Acclaimed Flop

Once in a while, some works leave a big mark in the mind of audiences. The reviews won't give it a grade under 9/10, those who saw/read/played it almost unanimously love it, everywhere the work is acclaimed for its originality, unique artistic touch, beautiful soundtrack and so forth. Everything is perfect except… few people actually buy it. Despite its huge critical success, the work is snubbed in the stores or cinemas and only avoids fading away from public view entirely by virtue of its acclaim.

Maybe it was too original, too unique, or too controversial to appeal to a large base (and maybe deliberately so), or maybe it lacked the advertisement that big and long-installed licenses or blockbusters get. Or just got a very clumsy marketing campaign. It can also be a consequence of The Firefly Effect for a series. But as a result of its glowing reputation, it will usually be sought out like a treasure several years later by many people who overlooked it at the time, and be all the more difficult to find in shops.

Note this is not about works that you personally liked but didn't get much attention. It's about those that were generally acclaimed and positively left their mark on the media, despite poor sales when they came out.

They are often Cult Classics, but a Cult Classic isn't necessarily successful critically and can keep a very limited fanbase.

Compare Vindicated by History when the quality of the work is only generally acknowledged many years after it came out. Also see Needs More Love. Critical Dissonance is for when the opinions of critics and viewers don't match. Contrast Critic-Proof, where the work is commercially successful despite negative critical reception.

Also contrast Sleeper Hit, a work that no-one was expecting much from but ends up being a commercial success despite unfavorable odds.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Nichijou sold very poorly in Japan (it is Kyoto Animation's lowest selling anime), but received great reviews from critics and got a warm, loving fanbase when it hit America and Europe, even in spite of it not having an official release there (due to the closure of Bandai Entertainment).
  • Fractale, despite it getting decent to good reviews all around (at least at first), had the misfortune of sharing timeslots with Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Fractale never stood a chance. A Creator Breakdown happened partway through production when when he found out Madoka was trouncing his show, and the quality slipped dramatically from that point onwards.
  • Maison Ikkoku in the west. Often considered to be Rumiko Takahashi's masterpiece, it received high critical acclaim when it was imported, and maintains a devoted fanbase to this day, with a surprising number even still calling it their favorite anime series of all time. However, the show itself, being more of a slice of life coming-of-age comedy, and more realistic than Takahashi's mega-hits InuYasha and Ranma ½, failed to find much of an audience in the US. It's original VHS releases were canceled after a handful of volumes, and was only released on DVD when Inuyasha took off, where it also bombed (although the whole series was released, Viz Media was forced to do very small print runs of later volumes). The series is now out-of-print and very difficult to find. There are some fans campaigning Viz to release the series on Blu-ray after they've successfully released Ranma ½ in the format, and Viz hasn't ruled the idea out, but says it will only likely have a chance if Ranma's sales are very strong. Other industry insiders (such as Justin Servakis) have strong doubt that the series will see the light of day in the US again, despite it's critical acclaim and devoted fan following.
    • The manga has it a little bit better. The entire series was re-released in English un-flipped beginning in 2001, a solid 12 years before Ranma was. The series is now out-of-print, but still fairly easy to find on the used book circuit.
  • Slower-paced non-action anime series like Kikaider and Paranoia Agent rarely do well in the ratings on American television, regardless of how liked they are by those who watch them. This is because the anime-watching audiences in North America are mostly made of younger people who come in expecting wild light-hearted action. When it turns out to be something else, they walk away and are not interested.
  • Despite having an incredibly diverse group of western fans, One Piece has traditionally had a tough time gaining a foothold in most western regions. The manga has become a tentpole for Viz, though not without several years of struggling before it caught up with the Japanese releases and got promoted at conventions. The anime had not found its ground until the recent Toonami run, though it is experiencing diminishing returns and can only pull in about half the numbers Space Dandy and Attack on Titan receive. The reason why One Piece always has to earn its success is simple: The kids, teenagers, and young adults who get into Bleach and Naruto do so because they are exotic and incredibly Japanese in their premises, art styles, and storytelling (in other words, they look and act like anime); whereas, the western-influenced visual design in One Piece is itself an Audience-Alienating Premise for a lot of anime fans. In other words, hardcore anime fans find it too "cartoon-y".
  • No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular did very poorly in Japan in both anime and manga sales, yet this series is well-liked among the American anime fanbase because the series pokes fun of a typical otaku.
  • The movie of Happiness Charge Pretty Cure flopped at the box office thanks to two typhoons that hit Japan and the popularity of the Ruroni Keshin movie, though it got good reviews.
    • Ultimately averted, as it eventually became the 2nd highest grossing movie in the franchise (discounting the All-Star movies).
  • Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise a milestone for the newly established studio Gainax opened to good reviews and won a Seiun Award but the movie tanked at the box office killing off hopes of a potential sequel. Though one is now planned for 2018

    Films — Animation 
  • The Disney Animated Canon has a number of examples.
    • Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty are all highly acclaimed classic movies which failed disastrously at the box office upon their original release (though did better in re-releases), although partly due to overblown budgets (Sleeping Beauty nearly bankrupted the studio) as much as audience disinterest. In addition, many of those films were released during World War II, a time when Americans were too busy supporting the war effort to watch movies.
    • The Emperor's New Groove got very positive reviews but performed at a subpar level at the box office, generally because of Disney's poor marketing efforts.
    • Treasure Planet is another film that had mostly positive reviews from critics, yet it became a major flop at the box office, and merchandise is scarce. Since its release in 2002, however, it has become a Cult Classic.
    • Disney's sequel to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, simply titled Winnie-the-Pooh (2011) is a strange case of this trope in the Canon. Released to thunderous acclaim (including a 90% Rotten Tomatoes score, which is the highest score for any Disney Canon movie since 1994), it only made a meager $33 million at the box office - at a $30 million budget. This was most likely a result of the dubious decision to release the movie simultaneously with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.
  • Teacher's Pet (the film) from 2004. Despite poor marketing, critics loved it.
  • The Secret Of NIMH suffered from poor marketing and competition with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, but was widely acclaimed for its vibrant animation and moving storyline.
  • Cats Don't Dance. Critics loved it, and it even won an Annie Award for Best Animated Film of 1997, but box office numbers were very poor. This is because Warner Bros. acquired Turner after production was completed, and chose to give it no promotion outside of toys from Subway and a few children's storybooks, and gave it a very small release too. The movie would later go on to being Vindicated by History, thanks to the movie airing on Cartoon Network several times during the early 2000s.
  • The Iron Giant was a financial disaster due to a horrible marketing campaign on Warner Bros. ' part. However, it picked up new life on DVD, and has become well-known and respected, in part due to Cartoon Network running 24 hour blocks of it every Thanksgiving.
  • The Road to El Dorado is remembered gained acclaim from a lot of viewers, but it failed to turn a profit.
  • Frankenweenie has been acclaimed by critics and was a strong contender to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, but opened to a disappointing $11 million despite the positive reception and a huge marketing campaign. The financial disappointment owes to several factors: an Audience-Alienating Premise, the fact that it's not nearly as kid-friendly as its marketing suggested, and the fact that it opened only a week after the more accessible Dueling Movie Hotel Transylvania.
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was critically acclaimed, with critics and moviegoers citing the film's musical score, mature writing, and animation as being exceptionally strong. However, due to the decision to make it a theatrical release being rather last-minute, it didn't get much promotion and turned out to be a box-office bomb. It was much more profitable in home video releases later on, and is still highly regarded, with some fans still considering it the best Batman movie.
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox scored a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and did even better with what the site describes as "Top Critics," earning only a single negative review (overall 98%.) 84% of viewers on the site also said that they liked it, but the film only banked $20.9 million in box office. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that though the film was targeted as a PG children's film, much of the humor and storylines were more adult and perhaps also the film's unusual visual style and introspective nature. It is also a stop-motion film, which, despite a growing number of them in recent years, have typically had a harder time with families than 2-D animation or 3-D CGI.

    Films - Live Action 
  • Intolerance was a tremendous critical success, and is now considered D.W. Griffith's masterpiece, but its ponderous length, overly experimental cinematography, and anti-war message drove away audiences on the eve of the US entry into World War One. Given its inflated budget - $2.5 million, enough to build a naval cruiser at the time - it went down in history as Hollywood's first big failure.
  • It's become a measurable trend that Oscar nominees are grossing less and less. Part of this is because the general public has come to perceive Oscar nominees as being only artistic fare without much wider appeal. Also, now that there are nine or ten nominees for Best Picture each year (previously it was only five), you'll frequently find nominees that only sold two or three million worth of tickets.
  • No one was yet calling it the greatest movie of all time, but Citizen Kane opened to glowing reviews and a disastrous box office. It didn't win "Best Picture" that year, but it was nominated for it and it did win for "Best Screenplay". A lot of its early misfortune is probably due to William Randolph Hearst's Executive Meddling.
  • The Monkees' film Head was the last thing anyone expected from the group: a surreal, deliberately plotless satire of their journey through the Show Business meat grinder. It failed at the box office, but got a lot of good reviews, and today it's fondly remembered as an Unintentional Period Piece of the psychedelic era.
  • Any Roald Dahl adaptation. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, James and the Giant Peach and Fantastic Mr. Fox were all flops but were received very well (though Willy Wonka recouped its low budget and was Vindicated by Cable). However, the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a success due to good marketing.
  • Tucker: The Man and His Dream failed to recoup its production costs and prompted director Francis Ford Coppola to take time off from the Hollywood system. However, critics credit the film for renewing interest in Preston Tucker's cars.
