Many believe the box-office is the most critical aspect of what makes or breaks a film; it decides whether or not the film gets a sequel, an amusement ride, merchandising or a reservation at the bottom of the bargain bin. While most box office bombs are just plain bad, others were victims of poor promotional efforts, stiff competition, and/or other uncontrollable circumstances. Movies like Waterworld and The Golden Compass, which are widely perceived as bombs by the general public, actually made back their money through syndication and international distribution. This list will focus on those movies that did terribly at the box-office, but are considered good because of their cult status and/or success on DVD, Blu-ray, and on demand. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite at the bottom of the post.
The Shawshank Redemption
Whether it’s Morgan Freeman’s voice or the repeated viewings on TNT, The Shawshank Redemption is regarded as a prison-escape classic. But at the box-office Shawshank got the crap kicked out of it by Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump and Stargate. It wasn’t until it received multiple Oscar nominations and an Oscar-fueled theatrical re-release that the film made its entire budget back. Since then it went on to become a staple for TNT and a critically acclaimed classic. The DVD continues to sell well to this day.
Children of Men
Fans of well-shot cinema will almost always get a boner at the mere mention of Children of Men. A futuristic world in which humans can no longer procreate sets the stage for a war-torn battlefield that comes to life thanks to great camera work. Despite its Oscar buzz and great word of mouth, the film only grossed about $35 million in the states and another $34 million worldwide, not quite surpassing the estimated budget of $76 million. However, the incredible extras and beautiful imagery of the eventual Blu-Ray release have made this film a cult-classic.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Despite the lead debut of John C Reilly being written by comedy juggernaut Judd Apatow, this musical lampoon failed to bring in the crowds the week of Christmas 2007. Bringing in only $18 million total domestically, it failed to hit a high note with audiences and is one of the 10 worst theatrical openings for a wide release of 2,500+ theaters. However, the majority of those who did see it loved it and Walk Hard has gained a small cult-following among the music crowd, earning an estimated gross of $25 million in DVD / home video rentals. With clever songs and a script that satirizes every behind-the-music story there is, Walk Hard can deliver laughs to those who give it a shot. It’s just too bad not enough people have seen it.
One of Michael Bay’s few attempts at making a sci-fi movie with a brain, or at least half a brain, was a surprising box-office blunder. Michael Bay films tend to be heavy on two things: explosions and a budget. The Island had both (too many to count and estimated $126 million) which is why it was a huge loss when the film only brought in a pathetic $35 million total domestically, but fared much better overseas with a take of $127 mil. Sadly, this is probably one of the few Michael Bay films attempting to have a story that isn’t all car chases and explosions. I guess that will teach him to think next time he makes an action movie. It’s a gorgeous movie to look at on DVD, but unless you are a hardcore Michael Bay fan, you’ve probably never heard of it or you forgot it after you saw it in 2005.
In terms of good movies, 1982 was one of the greatest years to be at the cinema. Since there were so many good movies in competition with one another, the year was a savage war at the box-office. Sadly, Blade Runner was one of the unlucky ones that got thrown under the bus. Panned by critics and snubbed by more family-friendly films, Ridley Scott’s futuristic tale of neo-noir only grossed $32 million lifetime. However, over time, it has become a staple of sci-fi and regarded as a classic. On DVD, it’s received the royal treatment with remastered video, commentary, a 2-hour documentary, deleted scenes, multiple cut versions and a look at the rare workprint. As it stands today, it’s one of the most gorgeous looking DVDs/BluRays out there.
Despite the huge marketing and direction of the Wachowski brother, Speed Racer was biggest bomb of 2008. Grossing only $43 million domestically, the film didn’t even cover its staggering $120 million budget. Not to mention the lack of audience attendance resulted in several angry marketers stuck with unsold Speed Racer merchandise. Yet, it was among the top 10 DVD / home video rentals in its first month on the market, debuting at #1 in its first week.
The first rule of Fight Club is to not talk about Fight Club. Apparently everybody followed this rule as the film made little money in its theatrical run. Bringing in only $37 million, the film was not considered a box-office success which is very surprising for a movie starring Brad Pitt. Since then, it has become a cinema classic and a high-profile DVD. Screw the rules, this is a movie too good to be kept a secret.
Richard Kelly has achieved a cult-status on DVD with his surreal suburban tale, Donnie Darko. But its theatrical run was such a flop, it’s hard to imagine that the two theatrical releases of the film barely brought in $1 million combined. Despite the Sparkle Motion failing to move audiences into theaters, Donnie Darko became a DVD staple for many movie collectors and launched Richard Kelly’s popularity into making his second movie, Southland Tales. That, too, was a flop, but at least he is getting work.
Easily one of Mike Judge’s most popular, most quotable and most culturally significant comedies of all-time, Office Space started out small with a $10 million gross. However, once it reached video and television, everything changed. People started quoting the movie constantly in society. The DVD has been repackaged several times with consumers gobbling up each version. You can even find merchandise for the movie including the Milton Staple kit. Years later, the movie is still seen as a classic. So why the crappy box-office? The same thing happened with Mike Judge’s next film, Idiocracy, which didn’t get noticed until arriving on DVD. Maybe FOX should take a hint and release his films directly to DVD.
One of Disney’s most ambitious special-effects projects is also one of its biggest flops. Recieving the same treatment as Blade Runner, Tron was trampled by the competition. Despite it’s box-office floppage, the film scores high in almost every other category from critical reviews to cultural inspiration. For years, Tron was seen as a revolution that opened the doors of imagination and the possibilities for computer graphics. It didn’t come storming out of the gate, guns blazing, but it was a crucial element of film-making history.
The Big Lebowski
Just because I can see this movie not doing well in the theatres doesn’t make this less painful to put on the list. Since being released on DVD, the movie has become insanely popular - even spawning a religion devoted to Dudeism. The Coen brothers have made some great flicks, but the Big Lebowski is my favorite. Where else can you play a drinking game with White Russians?
One of Quentin Tarantino’s earlier movies, Reservoir Dogs didn’t do so well at the box office. Apparently, it only made $1.5 million – possibly because Tarantino was not so well known. That if flopped at first is a mystery to me – it opens with a great monologue, it has copious amounts of violence, and has a great story throughout. I think of Michael Madsen and ears every time I hear Stuck in the Middle With You.
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