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Audience Alienating Premise / Film

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Some films are able to attract multiple demographics. These films, on the other hand, tend to attract a very small demographic.

Compare Audience-Alienating Premise in other media.


  • Most live action adaptations of popular cartoons have a specific formula for success, so when one attempts to stand out from the rest of the pack, this trope will likely ensue.
  • Almost every movie set during the Iraq War has been a box office bomb, including The Kingdom, Green Zone, In the Valley of Elah, and most notably, the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker. The war itself is so politically charged (the most controversial case since The Vietnam War) that any depiction of it risks alienating large chunks of the audience based on its perceived politics and it's too current to work as escapism. An alternative explanation is that the problem is with films perceived as critical of the military, or as depicting typical soldiers as victims and/or war criminals. Act of Valor, for example, made money, and that started life as a Navy SEAL recruitment film. Zero Dark Thirty, by the same team of The Hurt Locker, also recouped its budget given it dealt with the hunt everyone wanted to be solved. (Zero Dark Thirty also shows how Afghanistan is less contentious for audiences than Iraq and thus easier to sell, along with Lone Survivor and American Sniper.)
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  • The reason behind the failures of comedy movies based on old shows from The '70s to The '90s, like CHIPS and Baywatch (2017), is a no brainer. The self-aware parodies mock the original source material and at the same time try to appeal to their fanbases. Fans of the original series have no interest in watching the show they liked being ridiculed and non-fans have no interest in a movie about a show they know nothing about. Although this is not really something new, with the exception of The Addams Family no movie based on an old TV show has succeeded in making fans happy and been critically and commercially successful at the same time, and while taking a Deconstructive Parody route worked for 21 Jump Street, attempting the same for CHIPS and Baywatch had them seen as tired rehashes. Misaimed comedy (unlike Jump Street, the cheeky self-reference was annoying and the rest of the humor was disgustingly low-brow) didn't help in their favor either.
  • Nearly every film targeted at very young children, such as Follow That Bird or Barney's Great Adventure, has been a box office failure, mostly because parents questioned why they would pay $20 (or more) for something they could get for free on TV at home, and other teenage (or older) moviegoers considered themselves too old for the depicted property. That latter statement could also explain why The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, which pretended to be part of a franchise that did not actually exist, and hence had absolutely no brand recognition, did worse than the other two previous films in the box office. On top of that, the marketing for Oogieloves encouraged the little tykes to play, dance, and sing in the theaters, which repelled both theater owners and parents alike from the film due to the trouble the kids would inevitably cause.


  • Sony Pictures is infamous for producing and releasing films with off-putting premises that are quite often critically reviled on release, generate controversy pre-release and bomb as a result of said controversy, especially after 2014:
    • While Happy Madison Productions' films tend to attract audiences, they've also made a few that appeal to no one:
      • The Master of Disguise fell fully into this. Only children would appreciate the broad comedy of farts, butt jokes, and someone named Pistachio Disguisey acting like a turtle and slapping people in the face. Only adults could get impersonations of Quint, Tony Montana, or Groucho Marx. Though it did make a modest profit, it was panned by critics and audiences alike and star Dana Carvey's film career was derailed for years.
      • Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star promised viewers the story of a masturbating Manchild with a tiny penis attempting to become a porn star. It turned out the audience of people interested in seeing a buck-toothed man in a sweater vest repeatedly pleasure himself was very small indeed, and the film made less than a third of its budget back, on top of being critically savaged.
      • Jack and Jill: Adam Sandler playing twin brother and sister doesn't exactly spell award winner. Add immature Toilet Humor derivative of Sandler's films in general, Adam Sandler's growing poor reputation and negative stereotypes towards Mexicans together, and you get this movie.
      • That's My Boy is about the survivor of statutory rape at the hands of a middle school teacher and parental abuse at the hands of his father. Decades later, he's an unemployed alcoholic, and he hasn't spoken to his now-adult son of said rape in years. It's a comedy starring Adam Sandler. Critics, and much of the potential audience, found the setup far too serious to be funny, and it never recouped its budget.
      • Part of the reason Pixels was off-putting to fans is the presence of Adam Sandler, whose films in the New Tens (particularly Jack and Jill as mentioned above) have not exactly given him a positive reputation. Others felt that the reliance on 80s games and/or references could also alienate both younger audiences (who won't get said references) and older audiences (who are more likely to be familiar with the Video-Game Movies Suck problem). The film's extremely sexist depiction of women as prizes doesn't help. Unsurprisingly, the film received a negative critical reception and bombed at the box office, and wound up being the last Happy Madison film distributed by Sony, with their later films being distributed via Netflix.
    • A variant: the U.S. version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a box office and critical hit, but it would have fared better if it hadn't been released on Christmas Day. It even advertised itself as "The feel-bad movie of Christmas!" While it was the biggest opener in its weekend, it's clear people preferred the safer films like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows than an R-rated thriller with much rape and murder.
    • Despite being based on a beloved comic book property, The Amazing Spider-Man Series suffered from this:
      • This is likely a reason why the films were less successful than the previous Spider-Man film franchise and Marvel's own film franchise. It's a Continuity Reboot mixed with an Ultimate Universe, only a few years after the previous franchise ended (that still holds a lot of fans and nostalgia), made at least partially in order for Sony to keep the film rights, and thus keep it out of the hands of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also puts focus on a plot-point from the comics that was controversial with fans (his parents' legacy), reimagines and/or redesigns a significant amount of characters from the comics, and seems to draw a ton of inspiration from The Dark Knight Trilogy, Blade, and the X-Men Film Series rather than the light-hearted and often cheesy tone of the previous films from the previous trilogy of Spider-Man films. To be frank, there's a lot about these films that turns people away before they even see them.
