The Most Beloved Box Office Flops

Alphaville Films

For many, these cult classics and critical darlings were “love at first watch” movies. Still, they didn’t do well when they first hit theaters. Looking back, it’s almost impossible to believe these iconic flicks tanked. But we know better now.

In most cases, timing proved everything. Some of these fondly remembered films fell victim to poorly timed debuts. Others were vividly ahead of their time. All in all, these beloved box office flops prove a truly great movie never goes out of style, even if it “fails” at first. And some keep getting better with age.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Paramount Pictures

The Christmas classic famously flopped in 1946. But today, It’s a Wonderful Life remains one of those films most holiday movies aspire to be like.

Its lackluster box office weekend broke production’s bank. On a $3.7 million budget, it earned just $3.3 million. Proving opening night isn’t everything, It’s a Wonderful Life was inevitably nominated for five Academy Awards.

The Shawshank Redemption

Warner Bros./Castle Rock Entertainment

This Stephen King adaptation was nominated for 7 Oscars. It’s globally regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. Yet somehow, The Shawshank Redemption didn’t dazzle at the box office. Nor did it win an Oscar. To be fair, Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump proved stiff competition.

With a budget of $25 million, this 1994 classic made $28 million at the U.S. box office. International audiences were quicker to recognize its greatness, helping this beloved movie bring in $73.3 million worldwide.

Donnie Darko

20th Century Studios

A true cult classic, Donnie Darko famously helped launch Jake Gyllenhaal’s covetable career. Unfortunately, this late-blooming indie darling began as a dud.

Taking $6 million to make, it earned $110,494 on opening weekend. Critics started out on the fence too. Unfortunate timing also played a significant role in negative reception. The movie’s plane crash may not raise as many eyebrows today, but it debuted upsettingly close to September 11. In turn, the international release didn’t happen for another year.

Office Space

20th Century Fox

Office Space remains one of the most quotable movies on earth. Widespread adoration aside, it barely made ends meet at first. In 1999, the ultra-funny flick squeaked by with a measly $12.2 million on its $10 million budget.

After years of being aired on cable, its prowess just kept growing. Notably dated in some ways, this workplace satire still resonates with audiences.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

David L. Wolper Productions

Obviously, Willy Wonka is one of the most beloved children’s films ever dreamed up. But did you know it was once a box office flop?

In 1971, nobody seemed interested in those covet-worthy golden tickets. Somehow, the iconic classic only earned $4 million at the box office, if you can believe it.


New World Pictures

Heathers is an undeniable cult classic with OG mean-girl charisma. Not to mention, it boasts some of the biggest stars of the 80s and 90s, namely, Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannon Doherty.

Even still, this dark comedy about the danger of high school cliques wasn’t so popular back in 88. It only brought in $1.1 million. But its lasting status as a must-watch only continues to grow with age.

Related: Why Regina George Isn’t the Real ‘Mean Girls’ Villain

Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer remains a hard-to-beat comedy, especially when ranked by comedy writers. Nevertheless, its initial reception was lukewarm. The former flop gradually proved itself one of those masterful movies that gets better and funnier with each watch.

Eventually, having a star-studded cast paid off too. Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, and Amy Poehler weren’t as famous when it debuted, making it that much more fun to watch now. Once overlooked, it grossed less than $300,000 on a $1.8 million budget.



Without a doubt, Warrior is one of the most emotional sports dramas of its time. Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte gave some of the best performances of their careers.

Early on, critics were rooting for the Gavin O’Connor film. Nolte was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Regardless, the masses were underwhelmed. This well-liked flick bombed at first, earning just $13 million.

Dazed and Confused

Alphaville Films

As noted by Variety, Dazed and Confused “is one of the defining American independent films of the 1990s and one of the most beloved cult classics of all time.” But it didn’t even do alright, alright, alright at the box office.

This coming-of-age comedy about fun-loving teens on their last day of high school in 76′ inevitably gained and maintained a massive following. But it only earned $ 8 million back in the day. What a drag, man!

Related: The Best High School Movies for When You’re Feeling Nostalgic

The Iron Giant

Warner Bros.

The Iron Giant is considered one of the best animated movies ever made. However, Brad Bird’s 1999 critically acclaimed film’s lasting popularity grew slowly.

After spending $70, the bonafide classic barely made $20 million stateside. In another case of bad timing, it was up against works from Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. Audiences soon discovered how incredible this otherworldly wonder really is, and they’re still discovering it today.

Josie and The Pussycats

Universal Pictures/20th Century Fox

Released in 2001, Josie and The Pussycats was too quickly dismissed by critics and audiences alike. It wound up grossing $14.9 million. However, it also gained legions of insta-fans who sang its praises immediately and forevermore. The masses would later follow.

