Published on December 7th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
Underrated Box Office Bombs – PART TWO
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, PART TWO of The Feedback Society’s List of Underrated Flops!
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Perhaps not a bomb when it really got going, but notable because it almost didn’t get going. Upon the completion of post-production, the filmmakers found it difficult to secure a distributor willing to market the film, due to the graphic content; however, in late 1974, it found a distributer. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre premiered on October 1, 1974, in Austin, Texas, almost a year after the completion of filming. The film screened nationally in the United States as a Saturday afternoon matinee, and found success with a broader audience after it was falsely marketed as being a “true story.” After 1976, the film was reissued to first-run theaters, every year, for eight years. After seeing it for the first time, I was so freaked out that I wanted the VHS tape the hell out of my house. Hilariously, this movie is very influential in horror and known as one of the goriest movies of all time — however, a good re-watch shows you that it’s actually not gory at all. Most of the gore happens off screen, but it’s so well made that it gets inside your brain and rots there. People think it’s gorier than it really is.
John Carpenter’s The Thing
Now, here’s a movie with some awesome gore! 1982’s remake if the 1951 classic, The Thing is a meditation on paranoia. The theatrical performance of the film was poor. This has been attributed to many factors, including Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released at the time and features a more optimistic view of alien visitation. However, The Thing has gone on to gain a cult following with the release on home video. Now it’s regarded as one of the best horror movies of all time, and a prequel is in the works. It’s one of my absolute favourite horror movies.
From the very beginning, Roger Ebert has championed this weird sci-fi movie directed by Alex Proyas. This probably wasn’t a content related flop, so much as just a movie that didn’t really find a big audience at the time. There aren’t usually long multiplex lines for strange, Kafkaesque mysteries. It was also bounced around in the release schedule, which can sometimes leave a stink on a film (often for good reason). This one hasn’t really catapulted to fame, but it has a consistent following.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson book wasn’t the first attempt at making a movie version of this material, but it’s where all the pieces fell into place. Though the critics were split, and the film bombed at the box office, it also found life-after-multiplex. In fact, Criterion even released a comprehensive DVD version, which they don’t do for any old movie.
Night of the Hunter
Based on the Davis Grubb novel and starring Robert Mitchum, Night of the Hunter was released in 1955. The movie was not a success with either audiences or critics at its initial release, and Laughton never directed another film. Nevertheless, the film has found a wider audience over the years, and Mitchum’s performance, in particular, has been praised. It’s a creepy thriller that is a definite classic must-see. Roger Ebert wrote, “It is one of the most frightening of movies, with one of the most unforgettable of villains, and on both of those scores it holds up … well after four decades.” Night of the Hunter was rated #34 on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Thrills ranking, and #90 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. In a 2007 listing of the 100 Most Beautiful Films, Cahiers du Cinema ranked The Night of the Hunter No. 2. It is among the top ten in the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.
The film opened to mixed critical reaction and failed to generate a large commercial audience, which left Disney in financial straits, almost bankrupting the company. The third feature-length animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions, Fantasia features eight animated segments set to classical music selections. Despite its initial commercial failure, Fantasia went on to become one of the most popular films of all-time and is today considered a classic film.
Hitchcock’s paranoid masterpiece wasn’t an all out bomb, but it was released in 1958 to mixed critical reaction and lacklustre box office. Hitchcock fans were not pleased with his departure from the romantic thrillers he was known for. Hitchcock even blamed the failure of the film on one of his staple leading men, Jimmy Stewart, when it was said he was too old for the role. In the 1950s, the French Cahiers du Cinéma critics began re-evaluating Hitchcock as a serious artist rather than just a populist showman. However, even François Truffaut’s important 1962 interviews with Hitchcock mentions Vertigo only in passing. Adding to its mystique was the fact that Vertigo was one of five films owned by Hitchcock that was removed from circulation in 1973. When Vertigo was re-released in theaters in October 1983, and then on home video in October 1984, it achieved an impressive commercial success and laudatory reviews. It’s not my favourite Hitchcock film, but it shows his mastery, and offers a great performance from Jimmy Stewart. The real life subtext is creepy too — Hitchcock’s obsessive behaviour over both Grace Kelly and then Tippi Hedren, is echoed in the film.
Written by Arthur Miller, The Misfits was the final screen appearance for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. The making of The Misfits was troublesome on several accounts, not the least of which was the 108 degree heat of the northern Nevada desert and the breakdown of Monroe’s marriage to Miller himself. Director John Huston gambled and drank, and occasionally fell asleep on the set. The production company had to cover some of his gambling losses. Miller wrote new pages throughout the shoot, revising the script as the concepts of the film developed. Monroe was sinking further into alcohol and prescription drugs and died shortly after. The movie was not a commercial success at the time of its release, but it garnered critical respect for its script and performances. It’s on TV every 10 minutes now. Seriously. Go turn your TV on and flip to one of those TCM-style stations. It’s probably playing.
Based on the successful novel by Frank Herbert, Dune was adapted by David Lynch. The film was not well received by critics and performed poorly at the American box office at the time. Upon its release, director David Lynch distanced himself from the project, stating that pressure from both producers and financiers restrained his artistic control and denied him final cut. Fans of the Dune series are polarized by the movie, although the film has become a cult favorite,and at least three different versions have been released worldwide. In some cuts of the film Lynch’s name is replaced in the credits with the name of a fictional director Alan Smithee, a pseudonym used by directors who wish not to be associated with a film for which they would normally be credited. I love this movie, but I can’t ever recommend it to just anyone. It is a weird, incomprehensible movie — I didn’t fully understand it until I had read the Herbert novels several times and viewed the movie multiple times. However, sometimes doing your immersive homework into something is worth it — this nightmarish, coldly atmospheric movie with huge themes pays off huge when you understand what’s going on. So really, it probably doesn’t belong on this list, but it’s my list, so I’m adding it anyway.
A cult classic that has inspired its own bowling alley festivals and is endlessly quoted, it wasn’t truly a total bomb. But it barely recouped its production cost, had some people walking out of the theatre and mixed reviews from critics. Of course, thanks again to home video, this movie reached out and captured a vast audience. It’s widely regarded as one of the great Coen Brother’s movies now, and is in fact called the first cult classic of the Internet era. There’s even an online religion based on The Dude. Pass me a Caucasian.