10 huge box office flops that became cult classics over time

10 huge box office flops that became cult classics over time

The reception of a film and its performance at the box office usually provides an accurate picture of how it will perform overall. However, some movies have defied the script and done much better after having a bad start. Learn more about the box office flops that became cult classics.

box office flops that became cult classics
Huge box office flops that became cult classics. Photo: Warner Brothers, Silver Screen Collection (modified by author)
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Many current fan-favourite movies are known to have performed dismally in theatres. For different reasons, it has taken some of these classic movies a few years after their initial release to be truly accepted by audiences.

Box office flops that became cult classics

These 10 critically acclaimed flops demonstrate that a film’s performance at the box office is not everything.

1. The Shawshank Redemption

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Although The Shawshank Redemption is now considered one of America’s greatest films of all time, it was initially a massive flop. Released in 1994, the film inspired by Stephen King’s short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption had a budget of $25 million. However, after its initial screening, it only brought in $16 million.

Many theories have been developed to explain why it did so poorly at the box office, including its hard-to-remember name and poor marketing efforts. The movie was nominated for several awards in 1995, after which it shot up to one of the most rented films. To date, The Shawshank Redemption is considered a historically and culturally significant American classic.

2. The Shining

The Shining almost did not make it to the top of the movie charts. Following its release in May 1980, the movie left viewers confused and largely unimpressed. Even King accused the director, Stanley Kubrick, of ruining the adaptation. It only grossed $45 million.

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Over 40 years since it hit the big screens, The Shining is considered one of the most popular horror movies. The exemplary acting by the cast and the great cinematography has made the movie get canonized among horror movie fanatics, and it has inspired the work of many modern filmmakers.

3. American Psycho

The social and political climate in the United States has progressively changed to the point where American Psycho is now considered a powerful piece of social commentary. The hard-hitting yet playful manner of addressing current social themes like sexism and the wealth divide has made the film one of the best flops that became classics.

When it was released in 2000, it was considered a major failure. It only made $34 million at the box office. The film is a cultural staple in 2022 and has inspired multiple songs and music videos. American Psycho was simply ahead of its time.

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4. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Now one of the most popular children’s films, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory performed poorly at the box office. It started out on a low budget of $3 million, even by 1971 standards. By the end of its initial run at the box office, it had only grossed $4 million.

The film remake released in 2005, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, greatly improved the original film’s popularity. TV reruns and movie rentals improved the film’s earnings and ratings in subsequent years, and it is now considered one of the best whimsical films.

5. Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko was a big flop at the box office. Film critics have hypothesized that it was released too soon after 9/11, causing the religious zealotry theme to hit the wrong nerve with audiences. Additionally, some considered it so confusing and intellectual that viewers could not relate to it.

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Audiences have since grown to appreciate the complex themes in Donnie Darko, making it rise to the status of a cult classic. Unfortunately, the filmmakers spent $6 million on the movie and only grossed $6.9 million at its release.

6. The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is simultaneously one of the biggest box office failures and one of the most revered classics in film history. Its initial release in 1939 did not make much money, and it wasn’t until it was re-released in 1949 that it became a hit. Today, its worldwide box office earnings stand close to $35 million due to Christmas reruns on cable TV.

7. Citizen Kane

Unlike many other great movies that flopped at the box office, Citizen Kane was always considered a masterpiece. Its dismal performance at the box office resulted from alleged sabotage by affluent businessman William Randolph Hearst. He suppressed all marketing and media coverage of the iconic film, causing it to flop and bring in only $1.4 million in 1941. The film bounced back and is now a cult classic.

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8. John Carter

John Carter has a place in history as one of the most expensive movies ever made and the biggest Hollywood flop of all time. From a budget of $306.6 million, John Carter only grossed $284 million. Ten years since this massive failure, the film is considered one of the most unique movies ever made.

9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a very divisive movie. While it is considered a box office flop for financial reasons, film critics stand by its success. Although it brought in a whopping $1.3 billion in global box office sales, the film underperformed in China, falling short of financial analysts' expectations.

Like many cult classics, this film is quite polarizing. Many Star Wars fans consider it so bad that they want it erased from memory. The other half of the fan base regards it as one of the best instalments of the sci-fi franchise.

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10. The Thing

John Carpenter’s critically acclaimed film The Thing grossed only $19.6 million from a budget of $15 million on its initial release in 1982. Film critics believe that it was a failure of timing and marketing that sabotaged its performance at the box office.

As viewership moved to TV airings and home video, the film found its loyal audience. The visual and sound effects were groundbreaking when it was released, and to date, it is seen as one of the best-executed horror movies ever.

Not all movies considered cult classics started out that way. Many of the most famous movies today performed terribly at the box office when they were first released. Yet, for different reasons, some of them rose up the charts over time and acquired fiercely loyal fans.

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