  • The Shawshank Redemption did very poorly in the box office but nonetheless received glowing reviews. The Academy also recognized it and led to its vindication as everyone wanted to know what was that film with quite a few Oscar nominations. It's also the highest-rated movie on IMDB with a score of 9.3.
  • Ed Wood is one of Tim Burton's most acclaimed films, even giving one of his stars an Oscar...and is the director's only box office failure with a mere $5.8 million domestically.
  • Wes Craven's New Nightmare is considered one of the best A Nightmare on Elm Street installments. It's also the lowest grossing of them all (though it recouped its budget twice).
  • The Alfonso Cuaron version of A Little Princess got critical raves in May 1995. But, as Roger Ebert admitted in his review, kids were hyped up for flashier Summer Blockbuster fare like Batman Forever and Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie. Casper and Disney's Pocahontas were getting a lot of hype too, and with the Girl-Show Ghetto working against it on top of all that, the movie died at the box office. Warner Bros. was encouraged by the positive responses from those who saw the film, to the point that they brought it back to theaters later that summer (look at the poster at its Wikipedia page) in hopes that families would respond to the raves, but that proved completely futile. This was partially because Babe, another hit with critics, had become a Sleeper Hit with those families by that point.
  • Almost Famous was one of the best reviewed films of 2000 (Roger Ebert called it the best film of 2000) and even today is considered a benchmark of making films about rock music. Financially, the film barely made half its $60 million budget (even after foreign totals, it still failed to break even), due to a misleading print campaign that put Kate Hudson's supporting character front and center and possibly due to handing director Cameron Crowe such a large budget for a niche-appealed premise.
  • Donnie Darko was well-received, but did poorly in cinemas. This was in part due to it receiving a limited theatrical run owing to its subject matter (it came out almost immediately after 9/11).
  • Mike Judge's Idiocracy was well-reviewed by critics and is widely considered a clever comedy (although Americans of a certain stripe consider it very Serious Business), but due to poor marketing, it did badly box office-wise. Limiting initial release to only 7 cities and capping out at 130 theaters didn't help.
  • Rogue, starring a then-unknown Sam Worthington, was said by the few critics that saw it to be surprisingly good for a movie about a giant crocodile and a fine horror/adventure flick in its own right. Poor advertising and a severely scaled back theatrical release caused it to bomb.
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a critical success and made nearly every Film of the Year list of that year, topping several, and was particularly praised for its lead performances, music and cinematography. It flopped and made a measly $15m, about half of its budget, and only received nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Cinematography, winning neither. It very likely failed due to its somewhat slow pace and running time (the titular event occurs about two hours into the movie, but the movie continues for another half hour), and possibly due to its Audience-Alienating Premise—the deconstruction of popular Hollywood History by accurately portraying the titular Anti-Hero as a cold, violent, Ax-Crazy sociopath rather than a brave and daring Robin Hood-type.
  • The Hurt Locker was one of the most acclaimed movies of the year... and before the Oscar victory brought it back to theatres, its total gross was $12.6 million, less than its $15 million budget (it ended with $17 million domestically and $49 million worldwide, still the lowest-grossing Best Picture of all-time).
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World received near-universal acclaim for its unique approach; Internet buzz prior to its release predicted a blockbuster and a summer comedy champion. The film tanked next to the guy-centric The Expendables and the girl-centric Eat, Pray, Love, mainly due to the films target demographic being rather limited in comparison to the other two films.
  • The Tree of Life failed to make its budget back (grossing just $12 million domestically on a $32 million budget) but won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and won much acclaim from critics (even becoming a top awards contender).
  • Hugo won five of the eleven Academy Awards for which it was nominated, tying it with Best Picture winner The Artist for the most of any 2011 movie. And its $185,770,160 gross would also have made it a net commercial success — had its budget not clocked in at $170 million (not counting marketing!).
  • Warrior, Gavin O'Connor's ambitious sports drama, followed on the heels of similarly-themed The Fighter and got strong critical reviews, especially for the lead performances. This strong point was also its undoing: the stars (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) were still niche supporting/character actors who had not yet headlined many flicks of their own and were only gradually building a bigger reputation. The film was dropped in a September release by Lionsgate, and lost money.
  • Dredd has been critically praised but failed commercially, losing its place in the top 10 within just two weeks and not recouping its modest $45 million budget. However, it has gained a rabidly devoted fanbase who are campaigning for a sequel.
  • The Master was the kind of film that had the makings of an awards hit: hot-button topic as its premise, strong cast of leads (led by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a director with a strong track record in Paul Thomas Anderson. But despite strong reviews and having the publicity that most films could wish to have, The Weinstein Company saw different and basically left it for dead in September (despite having had the biggest opening weekend per-theatre average ever for an R-rated film) in order to push other Oscar Bait titles Silver Linings Playbook. The final result failed to make its budget back and proved to be another casualty in making arthouse fare in Hollywood.
