D. W. Griffith's Intolerance was such a failure that it bankrupted his studio — even though his preceding film, The Birth of a Nation, was the most successful movie of the time and in fact the first Hollywood blockbuster. Today, Intolerance is considered one of the greatest films of the Silent Age of Hollywood, and while The Birth of a Nation is better known today (and still appreciated by film historians for its pioneering cinematography), it's mostly for its stunning levels of Values Dissonance.
Well-regarded filmmaker F.W. Murnau provides several examples:
Nosferatu was taken down by the estate of Bram Stoker, due to it being quite obviously a rip-off of Dracula, and only survived in the form of pirated copies until Dracula entered the public domain (or more precisely, was discovered to have been public domain all along in the US). It single-handedly launched the idea of sunlight killing vampires.
The three now-landmark films he made in the United States — Sunrise, City Girl and Tabu — were unable to recoup their cost in their day.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis had the most advanced special effects of any film from the silent era, which nearly bankrupted the UFA Studio. The original Berlin premiere in 1927 was not a failure; however, the film did become one when its American distributor got hold of it and made drastic edits. Thanks to a 95%-ish complete print found in Argentina in 2008, fans of sci-fi are rediscovering just how much of a masterpiece it really is.
Lang's second sound film, The Testament Of Dr Mabuse was banned by the Nazis and internationally released in heavily-edited, dubbed versions. The uncut German version was eventually found in the mid-'70s, becoming one of his best-regarded movies.
G.W. Pabst's silent version of Pandora's Box, considered today to be one of the greatest examples of Weimar Cinema, was overlooked by German audiences of the late 20s.
A Woman of Paris was a flop due in part to Chaplin's acting absence (apart from a cameo where he is unrecognizable). Audiences at the time didn't know what to make of a slapstick filmmaker embracing something completely serious. What people could only recognize in subsequent decades was that Woman of Paris is a milestone in the shaping of silent cinema, and especially the development of the Chaplin style towards immortality.
Monsieur Verdoux suffered similar misunderstanding. Critics and audiences in America, expecting the lighted-hearted humor of Chaplin's Tramp films, instead got a bleak and edgy murder-mystery-comedy, so people backed away from it in disgust. A European fanbase sprouted a few years later, but Americans never fully embraced Verdoux until the 1970s.
Keaton in general was viewed with apathy at best for the greater part of his career, partly because his comedic style was viewed as overwrought and pretentious (although the French appreciated it) and partly because his shtick was a lot more ironic and emotionally detached than Chaplin's in an era when hipster irony hadn't quite caught on. He's now been hailed by most critics as more imaginative and socially relevant than Chaplin (if not necessarily funnier), and quite a few current actors, most famously Johnny Depp, have looked to him for comic inspiration (many of Depp's goony facial expressions as Tonto in The Lone Ranger, for example, being pure Keaton).
The General was not only a box office failure but widely panned by critics for being too dramatic and for casting Confederates in the place of the film's heroes. It would subsequently be regarded as Keaton's greatest film - ironically, even as Confederate soldiers have become evenmoreunsympathetic in American popular folklore.
The Executive Meddling on Erich von Stroheim's Greed caused the film's plotline to be extremely compromised (this is understandable since the final cut Von Stroheim prepared for theaters was EIGHT HOURS LONG). By the time Greed reached cinemas, it was in a sorry hacked-apart state that no one found interesting. Critics and the public have since embraced the elements of the film that survived.
The silent 20s version of Ben Hur made a considerable amount of money (becoming one of the top grossers of 1925), but not enough to cover legal costs surrounding the film's Troubled Production process. MGM therefore counted it a failure. Nevertheless it continued to build income for the studio in re-releases over the following decades, doing astounding business until topped by the Charlton Heston remake.
The Rise of the Talkies destroyed the box-office potential of two major 1928 releases from MGM: King Vidor's The Crowd and Victor Sjostrom's The Wind. Both have been hailed in recent years as highlights of silent cinema.
It also took decades just to find. The film was mercilessly chopped down and taken apart by censors just after its premiere, and the original copies were all but destroyed. The director's original cut was thought to be lost for years until a copy was found in a closet in a Norwegian mental institution in 1981. Up until then, only the dissected and significantly shorter censored version was available. Since its rediscovery, the full cut of the film has been very well-received, especially by musicians and composers, who have created a variety of scores for the silent film.
October faced a deadly critical and box-office blow in the Soviet Union when it didn't conform to the Stalin-implemented "socialist realism" program. Its reputation has soared over time, especially with multiple generations of filmmakers who look to Russian cinema for montage techniques.
Rouben Mamoulian's Applause was released just after the start of the Great Depression, and its unusual moodiness for a film of that period (and ESPECIALLY for a musical) repelled the public. Only in subsequent decades has there been appreciation for its advancement of quality sound-recording techniques in film, as well as its daring storyline.
The Three Stooges made hundreds of 18-minute comedies for Columbia Pictures from the mid 30s to the early 50s. They weren't very popular back then, even in comparison to other comedians in the short subject field. Nowadays they remain extremely popular with countless generations.
One short film in particular, Punch Drunks, failed to click with the sensibilities of Great Depression moviegoers. It is now one of the more critically acclaimed Stooge episodes.
Freaks was actually banned in 1932 in many countries, to the point of ruining the careers of many people involved (the freaks themselves were able to walk it off, or, in Prince Randian's case, crawl it off), because it was seen as offensive and exploitative. During the '60s, someone dug it up and realized that it was neither.
The 1933 W.C. Fields short The Fatal Glass of Beer was poorly received by audiences when it was first released. Today, it's considered one of Fields' funniest movies.
The Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup was considered a box-office disappointment when it was released in 1933. Today, it's their most popular film and considered one of the greatest comedies in the history of cinema.
Make Way For Tomorrow was a flop with audiences when first released due to its dramatic themes and Great Depression-inspired premise. Nowadays, it is considered one of the best films of the 1930's and the only film to have been screened at the Telluride Film Festival three times (due to audience demand). McCarey himself even felt it was his masterpiece.
Werewolf of London flopped in its initial 1935 release and was criticized for being too similar to the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adaptation that was released in 1931. Many years later cinematic historians established it as a classic.
Reefer Madness was made as a moral tale of the dangers of smoking weed. Seemingly unable to sell it as such, the distributors of the film recut it into a rebellious underground-art piece. Its campy dialogue turned off most viewers in 1936(!), but the film gradually built a tremendous fanbase in the "drug-experimenting" community (this is a case where a work was vindicated in a way its creators wouldn't have preferred).
Frank Capra, one of the most successful directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, had his fair share of disappointments which turned out to be undeserved for a particular film.
Lost Horizon was a critical and box-office dud in 1937, but its reputation has grown immensely over time.
Its A Wonderful Life was one of Capra's most financially unsuccessful features, and suffered critical indifference. About three decades later, it was recognized as a timeless and inspirational holiday classic.
Bringing Up Baby was just too weird for cinema-goers of the late '30s. Today it is regarded as among the best comedies of the late 30s, and an artistic jewel in the crown of director Howard Hawks.
After taking Broadway and radio by storm with a series of groundbreaking popular plays and as the mastermind of the infamous The War of the Worlds radio adaptation, Welles moved his business and his circle of friends (both known as the Mercury Theatre) to LA for his motion picture debut: Citizen Kane. It was an epic human drama for which he amassed the greatest crew he could possibly find, and he had high hopes for it. But the whole thing was seemingly destroyed by a fiasco involving media mogul William Randolph Hearst, who was tipped that Charles Foster Kane was based on him in an unfavorable light. Hearst ensured that on its release the film would be poorly publicized: no newspaper or radio station under the jurisdiction of his empire was allowed to print an ad for Kane, and movie critics for those papers and stations, if they wrote a review at all, were pressured into writing a negative one. Theatres refused to run it and it only played on a tiny number of screens. Kane lost money in its initial 1941 opening, and was even booed at the Academy Awards. The president of RKO is solely responsible for all prints of Kane not being sold to Hearst for incineration (like a certain object in the movie itself), who offered to reimburse them for the film's budget if they agreed to destroy it. Then in 1956, RKO lost control of part of its film library and Kane made its first appearance on television. Around this time, respected, high-profile European directors such as François Truffaut started pointing to it as a prime example of auteur cinema and the sourcebook for modern filmmaking. From that point onward Kane's reputation continued to grow, and now this film is consistently ranked the #1 movie of all time in various polls on the subject of which movies are truly the greatest.
A test screening of The Magnificent Ambersons, based on the novel by Booth Tarkington, was met with complete ridicule. RKO then proceeded (without Orson's approval) to change the ending, which did nothing for its appeal to American audiences in the 40s. Nowadays, while it might not be as fantastically unforgettable as Citizen Kane, it is very highly regarded.
Orson had initially exhibited a level on control over his work envied by many of his peers (no director had ever been given contractually protected Final Cut he was, a first-timer). The failure of Kane and Ambersons dramatically altered his career in that for the rest of it he had to fight with every breath in his body for the creative freedom he needed to make great films. The theatrical bombing of the majority of his output (which have since been recognized as a slew of masterpieces) and the resulting lack of warm welcome for him in Hollywood (at least until the 70s when mega-moneymakers like Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola cited him as an influence) is one of the biggest tragedies in cinema history.
Of his subsequent works, The Lady From Shanghai stands out as rising above the financial loss and mixed critical reaction into the status of classic film noir.
Touch of Evil is another Welles work worth mentioning. It was the last movie that Orson made in Hollywood itself, before moving to Europe and becoming a half-hermit. Recognized today as an awesome thriller and one of the last artistic triumphs of the Golden Age, it failed miserably in its first run.
Preston Sturges's work was known for its decidedly offbeat humor. Sometime his style was a hit, and sometimes it just wasn't.
Sullivan's Travels was a commercial failure in its first run, gradually picking up its comedy-classic status in later releases.
Unfaithfully Yours was a box office disappointment when it came out, but grew on people willing to accept dark comedies.
Rashomon was panned and dismissed as junk in Japan on its release in 1950. Shortly afterwards it was embraced by American audiences, and the resulting popularity of samurai flicks in the West convinced Kurosawa to make more movies in that genre, leading to the even greater classics Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Rashomon remained a dud in Japan for a while but gradually built up its well-deserved reputation as a really good film.
The Idiot and I Live In Fear have been vindicated to a lesser extent.
Throne of Blood and The Lower Depths were met with mixed critical and public opinion, primarily their departure from the acclaimed Seven Samurai into a more pessimistic tone. Subsequent generations of viewers have become more appreciative of the artistry in those two works.
Two landmark films from the 50s, High Noon and Salt of the Earth, suffered when first released due to suspicions of pro-Communist themes.
High Noon was vindicated in part by Dwight Eisenhower, who was a huge fan of the film and started the tradition of White House High Noon screenings. Clinton screened it a record 17 times.
Salt of the Earth was so controversial that it was dubbed a "blacklisted film", the only film to be so labelled.
Singin' in the Rain made money, but was considered a box office disappointment after the success of Gene Kelly's previous film, An American in Paris. It was also snubbed by the Oscars, getting only two nominations and winning neither. It is now considered one of the greatest movies of all time.
