What separates a blockbuster from a blockbuster? Is it the marketing and the trailers? How star-studded is the cast? Or maybe it all depends on what the audience wants at the time. But if the following movies are anything to go by, it seems like it often has little to do with the quality of the actual movie.
Many movie fans now consider the following movies to be cult classics. Others are legitimate contenders for the title of the best movie ever made. But none put enough cigarette butts in the seats during their initial theatrical runs to prevent them from becoming box office bombs.
Related: 10 Movie Trailers That Revealed Too Much
10 The Big Lebowski (1998)
You might think that anything directed by the Coen brothers has to be a sure thing. After all, they have repeatedly released instant classics, including the likes of No country for old men and Fargo. But one of the funniest and most beloved characteristics of him, the big lebowskiit didn’t garner much interest during its initial theatrical run, even with its stellar cast.
The film, which follows the misadventures of The Dude (Jeff Bridges), only grossed around $18 million on a $15 million budget, not the worst disaster on this list by any means, but it falls far short of expectations. of the study. A rather uninspiring trailer probably didn’t help, and neither did the muted critical response it received. But thankfully, the overly quotable dialogue, quirky humor, and goofy-yet-lovable anti-hero ensured that the film ultimately garnered audiences’ sympathy upon its home release.
9 Treasure Planet (2002)
Directors Ron Clements and John Musker had been pitching treasure planet since 1985, only to have executives reject the idea no fewer than three times. But after giving the public great successes like The little Mermaid and Aladdin, the duo used their contract negotiations to get Disney to greenlight the film in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, it didn’t take Disney long to realize they had a movie flop on their hands after its release. They scrapped a planned sequel when treasure planet it only grossed $109.6 million on a production budget of $140 million.
It’s hard to say what went wrong here. It was most likely the culmination of multiple factors, including the opening week competition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the rise in popularity of CGI animation. But despite its faults, there’s a lot to love about treasure planet. The plot is essentially Robert Louis Stevenson’s. Treasure Island, but in space. It has a fantastic universe, unique visuals and a likable hero. And let’s be honest, who saw this film and did not want to immediately go “sailing in space”?
8 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
This pop culture hit about a slacker musician named Scott (Michael Cera) who battles his girlfriend’s exes is now a phenomenon, proving popular enough to spawn an anime series a decade after its release. But when Scott Pilgrim made his first film appearance in 2010, the movie didn’t even come close to meeting financial expectations. In fact, it failed to raise $50 million on a budget between $60 and $80 million.
The reasons for its initial failure are hard to pin down. Perhaps it was simply a matter of director Edgar Wright’s unique style of comedy proving too difficult to condense into a decent trailer. But the fact that many of the actors in the film, including Kieran Culkin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Cera, Brie Larson, and Chris Evans, have had brilliant careers has certainly helped. Scott Pilgrim against the world to reach the audiences it deserved at the time of its release.
7 Donnie Darko (2001)
With its psychedelic and atmospheric imagery, complex storytelling, and themes dealing with 1980s politics, mental instability, and wormholes, donnie darko it was always going to be a hard sell to the movie-going public. But unlike other movies on this list, the reason Richard Kelly’s directorial debut flopped is clear as day: It features a plane crash as its central plot point, and it was released in October 2001, one month after 9/11.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, distributors were wary of pumping money into the film’s publicity following the most infamous airplane hijacking in history. So, the movie came and went from theaters with few even knowing it existed. Fortunately, it would be rediscovered by the public later and became a cult sensation.
6 Heathers (1989)
heathers follows the story of Veronica (Winona Ryder), a teenage outcast who finds herself in the most popular group at school. However, while she enjoys her social position, she hates the bratty and bullying attitudes of her friends and wishes she could do something about it. Enter new love interest JD (Christian Slater), who is secretly planning the fatal undoing of the cabal and the rest of the school.
At first sight, heathers sounds like a fancy movie or teen coming-of-age story. But really, it’s more of a darkly satirical B-movie that openly mocks the movies it seems to imitate. And while its cynical approach and highly original script earned it plenty of accolades and awards, it was never really made to appeal to the mainstream. In fact, Wiona Ryder’s agent even begged the actress not to take the role of her, as the agent felt it was career suicide. However, though it suffered at the box office, returning just £1.1m on a £3m budget, this dark comedy soon gained the cult status it was destined to receive.