  • Pacific Rim in the US. It opened to great reviews, but only came in #3 at the box-office in its opening weekend, experiencing the indignity of losing to the far worse-received Grown-Ups 2. It experienced a 57% drop in its second weekend as well. It has proven to be a Cult Classic and a success worldwide.
  • Bandslam has an 80% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes but made only a little over 12 million at the box office. Its budget was 20 million.
  • All Is Lost had serious awards buzz, a powerful lead performance by Robert Redford, an acclaimed soundtrack and a 93% "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. But it failed to make back its modest $8.5 Million budget largely due to almost non-existent advertising, a release topping out at 400+ theaters, and distributor Lionsgate pushing most of their resources into The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
  • Muppets Most Wanted received favourable reviews, but unfortunately, it barely passed $50 million domestically (and $80 million worldwide) for a number of reasons:
    • It opened next to the Critic-Proof Divergent (which got a 44% on Rotten Tomatoes vs. a 79% for Muppets). Despite coming off of the back of a series of young-adult flops such as Beautiful Creatures and Vampire Academy, the series' popularity was exploding, and people were expecting a mini-Hunger Games phenomenon. Divergent pretty much put the teenage girl demographic out of bounds for Kermit and friends. And, not unlike Happy Feet 2 suffering in the wake of Breaking Dawn Part 1, Muppets got crushed. Divergent's opening week made $55 million, more than what the Muppets made in their entire theatrical run.
    • The film was released after a string of similarly acclaimed family films in Disney's own Frozen followed by The LEGO Movie and March rival Mr. Peabody & Sherman, meaning its target audience was somewhat exhausted by the time it was released (not to mention Peabody was still taking audiences away from Muppets). The release of two blockbusters in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (also produced under the Disney family) and Noah in the two weeks following didn't help either.
    • Much of its plot involves Kermit as an inmate in a Russian gulag, hitting too close to the 2014 Ukraine and Crimea crisis of which the movie was released in the middle of, as commentators at Disney-insider site JimHillMedia.com pointed out.
    • Over-relying on social media Viral Marketing aimed squarely at hardcore grown-up Muppet fans, as Muppet fansite ToughPigs.com argued with the hard fact that Mr. Peabody & Sherman opted for traditional in-real-life advertising instead (a turf on which the Muppets were pratically absent), consequently losing to Most Wanted on the social media popularity battlegrounds (especially the amount of Facebook likes) but emerging the clear victor in the March family film box office duel (Mr. Peabody was, in turn, swept under the success of Rio 2).
  • Edge of Tomorrow opened to positive reviews, but only made $28 million in its opening weekend against a $180 million budget, losing out to The Fault in Our Stars, (which like Divergent, took away a powerful demographic from Edge) which was significantly cheaper to make. (though like with Pacific Rim it's mostly a domestic affair: Edge of Tomorrow it opened in the United States one week after most markets, having already surpassed the $100 million mark overseas).

    Literature 

    Live Action Television 
  • Firefly was loved by viewers, but got cancelled after eleven episodes due to FOX screwing with it. A letter campaign led to a movie sequel, Serenity, which was just as acclaimed...and bombed just as much due to incoherent advertising. After that though, the series got a long healthy life of spin-offs and DVD releases.
  • The miniseries King was nominated for nine Emmy awards and won much acclaim for its star Paul Winfield but was a ratings disaster when first aired (the first part finishing in dead last in the weekly ratings).
  • The Fox show 24 started this way at first, possibly because it came on so soon after 9/11 and no one really wanted to see a show like that on the wake of a real terrorist attack. However, word of mouth eventually made it a popular series.
  • Arrested Development consistently garnered just enough audience to keep it afloat, but barely managed to raise itself above the bottom of the ratings ladder for three straight seasons. It was a critical darling from the word "Go", and its core fanbase is rabid. The American Dad! episode "With Friends Like Steve's" lampshaded this when Francine compares Steve's boredom with Stan to America's reaction to Arrested Development: it's not bad, but it failed because it wasn't universally loved like The Simpsons.
  • The Wire was virtually ignored on its first broadcast. It's a freaking miracle it got up to five seasons.
  • Freaks and Geeks only lasted one season. It was beloved by those who saw it from the beginning. TV critics were so engaged with it they often ranked it highly in their "best of the 00s" lists, with only 12 of its 18 episodes airing in that decade.
  • The Tick (both the Saturday morning cartoon and the live-action series that aired in the early 2000s).
  • Police Squad!: Its flop was because it couldn't be watched casually. Viewers had to pay active attention to catch the jokes. Keep in mind it aired in 1982 when the VCR was still a luxury item, so it was a yeoman's effort to get the references.