Once deemed formulaic and a tad cheesy, it’s now seen as a zany and brainy satire sporting a solid cast (including Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, Alan Cumming, Parker Posy, and Tara Reid). And who could forget that timelessly catchy girl power/pop punk soundtrack?

Related: 11 Artists Who Went Solo and Flopped

The Tree of Life

River Road Entertainment

Apparently, I was one of the few who actually saw The Tree of Life in theaters. Instantly, I knew two things: I’d never seen anything like it, and sadly, it probably wouldn’t make much money.

This unapologetically ‘not for everyone’ film artfully reflecting on the meaning of life is now considered a masterpiece. The Oscar-nominated masterpiece only grossed $58 million worldwide on its $32 million budget, though.

The Assassination of Jesse James

Warner Bros.

Not even Brad Pitt could stop The Assassination of Jesse James from flopping. Despite the palpable star power, the Warner Bros. release was a pricy box office bomb. It only grossed $4 million nationwide.

Audiences and critics agree it’s undeniably impressive. It’s also incredibly long. Upon debut, the Oscar-nominated movie’s 160-minute runtime did it no favors at the box office.

The Big Lebowski

Working Title Films

Initially, The Big Lebowski’s unique brand of humor fell flat. Critics seemed confused, and turnout opening weekend was strangely low.

The Cohen Brothers classic brought in $18 million domestically, barely clearing the $15 million it took to make. One of the most quotable movies ever, it’s still drawing in mega fans for sold-out midnight showings to this day.

Under the Skin


Unsettling, striking, and experimental, moviegoers didn’t know what to make of Under The Skin. Critics were stunned early on, but glowing reviews couldn’t save it. Starring Scarlett Johansson, this eerily underrated drama only earned $2.6 million domestically and $7 million worldwide.

Cinema buffs won’t hesitate to tell you: this movie is a work of art. In college, a film major insisted I watch it. I immediately began spreading the word. With that said, there’s barely any dialogue. And many found it painfully quiet in theaters.


Paramount Pictures

Martin Scorsese doesn’t do family-friendly entertainment, but it’s just as masterful when he does. Case in point: Hugo. A critical success and 11-time Oscar nominee, Paramount might’ve overshot, agreeing to a $170 million budget.

The immersive 3D kids flick made $73 million domestically and $185 million worldwide. This fantastical film wouldn’t have done so badly if Scorsese had opted to be more frugal. Making up for financial losses in its own way, Hugo has proved itself priceless.

Mulholland Drive

Studio Canal

Since its release, people have had much to say about David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. BBC Culture even named it the best film of the 21st century. In fact, you’ll rarely find a list of movie masterpieces that leaves this one out.

Still, this surrealist neo-noir mystery proved itself an acquired taste at the box office, grossing only $7 million.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Relativity Media/Big Talk Productions

Financially speaking, Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim” adaptation wasn’t a mainstream hit for Universal Pictures. With a budget of $60 million, the Michael Cera-led comedy raked in $30 million domestically and less than $50 million globally.

Critics loved it right away. Soon enough, audiences did too. It also launched the careers of Brie Larson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Jennifer’s Body

Fox Atomic/Dune Entertainment/Rat Pac Enterprises, Inc.

Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama’s Jennifer’s Body was instantly misunderstood and bombed in theaters. Misleading marketing was mostly to blame. Released in 2009, movie-goers expected a slasher and walked out wildly disappointed. I saw it in theaters and liked it, but having no expectations helped me spot its deceptive brilliance.

This chilling, cheeky satire about teen angst and sexual obsession is now a modern cult classic. Its recent resurgence in popularity also earned Megan Fox the respect she’s long deserved. During GQ’s Couple Quiz with Machine Gun Kelly, Fox called this box office bomb the work she’s most proud of.

Related: It’s Not Just Britney: Female Celebrities Mauled by The Media

Fight Club

20th Century Fox

Directed by David Fincher, very few pieces of American cinema are considered as iconic as Fight Club. Starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, it’s a wildly heady ride with a killer soundtrack, but marketing it was a problem.

Fincher and 20th Century Fox disagreed on how to promote the potent psychological thriller. Fincher wanted to punch audiences with its poignancy and edginess. Fox thought playing it safe would make more money, and the trailer failed to deliver. Its box office total came to $37 million domestically. And yes, we went with the modern trailer… for obvious reasons.

The Wizard of Oz

MGM/Rotten Tomatoes

The Wizard of Oz’s box office debut feels like an impossibly bad dream. Failing to make a profit, it barely earned $3 million in 1949. At the time, its $2.7 million budget made it MGM’s most expensive movie.

Inevitably, the iconic script would forever be flipped. From theatrical flop to international treasure, it’s frequently dubbed the most influential film of all time.

Related: 12 Big Differences Between ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Movie And The Book