The Band Wagon had high expectations but was commercially flat on its debut. Critics and audiences have since come to agree that it is one of the best MGM musicals.
Godzilla (1954) (1954), the first of the Godzilla series, while commercially successful, was criticized as being tastelessly exploitative of recent memories of World War II and the accidental irradiation of a Japanese fishing boat that very year due to the testing of the world's first hydrogen bomb. It is now considered to be one of the greatest Japanese movies ever made. Kinema Junpo magazine listed it as one of the top twenty Japanese films created, while 370 Japanese film critics surveyed listed it as the 27th greatest Japanese film in Nihon Eiga Besuto 159 (Best 150 Japanese Films). When American critics got to view the original version of the film in 2004 (most for the first time), they raved about it.
The Night of the Hunter was neither a critical, nor a commercial success, when it came out. Today, it's considered a masterpiece.
The Searchers was reviled by audiences in 1956, particularly for John Wayne's performance as a bigoted antihero and the underlying negative portrayal of Americans in the Old West. Now film buffs hail it as a milestone in cinematic storytelling, and countless A-list directors cite it as one of the biggest influences on them.
Another John Ford Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, received tepid reviews despite good box office. Reviewers typically dismissed it as just another John Wayne Western; one critic even called it "an actionless, colorless, humorless embarrassment." Today critics consider Valance one of Ford and Wayne's best movies, and among the greatest Westerns ever.
Bigger Than Life, a commercial disaster that stained Nicholas Ray's reputation following the success of his previous film Rebel Without a Cause, has become one of the most artistically praised films of the 50s, and been given the Blu-ray treatment by Criterion.
When King of Kings came out it was treated like a joke, but at present has reached the critical reverence of The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur and other high-profile Biblical epics.
The Court Jester is currently one of the most popular works of Danny Kaye (due in large part to individual comic moments such as the pellet-with-the-poison tongue twister), but was unsuccessful in its initial theatrical run.
Stanley Kubrick is the master of being vindicated. Nearly all of his films divided audiences in admirers and haters. Only in time have most of his films been reappreciated as classics.
The Killing went through its first run ignored by moviegoers, but a handful of critics championed it until it got the recognition it deserved. More humorously, its Halloween-masked bank robbers arguably inspired the "Ex-Presidents" in Point Break and the rubber-faced clowns in the opening scene of The Dark Knight.
Paths of Glory, another early Kubrick classic which is considered one of the most poignant stories of war ever told, failed on its first release.
2001: A Space Odyssey was not immediately successful, garnering brutally negative responses from critics and total dismissal from older adults (which was initially the majority of those who saw it), but over the course of '68 and '69 positive word of mouth spread among younger people, who kept flocking to see it whenever it popped up in a theater. This way it gradually picked up its status as the science fiction film of the century, and managed to become the 2nd-highest-grossing film of 1968.
A further vindication: the original 2001 story had Discovery going to Saturn, and finding the Monolith near its moon Iapetus (or Japetus in the Queen's English). Production issues associated with re-creating Saturn for the screen led Kubrick to change the setting to Jupiter, with the Monolith near Europa instead. The Voyager probes in the late 1970s would find Europa to be infinitely more interesting with its possible subsurface ocean of liquid water, ultimately making Europa even more likely than Mars to host extraterrestrial life. 2010 and further novels would take the idea and run with it. As for Iapetus... Cassini discovered it to be little more than a flying walnut, though sister moon Enceladus could possibly have subsurface water as well.
A Clockwork Orange was relatively successful, but so controversial that it divided audiences whether it was really a good film. Many serious reviews from that time dismiss it as merely "a film that glorifies sex and violence." The copy-cat crimes inspired by this film didn't help matters very well either. Today it is generally appreciated as a high quality film and the definitive adaptation of the novel.
Barry Lyndon bombed critically as well as financially, but over the next few decades exerted enormous influence over a newer set high-profile directors like Quentin Tarantino.
Critics and audiences in the late 1950s, expecting something different from Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis than what they eventually got in Sweet Smell of Success, absolutely hated the film. It has since gained a reputation as one of the film-noir highlights of its era.
12 Angry Men, one of the most famous courtroom-drama films ever made, bombed at the box office despite support from critics, and for a short while was largely forgotten.
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo was somehow not exciting enough for cinemagoers in the late 50s and most people ignored it. This in part was responsible for Hitchcock's creation of the horror blockbuster Psycho two years later, since he required something much more shocking to put himself back on the map. Ironically, current polls frequently rank Vertigo above Psycho as Hitchcock's ultimate masterpiece.
Porgy and Bess earned back only half its budget in 1959, spelling financial disaster for its producer Samuel Goldwyn (and convincing him to retire from filmmaking). The film has been revived in the public's eye and earned much critical recognition.
Imitation of Life was derided in its day as a "soap opera", only to be re-evaluated in the following decades as a artistic gem.
All the works of Jean-Luc Godard in the 60s are praised by lovers of European film, but there was a period in the early part of that decade when a handful of his movies (including Vivre Sa Vie and Contempt) were initially bombs.
Leone's operatic western Once Upon a Time in the West was not received very well upon release in 1968. In fairness, the American release was heavily edited (from 168 minutes to 144 minutes), jettisoning several important scenes and subplots. These days, you'd be hard-pressed to find a notable director who doesn't claim to have been influenced by it in some way, and it frequently appears on Greatest Films lists.
The Great Race was initially derided in cinemas for being too cartoony (which was said mostly because it came from an apparently unexpected source: Blake Edwards). Several years went by before it gained the popularity it truly deserved, to the point where it inspired the Hanna-Barbera primetime series Wacky Races and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.