  • Awake suffered truly abysmal ratings, even for NBC, but was endlessly praised by TV critics, and unlike earlier shows with similar ratings in its time slot, aired its entire season.
  • My So-Called Life was critically acclaimed and is remembered for poignantly capturing the zeitgeist of teenagers in The Nineties, but didn't last past a season.
  • 30 Rock had a much, much lower viewership than its vast stockpile of Emmys would predict. It got to the point where Tina Fey began to take a perverse pleasure in her failure at the ratings game. She once noted with particular glee at how the premier on the show in Germany generated an unprecedented 0.0 (fewer than 1000 viewers in the entire country) rating.
    • Also a subversion, as unlike most shows suffering from this trope, 30 Rock was buoyed enough by its praise to stay on the air for a healthy 7 seasons. And the only reason that it ended was because Tina Fey thought it had run its course. It probably helps that by this time, in the post-Friends era, NBC didn't have that many highly-rated shows left to fill its place. By the end of its run, 30 Rock was performing no worse than most of NBC's shows.
  • HBO's Enlightened earned terrible ratings, averaging less than half a million viewers for each of its respective seasons. Despite this, its second season was universally praised as one of the greatest pieces of television in 2013 (with the AV Club even naming it the best show of the year, over the final season of Breaking Bad).

    Music 
  • Nick Drake had people who heard his albums at the time loving them, but he sold a fairly small amount of original copies because of his hatred of live performances and doing promotion, plus a lack of singles. His popularity has exploded in recent years thanks to word of mouth on the internet, and original vinyl copies continue to appreciate in value even though there are numerous reissues now which preserve the original mastering and sound quality.
  • Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom is considered one of his best, but all of its singles flopped.
  • See also Hitless Hit Album for examples of albums that caught on despite producing no hit singles.
  • The Roots are this trope. Except for their 1993 debut and 2004's "The Tipping Point", just about every one of their albums has garnered rave reviews from both critics and fans (not to mention numerous Grammy nominations). And yet, thus far, the only album they've released that has achieved Platinum certification is 1999's "Things Fall Apart.", and even that took nearly fourteen years after release to reach that platitude. Meanwhile, except for 2002's "Phrenology", none of their other albums have even reached Gold certification yet.
  • Singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins. Her 2007 debut "Neptune City" was heavily acclaimed by music critics, with some even predicting she would become the "next big thing" in pop. But an unexpected delay in the album's release along with its resulting underpromotion by her then-label Columbia Records quickly doomed the album to low sales (it didn't even chart on the Billboard 200) and an almost complete neglect by End Of Year lists despite how well reviewed it was. The following years were equally unkind to Atkins: her backing band "The Black Sea" left her in 2009. She released two more studio albums that were well received by critics but performed poorly sales-wise. And in 2012, her home city of Neptune, New Jersey was hit by Hurricane Sandy.
  • The album "Resurrection" by the rapper Commonnote . Upon release in late-1994, the album was praised by critics for its thoughtful lyrics and mellow-yet-jazzy style of hip hop. Unfortunately, while the album is widely considered to be an underground classic among rap and hip hop fans (even being listed as one of The Source's "100 Best Rap Albums" in 1998), it sold very poorly. It debuted at #179 on the Billboard 200 and then immediately dropped off the charts. Nonetheless, its influence on underground hip hop (most notably The Roots - who, coincidentally, are also listed on this page) is undeniable.
  • Van Morrison's Astral Weeks is widely regarded as his Magnum Opus, but sold a small number of copies when it came out. On the other hand, it has continued to sell steadily ever since its release, and it has never been out of print. One reviewer, Andrew Ford, commented, "Astral Weeks will sell as many copies this year as it did in 1968 and has every year in between". It finally went gold in 2001.
  • The Smashing Pumpkins' Adore was highly acclaimed by critics from the day of its release, but its sales were disappointing by the band's standards (as of May 2005, it had only sold 1.1 million copies in the U.S.). It seems to be a case of being Vindicated by History as Pitchfork has commented that the album is cited as "underrated" so often that this can no longer actually be the case.

    Pinball 
  • Indianapolis 500 is considered to be one of Dennis Nordman's best games, with fast action, exciting artwork, stirring music, and lighthearted humor; it consistently ranks in the top 50 of many "best pinball games of all time" lists. However, it was released during the decline of arcade pinball in The Nineties, and ended up being Williams Electronics' second-worst-selling game of 1995.
  • Sister game Congo fared worse; although it offers a good variety of satisfying shots and challenging gameplay, it was also saddled with lackluster art, a tie-in to the box-office bomb, and the aforementioned decline in arcade gaming. It was Williams Electronics' worst-selling game of 1995, though it is often ranked higher than Indianapolis 500 in players' lists.
  • Pinball Magic is widely considered to be a respectable debut game from Capcom's newly-formed pinball division, but Capcom's small market share all but doomed it to obscurity, and only 1,200 tables were ever made. Worse, while the game is praised by most, it still struggles to escape from the shadow of the Dueling Game Theatre of Magic.
