This summer, more than any other I can think of, seems to bring about a new film every weekend that everyone lines up to call a flop or a bomb. While some of them (R.I.P.D.) seemed destined for it, there have been a few that didn't deserve to become flops (Pacific Rim, anyone?) Over the years there have been lots of films that flopped at the box office but went on to achieve great success on home video or endless cable reruns, almost to the point where it's hard to imagine that they were ever so unsuccessful in their theatrical runs. Today I'll be looking at five of my favorite films that bombed at the box office, at least three of which have attained legendary status, although I'll never stop holding out hope for the other two...
5. Big Trouble (2002, dir. Barry Sonnenfeld)
Production Budget: $40 million
Worldwide Box Office: $8 million
Big Trouble was so far down before it's embarrassingly limited theatrical release, there was no chance it was ever going to get back up again. Unfortunately, people only now seem to remember the film for being postponed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. While the film's third act does involve (staggeringly inept) criminals trying to smuggle a nuclear warhead onto a plane, it is also one of the best crafted and funniest ensemble comedies of the last decade. Based on a book by Dave Barry, and directed by the man behind Men in Black & Get Shorty, Big Trouble features one of the best casts ever assembled for a seemingly throwaway comedy, and is anchored by arguably the best performance of Tim Allen's career (I'll happily debate this with any Galaxy Quest fans out there). Were cable tv as prominent now as it was when films like Office Space began showing on an endless loop on Comedy Central, I have no doubt this film would be mentioned in the same breath as that film, but I must cling to my futile hope that someday, somehow, people will finally recognize this film for being as brilliant as it truly is.
4. Blade Runner (1982, dir. Ridley Scott)
Production Budget: $28 million
Worldwide Box Office: $33 million
It is virtually impossible for anyone to remember this now, because it's such a respected and mimicked science fiction landmark, but in 1982, critics and audiences alike gave the cold shoulder to Blade Runner. While '82 gave us other milestone sci-fi films such as The Wrath of Khan and Tron, it's the dystopian future created by Ridley Scott that is most often aped and sometimes ripped off wholesale (I'm looking at you, The Fifth Element). The film was far too bleak and depressing for audiences that made E.T. the biggest box office hit of all time that same year, but in the interim, Blade Runner has become the vastly more revered film. There are even debates among the people who love the film as to which version of the film is best, the original theatrical cut or Scott's director's cut released in 1992 (hint, it's the latter). Thankfully the blu-ray release gathers five separate cuts of the film together, so we'll never have to choose again, but this is a film whose legend grows larger with each passing year, and was one of the first films I can think of that was truly ahead of its time in almost every regard.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010, dir. Edgar Wright)
Production Budget: $60 millionWorldwide Box Office: $47 million
After creating two of the best genre spoofs of the decade, Edgar Wright turned his sights to adapting Bryan Lee O'Malley's popular comic/graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim vs The World into a film. The film that he made was a game changer, in ever sense of the word. It was the kind of film that revolutionized what a film based on an already visual medium like comics could achieve, and it was every bit as innovative and amazing as anyone could have hoped. The only problem was, nobody went to see it. In a summer jam packed with mediocre adaptations like Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2 & The Last Airbender, people seemed to have visual effects fatigue, and (much as they did with Pacific Rim this summer) mistook the film for just another style over substance film. The thing is, though, that Scott Pilgrim is infinitely smarter and much more clever than anyone could have imagined, and it's visual style compliments a fantastic script rather than overpowers it. It is the perfect synergy of a great story and great visual effects, and deserved to be mentioned with equal admiration as the other film from that summer about which you could say the same thing, Inception. Unfortunately, for now, the geekier among us must carry the torch for this film alone.
2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994, dir. Frank Darabont)
Production Budget: $25 million
Worldwide Box Office: $28 million
Worldwide Box Office: $28 million
When you look at the user-voted Top 250 films on imdb.com, one film has regularly and repeatedly topped the list over films like The Godfather, Schindler's List & Seven Samurai... Frank Darabont's 1994 masterpiece The Shawshank Redemption. Released in a year that also gave us Pulp Fiction & Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption was a resounding flop when it was released in October of 1994, and only made any money after it was re-released upon being nominated for 7 Oscars. Based on a short story by Stephen King (from the same collection that gave us Stand by Me & Apt Pupil), the film tells the story of an innocent man's decades long fight to escape from the eponymous prison, as seen through the eyes of another inmate, who becomes his best friend. It's the film that introduced the world to the Morgan Freeman voiceover narration that has become so ubiquitous and spoofed in the twenty years since, and it's also the kind of film that spans generations and can be equally loved by everyone, young and old (you certainly can't say that about Forrest Gump or Pulp Fiction). A film about never losing hope became the epitome of its own message when endless reruns on TBS and the like cemented its place in history and helped it achieve the now legendary status it has achieved. And on top of all that, it's just a damn good film.
Production Budget: $15 million
Worldwide Box Office: $17 million
Worldwide Box Office: $17 million
No film in the last 15 years has seeped its way into the collective conscious the way Joel & Ethan Coen's 1998 film The Big Lebowski has. Endlessly quoted and referenced, the film has become a cultural landmark in a way very few other films have, but can you think of anyone who actually saw this film in a movie theater in March of 1998? I remember seeing it for the first time when it came out on video and not thinking much of it. It seemed like a throwaway trifle from filmmakers that had just made one of the best films of the 90s with Fargo. But something about Lebowski kept calling me back, and I soon found out I wasn't alone. Now there are Lebowski Fests every year all over the world, midnight screenings in bowling alleys, and even burlesque shows here in Chicago based on the film. Lebowski has become a cultural milestone, and is likely the most revered film from two brothers whose entire filmography is comprised of films worth paying reverence to (Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty being the notable exceptions). It's hard to believe this film took so long to insert itself into the cultural milieu, but something tells me that The Dude would have abided such a path, and I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that.