      • The sequel became subject to this by unashamedly featuring three supervillains, which is generally not seen as a good thing by audiences after Batman & Robin (especially after a similar issue was part of the Franchise Killer of the previous trilogy, Spider-Man 3), and kept people from seeing it. The sequel also switched tone from dark and gritty to Lighter and Softer like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which only furthered suspicions that these movies were heavily influenced by a corporation following whatever the current trend is. Then, the alienation went even further with the movie's borderline Cruel Twist Ending, which killed off a character that people considered to be one of the good things about the movies and resulted in a number of people being discouraged from watching the movie again.
    • Even before it was pulled from release (and was later released anyways through YouTube), Sony considered the Seth Rogen / James Franco movie The Interview to be this. As it turns out, a film that advocates or appears to advocate the assassination of a world leader is pretty radioactive even when that leader is an acknowledged despot. Leaked documents show that various foreign countries outright refused to distribute or even show the movie, and that the Sony executives felt that the level of Gorn and Black Comedy would completely alienate most American audiences anyway. While they did praise Rogen's performance, the general consensus from just about everyone at the company seemed to be "How the hell did this get made?!"
    • As pointed out in Nathan Rabin's review of Chappie, the film seemingly can't make up its mind on whether it should be a violent, R-rated crime drama or a family film starring a quirky, child-like robot. The result is a film that's too violent for anyone under 17 and too stupid for anyone over 17.
    • Ghostbusters (2016) became infamous for this. The fact that it was a Continuity Reboot with an all-female cast rather than a continuation of the original two films did not sit well with the Ghostbusters fanbase, which wasn't helped by the fact that a planned Ghostbusters 3 was reportedly cancelled in favour of greenlighting this movie. The fact that it came out during a very contentious election year, as well as the underwhelming trailers and all the bad publicity caused by all the flame wars over the film's direction and cast resulted in casual moviegoers being turned off from seeing the movie as well, leading to it bombing at the box office despite a mixed to positive critical reception.
    • Passengers (2016) suffered from this: the premise (which was not revealed in the publicity) is about a man who is prematurely woken from Human Popsicle status on a slower-than-light starship, leaving him doomed to spend his entire life alone aboard it as the only awake person. He finally selects the woman who seems most attractive to him and wakes her up, making her believe that her awakening was an accident as well, and they play out a completely straight romance story. However, the idea of a man ruining a woman's life just because he wanted her as a romantic partner, lying to her about it, and getting rewarded for it with everything he wanted, outraged critics to the point that some of them spoiled the whole thing in their reviews and told the audience not to watch it on any account, which worked, though the popularity of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence drew in enough international viewers to make it profitable.
    • Holmes & Watson: Sherlock Holmes has already been parodied to hell and back, so a low-brow narrow and redundant parody will not draw in many viewers these days (particularly since the film it's parodying came out nearly a decade prior). Not helping matters is the growing disinterest in Will Ferrell's typecasting as a hyperactive manchild, or the fact that John C. Reilly was costarring; they'd already starred in two other films together for Sony/Columbia (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers), causing many to dismiss Holmes & Watson as a blatant attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle. The film was universally panned upon release as one of the worst comedies ever made and flopped at the box office.

Individual Movies

  • The straight-to-DVD 2015 romantic comedy, Accidental Love, used to be David O. Russell's failed project Nailed which is about a waitress (played by Jessica Biel) who got a nail stuck in her head and then, went to appeal a congressman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) to pass the health care bill. This was even made when O. Russell was still notorious for his troublesome on-set behavior at that time and anyone who had seen the film noticed that it looked very outdated. Now we know why O. Russell disowned it and used the Alan Smithee approach.
  • Alegría, the dramatic film inspired by the Cirque du Soleil show, is a fable that entwines the story of a street mime and a circus singer falling in Love at First Sight with that of unwanted children being forced to tend and sell flowers for a cruel taskmaster. Aside from the obvious (namely, Everyone Hates Mimes), it's too dark and mature thematically for children — the story kicks off with the mime and his child friend both literally wanting to die, a supporting character is a lovelorn old alcoholic, etc. But how many teens or adults want to watch a movie about whimsical circus people helping to realize A World Half Full? The film only made it to theaters in Canada and a few European countries.
  • As mentioned in the description, An American Crime. It's a film about the real-life torture murder of an innocent teenage girl at the hands of her foster mother and various children. Does that sound like a movie you'd want to watch?
  • American Ultra is a prime case of this. The premise of a stoner who was trained by the CIA but does not know they were trained by the CIA and the CIA want the stoner dead is a premise that anyone wouldn’t know who market to. The supposed stoner comedy was a major flop and critical mess. Screenplay writer Max Landis stated in an interview with RedLetterMedia that the movie was marketed as a stoner comedy when it was never meant to be, and that audiences were not willing to give it a chance.
  • The Beaver definitely qualifies. The film is about a mentally-ill man who is able to communicate with a discarded beaver puppet. The concept itself is a hard sell, but the film stars Mel Gibson in the lead role and tries to portray him in a sympathetic context... at the time where Gibson had made headlines for controversial tirades against his ex-wife as well as his infamous DUI arrest. The film naturally flopped and was met with mixed reception among critics. Nathan Rabin goes into more detail for his "My Year of Flops" column.