  • Another Capcom example: Big Bang Bar was garnering critical acclaim as soon as the first test games hit the streets, with many predicting it to be the company's Breakthrough Hit. Unfortunately, Capcom closed their pinball division before the game was released, and only the intervention of Gene Cunningham and Illinois Pinball Inc. saved it from total obscurity with a production run of 191 tables.
  • Look at some top 50 lists for pinball, and you will see a number of them from the late 90's: Medieval Madness, Cactus Canyon, Monster Bash, No Good Gofers, and sometimes NBA Fastbreak. These machines only had production runs of about 1,000 (compare to the 4,000 to 10,000 copies most other non-boutique releases get, with breakout successes reaching 15,000 or more). This is because pinball was on a nosedive in public popularity, with few people interested in playing pinball and even fewer operators, proportionally speaking, who wanted to buy these machines. Although pinball would receive a revival in the 2010's, pinball was largely seen as Deader Than Disco during the late 90's, and with repeated financial failures of these highly-acclaimed machines, Williams and Bally would both stop making pinball machines in 1999.

    Theatre 
  • The Golden Apple was well-reviewed when it was first produced in 1954, and in retrospective histories is often hailed as an refreshingly original work of musical theatre. The original production closed in a few months and the show has only been infrequently produced since.
  • The original 1957 production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide closed after running for a mere 73 performances on Broadway. The cast album it produced sold much better.

    Video Games 
  • Sleeping Dogs was met with lukewarm sales taking a year to reach one million only after the game was heavily discounted, but was hit among critics. Most who hadn't played it saw it as Grand Theft Auto set in Hong Kong but the game is more Grand Theft Batman: Arkham City, Assassin's Creed and Infernal Affairs'' rolled into one. The game focuses more on martial arts rather than gunplay and features light free-running through the city. However sales weren't so bad for Square Enix to rule out a potential sequel.
  • EarthBound. It didn't catch on when it came out in America, but the cult following grew greatly since. Most dedicated fans have played the game on emulators, since official copies are both rare and expensive, and the game was never re-released outside of Japan until 2013, when it was announced that it's coming to the WiiU Virtual Console. The huge number of downloads led to avert the flop status.
  • Beyond Good & Evil was met with glowing reviews, some even comparing it to The Legend of Zelda, and earned relatively high marks all around. It didn't do so well. It got to the point where free copies of the game were being packaged with cheese. Yes, really.
  • ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Good thing they got an Updated Re-release, because the PS2 originals are now pretty much unobtainable (not at a reasonable price anyway).
  • Various games made by Clover Studios / Platinum Games:
  • Several of Tim Schafer's games. Psychonauts was critically loved, but very few people got it.
  • Kya Dark Lineage got some pretty good reviews, but for most people not that many knew about it. For those who got it, it's a shame it's widely unknown. Doesn't help either that it ended on a cliffhanger.
  • Klonoa for PlayStation received glowing reviews from critics, but bombed at retail for being mistaken as kiddy. The game would go on to become a cult classic, fetching over $60 on eBay at its peak. Same went for its Even Better Sequel Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil. History repeated itself with the Wii remake, which Namco hoped would sell greatly and regain interest in the franchise, especially since most Wii owners like cutesy games, but the remake sold poorly too, and the planned Klonoa 2 Wii remake was cancelled.
  • Jet Set Radio, a platform-rollerblading-graffiti game for the Dreamcast, was extremely well-received and won several awards but didn't sell well even among games for the unsuccessful platform. Jet Set Radio Future for Xbox suffered the same fate, even when it was packaged with the system.
  • Suikoden II, the Even Better Sequel to the first Suikoden, was also a bomb, but certainly not for lack of quality; it is considered by many who have played it to be one of the finest examples of the RPG ever. Rather, it came at the worst possible time: the week before one of gaming history's most anticipated sequels, Final Fantasy VIII, not to mention the Sega Dreamcast launch. Speaking of the former, Final Fantasy VII had stylistically redefined the genre with its big-budget, cinematic 3d visuals just two years earlier, and Suikoden II, which stuck to the isometric 2d of its predecessor, looked extremely outdated by comparison, as practically every other major RPG was following the charge lead by the new generation of Final Fantasy. The game did become a Cult Classic within the next couple of years, and would fetch massive sums on eBay. The game was finally re-released in December 2014 on PSN after many fan requests.
  • Valkyrie Profile was also an initial stateside flop, having to do with a late era PlayStation release, meager marketing push from Enix, and just being too unique for its own good. It did gain a following, and similar to Suikoden II above, become valuable on the aftermarket, but thankfully it received a port on the PSP and two follow-ups.
  • Planescape: Torment made very little money, despite being named one of the greatest role-playing games of all time by multiple review organizations.
