MD Geist got surprisingly good ratings on Sci Fi Channel, and when 7chan was exposed to it through their "Channel 7" streaming TV service, the turnout was rather impressive. The DVD has since been re-released by ADV Films after being out of print for years, partly due to the Sci Fi Channel turnout.
Betterman was (and still is) a rather obscure anime series when in came to America back in 2002. The reason why anyone today even knows of the series is thanks to the Tech TVAnime Unleashed broadcasts.
Cats Don't Dance was a box-office flop, buried in an Easter-weekend release with scant advertising (and a barely promoted Subway tie-in). At the time, the only people really talking about it were the animation community (who went on to award it the Annie for Best Picture) and the Furry Fandom. Eventually, the film did become a Cult Classic after its subsequent video release, and airings on Cartoon Network.
The Iron Giant failed at the box office thanks to Warner Bros. having no faith in the movie. Fortunately, one of those who did see it was Ted Turner, who loved it so much that he had Cartoon Network run a 24-hour marathon of it on Thanksgiving... a tradition that still runs to this day.
The Swan Princess bombed at the box office, but made enough money on home video to spawn four sequels.
Despite receiving wide acclaim, Winnie the Pooh made just enough money to make up its $30 million budget due to Disney releasing it in the middle of the summer blockbuster season. It managed to become a big seller on Blu-ray/DVD.
The combination of a bigger budget than its predecessor and being released by a studio (Cinema Center Films) on its last legs helped doom Snoopy Come Home at the box office in 1972. It gained belated success after being frequently featured on HBO in the 80s and Disney in the 90s.
Film — Live-Action
Blade Runner's theatrical release was on the last weekend of July 1982, a now-legendary summer of blockbusters, most in the scifi/fantasy/horror vein (E.T. was king, but it was also the year of Star Trek II and Poltergeist. Trailing stories of its lengthy Troubled Production, it premiered to disappointing reviews that did, however, mention its visual splendor but found everything else moribund. It did poorly, but thanks to this trope and home video it was seen as one of the decade's most influential films by the end of the 1980s.
BloodRayne made less than $4 million at the box office WORLDWIDE against its $25 million production budget - yet its near-immediate release to airings on the Syfy channel (and better-than-expected DVD sales) exposed it to bad-movie connoisseurs and justified two direct-to-video sequels.
Big Fat Liar was a success at the box office, but it received mixed reviews from critics. Disney Channel's airings in the mid-2000s helped make it a viewer favorite.
Attempting to mimic the success of The Kings of Comedy Tour, The Blue Collar Comedy tour bombed in theaters, but did much better on DVD. The two followup movies bypassed the theaters completely after it was realized their audience didn't want to see it in theaters.
Despite very good reviews, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World did poorly in its theatrical release. For one thing, it starred Michael Cera, whose career was in a tailspin at the time thanks to his Type Casting in "hipster" roles. Furthermore, it was directed by a cult British filmmaker and based on an indie comic book, both of which were largely unknown outside of their respective geek fanbases, limiting its appeal and guaranteeing that it would've struggled at any time of the year. Finally, it was released against The Expendables, a far more mainstream-friendly action film with a similar target audience and a lot more hype behind it. However, when it hit home video it was a far bigger hit than it had been in theaters, finally becoming the Cult Classic that it failed to become initially.
Dredd was another example of an Acclaimed Flop that was redeemed by this trope. It bombed at the box office from many of the same problems Scott Pilgrim did (an over-reliance on geek and internet buzz, lingering memories of the disastrous 1995 adaptation with Sylvester Stallone), but it did so well on DVD and Blu-Ray that there was briefly talk of greenlighting a sequel based solely on home video sales.
As with many of the other examples on this page, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension was an obvious cult film that its studio unwisely tried to sell to a mainstream audience. It only made $6 million (on a $17 million budget) in theaters. It finally found its cult on cable.
The 1994 comedy Airheads bombed at the box office and was thrashed by critics. But due to the fact that it was played heavily on Comedy Central during the mid-1990s it has managed to achieve Cult Classic status — especially among fans of hard rock and Heavy Metal music, due to all the rock & roll in-jokes and the cameos by famous rock musicians.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery did alright at the box office (it recouped its budget), but not exceptionally. It was only when it reached home video that it became a pop culture touchstone and received a sequel.
