Film Flops That Rose From the Ashes to Become Cult Classics
The film industry is a cruel business, and chances are if a movie flops, that's the end of the story. But not always. Sometimes, a movie is resurrected down the road.
Through word-of-mouth recommendations, home video sales or online streaming, some films gain unlikely followings they never got in their initial box office runs. Films that flop their way to cult success are pretty rare, but they definitely happen. Here are a few of the very best.
It's hard to believe that Fight Club wasn't always a smash hit. Its punk sensibilities crashed like a brick through the window of a culture that the film accused of having grown apathetic and materialistic. But that message didn't exactly translate into blockbuster sales at the box office.
It's a Wonderful Life
It's a Wonderful Life will forever be considered a Christmas classic at this point. But this wasn't always the case. Released in 1946, just after the end of WWII, it failed to profit and ended up more than $500,000 in the hole. This bankrupted its production company, Liberty Films.
The Edge of Tomorrow
Virtually every sci-fi fan who finally gets around to seeing The Edge of Tomorrow has the same reaction: Why wasn't a movie this good a smash hit? Often described as "Groundhog Day meets Aliens," the film follows Tom Cruise as his character dies and comes back to life over and over again until he discovers a way to win a war.
The Wizard of Oz
How could a film like The Wizard of Oz, beloved by generations, not have been a top moneymaker in the year it was released? For whatever reason, filmgoers in 1939 barely bought enough tickets for the film to break even.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Reviews for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on Hunter S. Thompson's book of the same name, were mixed. Though some critics lauded it as an entertaining adaptation of the novel, most found it excessive and overwhelming.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
It seems like every kid in America has seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, so how is it possible this movie flopped? Well, though young movie audiences are slightly more sophisticated now, audiences back then may have found the tale a little dark — remember that bizarre tunnel?
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
If you've never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it's hard to know what to make of it. That’s how audiences in 1975 felt, so they barely coughed up $22,000 to see this film, making it a spectacular flop.
The Shawshank Redemption
Based on a Stephen King story, The Shawshank Redemption did mediocre business when it was released in 1994, suffering mainly from stiff competition from films like Pulp Fiction. Though critics loved it, the movie still barely broke even.
The Iron Giant
What went wrong with the release of The Iron Giant? It's still unclear exactly why this incredible movie wasn't a home run at the box office. Regarded today as one of the best animated movies ever, it totally tanked on its release, earning $23 million on a $75 million budget.
In 1982, a sci-fi movie starring Harrison Ford must have seemed like a sure thing. Visually stunning and provocative, Blade Runner was a breakthrough. But it barely made its money back, earning $33 million on a $28 million budget.
Hitchcock was a suspense hit-making machine back in the day, and anything attached to his name seemed destined for box office gold. But Vertigo underperformed and was one of Hitchcock's least successful films in his canon.
Donnie Darko is not an easy film to digest or explain. Its gloomy plot relies heavily on surreal elements and confusing notions of time travel. A creepy, man-sized bunny is also thrown in the mix, lending a dose of the macabre.
It seems like a movie based on a board game can't be good. But Clue is a comedic classic, expertly melding cheesy mystery and campy characters along with a hysterical performance by Tim Curry. It was also released with several different endings, with different killers and scenarios in each one.
Some movies are like bad car accidents — audiences will line up just to see the smoldering wreckage. Such is the case of Showgirls, a movie so awful it's actually kind of funny. Costing $45 million, it barely made back $20 million in its initial theatrical run.
Horror comedies are tough to pull off, but Slither gets plenty of hysterical laughs to go along with its over-the-top gore. In the story, a small town is invaded by parasitic creatures from outer space that transform their unwilling human hosts into horrifying abominations.
Big Trouble in Little China
When a blue-collar trucker tries to rescue his friend's fiancee, he confronts supernatural forces in the caverns deep beneath Chinatown. It's a goofy premise full of cheesy special effects and hilarious one-liners, the kind of quirky story that could easily become an American hit.
The Big Lebowski
The Coen brothers are known for their eccentric comedies, and The Big Lebowski has been proven to be a fan favorite. But it didn't start out that way. Despite the Coen brothers' name, the movie did only modest business, earning back its budget but vastly underperforming against expectations.
Not everybody knew how to take Heathers, a pitch-black comedy involving the heroine trying to kill the most popular girls in high school. It's hard to tell who’s more sociopathic: the good guys or the cliquey snobs who become the targets.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
It seems odd that this one was ever turned into a film in the first place. The source material comes from a black and white comic series of the same name, tracing the romantic misadventures of Scott Pilgrim as he battles his new girlfriend's seven exes.
Terry Gilliam has a reputation for taking on fantastical scripts, and Brazil is one of his masterpieces. The world of Brazil is a dystopian society, one ruled by a dark and inefficient bureaucracy that has total control over everyone's lives. Though critics absolutely loved it, moviegoers were a little unsure, delivering only about $9 million in ticket sales on the film’s $15 million budget.
An anthem for bored office workers everywhere, Office Space has become iconic in cubicle culture. With the help of hypnosis, the hero rebels against his corporate overlords and plots his revenge, starting with a public beatdown of a malfunctioning fax machine.
Wet Hot American Summer
Wet Hot American Summer has one of the weirdest trajectories as a comedic franchise. Originally released in 2001, it follows the romantic misadventures of a group of campers and camp counselors in the summer of 1981. Though a critical darling, it earned an embarrassing $295,000 on a small $1.5 million investment.
After the turkey that was the Sylvester Stallone version of Judge Dredd in the ‘90s, it's amazing anyone took a risk on a reboot. The story is based on a comic book about an officer in a dystopian future who serves as judge, jury and executioner.
Dazed and Confused
It's the last day of high school in 1976, and the kids of Dazed and Confused spend that day either avoiding painful initiations or chasing girls and contraband. There's not much of a plot as you follow different groups wandering from one place to the other.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
There's weird, there's odd and then there's The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Buckaroo Banzai is a neurosurgeon, physicist and rock star who teams up with a motley crew to stop alien invaders.
Chances are if you know any guys from Boston, they've definitely seen Boondock Saints. An unlikely hit, it follows the adventures of two devout Irish Catholic brothers who take revenge on the criminal underworld in Boston for murdering their priest.
Empire Records is one of those movies that just makes you miss the ‘90s. The film portrays a young group of twenty-somethings as they work in an independent record store that’s threatened with a corporate takeover.
What can one say about (arguably) the best worst movie ever made? The irony is that The Room is so bizarrely written and so amateurishly produced that fans paid for tickets just to heckle it.
Kevin Smith has a unique style, and although everyone is familiar with his films now, back in 1995 he was still establishing himself. Fresh off the success of Clerks, Smith tackled Mallrats, a film that shares the same universe and follows its young characters hanging out at the local mall.
It's truly ironic that a movie hailed as one of the best films ever made struggled at the box office. Director and star Orson Welles' masterpiece is loosely based on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.