and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).
8. Vertigo (1958)
Total Gross: about $25M
Opening Weekend: ??
In many circles, Vertigo is the best movie ever made. Today it is widely considered Hitchcock’s masterpiece and is held in high regard as the ultimate thriller. Its modern-day fans are extremely devoted and almost obsessive. However, it wasn’t always revered in this way, and it took a very long time for audience’s and critic’s opinions to change. Initially upon release, audiences didn’t like it because it wasn’t what they expected. They saw it as a new direction for Hitchcock, something that wasn’t consistent with what he had done before and therefore was less enjoyable. Critics felt the movie was too drawn out and lacked the right kind of excitement. Today, the film is celebrated for these very reasons. It is different than what had come before and showed that Hitchcock really knew what he was doing, even if it didn’t seem like that when the film was released.
7. The Princess Bride (1987)
Total Gross: $61M
Opening Weekend: $9M
While The Princess Bride wasn’t exactly a box-office failure, but the meager amount of proceeds it generated in theaters seems disproportionate to the amount of critical praise and popularity the film would garner. Part of the problem was the timing of the film’s wide release, which was at the beginning of October. It’s competition was Like Father, Like Son, which itself was a family-oriented comedy, and Fatal Attraction, an R-rated thriller and one of the year’s box-office hits. The Princess Bride had no problems from critics, they all loved it. Only when the movie was released for home video did people finally get a chance to see the film, and they loved it. The Princess Bride would go on to gain a massive cult following and become one of the best-selling VHS and later DVD releases of all time.
6. Fight Club (1999)
Total Gross (domestic): $51M
Opening Weekend: $15M
Fight Club’s story is one of improper advertising. Fight Club was hated by the executives at Fox. From the moment they saw it, they thought it would bomb. This was a new, more controversial movie than mainstream cinema had seen before and they were afraid. In an attempt to interest more people in seeing the movie, Fox poured money into the advertising campaign in an attempt to highlight and promote the fight scenes. David Fincher protested that the advertising incorrectly portrayed what the movie was about, and he was right. When the film was released, the audience was heavily male of ages less than 21. They wanted to see violence and action, but didn’t get it. Critics were confused and so was the audience. The film sank at the box office quickly as a result. However, once the movie was released on DVD, people finally understood what type of movie it was supposed to be and it developed an immense and loyal cult following.
5. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Total Gross: ??
Opening Weekend: ??
12 Angry Men was a ground-breaking film at the time of its release in regards to the type of story it told and the method by which it told this story. Peter Fonda plays one of the most loved characters of all time and the movie’s tension made it one of the best thrillers ever made. Unfortunately, it was a complete bomb at the box office. Despite critics loving this film, people were just not interested. Despite the excellent story and heart-stopping drama, audiences didn’t want to see it because it was black and white. To audiences at this time, the black and white film felt dated and they wanted to watch bigger, more exciting cinematic adventures.
4. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Total Gross: $50M
Opening Weekend: ??
The legacy of this movie goes without saying, but the filmmakers weren’t so sure about this film’s success and their insecurity cost it at the box office. This was the second feature-length adaptation of the book and many short films and spin-offs had come before. None of those previous projects had been successful, and combined with the new technology that this film exhibited, the production studio was very nervous about its prospects. First, they tried judging audience’s reception through test screenings. Those screenings only resulted in feuds between the director and the production company about which scenes/sequences to cut and which to leave in. Later, they did a “test release” in a few markets with further changes. None of this actually convinced people to see the film, and despite good reviews, the lengthy release process cost the studio more money than they expected. Not until a re-release ten years later did the movie manage to make a profit in theaters and really catch on.
3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Total Gross: $44M
Opening Weekend: $3.7M
The Shawshank Redemption would be nominated for seven Acadamy Awards, and although it didn’t win any it was loved by critics and audiences alike. The reason it never made it big at the box office is as true today as it was back in 1994. To put it simply; lack of star power and the fact that the film’s best promotional tool was being nominated for the Oscars. Once the Oscars aired, rental sales went through the roof and a second theatrical run actually allowed the movie to make money. This film did a lot to show production studios the importance of the rental market as a supplement to theatrical release, especially with Oscar-nominated films.
2. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Total Gross: $3.3M
Opening Weekend: ??
When you think of classic movies, no movie is as classic as It’s a Wonderful Life. This movie has become a Christmas staple and it is hard to believe that such a timeless film was a box office flop. The reason for this film’s flop is most likely due to the production studio’s indecision about when to release it. The film was originally supposed to release in January 1947, but the filmmakers had a strong feeling that they would be able to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Therefore, rather than release in 1947 and face an unknown competition, the movie was released at the last minute in select theaters in December 1946 to be eligible for the ’46 Oscar season. Critical response was okay, not enough, and the film’s Oscar intentions fell flat. Furthermore, now that the movie was only in limited release during the holiday week the film lost out on that box-office potential. When the film did do its wide release in early January 1947, critic and audience interest was low.
1. Citizen Kane (1941)
Total Gross: $7.5M
Opening Weekend: ??
Although many folks consider it the best movie ever made, Citizen Kane was initially a financial headache and was never really popular with audiences. Citizen Kane eventually made money, but not during its original theatrical run. Part of the problem was that the film’s story was somewhat based on the life of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst. A movement started amongst Hollywood elite and Hearst’s empire to suppress the film before it was even released. These efforts were successful, but a movie that isn’t in theaters doesn’t make money. Eventually the production company reluctantly released it on a limited scale without much publicity or fanfare. Critics loved the film but the word couldn’t get out due to Hearst’s suppression efforts. Furthermore, although critics caught on to how ahead of its time this film was, audiences weren’t ready. Theater owners complained about the large number of walk-outs and the production company pulled it from theaters. Only after a re-release years later did audiences get the chance to see what they were missing.