When it comes to new movie releases, people’s eyes often turn to the box office in order to determine whether it was a success. If a film fails to break even by a large amount when it’s first released in the theaters, it is sadly considered a box office bomb or box office flop. While it’s common knowledge that movies that don’t make a profit are considered to be box office flops, the list doesn’t end there. Movies that don’t manage to exceed their expected profit and break by a large amount are sadly considered box office flops too.
However, some movies manage to turn it around later. Therefore, we compiled a list of well-known movies that started out as nothing but yet another box office flop. These are by no means everyone's favorites, but rather films that managed to get up after the initial disappointment at the box office and are now having constant TV re-runs or have found other ways to people's hearts and home screens.
The Shawshank Redemption
Box office earnings: $28,428,150
When you think about The Shawshank Redemption, you probably think of it as an ageless classic and tribute it for cinematic immortality. However, it didn’t really pop at first. While it made a noble $3,428,150 when it came out, it is still considered one of the biggest box office fails. Despite it being well-received by critics, it only gained more significant popularity after making a splash at the Academy Awards. The makers of the film can now also enjoy successful home video sales.
Box office earnings: $39,342,912
The famous Ridley Scott’s science fiction film was first shown in theatres in 1982. Rotten Tomatoes claims the film “was a box office and critical bust upon its initial exhibition, but its unique postmodern production design became hugely influential within the sci-fi genre, and the film gained a significant cult following that increased its stature.” It remains a fan-favorite among science fiction fans and even got a sequel 35 years later.
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
Box office earnings: $4,000,000
This American musical came out in 1971 starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, but was seemingly overlooked by audiences at the time of its initial release. The now-iconic family classic had a budget of 3 million dollars, but only manage to make one million dollars profit during its original theatrical release. However, it seems people only needed some time to start to appreciate this gem.
Box office earnings: $137,515,140
Matthew Vaughn’s romantic fantasy adventure released in 2007 is based on Neil Gaiman's 1999 novel of the same name and stars Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, and a few other great stars. It was off to a decent start with good critical reviews. However, it didn’t earn its lot at the box office, especially in the US. However, it found a way to fans’ hearts via various streaming services and has earned a cult following since its initial release.
It's A Wonderful Life
Box office earnings: $3,300,000
While this 1946 Christmas fantasy drama is now considered to be a cinematic classic, it faced a rocky start at the beginning. With a $3.7 million dollar budget, it only managed to earn back $3.3 million. However, it didn’t have to wait long for the success as it was nominated for five Academy Awards the same year and remains one of people’s favorite Christmas movies of all time.
Box office earnings: $101,187,503
Despite how hard to believe this movie actually made this list and the fact that probably most people consider it to be an undying cinematic classic at this point, Fight Club didn’t really do that well at the box office when it first came out in 1999. Despite that technically it didn’t make a loss at the box office, it didn’t live up to the expectations at first and wasn’t immediately financially successful. However, it managed to turn it around and become one of the generation-defining movies for many millennials.
Box office earnings: $39,514,713
Even though this 1993 American comedy horror film is now watched all around the world during Halloween and has become a seasonal favorite, it was released during summer. It received mostly negative and mixed reviews from critics upon its release and lost Disney approximately $16.5 million. However, becoming a seasonal favorite, which resulted in a yearly spike in home video sales, turned Hocus Pocus into a commercial success after all.
Box office earnings: $2,962,988
This unique debut from Richard Kelly reached theaters in 2001. Despite having an uncanny script and amazing cast, it only stayed on cinema screens for 28 days, only made $2,962,988 at the box office, and thus didn’t even manage to even out the cost of production, which was $6,000,000. However, this failure might be related not only to the film and its marketing, but also to the fact that the film came out shortly after the 9/11 tragedy and featured a pretty prominent plane crash in its storyline. Despite that, it received critical acclaim and a surprising financial success on the home video market and has developed a cult following since its initial release.
Box office earnings: $33,459,416
Even though this 1996 family comedy-drama, based on Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name, has become a fan favorite over the years, it was first released to a rocky start. Despite having received positive reviews from critics, it was a complete box office flop, grossing only $33 million in the United States on a $36 million budget. Thankfully, it got a new life and cult audiences with TV reruns and even became quite successful in the home video market.
Box office earnings: $1,108,462
Some like to poetically say that Heathers walked so that Mean Girls and similar chick flicks could run. While the film had mostly positive critical feedback, it didn’t help it gain success among theater audiences. With a budget of an estimated $3,000,000, Heathers only grossed $1,108,462 at the box office. It took some time for people to appreciate the genius behind the film, but people learned to love it since its initial release in 1989 and it now has a cult following.
Kubo And The Two Strings
Box office earnings: $76,249,438
This stop-motion animated action-fantasy film seemed to have all it takes – it was voiced by such A-listers as Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey, and Ralph Fiennes and was released to critical acclaim. However, grossing only $77 million worldwide against a budget of $60 million, it is still considered to be one of the biggest box office disappointments. Despite that, fantasy fans all over the world seem to appreciate the stop-motion aesthetic and brilliant writing, making it fans’ favorite.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Box office earnings: $47,664,559
Some say this 2010s comedy was never destined for success and was hard to sell to mainstream audiences from the beginning. Peter Debruge of Variety gave the film a mixed review, and called it "an example of attention-deficit filmmaking at both its finest and its most frustrating". Despite it having a budget of $60,000,000 and flopping at box office by only earning $47,664,559, it managed to find its active audience a bit later and is now praised for having killer-cast, extraordinary aesthetics and a script with endless possibilities for quoting.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Box office earnings: $107,045,109
This 2015 spy film directed by Guy Ritchie had a pretty incredible crew and an A-lister cast starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, and Hugh Grant. However, it seems that having these two things settled is often not enough for a film to be a box office success. The Hollywood Reporter estimated the film lost the studio at least $80 million when factoring together all expenses and revenues.
Box office earnings: $47,383,689
Just as the name of this 2000 comedy-drama suggests, this film is… well, almost famous. It only grossed $47,383,689 worldwide against a budget of $60,000,000. Despite this box office disappointment, the film managed to reach its audiences since then and has become a fan favorite coming-of-age drama. Fans seem to love not only its wonderful cast, but its vintage aesthetics and honesty, too.
Blade Runner 2049
Box office earnings: $259,239,658
Just like Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 didn’t receive its success immediately. It was expected to debut to an additional $60 million internationally (outside the US); however, the debut ended up making only $50.2 million and was considered a disappointment after its opening weekend. Maybe the audiences were just fed up with sci-fi movies at the time because it managed to turn fans around and found its way to home screens after leaving the theaters.