The most ambitious work of Jacques Tati was Playtime, which flopped so colossally in 1967 that the director went bankrupt. He was never able to make movies again, except with the aid from others. Guess which of Tati's films is the first (and so far only) to show up on the prestigious Blu-ray format?
Seijun Suzuki's satirical yakuza film Branded To Kill was a commercial and critical flop, and got him effectively blacklisted from making another movie for ten years. Nowadays it's recognized as a countercultural classic.
The Producers by Mel Brooks was not well-received at all upon its theatrical debut (1968), and never managed a nationwide release, even though it won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Its failure (combined with that of Mel's second film, The Twelve Chairs) reduced Mel to scavenging for loose change on the sidewalk (according to Mel, anyway). A friend of his working for Warner Bros. saved him from obscurity by recruiting him as director on the appealingly controversial Blazing Saddles, and since that and Young Frankenstein (both came out in 1974) Mel's status as a comedy wizard has never been questioned. The Producers has since become one of the great American comedies, and only had its reputation enhanced further when it became the basis for a hit Broadway musical and a big-screen remake at the Turn of the Millennium.
Head, an experimental comedy by The Monkees which late 60s audiences (somehow!) found too weird, has become embraced by critics as one the greatest examples of that era's counterculture.
The 1969 film Army of Shadows was extremely unpopular in its home country of France, so much so that no U.S. distributor would pick it up until 2006, by which time it had gained respect as one of Jean-Pierre Melville's greatest works.
Tora! Tora! Tora! flopped in the U.S., only picking up its classic status after home video release in the following decade.
Two-Lane Blacktop was released with no advertising thanks to Universal executives lacking faith; it tanked miserably at the box-office. Its popularity has skyrocketed in the 21st century with various DVD releases.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory found its audience through TV and home video after a disappointing theatrical run in 1971 (a time when family movies just weren't big draws)... and after Paramount's rights were transferred to Warner Bros.
George Lucas' THX 1138 remained unpopular even after the success of Star Wars. Around the time the aforementioned franchise's prequels were coming out, 1138 gained a lot of momentum.
Walkabout flopped in 1971 and critics were mainly unresponsive, but it gradually rose in stature.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) was vindicated partially because cable and video releases were of the original 136-minute British cut rather than the U.S. theatrical release which cut and reordered scenes (this was partially Bowdlerisation). It not only made it into The Criterion Collection (as has Walkabout), but was one of its first four Blu-Ray releases.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller had little fanfare when it first came out, but over a short period of time gained its well-deserved status as a cinema classic.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show did NOT do well when it was first released into U.S. theatres in 1975. However, noticing that those people who liked it really liked it, the studio relaunched it as a midnight movie, the fandom grew and developed Audience Participation rituals, and 35 years later it's still in limited release. It is the longest run of any movie, hands down.
In some places, it never stopped running. It's rare, but there are a few theaters that have shown it every Friday night since it first premiered.
The original Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) by John Carpenter was made on a very small budget, and had lukewarm criticial reception and unimpressive box office returns. This was no doubt in large part thanks to it being largely a modern western, and American audiences had become desaturated from the huge number of western films being released just around 1976. However, when shown in Europe, it gained both critical acclaim and was a box office hit, as European audiences were less familiar with the westerns. It subsequently underwent a reevaluation in the States, and is now considered to be one of the best action film of the 70s, and is a a true Cult Classic in its own right.
Eraserhead, the shoestring-budget horror film David Lynch debuted with, barely made a blip at the box office. Now it is well-loved as a textbook example of cinematic creepiness.
Slap Shot was not well received when it was released, as people found it ridiculously violent and vulgar. Critics also went on to deride it for similar reasons. Over the years however, the movie gained a solid cult following and today is considered one of the best sports movies ever made (and the best hockey movie ever made as well; it even left a lasting mark on hockey culture). In fact, Gene Siskel went on to say that giving the movie a poor review was his biggest regret as a critic after viewing the movie multiple times.
According to John Cleese, Monty Pythons Life Of Brian, out of the three most famous Python movies, was the easiest to make and their best work as a team. Most everybody, even those outside the fanbase, will agree. On its release in 1979, however, the controversy surrounding its premise was too much and a fair number of countries (e.g. Ireland) banned it.
Milos Forman's adaptation of the rock musical Hair did poorly at the box office despite critical praise. Many, many people have embraced the film version in subsequent years.
After Taxi Driver, the legendary Martin Scorsese made the disastrous New York New York (which so far hasn't quite been vindicated), and a losing streak started for him in the 80s as the "New Hollywood" crumbled down on him and other major 70s filmmakers.
The first in the losing streak was Raging Bull. Although it was Robert De Niro's way of saving Scorsese's life (Scorsese was depressed and doing heavy drugs after New York New York) and was successful in that regard, Bull just barely reached the modest-hit mark in its first run, dismissed by most moviegoers as being too gratuitously violent, and most critics latched onto the tiniest inaccuracies of the film on its subject matter which they believed believed spoiled the whole thing. 10 years later it was hailed by every film poll as Scorsese's masterpiece and the ultimate example of 80s cinema.
The title song (or a cover of it performed by Frank Sinatra, to be more specific), eventually became incredibly popular within New York City itself, to the point that even most New Yorkers don't know that it was originally composed for a movie.
The films of Harold Ramis.
Caddyshack was a moderate box office success, but received negative reviews and was overshadowed by other comedies at the time. Today it's usually ranked as one of the top comedy films of all time, and it's hard to find anyone older than 30 who hasn't seen it.