  • The Book of Henry, which Brad Jones compared to the below Radio Flyer in that it features an abused girl that no one believes so because the abusive parent, a police commissioner, has connections, so the kid next door - Henry - decides to create a plan to save her... by killing said father! The jarring tone shifts (a glurgey first half, then Henry dies, and once his mother discovers the book with plan, she goes on with it) make it even worse.
  • The film Caligula is extremely notorious in part because of this. It tried to be simultaneously a dramatic historical epic and a low-brow sexploitation film, and failed at both. The drama was too ludicrous for the mainstream, and even if it wasn't, they would have still been turned away by the depraved sexual acts. Meanwhile, the porno crowd didn't find the drama appealing, and the exploitation stuff wasn't titillating enough for them.
  • Catwoman: A film about Batman's longtime nemesis Catwoman with no Batman in it was bound to be this, particularly when the adaption is strictly In Name Only. Not helping was the film's higher priority on cat-related puns, Halle Berry's sex appeal, and a scheme involving a very dangerous facial cream.
  • The 1930s movie Child Bride, whose subject matter should be obvious. Infamously, it was passed up by Mystery Science Theater 3000 for exactly this reason.
  • Cloud Atlas is nearly three hours long and has six simultaneous plots with widely different tones (Period Drama, character-based drama, techno-thriller, farcical comedy, sci-fi action, Science Fantasy) and only thematic connections. To make it worse, to ensure the cast could have roles in all the stories, there is Yellowface, which made Asian-Americans want to boycott. No wonder it didn't perform well in theaters, but good home video numbers mean it can become a Cult Classic.
  • A key reason, though not the only one, the Jerry Lewis film The Day the Clown Cried will never be released. A movie about a German clown (Lewis) who entertains doomed children at a concentration camp isn't going to fly over well. With anyone. Lewis himself kept his own copy locked up and refused to mention it when asked. He donated it to the Library of Congress some time prior to his death, on the stipulation it would not be screened until 2024.
  • With a title like "Dear White People", you know a movie is going to be controversial. Racism is a pretty touchy topic and the heavily politicized feel turned off many viewers, especially white viewers. Word of God insists the film isn't meant to be taken seriously and is more about personal identity, but the title and trailer doesn't really give that impression to the casual white viewer.
  • The Deer Hunter is a particularly infamous case. It is a three-hour long film about three prisoners of war being tortured and forced to play Russian Roulette by the Viet Cong army, released only three years after The Vietnam War. After a poor test screening, the producers arranged a private screening for Academy members so that it could be released with an Oscar nomination to make moviegoers more confident in seeing it. It worked, as the movie was profitable ($49 million costing only a third), won Best Picture and is widely considered a classic. Film buffs largely consider that the event that gave birth to the concept of Oscar Bait, and the start of the disconnect between films highly grossing and successful with the general audience, and films likely to be nominated for Academy Awards.
  • Dick, a comedy set in the 1970s about two teenage girls who develop a crush on Richard Nixon and end up becoming major figures in the Watergate scandal. Teens weren't interested in a comedy based around 1970s nostalgia while adults weren't interested in the revisionist history concept (the film also depicts Woodward and Bernstein as a pair of morons) so the film died a quick death at the box office. However, it has become a cult classic over the years.
  • The documentary Earthlings already touches on a pretty heated subject regarding dietary habits, but between its clear appeal to emotion and equating modern society with that of the Nazis for using animals for food (something the humans species has done since the dawn of its existence), it's really easy to see why this movie would be off-putting, if not downright offensive, to most people.
  • Fantastic Four (2015) was a dark and serious reimagining of a whimsical and light-hearted superhero team, full of Body Horror and largely devoid of action. Naturally, this has scared off fans of both the source material and superhero movies. Fans of the classic Fantastic Four disliked the grounded premise that excised the more fantastical and bizarre elements of the comics. People who enjoyed the gritty Ultimate Fantastic Four, which the film was supposedly based on, were unhappy that the film would not be a faithful adaptation. Not helping matters was director Josh Trank's apparent disdain for the classic comics (as he told the cast not to read any Fantastic Four material to prepare for the film) and some really public mismanagement stories that eroded excitement from the movie-going public. The final product was considered by critics to be a bad movie regardless of its fidelity to the source material, discouraging non-fans in the general audience from seeing it. To top it all off, several fans wanted it to fail, in the hopes that Fox would sell or give the rights to the team back to Marvel Studios for inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which would eventually happen in 2019 when Disney completed its acquisition of Fox and most of its assets, including the Fantastic Four film rights). Any wonder why it was a commercial flop?
  • The Benedict Cumberbatch film The Fifth Estate was a thriller about hacker/activist Julian Assange, who is still considered a controversial figure by many Americans. Add to it that the Misaimed Marketing made it look like the movie was trying to rewrite history and turn Assange into some sort of kick-ass action hero, and it's no wonder it turned out to be a Box Office Bomb. It didn't help that the film was based on a book written by a former associate of Assange who has since become one of his most hated rivals. That assured that even those who vehemently support Assange would refuse to go see it, on the assumption that the film would make him look bad.
