Classic movies that were initially box-office duds (11 Photos)
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“The Big Lebowski” (1998)
Not many box-office bombs can say they’ve created both an annual fan festival and religion, but “The Big Lebowski” is not your average box-office bomb.
Released in 1998 during the immensely successful box office run of “Titanic,” the film starring Jeff Bridges, which cost $15 million to make, debuted to $5.5 million opening weekend.
The film recieved mixed reviews with Variety calling it “hollow and without resonance” while others like Roger Ebert found it “weirdly engaging” like the Dude himself.
The film eventually pulled in $17 million at theaters, but it wasn’t until years later fans used the internet and social media to re-evaluate the film and turn it into a cult sensation.
“Donnie Darko” (2001)
“Donnie Darko” may have helped launch the career of Jake Gyllenhaal, but it was a huge flop when it came out in theaters.
The indie film, which cost an estimated $6 million to make, debuted to $110,494. It didn’t help that the film — which features a plane crash — opened not long after the Sept. 11 attacks. The movie wasn’t released internationally for another year.
Theatrically, “Donnie Darko” went on to make $1.2 million. After its DVD release in 2002, it started playing as a midnight movie for over two years at New York’s Pioneer Theater and became enough of a cult classic to release a “director’s cut.”
“Citizen Kane” (1941)
1941’s “Citizen Kane” is considered by many to be the greatest film ever made, but only had a box office of $1.5 million.
One of the possible reasons the film did so poorly can be traced to newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s hatred of the film.
Hearst (who the film is partially based on) disliked the film so much that he made sure his many newspapers banned any mention of it.
“Fight Club” (1999)
When “Fight Club” first hit theaters in 1999, it didn’t just perform poorly — the film made just $37 million domestically — but also received mixed reviews.
Entertainment Weekly gave it a “D” calling it a “dumb and brutal shock show” while according to the film’s commentary Rosie O’Donnell hated it so much that she went as far to ruin the film’s twist ending on national television.
It wasn’t until the DVD release that the film took off (it sold over 6 million copies) allowing a wider audience to catch the hidden details that made it a dark classic.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
“It’s a Wonderful Life” may not have become a Christmas classic if the film didn’t fall into the public domain.
The 1946 movie starring Jimmy Stewart made barely $3.1 million, bankrupting director Frank Capra’s production company.
When the film’s copyright expired in 1974 it entered the public domain. The movie was picked up by TV networks for free that showed the film over Christmas.
The repeated showings helped make it a beloved film and holiday tradition and Republic Pictures secured the rights back in 1993.
“Office Space” (1999)
1999’s “Office Space” may have understood office life, but it failed to understand the box office.
After weak reviews and a poor marketing campaign, the film failed to reach an audience making only $10.8 million in theaters.
Director Mike Judge chalked it up to the movie being a tough sell.
“Office Space isn’t like American Pie,” Judge told Entertainment Weekly. “It doesn’t have the kind of jokes you put in a 15-second television spot of somebody getting hit on the head with a frying pan. It’s sly. And let me tell you, sly is hard to sell.”
The film eventually found its niche on DVD becoming a top rental, and was later ranked fifth by EW in its list of the greatest comedies of the last 25 years.
“Blade Runner” (1982)
1982’s “Blade Runner” had the misfortune of premiering the week after “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” which went on to be the highest-grossing movie of the year.
Production problems including Harrison Ford’s forced explanatory voice-over hurt the film’s initial box office. The movie, which cost an estimated $28 million, made $32.9 million at theaters.
“Blade Runner” lasted the test of time by re-releasing different versions of the film. Now, it looks like a possible sequel is in the works.
Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” is another film that, while considered by many to be the best in history, also failed at the box office.
Though the film made $7.3 million, more than the film’s $2.5 million budget, compared to the famed director’s prior success with “Psycho,” it was seen as a flop.
It wasn’t until the film was later re-evaluated by film historians that it garnered the classic label.
“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)
You may find it difficult to change the channel when you see “The Shawshank Redemption” airing on TV today; however, the film was nearly forgotten when it premiered.
Going up against other great 1994 films like “Forrest Gump” and “Pulp Fiction,” “Shawshank” was lost in the box-office shuffle making $25 million.
The film eventually found its audience in syndication. Today, it tops IMDb’s greatest 250 films of all time and is one of Warner Bros.’ most valuable properties in its extensive library.
“The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
This year marks the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz,” but when Dorothy first took her trip down the yellow brick road most audiences didn’t follow.
The film made around $3 million, but considering that it had a very expensive budget for 1939 ($2.7 million) it wasn’t seen as a success. The film initially resulted in a $1.1 million loss for MGM.
Re-releases and annual TV broadcasts helped the movie become the classic it is today.
“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971)
“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” may be one of the most popular family films now, but back in 1971 most families didn’t head out to see it.
The film made only $4 million, and was such a misfire that Paramount let the film’s rights expire.
Warner Bros. bought the rights for $500,000 and licensed the film to TV which let a new audience enjoy the film’s zany brilliance. The studio later did a remake of the film starring Johnny Depp in 2005.
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