Groundhog Day ranked # 13 in box office in 1993. The critics liked it but didn't love it. Since then, it's been listed among the 30 best screenplays ever, the 10 best comedies ever made, and more recently, among the 10 best films ever made.
Roger Ebert included it in his Great Movies collection, very rare for a comedy, and rarer for a film he only gave 3 out of 4 stars in his original review.
"Empire" had the better ending. I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader's his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that's what life is, a series of down endings. All "Jedi" had was a bunch of Muppets.''
As the above exchange showed, for years many older fans considered Return of the Jedi the weakest Star Wars movie and a disappointing conclusion to the trilogy, deriding its overall Lighter and Softer tone, the Ewoks and the puppets used in Jedi. That was before the prequels. After that, Jedi gained new appreciation for its truly great moments like the scenes with the Emperor, the practical creature effects and the spectacular Final Battle in space all done without CGI. As for the Ewoks? Spaced stated it best:
The Shining also divided many moviegoers. Most horror fans felt it was a long anti-climatic buildup and Stephen King fans thought it had a very different tone compared to the novel it was based on. It actually got Kubrick nominated for Worst Director at the first ever Razzie Awards. Shocking to imagine today.
Full Metal Jacket also divided audiences, because the second half of the movie seemed not as strong as the first half.
Eyes Wide Shut got a lot of press attention and high expectations since it was released after Kubrick's death. Again, critics and audiences were divided on the quality of the film.
The 1982 The Thing, competing against Steven Spielberg's ET The Extraterrestrial, was a flop at the box office (making only $13.8 million in the US against a $15 million budget) and critically panned when it first came out but is highly regarded these days; it spawned a comic book and a video game, competes with Halloween as Carpenter's Magnum Opus, and regularly appears on lists of the best sci-fi and horror movies ever made.
Starman was lukewarm, but over time has achieved an impressive fandom.
Prince of Darkness did well at the box office, but received incredibly negative critical reviews; Leonard Maltin even named it one of the worst movies of that year. It's much more generally acclaimed these days.
Blow Out, Brian De Palma's thriller about a slasher-flick sound mixer who finds audio evidence of a murder, bombed at the box-office due to negative word of mouth. Its reputation has since climbed and the film is highly lauded as an artistic gem of the 80s.
TRON turned a tiny profit but in the same vein was no competition against ET, and was even denied an Oscar effects nomination due to "cheating" by the use of computers. Today, it's considered a bold pioneer in CGI for film. In 2010, more than twenty years later, it had a sequel released, which was rare in an age where any movie over 10 years old would be a candidate for a reboot instead of a direct sequel. It doesn't hurt that TRON directly inspired Disney's Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter to make feature-length computer-animated movies...
The non-Muppet non-Sesame Street movies of Jim Henson are a major example, gaining large enough fanbases after their theatrical runs in The Eighties that since their initial DVD releases in 1999, they have been among Sony's best-selling titles. Each also enjoys an Expanded Universe via graphic novels.
The Dark Crystal (1982) did okay in theaters, but Henson's kiddie-friendly reputation made this darker High Fantasy production a tough sell with audiences and critics at the time.
Labyrinth was intended as a lighter-hearted Spiritual Successor, but proved to be an outright flop in the summer of 1986 (costing $25 million and making $12.7 million). Reviews tended towards Love It or Hate It opinions and TriStar's ad push was half-hearted, perhaps because it was coming on the heels of several Magical Land films that hadn't caught on (Return to Oz, Legend, etc.). But now it's so loved by its fanbase that the 2005 Spiritual SuccessorMirrorMask was created on a small budget and given a limited release specifically because Sony wanted to create another cult hit.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, upon release, was largely written off by critics as another Porky's/Animal House rip-off (Roger Ebert, in particular, wrote a very scathing review for it). Fortunately, once people realized how realistic the film's characters and situations were (along with its realistically unglamorous depiction of sex - something unheard of in 1982), the film gained considerable momentum throughout the years. Not only that, but it practically invented the Generation X "slacker" culture (or, at least, that culture as it was imagined by Hollywood) that countless less serious films would reference, rehash, and parody for nearly two decades afterward. It now stands alongside The Breakfast Club and Dazed and Confused as one of the best teen movies of its generation.
The 1982 film adaptation of Annie, a box office flop with mixed reviews that were often hostile, due to the elephantine conception, divergence from the musical, the darker nature, and the fact that John Huston was the wrong director for the film. However, it has become a cult favorite among kids since its home video release.
The 2014 modernized reboot with Quvenzhanie Wallis (''Beasts Of The Southern Wild") in the title role appears to be getting trashed by critics and unlikely to gain the kind of cult status the 1982 film had, despite that version's many detractors.
A Christmas Story was financially lukewarm, and the critics were pretty mixed. Its timing of release (1983) arguably wasn't very good, as a large chunk of its supposed appeal depended upon 1930s/1940s nostalgia that had been pretty common in films since the early '70s and appeared to have run its course by the '80s, especially since the '50s and the '60s were the preferred nostalgic fodder by that time. Now it's a very popular holiday classic - even replacing It's a Wonderful Life in that stature in many viewers' minds. Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik wrote a December 2007 essay explaining its appeal as he saw it: while A Christmas Story takes place during roughly the same time period as It's a Wonderful Life (indeed, given certain aspects of the setting it would appear to be taking place earlier), its casual and emotionally aloof attitude toward the subject matter reflects modern sensibilities much better than It's a Wonderful Life.
Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life wasn't well received in 1983 because of its sketchy format and grossly over the top jokes. It has been re-appreciated over time as an uneven but enjoyable film that is more in tone with their original TV series since it doesn't follow a direct narrative and is, at times, rather offensive.