  • Flash of Genius was a Docudrama about Robert Kearns, his invention of the intermittent windshield wiper, and his lawsuit against the Ford Motor Company. Problem was, the subject matter was very mundane and the real-life event isn't well-known to most people. Unsurprisingly, it failed to attract most moviegoers and didn't even make a quarter of its budget back. As Bomb Report describes it:
    "Windshield wipers + no star power = flop."
  • Freddy Got Fingered, which starred absurdist comedian Tom Green, was almost universally denounced, disparaged, and ridiculed. Although mainstream TV ads for the movie looked harmless enough, the film itself followed the misadventures of an apparently mentally handicapped man who made it his life's mission to be as bizarre and offensive as possible (licking an open wound, wearing a bloody deer carcass as clothing, etc.). Roger Ebert at least paid this movie the compliment of reminding him of the classic surrealist film Un Chien Andalou - but then, moviegoers in 1929 hated that, too.
    "This cannot be Dada! It's too normal to be Dada! It's too shit to be anything else!"
  • Funny Games (either version) presents itself as a Gorn film that deconstructs the genre and makes the viewer question why they watch gorn films to start with. The problem here is that gorn fans don't appreciate being told they're sick bastards by the films they're watching (and it isn't explicit enough for gore fans to get a thrill out of anyway), and non-fans aren't going to watch it in the first place. This was freely acknowledged by director Michael Haneke, who once observed: "If you walked out of the film, you didn't need to see it."
  • Fun Size is a movie produced by Nickelodeon's theatrical film company that looks like it's aiming for the tween girl demographic like Nick's many kidcoms (it starred Victoria Justice hot off the success of Victorious), yet it's rated PG-13. The movie's too crude for young kids (the trailers alone highlight this), and the find-the-missing-little-brother plot is too childish for the tweens.
  • Errol Morris's debut documentary embodies this trope — Gates of Heaven is about a family-run pet cemetery faced with closure and the challenge of finding new resting places for its inhabitants. It's a sweet, gentle film, but it's not surprising to learn that Werner Herzog's infamous shoe-eating venture was the result of a bet he lost with Morris over whether it could get released at all!
  • This was one of the reasons cited for the box office failure of Ghost in the Shell. While the 90's anime movie has Cult Classic status in the United States, there's still a large number of people who had never heard of the franchise. This proved problematic with the marketing, which seemed to be trying to appeal to hardcore fans instead of casual moviegoers, who of course tend to outnumber anime fans. Also complicating things was the fact that a lot of the themes and imagery used in the trailer had already been covered in The Matrix, which caused many potential viewers to think the movie looked like a tired rehash (of course, given release dates if anything it would be the other way around, with the Wachowskis even admitting that GITS was an inspiration for them). Another issue is that despite the film being marketed to them, many hardcore fans of the original films and series avoided it since the filmmakers took too many creative liberties with the license and arguably completely missed the point of the animated film it was based on. Then there was the infamous controversy over having Scarlett Johansson play the Major, AKA Motoko Kusanagi, which dominated the entire conversation about the movie and made many nerds antsy about supporting it. As one writer put it:
    "A lot of journalists – especially fan bloggers – who would normally breathlessly cover this kind of movie approached it with a lot of caution. No one wants to seem socially ignorant, so a whole lot of sites that generally provide free PR offered far less support. As a result, the movie got way less play online, and when Johansson did get interviewed, she often had to defend her casting."
  • New Line Cinema attempted to follow up their spectacular success with The Lord of the Rings by adapting another famous fantasy novel series, and settled on His Dark Materials. Unfortunately, the series had become Overshadowed by Controversy as its author Philip Pullman had openly stated that his goal was to provide an atheist answer to the Christian-based fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, in which the heroes' ultimate goal is to "kill God." This subtext had remained under the surface enough in the first two books to not cause much trouble, but exploded in the third and became a favorite target of the Catholic Church. New Line's response was to tone down these elements as much as possible, changing the villainous organization the Magisterium from a clear parallel of the church to a more generic Evil Empire. This ended up pleasing no one: the people who were complaining in the first place were not the sort to back down over a slight story change, and the fans of the series were outraged at such a capitulation and wondered why the studio had bothered getting the rights to such a controversial series if they weren't prepared to go all the way with it. The first (and to this day, the only) film, The Golden Compass was released to middling reviews and mediocre box office (the latter in North America, anyway), and the future films were scrapped. Its domestic failure also caused Warner Bros. to absorb New Line and did a number on rising star Dakota Blue Richards' career as well.
    • Then there is the matter that His Dark Materials hovers somewhere between Cult Classic and Mainstream Obscurity. While its hardly a flop its also not something general audiences were exactly dying to see adapted. Even without the controversial hardline Atheist aspect, the series is also a Gaslamp Fantasy, a very niche sub-genera of fantasy that would already make it a shaky to try and make a blockbuster out of. The Golden Compass film is quite frankly lucky it at least generated some controversy or it could have bombed much harder.
  • Hanzo the Razor is a trilogy of films about a samurai detective/metsuke solving various corruptions in Edo Japan. The series mixes this relatively interesting premise with blaxploitation inspired music and editing, but the problem is that Hanzo himself is a Designated Hero who is just as repugnant as the murderers and thieves he encounters along the way, due to raping women to get the information he needs. The worst part, they enjoy it by the end usually.
