Top Movies That Totally Flopped at the Box Office
Ah, youth. The days when you reveled in your dorm room and feasted on delicacies like hair dryer-warmed pizza or ramen gently braised over a light bulb. Your bank account might've been empty, but you still managed to feed your soul with the deepest of lessons: Money isn't everything.
And you weren't alone when enlightenment struck. Since Hollywood's golden age, plenty of movies that had hard-knock openings later blossomed into beloved cinematic staples or legit cult classics. Here are just a few, in all their flop-to-favorite glory.
'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946)
Unthinkable as it seems, "It's a Wonderful Life" was not having a very wonderful life at all in 1946. Though award season was kind to the movie, audiences just weren't feeling its darker themes, and RKO Pictures wasn't feeling the money -- "Life" lost about $525,000 at the box office.
Ultimately, this James Stewart-flavored slice of Americana owes its iconic status to two big "Fs": flukes and forgetfulness. In 1974, National Telefilm Associates straight-up forgot to renew the movie's copyright, which landed the film in the public domain and opened the floodgates for just about any cheapskate distributor or network to air the flick or release it on home video without paying royalties. After a while, you couldn't sled down a hill during the holiday season without bumping in to George Bailey. As Frank Capra himself told The Chicago Tribune in 1985, "It's the damnedest thing ..."
'The Big Lebowski' (1998)
The box office slaughter: In 1998, "The Big Lebowski" was basically a gutterball when it debuted with a $5.5 million opening on a $15 million budget. Outlets like Variety called it "hollow and without resonance."
The cult-tastic happy ending: Every college sophomore you've ever known can quote every single line of dialogue from this movie. Oh, and the movie has its own religion -- yes, ordained Dudeist priests are legally allowed to preside over wedding ceremonies in the United States.
It. Has. Its. Own. Religion.
The Dude doesn't just abide; the Dude wins.
'Blade Runner' (1982)
Are opening-weekend losses to the tune of $6.5 million worth being listed on the National Film Registry? That's the question "Blade Runner" has to ask itself when it wakes up every morning. Nowadays, movie buffs and midnight theaters worship at the altar of the seminal sci-fi's impeccable production design, heady narrative, and deeply influential neo-noir tone. But in the summer of 1982, "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" ate Ridley Scott's synth-infused, neon-soaked lunch. Somewhere, Harrison Ford wiped away his tears with $1,000 bills.
'Fight Club' (1999)
Apparently, audiences in 1999 took the whole "You do not talk about Fight Club" thing a little too seriously -- the theatrical silence was deafening as David Fincher's brutal, anti-consumerism satire bled out $26 million at the box office.
But if the box-office numbers are a schlubby, IKEA-obsessed Jack, the home video market turned out to be the movie's uber-sexy Tyler Durden when Fox raked in more than $100 million in video sales. Like the man said, "You are not your job. You are not your khakis. You are not your box office receipts."
Something like that, anyway.
'The Wizard of Oz' (1939)
"One of these things is not like the other/One of these things just doesn't belong," you sing to your computer screen as everybody looks at you like you're a weirdo. But you'd be oh-so-strangely wrong -- all of these things are the same.
Just like its mega-flop friends, "Wizard" was a mega-budget fantasy -- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's highest budgeted film ever, in 1939 -- with through-the-roof expectations from its studio. And just like the much more recent "Green Lantern" and "John Carter," those factors got stirred into a cocktail of immense disappointment as MGM saw $1.1 million dollars -- the equivalent of almost $19 million in 2016 -- blow down the Yellow Brick Road.
The difference is, no one's going to buy commemorative "Waterworld" porcelain plates with Kevin Costner's mug on them in 70 years. But your aunt already has eight of them emblazoned with Judy Garland -- they just go so well with the Toto Christmas ornament and the Tin Man throw blanket and the Wicked Witch of the West tote bag.
- Mental Floss: 11 Beloved Movies That Were Box Office Flops
- Chicago Tribune, Nov. 24, 1985: Capra's "Wonderful Life": Color It the Holiday Classic
- Library of Congress: Librarian of Congress Names 25 More Films to National Film Registry
- United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: CPI Inflation Calculator
- Business Insider: 11 Classic Movies That Were Originally Box-Office Bombs
- Dudeism.com: Frequently Asked Questions