Great reviews do not always translate into big dollar signs. Several great movies that have stood out from the rest have not always managed to sell tickets. Here are the 15 great movies that were box office flops:
15. Donnie Darko (2001)
Arguably one of the greatest independent films of all time, Donnie Darko delicately balances the science fiction and psychological thriller elements necessary to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
With Jake Gyllenhaal giving one of his most career-defining performances in the movie, it comes as a shocking surprise that Donnie Darko only earned up to a measly sum of $7.5 million at the box office.
14. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Holding the number 1 spot on IMDB’s list of top 250 movies since 2008, The Shawshank Redemption can be categorically defined as the greatest movie of all time. It even surpassed The Godfather in the list but was not rolling in the dough like Don Vito Corleone.
Even seven Academy Award nominations could not save the movie from crumbling at the box office as it only earned $16 million at the time of its initial release. Due to re-releases and international screenings in later years, The Shawshank Redemption performed comparatively better and would earn a total sum of $58.3 million.
13. Raging Bull (1980)
Even one of the most formidable actor-director duos can have trouble selling tickets. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro are collectively a surefire recipe for box office gold but it all came crashing down with the release of boxer Jake LaMotta’s biopic, Raging Bull.
Due to an overabundance of violence and improper advertising, the movie only earned $23.4 million against its $18 million budget. The unsatisfactory box office performance legitimately worried director Scorsese as he became concerned about whether or not studios and producers would finance his movies in the future.
12. The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Coen Brothers have a knack for comedy and their film The Big Lebowski was no exception. Even with the immensely talented cast of Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the movie was not only a box office flop but also failed to impress the critics.
It took a couple of years for The Big Lebowski to be re-evaluated and has since become a cult classic. Above all, the character Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski inspired a few die-hard fans so much that they gave birth to a new religion – Dudeism. It has a holy book, a news journal, and even a sacred holy day on March 6 known as the Day of the Dude.
11. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Often overlooked when compared to the rest of director Darren Aronofsky’s magnificent works such as The Wrestler and Black Swan, it is a rather shame that Requiem for a Dream does not get a decent amount of attention.
Starring Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Ellen Burstyn, the movie only managed to earn $7.4 million at the box office but received generally favorable reviews from critics. Due to the gut-wrenching content of the movie, it was bound to garner limited interest from moviegoers. In short, Requiem for a Dream is great but definitely not for everybody.
10. Willy Wonka the Chocolate Factory (1971)
In hindsight, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has everything required to be a genuinely great family movie. It is remarkably imaginative but did not succeed in resonating with the audience at once.
After earning just $4 million against a budget of $3 million, Paramount Pictures decided to sell its rights to Warner Bros. for $500,000. Though multiple airings and DVD sales proved that the movie has what it takes to sweep the audience off their feet, the box office numbers were less than stellar.
9. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Judy Garland in the lead, giant sets, advanced special effects, and two Academy Awards, The Wizard of Oz marvelously wowed the audience and has been continuing to do so to this very day. Yet the movie could not meet the high expectations of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s executives at the time of its release.
The movie flopped badly at the box office and the studio lost $1.1 million. It took a long while for The Wizard of Oz to be adequately considered profitable. Its special 10-year anniversary release racked in $1.5 million and it took numerous more re-releases and DVD sales to earn up to $25.7 million at the box office.
8. Citizen Kane (1941)
Frequently cited as one of the greatest movies ever made, it comes as a surprise that even Citizen Kane has a spot on the list. The reason behind its abysmal box office performance can be narrowed down to one man and one man only – media tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
When he found out that the title character is based on him and shown in a negative light, he outright banned the movie from his newspapers and radio networks. The absence of advertisements resulted in just a handful of moviegoers coming to the theatres. In fact, director Welles claimed that the theatre was nearly empty at the Chicago premiere that he had attended.
Due to Hearst’s agenda to blacklist the movie, the studio suffered a heavy loss of $160,000. There was no doubt that Citizen Kane was a terrific movie. It even won an Academy Award from its nine nominations but its lack of publicity refrained it from getting off the ground.