  • The Happytime Murders suffered from this big time. A hard-R involving Muppet-like puppets didn't appeal to many people (Meet the Feebles suffered from this same problem), on top of Melissa McCarthy's declining star power and the fact that the Jim Henson Company, who co-produced the film, has had several not-very-well-received projects come out within the decadenote . The film's main selling point was the novelty of R-rated puppets - except that coming long after Avenue Q, Greg the Bunny, Team America: World Police, and the aforementioned Meet the Feebles, the novelty was gone. It naturally was met with weak reviews and floundered in the box office against Crazy Rich Asians.
  • Hercules (2014) takes place after Hercules's twelve labors and is built around Demythification of the Hercules story. Unfortunately most mainstream audiences don't actually know the Hercules story. Sure, people could tell you he had superhuman strength and some might even mention monsters and labors, but only a classical myth nut would be able to name all of them. This might be why the marketing team went out of their way to obscure the film's actual premise.
  • Pictured on top of the main page is a doctored poster for Hugo, which was rife with things to alienate audiences despite the name of Martin Scorsese attached.
  • The Human Centipede: As an experiment, three people are sewn to one another as part of a single digestive tract. The "sequel" was even worse — a deluded fan of the first movie kidnaps one of the actresses and eleven other random people and literally staples them together in about the crudest way possible. The third film's premise blows the first two films out of the water. It has a deranged prison warden become inspired by the Human Centipede films to solve budget problems and create the ultimate punishment and deterrent for crime by constructing the prison's inmates into a centipede made of 500 people.
  • Inchon was a movie about a major battle in the Korean War. It was also a propaganda vehicle for the Unification Church, directly funded by founder Sun Myung Moon. Given that the Church is widely seen as a cult today, and was even less popular then, it was immediately viewed with suspicion, and it took years to find a willing distributor. (along with not being very good in spite of the big names and budget, resulting in a critical and commercial disaster never released on home video) It did, however, provide the world with Laurence Olivier's famous Money, Dear Boy quote, and an acclaimed soundtrack album.
  • In the Company of Men is a film about two white-collar workers who, coming out of relationships gone south, make a bet with each other about wooing a deaf co-worker... with the express idea of intentionally breaking her heart after doing so.
  • Disney faced a similar problem to the below-mentioned The Princess Bride with its adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series: the title of the first book, A Princess of Mars, was seen as being too alienating for the young male audience who would be the natural target for an adaptation of the classic pulp action story. They instead titled the film John Carter, which ended up being equally unappealing as despite the massive influence of the series, Carter himself hasn't gained the kind of name recognition (especially compared to Burroughs' other major hero Tarzan) for his name alone to get many people interested. The result was that a film various people had been trying to get off the ground for almost a century bombed hard and created a Stillborn Franchise.
  • The Killing Of John Lennon is pretty much Exactly What It Says on the Tin - a film about how some asshole set out to kill John Lennon. Technique-wise, it's not a bad film, and contrary to what some critics claim, it doesn't make Lennon's assassin look any more sympathetic — if anything, he looks worse, because the film portrays him as a bigot, a bully, and a shitty husband. Considering that many fans of Lennon want the assassin to fade into obscurity and actively try not to even mention the assassin by name, why would they want to watch a film about him?
  • Lawn Dogs. A 10-year-old girl and a 21-year-old man become close friends. It's rated R. Their relationship is mostly platonic, but there are strong hints that the girl has feelings for the man. Not many people want to watch a movie about this, though those that have tended to consider the film to be excellent.
  • The 1981 epic Lion of the Desert, starring Anthony Quinn. It is a powerful anti-colonialist film, but it is set in a conflict not many know about (1920s Libya), with a hero not very famous outside of his country and enemies that aren't often seen as "scary" enough in cinema. The death blow comes with the fact that it was commissioned and financed by Muammar Gaddafi, making potential viewers avoid the film for considering it propaganda. Too bad, because according to most critics it is actually good.
  • Little Boy: The film's premise of a child having faith sounds like a pseudo-sweet film about faith, which gives the impression of having a predictable plot and of being full of Glurge.
  • Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders. As MST3K put it, it's too scary to be a decent kids movie and too childish to be a decent horror movie.
  • Milk Money: A lighthearted comedy about three young boys trying to see a prostitute naked. Then it gets even crazier when the prostitute is introduced to the father of one of the boys as a potential love interest.
  • Mom and Dad: While there hasn't really been an outcry about the film, it still hasn't been watched by most people. When a film is about parents wanting to murder their children, and the film is relentless, gory and filled with Black Comedy to boot, you can kind of understand why the premise alone gets this reaction.
  • Mommie Dearest. Roger Ebert summed it up pretty well; it’s two hours of a screeching caricature of Joan Crawford beating the shit out of her daughter. Who wants to watch that? Interestingly, the film actually did very well despite the alienating premise... but only because everyone heard how So Bad, It's Good it supposedly was and watched the movie to laugh at it, causing the studio to try and save face by altering the movie’s marketing to make it look like an intentional comedy.
  • Mortal Engines never stood a chance in finding an audience given its premise and execution. It is based on a niche Young Adult Literature series whose premise of "cities on wheels" seems too ludicrous for mainstream audiences. The cast also lacked popular actors besides Hugo Weaving and Stephen Lang, making it difficult to excite its fanbase and attract non-fans. The premise and casting badly hurt the marketing, which had to rely more on the promise of spectacle and Peter Jackson's involvement (even though he was only credited as a writer and producer, and not the director). And this isn't even getting into the controversial Adaptational Attractiveness of the facially-disfigured female lead...
