25 brilliant movies that blew up at the box office

PPredicting which movies will set the box office on fire seems like an easy task, but there’s a reason studios get paid big bucks to do it.

However, every once in a while an acclaimed movie can go like a tank after being unveiled to the public.

Over the years, there have been a surprising number of films that have struggled or even failed to recoup their budget, and as a result have earned the “box office flop” label.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why movies like these – Children of Men And It’s a wonderful life, to name a few – initially struggled to find an audience. Thankfully, though, the film’s quality shines through, and it eventually finds a fanbase beyond its theatrical release.

Thanks to the advent of streaming services, reliance on box office numbers has diminished somewhat over the years. It also means movies that struggled to find an audience upon release could potentially find love years later after being added to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or another service.

Below, we run through a list of movies that made an unexpected — and unfair — bombardment at the box office.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Andrew Dominik’s revered Western only recouped half of its $30m (£22m) budget when it hit theaters in 2007. However, it luckily found love after its release on DVD and Blu-ray, no doubt helped by its inclusion on several “best movies of the year” lists.

Babylon (2022)

It’s hard to know exactly what was behind Babylon tasteless box office show. Was it bad marketing or the fact that the film was 190 minutes long? Whatever the reason it’s such a shame – in its five star Babylon critic, Clarisse Loughrey describes the “bawdy drama” as “tailor-made to divide audiences”, adding that it “puts a bullet in the head of any notion that the silent era of the film industry was austere or picturesque”.

Black Hat (2015)

Michael Mann’s underrated cyber-thriller was a box office bomb, grossing just $19.7m (£15m) at the box office against a budget of $70m (£52.5m). million pounds). The unfairly scathing reviews probably didn’t help.

Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in “Blackhat”

(Frank Connor/Legendary Images and Universal Images)

Blade Runner (1982)

It’s hard to imagine a landmark film like blade runner be a flop at the time of its release, but that’s exactly what Ridley Scott’s sci-fi movie was. After a lackluster run in America, the film proved its staying power with global audiences and became a word-of-mouth hit in the process. Yet it only grossed $10.5m (£8m) more than its $30m (£22.5m) budget.

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Children of Men (2006)

Now considered one of the best films of the 21st century, Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian thriller, starring Clive Owen, failed to recoup its box office cash when it was released in 2006.

Citizen Kane (1941)

The Orson Welles film may now be a beloved classic, but that was a different story in the early 1940s: it failed to recoup its costs at the box office – and was beaten at the Oscar for best film by (the very good one in fact) How green my valley was.

(RKO radio pictures)

Watchmakers (1995)

by Spike Lee Watchmakers ranks as one of the director’s most disappointing box office performances to date, taking just $13m (£10m) off a $25m (£18.7m) budget sterling).

Deep Water Horizon (2016)

Peter Berg’s real-life drama is down more than $30m (£22.6m) from its $156m (£117m) budget – a shame considering it’s the one of Friday night lights creator’s best movies to date (who, from the guy who directed Battleship And Thousand 22we guess doesn’t say much).

Donnie Darko (2004)

Donnie Darko grossed just over $7.5m (£5.6m) worldwide on a budget of $4.5m (£3.3m). A notable reason for its failure was likely due to the fact that its marketing campaign centered on the scene involving a plane engine crash a few weeks before 9/11. Fortunately, the film became cult after its DVD release and is now one of the most famous films of the 2000s.

(Dale Robinette/Flower/Gaylord/Adam Fields Prod/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Event Horizon (1997)

With its B-movie style scares and ridiculous twists, Event horizon had all the ingredients to become a sleeper hit. Instead, it was a commercial and critical failure, grossing $26.7m (£20m) on a production budget of $60m (£45m).

The Fabelmans (2022)

Steven Spielberg’s late-career endeavors rarely benefited from the kind of box office wizardry that defined his early successes. But it was still shocking how few people came to see The Fabelmans, a mostly autobiographical drama centered on the filmmaker’s childhood and his parents’ marital troubles. Perhaps it was the marketing that was at fault – the trailers suggested it would be a cutesy love letter to the cinematic wonder, while the actual film offers a far more cynical and nuanced view of the world.