  • Jade Empire sold far less than Knights of the Old Republic and any of BioWare's later original IPs, despite some heavy praise from reviews.
  • Shantae sold poorly and its sequel sold modestly, but both received very favorable reviews.
  • The Neverhood, an adventure game animated entirely in claymation, was released around the time adventure games were going out of style.
  • Conkers Bad Fur Day, due to limited advertising and late arrival to the Nintendo 64, didn't sell as well as hoped. But it gained critical acclaim and a cult following among fans regardless.
  • Little Kings Story received critical acclaim, many reviewers considering it to be on the same level of quality as some of Nintendo's first party titles, yet nearly no one brought it. The kiddy presentation didn't help despite the game actually being quite dark in places. The developers seem to have realized this, because the sequel for Vita (which can be purchased on PSN) uses a typical RPG/anime artstyle.
  • BattleZone (the 1998 FPS/RTS version) was loved by videogame magazine critics, but failed to make an impression in the marketplace. The sequel, Battlezone II: Combat Commander, likewise failed to sell, though it was received less warmly partly because its Scenery Porn was the cause of poor performance and partly because the gameplay was slowed down in favor of more RTS elements.
  • Cornerstone, Infocom's attempt to enter the business-software market, generally got good reviews, but sold very poorly, in part because of a general economic-downturn at the time of release.
  • The Panzer Dragoon series, especially its RPG one, Panzer Dragoon Saga. Being released on the doomed-from-creation Saturn (which has proven nigh-impossible to emulate) sent it straight into obscurity.
    • Same goes for Burning Rangers, another Saturn exclusive. It was released when the console was nearing its end (in America and Europe). While it was a success in Japan, it was a commercial failure in other countries. American or European copies usually go for $75-100 on eBay, while Japanese copies can be found for about $15-30.
  • Kingdom of Paradise, despite gorgeous graphics and relatively high ratings by critics, faced underwhelming sales. It remains a hidden gem in the world of gaming.
  • Steel Battalion was a game which was produced with skepticism and launched with little advertising. Simply put, the controller used made the game economically unviable due to the 200$ price tag plus the fact the game was made for Japan but released on an American console (the Xbox). However, the game was groundbreaking in terms of its simulation abilities, and easily well ahead of its time. So much so that a cult following still apparently maintains the multiplayer expansion even after Microsoft ended Xbox Live.
    • Ultimately, the game basically broke even when it came to the market, with the producer having said the game was made more as a statement for what could be done in the gaming industry that other industries couldn't do.
  • The Legendary Starfy in America. It got very good reviews and has a dedicated following, but sold poorly. In Japan, it sold better, but not as well as the other 4 Starfy games, which are Japan-exclusive.
  • Total Annihilation: Kingdoms is considered as one of the best RTS games next to its predecessor Total Annihilation, even though it didn't sell much.
  • Spec Ops: The Line was universally praised for its writing, but sold poorly due to advertisements portraying it as a generic modern warfare third person shooter. They were trying to invoke an Intended Audience Reaction, since the game is a Deconstructor Fleet, but word-of-mouth just didn't kick in as strong as they wanted. It didn't help that the message of the game is "stop playing", which fans sometimes mention when talking about the game.
  • Gladius was universally praised at release; it was even called the best Xbox game nobody played.
  • Shenmue. While the first one sold okay, the sequel didn't. This is mainly because Sega released it as an Xbox exclusive outside of Japan and Europe, since video game developers ended production on Dreamcast games in America at this time. Most Xbox owners only cared about shooters and sports games, and Shenmue 2 was neither of those, thus the sequel suffered from horrible sales, and it ended on an unresolved cliffhanger that was never resolved due to Yu Suzuki leaving Sega, and Sega not having enough of a budget to make a third game due to losing so much money on both games.
  • No More Heroes was adored by critics, but lacked in sales. It sold 40,000 in Japan, and 208,000 in America. Preceding Madworld, it was an M-rated Wii exclusive, and came under fire from Moral Guardians. Despite lackluster sales, it ended up getting a sizeable cult following and a sequel, and was later ported to the PS3 in hopes that it would sell much better on there (though it didn't).
  • Elite Beat Agents: Praised by critics for its tight, challenging, and unique gameplay and amazing atmosphere, it even won GameSpot's Nintendo DS Game of the Year award in 2006, beating out front-runners like New Super Mario Bros., but was panned commercially because it was perhaps just a little too weird for most gamers' tastes (not to mention that said atmosphere let to a very jarring case of Surprise Difficulty). This has, unfortunately, effectively quashed any hopes of an official sequel ever being released in the West.
  • Perimeter. While the game had pretty good reviews, it flopped spectacularly... and yet for some reason both an Expansion Pack and a sequel were created.