  • Even for a director who built his career on artsy Surreal Horror, Darren Aronofsky's mother! is pretty out there. A nameless husband and wife find their remote house descended upon by an increasing parade of aggressively quirky characters, all while everyone but the wife as our viewpoint character refuses to acknowledge that there's a single thing remotely out of the ordinary about any of it. Then the last half hour finally gives up any pretense of logical sense and becomes a nonstop parade of nightmarish violence and...more stuff best not elaborated on. Your response to it is highly dependent on when or even if you realize - and appreciate - how the whole thing is a microcosm of the Bible, in an extension of the rather unique view of religion shown in his previous film Noah. And then there's the fact that Aronofsky and his star Jennifer Lawrence started dating during production, which creates a quite creepy Reality Subtext to everything. It was a rare Box Office Bomb for the director and got an F on Moviescore (reviews were divisive), and the best way to view how it came about is him thinking "I've gotten all the prestige I'm ever going to get, so now it's time to go completely nuts and see just how far I can go before someone stops me."
  • This is key to why Newsies bombed in 1992: A drama about a 1899 newsboys' strike — and it's a musical! Disney had seen so much success with animated musicals at the turn of the decade that they saw potential in this live-action one; Jeffrey Katzenberg compared it to Oliver! But there hadn't been a blockbuster, live-action movie musical since 1978's Grease that didn't clearly take place in a fantastical context (i.e., the Muppet films). To some viewers, a dramatic, realistic musical ended up coming off as unrelatable, especially when lighter fare like Beethoven and FernGully: The Last Rainforest was on offer that particular spring. Moreover, they were likely turned off by the cast lacking in (then-)name performersnote  (if, again, they weren't turned off by the fact that it was a musical), and for some, its setting didn't have obvious appeal. There is a happy ending here — while it was a Box Office Bomb, it did well in the video aftermarket and became a Cult Classic, to the point that it received a successful Screen-to-Stage Adaptation in 2011.
  • Night of the Lepus: The movie's biggest failing is that rabbits, even Giant Killer Bunny Rabbits, are simply not scary. It's telling that the trailers go out of their way to not show any rabbits, which raises the question: if you realize your monsters aren't scary, why would you still make a movie about them? What's even worse was that the film was based on a novel which treated the premise as intentionally silly, but this film portrays it completely straight.
  • Nine Lives (2016) was a film revolving around the idea of a guy switching bodies with a cat and learning how to be a good father as a result. The "human inhabits body of animal" shtick had been done to death several times in the 90's and early 2000's (most notably with Fluke). As a result, people weren't inclined to see the film despite (or possibly because of) Kevin Spacey starring in it and being directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and it consequently failed to make back its budget, on top of being deemed a cinematic hairball by critics. To top it off, this was about a year before Spacey's fall from grace, making this movie even harder to enjoy.
  • North is supposedly an uplifting tale about a boy who travels around the world to find better parents. Unfortunately, this was cancelled out with a parade of blatant racist stereotypes; furthermore, while it's a kids' movie with adult jokes here and there, the "child-friendly" scenes are too childish for adults while the "adult jokes" are too raunchy for kids. In short, no member of the target audience is pleased. It's now best known for inspiring Roger Ebert's famous "hated, hated, hated this movie" rant.
  • The Nutcracker in 3D is a lavish, big-budget adaptation of a timeless ballet... with minimal dancing and really dumb lyrics affixed to the classic score. That alone might have made it a tricky sell, but then there's the shoddy special effects, the Uncanny Valley-riddled designs for the Nutcracker and other characters, the fact that the main antagonist is A Nazi by Any Other Name, and the narmtastic dialogue. Like North before it, it's too scary for kids and too unsophisticated for adults.
  • Paint Your Wagon: It's a western starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. But it's also a musical in which they share a bride! No wonder Homer and Bart were shocked when they watched a parodic version of it in The Simpsons episode "All Singing, All Dancing".
  • The makers of Philadelphia deliberately countered this problem by hiring A-list actor Tom Hanks to play the lead out of fears that the 1993 audience would be turned off by the premise, which is about a gay man who has HIV.
  • The Mexican movie Pink (2016) was created by the Christian director Paco del Toro, in his own words, to "warn of the grave error of allowing homosexual couples to adopt children." The first trailer made it clear that the film was a parade of homophobic stereotypes and Unfortunate Implications, causing a great controversy between liberals and conservatives in Mexican society. And when the movie was released, it was a total box office failure: Paco del Toro's is a director for whom the message (Christian ultraconservative) is above any artistic aspect: people who disagree with his position would not want to see a movie about why they are wrong, while people who do agree with him generally wouldn't like a movie that can be summarized as "two hours of gays behaving in the most gay way possible".
  • Pod People: What happens when Executive Meddling tries to force a horror movie into being an E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial knockoff? This. Because the movie is attempting to play (half-assedly) to the child demographic, they obviously can't show any gory or creative sorts of deaths. No gore means the movie can't appeal to fans of the Kill ’Em All Horror genre. At the same time, because people do still drop like flies throughout the film's runtime, it's far too dark for kids.
  • The Postman: It was, um, difficult for the marketing to explain the movie's premise. Apparently, it involves a man rebuilding America After the End by... delivering the mail? While this actually makes a lot of sense, it takes few longer moments to comprehend the idea, thus rendering it almost unmarketable.