7. The Insider (1999)
With a star-studded cast of Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, and Christopher Plummer, the expectations of the studio executives were naturally sky-high. The Insider blew away the critics and earned seven Academy Award nominations but could not even earn more than its budget.
Though the performances of all actors were praised and the movie is often considered one of director Michael Mann’s finest works, The Insider was primarily intended for the audience over the age of 40 years. The limited target naturally had repercussions, thus leading to unimpressive box office earnings.
6. Man on the Moon (1999)
Comedy legend Jim Carrey brought entertainer Andy Kaufman to life in the latter’s biopic Man on the Moon. Often cited among the movies which highlight the actor’s capabilities beyond the scope of comedy, it earned decent applause but the same cannot be said about its box office performance.
In fact, Man on the Moon finished Carrey’s hot streak of movies that had extremely successful opening weekends. Though the movie earned a little over half of the budget, the actor was heavily praised for his outstanding performance and even won the Golden Golden Award for Best Actor.
5. The King of Comedy (1982)
The Actor-director duo of Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese pop up on the list yet again. Right after making Raging Bull, the two teamed up for The King of Comedy only to receive even more pitiful box office results.
Though a hit among the critics, the movie earned a paltry sum of merely $2.5 million against its $19 million budget. De Niro hypothesized that the reason behind such rock bottom earnings was due to the movie giving:
“off an aura of something that people didn’t want to look at or know.”
4. Blade Runner (1982)
As a result of studio interference, the original Blade Runner had atrocious feedback from both critics and fans alike. Warner Bros. was strictly against its dark tone and insisted on removing the ambiguous ending of Rick Deckard possibly being a replicant.
Further changes made the movie quite confusing and the studio relied on voiceovers to address such scenes. Fans had witnessed Harrison Ford portraying Han Solo and Indiana Jones but it was unbearable for them to see the action hero in the convoluted movie.
It was not until 1992 that director Ridley Scott was able to release his own cut of the movie to cement its prestigious legacy as a sci-fi masterpiece. On a related note, the sequel Blade Runner 2049 also underperformed at the box office despite its overwhelmingly positive reviews.
3. The Iron Giant (1999)
When a product is disowned by its own creator, it is bound to fail no matter how much potential it possesses to succeed. Disappointed due to the poor box office performance of animator Brad Bird’s Quest for Camelot which had been released the previous year, Warner Bros. expressed little to no hope for The Iron Giant and barely poured any effort into its marketing campaign.
Unbeknownst to the studio, Bird’s The Iron Giant was practically a gold mine waiting to be discovered. Not only does it have impressive animation and a compelling storyline but it also featured the voices of A-listers Vin Diesel and Jennifer Aniston. Yet the lack of enthusiasm by Warner Bros. had sealed its fate and The Iron Giant only earned $31.1 million, not even half of the movie’s budget.
2. Steve Jobs (2015)
Just 2 years after Steve Jobs’ biopic Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher, Hollywood released another one. With Michael Fassbender in the leading role, Steve Jobs received a far better critical appraisal but became a victim of terrible timing. Upon its release, the movie was in severe competition against Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks, The Intern starring Anne Hathaway, and Black Mass starring Johnny Depp.
Moviegoers were not eager to see another version of the Apple co-founder’s biopic too soon and Universal Pictures had to pull the movie from 2,072 theatres in the United States alone just two weeks after its release. To add insult to injury, it earned even less than Ashton Kutcher’s Jobs despite having a much bigger budget.
1. Fight Club (1999)
At first glance, Fight Club could easily be mistaken for a terrible excuse for a movie that should have never been made in the first place. Yet that is the beauty of it. Directed by David Fincher and starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, Fight Club takes every inch of trash a common man comes across and turns it into a cinematic masterpiece.
From ill-conceived marketing to anti-mainstream content, the movie could not attract moviegoers and Fox had to push back the release date several times. However, the movie became incredibly successful in terms of DVD sales and managed to earn more than $55 million through them. 20 years later, Fight Club is not only a cult classic but easily one of the greatest movies of all time.
Hope you enjoyed reading our list of great movies that were box office flops. Feel free to share your views in the comments below!
The photo accompanying Citizen Kane is from Touch of Evil, not Citizen Kane…
Thanks for pointing that out, it has been fixed now!