Published on December 7th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
Underrated Box Office Bombs – PART ONE
There’s a scene in the Animaniac’s episode, ‘Video Review,’ where Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are being chased through a video store by the T-Rex from the Jurassic Park box. They try to slow him down by ‘dropping bombs’ on him — that is, pelting him with copies of Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar, Howard the Duck, and other box office bombs.
Well, forget Ishtar and even more modern bombs like Gigli — here’s a list of movies that flopped hard (some critically, some financially), but are totally worth watching. In fact, in many cases these movies have seen total redemption through reevaluation as well as by finding audiences through cable, DVD, and the Interweb. In fact, a lot of these movies ended up being selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Here we go! In no particular order, here’s PART ONE of The Feedback Society’s List of Underrated Flops!
One of my favourite movies by one of my favourite directors, David Fincher (also one of my favourite books/authors: Chuck Palahniuk), Fight Club was lambasted by critics who were scared of its anarchist message. The movie flopped at the box office, and the executive at Fox that commissioned the film was fired. He was redeemed however, when the DVD went on to cult stardom, catapulting the movie, director, and author of the book to instant fame.
Harold & Maude
Made in 1971 by new Hollywood’s Hal Ashby, the film was a flop upon release, with mixed critical reviews. I’m not sure what movie they were watching. Harold and Maude is one of the greatest black comedies of film history, and over time, others found this quirky movie. The film is ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Funniest Movies of all Time.
Bringing up Baby
This 1938 Howard Hawks screwball comedy with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn was an infamous box office bomb, causing Hawks to be canned and forcing Hepburn to buy out her contract. It is now hailed as a sophisticated comedy classic.
Made in 2001 by Richard Kelly, I first spied this movie on the shelf of a video store I worked at. No one had even heard of it, and I was hesitant to watch it because it starred Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore. How good could it be? Well, it also starred an unknown Jake Gyllenhall, who killed it as the weird teenager. It went straight to video and missed breaking even, but has since developed a cult following (which even led to a sequel!).
It’s a Wonderful Life
This is a huge one. Shot in 1946 by Frank Capra, this feel-good movie had stiff box office competition and cost a lot to make. It wasn’t the huge bomb that everyone thinks it was, but it did mark a turning point for Capra, whose movies had previously been ‘must-see’ events. The movie came and went, but when the rights to it lapsed, television stations started showing it at Christmas time, and it quickly became the Christmas Classic. It’s a Wonderful Life was nominated for five Oscars without winning any, but the film has since been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, and placed number one on their list of the most inspirational American films of all time. This is not only one of my favourite holiday movies, but one of my favourite movies of all time (which is odd, because I hate corny movies — but Capra-corn is the best kind).
One of the only two really good Ridley Scott movies (the other is Alien…I suppose I’d give him Matchstick Men as well…), it split critics. Some found it too slow, some enjoyed its complexity. This complexity is never good for the box office, however, and the movie flopped, especially in North America. Thanks to video and DVD though, it has become a much imitated cult classic, and one of the cornerstones of science fiction film.
Making quite a few favourite movies of all time for movie lovers lists, Orson Welles made a groundbreaking film that was a part fact, part fiction expose of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst did everything he could to block the film. It was a critical success, but bad press meant low box office. The film faded from view soon after but its reputation was restored, initially by French critics and more widely after its American revival in 1956. Now it is widely regarded as the best movie ever made. My wife bought me a print of one of the original posters, which hangs in my office. And the story behind this movie is just as interesting as the movie itself. You can see a movie called RKO 280 (the working title of Citizen Kane), which tells the story, or on the Citizen Kane double disc DVD edition, there is a feature length documentary about the war between Welles and Hearst (and a great Ebert commentary).
This Frank Darabont directed adaptation of a Stephen King story wasn’t a bomb per se, more of a box office disappointment that almost didn’t cover its production costs. It was well received by critics, and was nominated for some awards. It has since found a huge audience thanks to cable and home video. It’s not one of my favourites, but it’s workable.
Not technically a flop, but a big box office disappointment for Paramount, based on the earnings from previous Marx Brother’s films. The movie was seen as an inferior Marx Brother’s outing, but is now considered their most brilliant work and one of the most engaging comedies of all time.
Rocky Horror Picture Show
An adaptation of the British stage show, Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in 1975. The film opened in the US at the UA Theatre in California. It did well at that location but not elsewhere. The cult following did not begin until the film began its midnight run at the Waverly Theatre in New York in 1976. Still in limited release almost 40 years after its premiere, it has the longest-running theatrical release in film history. Audiences participate with the film in theaters across North America. It is now widely known by mainstream audiences, has a large international following, and is one of the most well-known and financially successful midnight movies of all time.
2001: A Space Odyssey
In 1968, this was really a movie that was ahead of its time both in setting and in and of the movie itself. Of course, like Blade Runner, in fact, more so than Blade Runner, it is a thoughtful and complex movie with long stretches of music without dialogue and philosophical rumblings that were initially lost on audiences and some critics. It has been revered, but also panned as slow and pretentious. This pacing still alienates some modern audiences, but it was nominated for four Academy Awards, and received one for visual effects (it was not nominated for Best Picture).