  • Precious, a film about a 16-year-old illiterate obese girl having the baby resulting from her rape by her father. The baby has Down Syndrome, a second incest-rape baby is on the way, her mother is also sexually abusive, and at the end she finds out her father is dead. From HIV. Which she also has. And she's only sixteen (though fortunately for her, she gets a few hopeful moments by the end: she can read and write, her kids are HIV-negative, and she's finally escaped her parents). Interestingly, this one escaped the stigma: while these elements are typically Hollywood poison, they're extremely popular with Lit Fic. Being The Film of the Book of the critically acclaimed Push, it had the buzz of a hot literary property, plus the support of superstars like Tyler Perry and Oprah. Precious made $62 million and earned two Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Mo'Nique as Precious' mother Mary) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
    • Parodies in 30 Rock with the fictional Tracy Jordan vehicle Hard to Watch.
  • The title of The Princess Bride used to be this for guys. It sounds very much like a girly romance story, so many young boys — like the one in the movie — thought it to be a "kissing book", so to speak, and were put off by it. At this point, the movie's reputation is enough that most people look past the title.
  • The Purge holds a simple premise: What would happen if for one night of the year all throughout the United States, all crime was legal? The problem then lies in that the film doesn't takes time showcasing how this is supposed to turn America into a utopia beyond the regular science-fiction dystopia Kill the Poor proposal and a Hand Wave explanation about how Humans Are the Real Monsters and The Purge provides a Catharsis Factor, thus killing the suspension of disbelief for more business-savvy (and/or cynical) moviegoers note . The movie wastes its premise in using this only as the background for a standard home-invasion thriller. The sequel is considered to be surprisingly improved by showing a wider scope of The Purge. Not helping either film is the massive focus the ads put on Type 2 Eagleland, to the point of playing "America the Beautiful" — this layer of ham-fisted "satire" made the film even less palatable, in the sense it was showing the audience things they'd heard a hundred times before. These problems were all addressed in the sequel, which wound up with both a better box-office return and better reviews.
  • Radio Flyer was a Box Office Bomb for one main reason, the totally ridiculous and off-putting premise. Basically two kids have a stepfather who is abusive to one of them, but the kids cover it up because their mother loves him. So instead of telling the authorities about the abuse, the abused kid decides to build a machine and fly away. Needless to say, the Family-Unfriendly Aesop (about how it's better to run away from your problems than actually tell someone) did NOT sit well with most people, especially the critics that savaged the film, arguing that it sent the wrong message to kids who are actually in an abusive situation. The movie appealed to almost no one, as the subject matter was too depressing for kids, and it was too laughable and unrealistic for adults.
  • Red Sparrow had trailers focusing more on a "sexpionage" plot. All to disguise what would drive audiences away otherwise: to become a seductress spy, the main character endures some Training from Hell full of violence and rape akin to an Exploitation Film, that even makes Jennifer Lawrence nude uncomfortable rather than tittilating. And even once she starts her mission, there is more torture and gore.
  • Rock: It's Your Decision was a fundamentalist Christian propaganda film about the evils of Rock and Roll music. The film came out in the 1980's, when the whole "rock music is evil" thing wasn't taken seriously anymore. Compounding this is that the general plot of the film is about a young boy who goes from being a fan of rock music to a bigoted jerkass who criticizes everyone he meets for listening to rock. To say it didn't appeal to many people is like saying that Hurricane Katrina was stronger than the average storm. A 1989 documentary, Hell's Bells: The Dangers of Rock and Roll, suffered from the same problem, and not just because it's 3 hours long (and its sequel is 6 hours long!).
  • The 1975 Rollerball was a brutal, R-rated sci-fi dystopia/action film with a message against the glorification of violence, and is considered a classic. The 2002 remake, though, went through a truly epic Troubled Productionnote . A well-received script focusing on the social commentary was heavily rewritten, abandoning the sci-fi setting and the commentary in exchange for attempting a Bloodier and Gorier modern sports film. Afterwards, much of the violence, gore, and nudity was reshot, edited out, and digitally censored to earn a PG-13 rating. The result was a remake hated by fans of the original, and an exploitation film too tame for exploitation fans. Reviews were savage, and the film bombed.
  • Save the Tiger is a low key and highly depressing character study of a failing businessman who descends into alcoholism as he considers torching his store in an insurance scam, while everyone around him is helpless to stop his decline. Jack Lemmon strongly believed in the film but knew full well it had extremely limited commercial prospects and so took a significant pay cut to get it made, which paid off with an Oscar win in one of the most ridiculously stacked group of acting nominations in the awards' history.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World failed to find an audience due to combining too many niches together: comic books, indie rock, and video games from the '80s. Its audience would have to be a particular breed of geek that appreciates all three. Michael Cera also was not a big enough draw on his own and was in the midst of a Hype Backlash from audiences feeling he played the same character too often, something the Scott Pilgrim marketing did little to dispel (keeping the most Cera-esque bits but leaving out Scott's more jerkass-ery personality). Throw in some weak marketing (the main poster for the film was just Scott rocking his guitar, with a vague tagline of "An epic of epic epicness", leaving the uninitiated with zero clue about the movie) and an overreaching budget ($60m for a film with a narrow niche helmed by a filmmaker with a devoted but small American following) and the movie was dead on arrival, despite very good reviews from critics and audiences who did seek it out. The movie did better on home video, though.