The Beastmaster: The film was a critical and box office failure upon its 1982 release, grossing just $3 million against a $9 million budget. However, it subsequently received significant cable airplay, notably HBO and TBS, where it became a TV mainstay and viewer favorite. Its replay was so common that some waggishly dubbed TBS "The Beastmaster Station", and HBO "Hey, Beastmaster's On". Some people might find it hard to believe, but in 1993, The Beastmaster was playing somewhere in the United States, every hour, for two months. This might not actually be a joke.
Unlike many other classic comedies, the films starring the team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey were not shown on television during the Baby Boomer generation, which resulted in virtually no one having any clue who they were after Woolsey's untimely death in 1938. In the '80s and '90s, stations like TCM and AMC began to show Wheeler and Woolsey's movies for the first time in decades — if it weren't for cable, Wheeler and Woolsey's films would've been completely forgotten decades ago. OK, so they're still not very well-known at all, but among vintage film/comedy fans, Bert n' Bob have a very small but very loyal following, so this trope definitely counts despite the fact that they remain obscure to the general public.
Black Dynamite was a flop at the box office due to poor marketing and a distributor change a few months before release, but it got noticed through DVD and airings on the Starz network, which led to an animated series being greenlighted by [adult swim].
Scrooge (1951) was a box-office disappointment when released. After being on cable for a few years, it went on to become a classic and considered one of the best adaptations of A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Story. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the film began airing quietly on the "superstations" WTBS and WGN as a Thanksgiving movie, where it started to grow in popularity. Because it was a seasonal movie, the studio only ran it for a couple of weeks in December during its original release, so it owes all of its reputation to cable, video and word-of-mouth.
Citizen Kane. While it had received much critical acclaim and nine Oscar nominations (though it only won for Best Original Screenplay), during its release, it was far from a box office hit, due largely to William Randolph Hearst using his media empire to bury and smear the film due to its unflattering portrayal of him. It quickly dropped out of the public eye until RKO released its catalogue to television networks.
Eddie and the Cruisers was a major and critical flop when it came out in 1983, but when Showtime started to air it, its popularity was such the studio made a sequel, Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives. Unfortunately, the movie was considered pretty bad and director of the first film wanted nothing to do with the sequel.
Flash Gordon: Its popularity in America was due in part to airings on HBO.
The Great Santini was a flop when it was first released due to Warner Bros. not knowing how to handle the film (it was tested in some markets as a war film and others as a drama). Then the film began heavy rotation on HBO, which finally got people to notice how good it really was. The cable airings were also credited for getting Robert Duvall an Academy Award nomination for his performance.
The Incredible Mr Limpet was only a modest success at the box office and receives mixed reviews from critics, but TV and home video turned it into a family favorite.
Hook barely made back its production cost in theaters, but it has become much better received on cable.
The film It's a Wonderful Life didn't make a whole lot of waves upon its release, having received mostly dismissive or negative reviews. One of the few positive reviews was from Time magazine, and even they complained that it was ultimately superficial and sentimental. However, after it was accidentally released into the public domain in 1974, it became a Christmas standard, and a new generation came to see it as a classic and one of the best films ever made. In this case, it was repeated airings on broadcast stations, not basic cable, that brought the film its new status, but the principle is the same.
Later, when showing this movie on nearly every TV channel had become a Christmastime tradition, it was discovered that only the images of the movie were actually in the public domain — the story on which the film is based, in fact, is still under copyright, as is the musical score. With this revelation, only those broadcasters willing to pay for the rights could show it, and viewers had to tune in to one of those few venues who did for their annual fix.
It's somewhat of an urban legend that Ted Turner built his media empire on repeated airings of this movie, though that distinction more properly belongs to some of the other films on this page.
The Last Dragon was an odd mix of mid-'80s black culture and '70s Martial Arts Movie genre. A no show in theaters, it found a home on Saturday Afternoon movie blocks. And introduced us all to Sho'Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, and Bruce Leroy.
The Legend of Billie Jean was a box office bomb during its original release, but started to gain popularity as it began to play on syndicated networks years later.
The Swedish film Let the Right One In was an average performer in American theatres (though it grossed over $750,000 and played for five months in one New York theatre) but amassed a large following through DVD and on demand rentals, to the point where it received an American remake two years later.