Seth Rogen in “The Fabelmans”

(Universal Images)

Fight Club (1999)

There was some kind of controversy surrounding David Fincher fight club at the time of its release due to rumors that studio executives disliked the finished product. It was for this reason that bosses scaled back the planned marketing campaign in an effort to reduce what they thought were poor ticket sales. It is therefore not surprising that the film was disappointed at the box office.

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Heaven’s Gate (1980)

Michael Cimino’s ambitious epic is notable for being one of the biggest box office bombshells of its time, losing studio United Artists an estimated $37m (£27.7m) – or more than 114 million (£85.5 million) after adjusting for inflation. The film, which was given a rough ride by critics at the time, has been reappraised in recent years – and is best considered one of the last truly director-driven films of this Hollywood era.

Hugo (2011)

Martin Scorsese’s charming family film was a commercial failure, grossing just $185m (£138.6m) against a budget of $150-170m (£112-127m). Five years later he would have another flop with Silence, which consequently made the studios reluctant to invest in the director’s future projects. Instead. Scorsese has moved to streaming, releasing The Irishman on Netflix in 2019. He will release his next two films, including the 2022 The Moonflower Slayerson Apple TV+.


The Insider (1999)

Although beloved by critics, the Michael Mann drama – starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe – never recovered its $68m (£51m) budget.

The Iron Giant (1999)

Despite being one of the greatest animated films of all time, The iron giant fell victim to Warner Bros’ skepticism towards the genre after their previous effort failed, Camelot Quest. Future Pixar director Brad Bird’s film grossed $31.3m (£23.4m) worldwide against a budget of $70-80m (£52-60m).

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Although not a major flop, this classic underperformed at the Christmas box office due to stiff competition from other major films released at the time, including William Wyler. The best years of our lives and Powell and Pressburger A matter of life or death.

James Stewart and Donna Reed in “It’s a Wonderful Life”


The King of Comedy (1982)

Although Martin Scorsese’s drama was well received by critics, it flopped at the box office. Reflecting on this, lead star Robert De Niro said the film “may not have been so well received because it gave off an aura of something people didn’t want to see or know about”.

The Man on the Moon (1999)

This Miloš Forman’s Jim Carrey film ended up costing Universal big money after it failed to recoup its $52-82m (£39-61.4m) budget. In 2017, footage from the making of the film was made into a documentary Jim and Andy: The Great Beyondwhich documented Carrey’s transformation into comedian Andy Kaufman.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

David Lynch’s The Puzzle is considered one of the greatest films of all time, but it was so difficult to market that it failed to recoup its $20 million budget ($15 million). pound sterling).

Scott Pilgrim Against the World (2010)

Edgar Wright’s last film, Last night in Soho, flopped. at the box office – but that wasn’t the director’s first taste of disappointment. In 2010, Scott Pilgrim was a box office bomb, grossing $47.7m (£35.8m) against its $85-90m (£63.7-67.5m) production budget ). However, love for the film is strong 11 years later, with the director tweeting regularly whenever it airs on TV.

‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’

(Big Talk Productions/Kobal/Shutterstock)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

This Stephen King adaptation may well top IMDb’s ‘Top 250’ list, but it was a box office disappointment upon release, earning just $16m (£12m) during of its first theatrical release. It would later be re-released and gross $58.3m (£43.7m), which is kind of a cheat, but we’ll allow it.

A Simple Plan (1998)

This Oscar-nominated Coen Brothers-style noir by Sam Raimi, which is currently on BBC iPlayer, has raked in $17m (£12.7m) at the box office. This perhaps cemented its fate as one of the most misunderstood films of the 1990s.

It’s Spinal Tap (1984)

It wasn’t until its home entertainment release that Rob Reiner’s mockumentary It’s Spinal Tapdocumenting the rise of a fictional band, became the beloved classic that it is today.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

It may be a superior Roald Dahl adaptation, but the Gene Wilder film made a small profit of $1 million (£749) when it was originally released in 1971. It cemented its status as one of most beloved family movies of all time after becoming a regular feature on Christmas TV shows.

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