  • Due to very poor marketing Cold Fear was largely unheard of by gamers, and most who did hear about it were very quick to dismiss it as a rip off of Resident Evil 4. However, those who actually play it love it, and many say its as good or better then RE 4
  • Subverted by Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. While it was one of the biggest Metal Gear games and received glowing reviews, it didn't sell so well due to the fact that it was a PSP exclusive. Once it appeared on the HD collection for the Xbox 360 and PS3, it sold much better.
  • MoonBase Commander received fairly positive reviews, but flopped terribly upon its release and won IGN's "Best Game No-One Played" award in 2002. It has somewhat of a small following, if not simply for the fact that it was made by Humongous Entertainment.
  • Paper Mario was not a good seller when it came out, despite abundant marketing and a lot of good reviews. This is because it was released on the Nintendo 64's last days, when people were hyped about the Gamecube and games like Super Smash Bros. Melee were just around the corner. Paper Mario was also blasted by Mario fans for not being Super Mario RPG. It had become Vindicated by History several years later, and until the Nintendo eShop re-released it digitally, copies of Paper Mario remained at their original selling price of US$50 or higher.
  • FreeSpace 2, to the point where it was a Genre-Killer — because if a game that well-received still couldn't sell the genre, what could?
  • Rayman Origins and its sequel Rayman Legends were universally praised but didn't sell very well, probably due to the fact that Executive Meddling dictated that they be released around the same time as Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto V respectively.
  • The Last Express received high praise for its writing, character development, and intricate-yet-flexible storyline, but the game only sold 100,000 copies, 1 million short of breaking even. This was mostly due to Brøderbund not marketing the game AT ALL, part of which was probably because Brøderbund's entire marketing staff had quit a month before the game's release.
  • Up until the surprisingly great sales of the thirteenth game in the series, Awakening for the 3DS, every single game in the Fire Emblem series of Turn-Based Strategy games since the series' debut all the way back in 1990. Despite the praise the games managed to acquire, none of them ever managed to crack even a million sales. As mentioned, however, Awakening managed to break this, becoming both the best selling and most critically-acclaimed entry in the franchise.
  • DJ Hero was unsurprisingly unsuccessful, coming out at a time when the Rhythm Game fad was on the way out, right before the early New Tens resurgence of electronic music (one has to wonder how well it would have sold if it had come out after said resurgence). Coupled with the game's difficulty curve, the general unpopularity of DJ music in general, and costing twice the price of a standard retail game due to the turntable controller, nobody was shocked when the game's sales weren't up to snuff. Despite this, the game was well received by the people who did play it, praising the unique remixes the game incorporated and how original it was compared to the Mission Pack Sequels music games had become in recent years.
  • Spyro: Season of Ice, Spyro 2: Season of Flame and Spyro: Attack of the Rhynocs were praised by critics but sold poorly due to being from a formerly Sony-exclusive series and being released around the time of the abysmal Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, which scared many away from the other games.
  • Tail Concerto is a fun, cute and light-hearted platformer for the PS1, but it sadly didn't get much attention when it was released. However, does have a following, which was enough for the developers to make a Spiritual Sequel with a Shared Universe, namely Solatorobo.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Sym-Bionic Titan was beloved by critics and fans on the internet, but lasted only 20 episodes. The most often-used reason is because of a lack of toy companies willing to make merchandise for it. The real reason is more complicated: It was pitched to toy companies with a female protagonist, which made toy companies hesitant as female action figures sell much worse than their male counterparts; this wouldn't be so big of a problem (considering other shows remain on the air with little to no merchandise) if it weren't for Sym-Bionic Titan's titanic budget. It got good ratings, but not enough to turn a profit without the extra push the merchandise would've given it.
  • Invader Zim gained a massive and loyal fanbase for weirdness and Black Comedy such as hadn't been seen on Nickelodeon since The Ren & Stimpy Show. But ratings didn't justify the (very expensive) cost of the animation and it was axed after 1 and a half (Season 2 wasn't fully completed.) seasons.
  • Robotomy was loved by fans but the production costs were too much for Cartoon Network.
  • Cartoon Network's DC Nation block. The set-up of two anchor shows interspersed with various shorts and mini-specials about DC was highly praised for its immersion and uniqueness, but only one of the four featured shows received any promotion, with the other three all axed because, despite strong fanbases and good writing, their merchandising didn't turn a profit (or, in the case of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, exist at all).
  • Despite having a large adult fanbase, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes did not sell enough merchandise or appeal to the target demographic enough to warrant more than two seasons.
  • ThunderCats (2011) was hyped and received much acclaim for its animation, writing, voice acting and action. However, Cartoon Network didn't pay much attention to that, more to the toys by Bandai, which were not selling as well as they hoped. Although a move from Friday night to Saturday morning helped in ratings and Bandai was eager to continue with selling the toys, the network ended the series after 26 episodes, despite promising 52, replacing it with a more marketable replacement, Legends Of Chima.