Are you the type of person to keep an eye on box office results and go see a movie based upon opening weekend? If so, you may want to reconsider your strategy and there are many great movies that never made much money in the theatres but have since then become classics – or at least cult classics.
Movies are big business with millions of dollars on the line, so it makes sense that their performance at the theatre often determines whether they're considered a "success" or "a career-ruining disaster that the studio can never recover.
Here are a few of our favourites that did not do well at the box office but are still worth watching.
1. The Shawshank Redemption
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $16 million
Despite very positive critical response and being ranked the best film ever by IMDB users and an Academy Award recognition in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption failed to find an audience in theaters. The general public started to notice The Shawshank Redemption when it was released on VHS the following year, and it quickly became one of the top video rentals across the country. In 1997, the cable network TNT bought the rights to air it, and this helped the film find a larger audience with frequent and repeated airings.
2. Clue (1985)
Budget: $15 million
Box office gross: $14.6 million
This film adaptation of the well-known board game has become a cult classic, beloved by millions. Plus, it has different endings, which is a pretty cool idea. Unfortunately, critics weren't that into it and neither were audiences. Like a lot of films on this list it found its audience when it was sold to cable television.
3. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)
Budget: $18.5 million
Box office gross: $10.6 million
Jonny Depp, who had been a close, personal friend of Hunter S. Thompson, had been trying to make this into a film for many years before he finally succeeded. Unfortunately, Hunter S. Thompson isn’t what you’d call mainstream and his quirky sense of humour and storytelling isn’t for everybody. The film was a total box office dud, and it wasn't until the home release that people began to give the film the appreciation it deserved.
4. Office Space (1999)
Budget: $10 Million
Box office gross: $12.8 Million
This film has become another classic because it has struck home with so many people who feel stuck in a dead-end job. Unfortunately, it definitely was not received well when it was released in 1999 for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Perhaps, despite Jennifer Aniston’s character, it did not fit into your typical comic formula. However, it will forever live on in meme history.
5. Beloved (1998)
Budget: $80 million
Domestic gross: $22.9 million
On the surface, Beloved sounds like a recipe for success: Jonathan Demme who directed Silence of the Lambs taking on Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It stared an altstar cast including Beah Richards, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, and Oprah.
But when it hit theaters, viewers weren't moved to see this haunting-yet-inspiring story about a former slave who can't escape the ghost of her daughter. it's sad that it didn’t succeed because there's lots to great things about the film.
6. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Budget: $25 million
Domestic gross: $11.1 million
Horror director John Carpenter's rollicking sci-fi adventure film starring Kurt Russell is a strange attempt to wrap a bunch of his idiosyncratic interests into one sprawling artistic statement. Sadly, it never really caught on with a mainstream audience, but its brilliant action scenes will live forever as a cult classic.
7. Children of Men (2006)
Budget: $76 million
Domestic gross: $35.6 million
Alfonso Cuarón's dystopian science-fiction film, tracking one man's mission to protect the first pregnant woman in nearly 18 years, is a cinematic masterpiece. Through the eyes of Theo, a political activist lured back into the fight against the police state, the film has many themes told beautifully.
8. Cloud Atlas (2012)
Budget: $128.5 million
Domestic gross: $27.1 million
The Matrix directors Lily and Lana Wachowski were likely the only filmmakers with the ambition, and daredevil instincts to take on David Mitchell's esoteric, generation-jumping novel. Tracking a set of characters through a forgotten past, a scary present, and dystopian future, Cloud Atlas is a as epic as they come, a movie about love, life, and death.
9. Dune (1984)
Budget: $40 million
Domestic gross: $30.9 million
David Lynch's wanted to stay true to Frank Herbert's source material. It was a film that tried to please die hard fans not critics or casual viewers. However, even if you’ve never read the book it's a fun watch. The cheesy special effects haven't aged well, bu it's rewarding in a retroactive way like watching your old family videos.
10. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Budget: $3.18 million
Domestic gross: $3.3 million
While It's a Wonderful Life is a staple of the holiday season, it received little attention from general audiences at the time of its release in 1946. This was mainly due to its dark narrative and subject matter. RKO Pictures lost $525,000 on the film, despite its five Academy Award nominations.
It's a Wonderful Life didn't become ubiquitously popular in the United States until 1974 when National Telefilm Associates failed to renew its copyright because it was considered a box office flop. Now in the public domain, TV networks gobbled up It's a Wonderful Life because they didn't have to pay royalties to air it. In the 1980s, hundreds of home video distributors released It's a Wonderful Life on videotape, which further expanded its reach around the world. Over time, it became a perennial holiday classic.
11. Citizen Kane
Box Office: $1.5 million
Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, Citizen Kane didn't do well at the box office. Along with its dark subject matter, one of the reasons for the low box office numbers was media tycoon William Randolph Hearst who discovered that Charles Foster Kane's story was an unfavorable and loose adaptation on his life. He banned any mention of Citizen Kane and Orson Welles in all of his many newspapers and radio networks across the country. This resulted in fewer theaters agreeing to screen Citizen Kane.
At the time, general audiences weren't keen on Citizen Kane's premise and main theme that the American Dream was a lonely and soul-destroying venture and stayed away from the movie. However, it is now seen as one of the greatest films in history for its innovative structure and style. RKO Pictures lost roughly $160,000 on Citizen Kane, but managed nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Orson Welles.
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