Love and Basketball didn't exactly bomb when it came out, but it probably would not be nearly as popular among African-American youth (some of which were only 4 or 5 when the movie came out) if it weren't for the constant repeats on BET. The movie even occasionally becomes a trending topic on Twitter when it's on.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show isn't this trope exactly, but is close enough. The film flopped in the initial release, but became a cult classic when it was shown as a midnight movie. To date, RHPS has grossed over $130 million and has played in theaters for over 30 years.
Road House: In The Nineties the number of cable channels exploded, all of which needed 24-hour programming. So the rights to lots of cheesy action movies were scooped up, and those movies put into heavy rotation. In particular, Turner (who owned TBS, the so-called "superstation") bought up the entire MGM film library, which just happened to include Road House. And it wasn't long before TBS discovered the movie was drawing phenomenal ratings; Perhaps Road House is the very reason TBS is a "superstation".
The Room was only released to a few select theatres in Los Angeles, where it received scant advertising and was slammed by critics. Then [adult swim] started airing it on April Fools' Day every year, and it became the cult phenomenon it is now.
The Shawshank Redemption also failed at the box office despite some critical acclaim. Most of its success came from the fact that Ted Turner (who owned Castle Rock Entertainment at the time, and thus owned the rights to the film) loved this movie and made sure it was run almost every weekend on TNT and TBS and it slowly picked up a fanbase and is now considered one of the finest films of all time. (It's been #1 on the IMDb Top 250 for years.) Even before the television rescue, it was also Vindicated by Video: since it got many Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) and was already available in VHS at the time, a lot of people decided to rent it.
Somewhere In Time was unsuccessful at the box office. Later cable showings increased its popularity to the point that it had a significant cult following, unusual for a pure romance, along with movie tourists who made yearly pilgrimages to the real-life Frozen in Time Mackinac Island in Michigan to get the full experience of the film.
Trading Places was a box office hit, but it might've fallen into obscurity if not for yearly airings around Christmas time.
Troy is a nascent example of the trope, as it flopped in the American box office (but much better overseas) and is a Love It or Hate It among critics, but has developed a devoted fanbase since being released to cable and video, possibly in retrospect compared to later films like 300.
Wing Commander was a bomb at the box office, but video rental income has made good the production costs, and given its regular airing on cable channels (particularly non-US ones) it even has something of a genuine fandom (as opposed to a So Bad, It's Good one).
The Wizard of Oz became the classic it is now for being screened over and over on the TV networks.
Xanadu: Thanks to premium cable, Xanadu was exposed to a generation of young girls who later made up a large fanbase for this movie.
Zoolander. While it did receive positive critical reception, it came out barely two weeks after the attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 and as a result, it tanked. But it did go on to have strong DVD sales and high ratings on cable.
Psychonauts is a Cult Classic. A Steam sale, however, managed to boost it to that week's number one (by revenue), beating out quite a few new releases. It generally occupies the top-seller space on Good Old Games when there isn't a sale going on.
Earthbound suffered from poor critical and commercial reception upon its first release in 1995, thanks to a poor marketing campaign and it coming out near the end of the Super Nintendo's life cycle. However, the game slowly picked up a cult following through emulation and this trope really came into effect when Nintendo finally granted the game an official re-release on the Wii U Virtual Console, of which audiences and critics were much more appreciative.
What's Opera, Doc? was not recognized as a great cartoon when it was released in 1957, nor was it nominated for an Academy Award. Warner Bros. did not even submit it for consideration.note Fortunately for them, Birds Anonymous, the installment they did nominate, got the Oscar.
The So Bad, It's Good Sandy Frank dub's of the showa Gamera films, as well as other Toku shows like Mighty Jack and Star Wolf.
Hobgoblins: Suggested to the MST3K gang by the person who directed it. "It shoots right to the top of the list of the worst movies we've ever done," writer Paul Chaplin commented. Enough interest was generated in it that a sequel was made for it, 21 years after its original premier.
Although not technically a film, the advertisement Mr. B Natural, was so popular that MST3K and Rhino Home Video had trouble getting the rights to it again after it first appeared on television.
In an interesting case, Parts The Clonus Horror was a bomb when it was first released, its exposure on MST3K not only allowed the movie to be rereleased on DVD to be seen whole (and in its original title, Clonus), but also helped its director when he sued Michael Bay for his movie The Island.