Eddie and the Cruisers suffered from being saddled with a studio, Embassy Pictures, that didn't know how to properly distribute films; as a result, the film, largely marketed for a teen audience, was released in September of 1983, when teens were in school. The film barely grossed $4.7 million, was heavily negatively-reviewed, and ended up failing so dismally that it was pulled from theaters after three weeks. At the time, the only well-reviewed thing about it was its soundtrack, which climbed the charts as the movie was failing. Then HBO showed the film in 1984 to great success, prompting a limited re-release in theaters for one week... which failed just as dismally. Television airings and home video releases in the following years enhanced its reputation significantly.
This is because the release of the film in the U.S. was terribly botched. When the film premiered at Cannes, it got the sort of rave reviews people would expect. But the U.S. release saw the film's run time cut by half and rearranged. Critics who knew about the longer Cannes cut attacked this recut and audiences stayed away. The film's reputation was saved when the studio released the original cut. Currently, the recut is commercially unavailable.
This Is Spinal Tap, upon initial theatrical release, lacked an audience aside from hardcore heavy-metal fans and its final box office numbers were very weak. Thanks to critical acclaim, however, the film proved extremely popular on VHS and cable, and single-handedly launched "mockumentaries" as a palatable genre.
The Princess Bride was a modest success when it was first released, but not enough to immediately ensure it wouldn't fade into obscurity. It was time, word-of-mouth and the VHS release that boosted the film's popularity.
Dune cost $40 million and made $29.8 million in theaters, flopping mainly because Lynch's directorial vision was compromised by Sid Scheinberg. It's considerably more popular nowadays, mainly thanks to the internet.
Blue Velvet didn't turn much a profit at all ($8.6 million gross versus $6 million budget), but was well-liked by most critics who stuck by it and soon it was re-evaluated by the general public as among the very best pictures of the 80s.
Early in his career, Burton worked with Disney but was fired in 1984 after the production of Frankenweenie. They thought he wasted their money for a film that was too scary for children (it was intended to run in theaters with a Pinocchio reissue). Burton went on to become a successful director and finally the short saw home video release in The Nineties. And a quarter of a century later, Burton remade it as a stop-motion feature — produced by Disney.
Burton's biopicEd Wood failed at the box office with a $5.9 million gross versus an $18 million budget. But there was was enough critical and industry affection for it that it won two Oscars (Makeup and Supporting Actor) and eventually became known as a great work — perhaps his greatest.
Batman Returns (1992) was an enormous success globally but performed disappointingly in the United States, due to both its overhyped U.S. release and parental outrage at the gruesome horror and sexual themes in a film that was blatantly marketed toward children. While it didn't quite ruin Burton's career, it did bring his late 1980s/early '90s hitmaking period to an abrupt end and forced Warner Brothers to move in a much Lighter and Softer direction with the Batman franchise. In the years since, it's been acknowledged as perhaps the best pre-2005 Batman movie and a major influence on almost all superhero movies released since.
It also had bad sound, making it no easier to follow; this has been corrected in some home releases.
Three of Terry Gilliam's failures are currently among his more famous creations:
Brazil: Critically acclaimed (its screenplay was nominated for an Oscar) but it wasn't a financial success in the U.S. Thanks in part to multiple releases by The Criterion Collection, its reputation has skyrocketed.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was barely released in the U.S. due to studio politics and became known as one of the biggest bombs in film history. It hasn't quite achieved classic status, but it's getting there and many look to it as the last of Gilliam's great fantasy films.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: It opened against Godzilla in 1998 and bombed horribly. Now you can't go into a college book shop without seeing its poster in every corner.
Akira Kurosawa'snote Check the 1916-1979 category for more on himRan wasn't a success (nor was it a flop) when it was released in the US in 1985, doing modestly at the box office (if not slightly above average for a foreign film) and winning only a handful of awards, despite near universal critical acclaim. Its response in Japan however, — like most of Kurosawa's post Red Beard efforts — was largely of disinterest and the Japanese film board actively sabotaged its chances of being nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar. Nowadays, it's widely considered among Akira Kurosawa's masterpieces and among the best movies of all time.
Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo made money, but not enough to recoup its budget (falling $5 million short). It's been nominated for several American Film Institute awards since then.
Highlander also didn't recoup its $19 million budget and was not well-received upon its initial release... in America. It became a huge hit throughout Europe and the home video market, gaining it cult classic status, four sequels, a television series, books, comics, video games, and other components of the huge franchise it is today.
Stand and Deliver was completely overlooked on its release in 1988, buried amid a slew of big blockbusters. Critics are nowadays championing it as a top-notch drama.
Scrooged did okay at the box office, but received a plethora of negative reviews upon release. The success it received in the home video department however helped it's name over the years.
UHF was critically panned and flopped (at $6.2 million, barely recovering its $5 million budget) at the summer 1989 box office — ironically, the latter was because its studio was so confident it would be a hit that it was scheduled amongst much higher-profile blockbusters (Batman, Ghostbusters II, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, etc.). It became a cult hit among "Weird Al" Yankovic fans and eventually found even greater reception upon its DVD release — which was due to popular demand that outstripped any other MGM-owned title that hadn't received a DVD up to that point.
Weird Al Lampshades this in the DVD commentary. During the credits, he reads several poor reviews the film got, ending with one positive one (possibly the only one he could find). While UHF has soured him on the idea of ever doing a movie again, he seems pleased that people still enjoy watching it.
Though in another case of Vindicated by History, all portrayals of suicide, no matter the intent, run a strong risk of copycats. If a notable character in a popular show or movie commits suicide, no matter how much it is intended to serve as a cautionary tale, expect a wave of suicides committed in a similar manner to the portrayal to occur.