5 The Iron Giant (1999)
Based on the 1968 science fiction novel by Ted Hughes, The iron Giant tells the story of a friendship between a boy named Hogarth and a giant alien robot that the US military wants to destroy. The movie was directed by Brad Bird who went on to direct movies like ratatouille and The Incredibles, and was well received by critics and audiences alike. Well, by the audiences that actually turned out to see it, that is, as The iron Giant it did not do well in theaters. In fact, the film only grossed $31.3 million worldwide on a production budget of $50 million.
So what went wrong here? One problem could be that it simply strayed too far from the classic Disney movie model for success, ditching musical numbers, princes and princesses, and fairy tales for a cold war setting.
The second problem was that Warner Bros, coming off a previous failure with Camelot Quest (a movie you won’t see on this list), he wasn’t about to pump a lot of money into advertising another animated movie. In fact, it was not until The iron Giant entered the home video market that Warner Bros, realizing what they had on their hands, finally decided to market the thing. And that, combined with word of mouth and critical acclaim, ultimately earned the animated film the following it deserves.
4 Fight Club (1999)
Today it is almost impossible to think about fight club as anything but a cultural phenomenon. After all, do you know anyone who doesn’t know the first two often broken rules of Fight Club? But in 1999, the film, seen as “a nobody’s movie” by some Fox executives, underperformed greatly at the box office, grossing $37 million in the United States on a budget of $65 million. And while the movie did well enough to recoup its losses worldwide, it was largely written off as an overall flop.
Both lead actor Edward Norton and director David Fincher have since spoken out about the film’s initial failures, noting that distributor 20th Century Fox didn’t seem to know how to market the film. According to Fincher, an anonymous Fox executive even told him that “men don’t want to see Brad Pitt shirtless. He makes them feel bad. And women don’t want to see him bloody. So I don’t know who you made this movie for.”
3 The murder of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford (2007)
This revisionist western, written and directed by Andrew Dominik, was plagued with problems before it even hit theaters. Originally, Dominik envisioned the film as a three-hour epic scheduled for 2006. However, the studio’s frequent edits resulted in a reduced running time and delayed its release from 2006 to September 2007.
When it was released, The murder of Jesse James it received favorable reviews from critics. But despite an all-star cast and awards season success, it flopped at the box office, with domestic earnings of $4 million barely touching its $30 million production budget. Even the best $15 million it grossed worldwide wasn’t enough to save it from disaster. That didn’t stop a rabid fan base from forming around the western, however, with many organizing “re-releases” of the film under the banner of “Jesse James Revival.”
2 Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
It’s one thing for a blockbuster to become a cult hit. Another thing is that this happens twice for the same franchise. But that’s exactly what happened with Bounty hunter.
The original 1982 film reunited director Ridley Scott and actor Harrison Ford, both fresh off being in some of the biggest sci-fi movies of all time (Alien and Star Wars, respectively), to make what seemed like a sure hit. But Blade Runner The slow pace, neo-noir influences, and overwhelmingly dystopian setting were a hard sell for audiences accustomed to laser tag brawling and action-oriented adventures. And while box office sales weren’t a complete disaster, Bounty hunter it only gained a cult following in the years that followed after leaving theaters.
By the time the 2010s rolled around, studios were willing to gamble on a sequel. But again, what seemed like a surefire hit, struggled to produce the expected financial numbers at the box office, resulting in initial plans for a sequel being scrapped. However, history continued to repeat itself and Blade Runner 2049 it is now heralded as a modern cult classic, just like its predecessor.
1 Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Wells’ directorial debut, which he also starred in and co-wrote, is considered by many filmmakers, enthusiasts, and critics to be one of, if not the, greatest movies ever made. But he would have had a hard time convincing anyone of that in the 1940s, since Citizen Kane it struggled to recoup its costs at the box office and quickly faded from public sight and memory.
At least part of the problem was that media baron William Randolph Hearst, on whom Wells based much of his script, took issue with the film’s satirical fictionalization of him. And later he would prohibit the feature from appearing in any of the newspapers he owned.
Just a decade later, in the 1950s, the feature began to make a comeback. Part of this was because it became a feature on late-night television. But it also began to win favor with many critics around the world, who reassessed Citizen Kane and heralded him as one of the all-time greats. And it’s been topping prestigious best movie lists ever since.
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