Licence to Kill was initially another disappointment of the blockbuster-heavy summer of 1989, further hurt by comparisons to the Bond films that had preceded it. This, combined with legal issues over the franchise, ensured that another Bond film would not be made for 6 years, and that Timothy Dalton would not return to the lead role. License to Kill has since been re-evaluated as among the best installments of the franchise.
Timothy Dalton's overall taciturn, violent portrayal of Bond is now considered to be almost prophetic, as it anticipated Daniel Craig's rendition of the character by nearly twenty years. At the time, most viewers had grown comfortable with Roger Moore's lighthearted Bond.
The Coen Brothers made five films in the 1990s that are all now very popular and considered true classics. However, of these five films, Fargo was the only one to achieve first-run theatrical success.
Millers Crossing cost $14 million and made only $5 million. While it will never see as much praise as Fargo, it has gained a fair amount of respect from critics (even making some "Best" lists) and particularly from fans of the Coens.
Barton Fink cost $9 million and in its theatrical run made a disappointing $6.2 million. It picked up popularity on VHS after winning the top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Hudsucker Proxy suffered the most. Costing $25 million it was their most expensive film of that decade, and made the least amount of money ... $2.8 million, a tremendous loss for Warner Brothers (and probably the reason the Coens never had Warners as a distributor again). Hudsucker was re-evaluated after the success of Fargo, and gained a sizeable fandom.
The Big Lebowski made $17 million in the United States, enough to recoup its $15 million budget but not nearly enough to be considered a success. It remained a dud in the US (although it managed to turn a sizeable profit in foreign markets) until its home video release. Its popularity then exploded to gargantuan proportions ... Lebowski is now one of the biggest cult classics, and since 2002 a "Lebowskifest" has been held each year in every single U.S. state. It even has a religion centered around The Dude's lifestyle.
Before all of these were the first two Coen films in the 80s, Blood Simple and Raising Arizona. They were not flops (in fact they turned enough of a profit to satisfy the distributors), but they were also not considered artistic masterpieces until MANY years later.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was considered just too weird to become a hit when it opened in the summer of 1992, due to its unprecedented attempt to blend Gothic horror, social satire, John Hughes-inspired teen angst and feminist empowerment themes into a single quirky package; the robot-like performances supplied by its mostly young cast didn't do it any favors, either. It failed at the box office, and only later cult status on videotape and the hugely successful spinoff TV series convinced the world of creator Joss Whedon's unique storytelling genius and the profound impact he has had on both horror and comedy.
Reservoir Dogs barely made back its cost due to limited advertising, limited exhibition, and the fact that Tarantino's brutal style caught most people who saw it off-guard. Only after the enormous success of Pulp Fiction did audiences manage to truly embrace Reservoir, which (along with sex, lies, and videotape and El Mariachi) became the fuel that ignited independent cinema in America.
Jackie Brown when first released, while it got positive press, could not shake criticism of it not being enough like Pulp Fiction. More recent years have been kinder to the film, with people even starting to consider it to be Tarantino's best film.
Grindhouse, a package feature he co-directed with Robert Rodriguez, gained its big cult following after horrible box office and mixed to negative reviews.
Fire In The Sky got horrible reviews and was only an average performer at the box office when it was first released. Today, it is considered by many one of the scariest films ever made and has a strong following among sci-fi fans.
Dazed and Confused, upon release, was admired by critics but barely broke even at the box office. Subsequent years have seen it listed very near the top on various countdowns of top high school/comedy/cult movies.
The Shawshank Redemption was released to critical acclaim and a handful of Oscar nominations. Box office success? Not so much, as it was in the shadows of Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction at the time of its release. In its first run it made $16 million versus a $25 million budget. Its current popularity is almost exclusively thanks to heavy broadcasts on cable and home video.
A TV special on the director showed that the public chased it on video after hearing its name over and over during the Academy Awards. A theatrical re-release also took place during the Oscar season, in which the film was much more successful.
The Western film The Quick and the Dead flopped, despite an all-star cast of actors like Gene Hackman, Leonardo Dicaprio, Russell Crowe and Sharon Stone, who was enjoying the super-stardom she gained after her role in Basic Instinct. It cost 32 million to make, but only made 18 million back. Today, the film has a huge cult following.
Demolition Man: When it was released was seen as a subpar sci-fi action movie getting mostly panned by critics, barely recouping it's budget despite opening at number one, though it did make up for it internationally. In recent years it's seen more for what it really is, a pretty solid fish-out of water satire of sci fi action movies from the 80s.
The consensus in 1995 was that the Clerks prequel Mallrats sucked (with a $2.1 million gross against a $6.1 million budget), but many have since agreed that its quality equals that of Clerks and Chasing Amy.
Dark City was a commercial flop that divided critics when it came out, not helped by studio-mandated edits. Over time, it has developed a large cult following, has received a re-release that restored director Alex Proyas' original cut, and is frequently compared favourably to similar films of the time such as The Matrix.
Fight Club. During its North American theatrical run, the film garnered a very polarized reaction from critics (just as much for its at-the-time graphic violence as its actual quality) and performed mediocre at the box office (a $37 million gross versus a $63 million budget). However, once the film made it to home video, it quickly developed a large and loyal cult following. At the same time, many critics seriously reconsidered their original assessments of the film, gradually making it one of the most acclaimed movies of the last thirty years and landing it on many "Best Movies Of All Time" lists. There's also the issue of people creating "real Fight Clubs" after seeing the movie.
Office Space was poorly marketed, and barely broke even at $10.8 million. Now it's the champion of all workplace comedies, and among the most quoted films ever.
Idiocracy made around $495,000 in theaters against a $25 million budget, mostly because of the limited number of theaters it played at and barely any advertising. It became a smash hit on DVD.
Election did okay at the box office but was unimpressive compared to American Pie, which came out around the same time. Today it's regarded as one of the best teen comedies ever made, as well as one of Reese Witherspoon's best performances.
Ride with the Devil ($635,100 gross versus a $38 million budget), hailed as an Ang Lee masterpiece.
Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy lost money in its theatrical run, and is now considered a classic.
Almost Famous cost $60 million to make and only managed to rake in $47 million. But critics kept rooting for it, and eventually Cameron Crowe's Oscar win for best screenplay helped boost the film's popularity on home video.
Donnie Darko did not make much of a splash during its modest theatrical run (making $4.1 million, narrowly missing the $4.5 million breaking-even mark), but quickly developed a large cult following and on home video found an unprecedented amount of belated fame. The poor theatrical showing might have been due to its coming out a month & a half after 9/11.
Zoolander was wounded at the box office by the September 11th attacks on the Trade Center and the Pentagon, which took place the previous week. The world was therefore not in the mood for comedy or in many cases even to leave the house. Since then the film has more than made up for the theatrical misfortune with DVD sales, and Ben Stiller has discussed the development of a sequel.
Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World was screened at various film festivals before given limited commercial theatrical release; no audience seemed to catch on that well despite nigh-universal critical acclaim. Today it can be found on various "Top X Comic Book Movies" lists.
Punch-Drunk Love, dismissed back in 2002 because of the widespread disbelief that Adam Sandler would be able to pull off a more dramatic role.
The 2003 theatrical cut of Daredevil underwhelmed after critics and audiences complained that it was a watered-down comic book film coming on the heels of other critically- and commercially-successful Marvel properties like X-Men and Spider-Man. Several months later, the Daredevil Director's Cut restored a significant amount of material (making it much more Darker and Edgier), which gave the film a whole new focus and restored its credibility among audiences who had previously dismissed it out of hand.
Shaun of the Dead, with a $5m budget, made a profit at the UK and US box office. On DVD, the movie has become a huge hit, and one of the most acclaimed British comedies ever.
Hot Fuzz did quite well in the UK box office, but did poorly in the US due to being released around the same time as Epic Movie. But once it was brought to DVD and Blu-Ray, it has become very popular in the US as well as the UK.
Serenity, the feature-film continuation of the TV series Firefly, got a mixed response from critics, and failed to earn back its $39 million budget in theaters despite support from Firefly's fandom. Only on DVD did it gain the tremendous popularity it has now.
Stranger Than Fiction, while never really panned by critics, only received moderate critical acclaim upon its release (mostly because of skepticism towards Will Ferrel's acting abilities). Today it stands a possibly one of the strongest films of 2006, usually highly regarded for its effective life message and its powerhouse cast.
Despite good critical reception, Children of Men failed to break even among a sea of similarly ambitious 2006 releases. (As a result of the less-than-impressive returns, director Alfonso Cuaron would eventually go more than half a decade without any directorial work.) Its DVD sales have been more generous, elevating it to mainstream popularity.
Lars and the Real Girl didn't recoup its budget during its initial theatrical release, though it was critically acclaimed. Today it's well-regarded by such outlets as (but not limited to) Christian media as a textbook example of tolerance (believe it or not, considering the film's less-than-wholesome premise).
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was hounded by release issues: it was originall scheduled for September 2006, then February 2007, before finally being released in September of 2007, almost two years after filming wrapped. Given a limited release, the film grossed just over $15 million, slightly more than half of its $30m budget. DVD releases of the film have helped it significantly.
In Bruges, in an inverse situation of the above, recouped its budget twice over, but opened to mixed reviews. It has since gained a cult following, and won Colin Farrell a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.
Che has built up a very high profile in the two years since its theatrical bombing (having made $41 million on a $58 million budget).
Speed Racer. When it was released in 2008, it was a critical and commercial flop. Now, it is becoming a cult classic, with many now calling it underrated, one of the most faithful adaptations ever, and groundbreaking in terms of visuals. Later films such as Scott Pilgrim, TRON: Legacy, and Sucker Punch would also use inspiration for their visuals from the film.
The Hurt Locker never got a wide release and grossed just $17 million in theatres, despite near-unanimous critical acclaim (the disappointing box office mainly due to Summit having higher hopes on flops such as Bandslam, Sorority Row and Astro Boy). However, the film managed to became a huge hit on DVD and won several Academy Awards (including Best Picture).
Indie filmmaker Duncan Jones debuted with a sci-fi drama called Moon. Getting little attention in 2009 apart from the film festival circuit (with a gross of $7 million it barely made its money back), Moon has since taken off on home video and propelled Jones to the director's seat on a number of top Hollywood projects.
Bull Durham was a modest critical and financial success on its release, but in more recent years it's undergone a critical reevaluation and is now considered one of the best sports movies ever.
Mean Girls received a similar reception to Groundhog Day and The Big Lebowski upon its release — critics' reviews were good, but not great, and while it was certainly a hit, it wasn't a blockbuster either. By the time of its ten-year anniversary in early 2014, it was being hailed as one of the best comedies of the '00s and one of the greatest teen movies ever made, with quotes from the films becoming part of the Generation Y and internet lexicon, and October 3rd being hailed as "Mean Girls Day", in a situation not unlike May 4th as "Star Wars Day".
Hard Candy wasn't really a "flop," since it was an indie film, with a fairly small release anyway (never more than 150 theatres). That said, it just barely broke $1 million domestically. While it's never gotten Donnie Darko-level popular, it's recognition has definitely grown over time.