  • The Seeker, an adaptation of The Dark Is Rising, fell into the same hole as the aforementioned Jem film: in changing almost everything about the source material, they alienated the existing fanbase, and created a bland film that appealed to no one. It was a bomb dismissed as a Harry Potter ripoff, trounced by critics (it holds a whopping 14% on Rotten Tomatoes, and prior to Jem, had the second-weakest debut of any movie ever. It still holds the record for the largest number of theater drops (that being the number of theaters that dumped it after the obligatory three weeks). For whatever reason, the studio had handed it to a writer who didn't read the book and a director who self-admittedly hated fantasy.
  • A Serbian Film. A down-on-his-luck porn star is promised a large amount of money to appear in a high-concept "art film". The movie turns out to be a snuff film, and he is forced to participate in a series of increasingly shocking, violent, and horrific sex acts, capped off with newborn porn!
  • Sex Lives of the Potato Men, an obscure British film devoted to the sexual exploits of a group of potato delivery men. This would have been bad enough, but the main characters were made to look as grotesque as possible. A raunchy comedy about hideous people having sex? No thank you. It should come as little surprise that this film actually provoked public debate over whether the British film industry was in severe decline. It didn't help that one million pounds of funding from the film came from the UK's National Lottery - needless to say, this was not the kind of "good cause" most normal people would expect lottery funding to be awarded to.
  • Shakes the Clown didn't do too well in theaters, even though most people would say it isn't that bad. But it just couldn't find its niche. On one hand, it's about birthday party clowns who never take off their makeup even when not working, so despite its R-rated raunchy humor, the premise was too ridiculous for adults. On the other hand, the clowns drink heavily, sleep around (sometimes contracting venereal diseases), snort cocaine, and commit numerous acts of violence, including hate crimes against mimes - so it was too dark for kids. The result was a film that wasn't very funny and worth seeing only for novelty value (i.e., "the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown films").
  • These days The Shawshank Redemption is considered one of the greatest films ever made, but its original box office reception was lukewarm due to this; it's based on one of Stephen King's least famous stories and it's a gritty, realistic prison drama from a creator who's more known for fantasy and horror stories. It didn't appeal to the horror fans that generally enjoyed King's works, but its obscurity kept it from appealing to the overall mainstream.
  • Solo: It's a film about Star Wars' greatest, most beloved smuggler and his origins... and he's not played by Harrison Ford. Also considering how his story ends on The Force Awakens, fans of the character are finding it hard to swallow the idea of another actor stepping into Ford's shoes. (Although to be fair, this was unavoidable, seeing this was a prequel about Solo's younger days and Ford was 75 at the time.) Furthermore, more casual fans and general audiences were hesitant to see the movie because of the film's Troubled Production and heavy emphasis on nostalgic fanservice. After two weeks on the cinemas even with reviews calling it an ok movie, it is still expected to have the lowest ticket sales of a movie in the franchise to date.
  • Stardust Memories was one for Woody Allen fans, since the film seemed to caustically mock them for their blind worship of him. The film has been Vindicated by History for a good portion of fans, but some still like to pretend it doesn't exist.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: The Enterprise crew meeting God (or what seemed to be), to such a degree that Gene Roddenberry himself had tried to talk to William Shatner in the hopes of convincing him not to go through with it. It hadn't helped that, due to the success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Paramount executives also wanted slapstick humor in it - despite Voyage Home's comedy being Fish out of Water, with barely any slapstick in sight. Unsurprisingly, when the film was slammed by critics, Roddenberry straight-up disowned it, calling it "apocryphal, at best" (while he didn't particularly like the Trek films from Star Trek II onward, he really didn't like this one).
  • The Strange Thing About the Johnsons is about a young man who rapes his father for years on end, until the latter kills himself. It's drawn controversy, not only because of the subject matter, but also because the entire cast is African-American. Some people say this adds to the story while others accuse the director of racism.
  • The Stunt Man was hated by the studio execs, who declared it to be completely unmarketable: a Black Comedy about a criminal who hides out as a stuntman on a film shoot, only to discover that the director is a lunatic who goes to quite disturbing lengths in the name of Enforced Method Acting. It took two years to find a distributor, and Peter O'Toole famously quipped years later: "The film wasn't released, it escaped!"
  • One of the main reasons Sucker Punch was such a divisive movie is that depending on who you ask, it's either a Deconstruction of fanservice-laden narratives in movies, video games, and anime, or a glorification of it that gleefully indulges in mindless violence and Fanservice. The Indecisive Parody aspect came back to bite it in the ass; most mainstream audiences (especially women) were turned off because of how sexist it looked, while most nerds avoided it because it was allegedly a Take That! aimed at them. As a result, it was a complete flop, barely recouping its budget.
  • The Swimmer is another one whose release was delayed for years because no one had any idea how to market it. It's a highly faithful adaptation of a John Cheever short story about a man with vague but obvious mental problems who spontaneously decides to "swim home" through his neighbors' pools, with their reactions gradually revealing what a mess his once fantastic life has become in a vicious attack on the idea of the American dream. One can easily imagine the eventual distributor was counting largely on the Mr. Fanservice factor to get butts in seats, with Burt Lancaster spending the whole movie in swimming trunks and often dripping wet.
  • Swiss Army Man is a movie about a man stranded on an island who discovers Daniel Radcliffe washing up on shore as a farting, talking corpse he nicknames Manny. This premise seems to have already drawn ire from moviegoers who dislike Black Comedy and Vulgar Humor.
  • Tideland is about a 10-year-old girl who spends several weeks in an abandoned house with her father's bloating corpse. To pass the time, she has increasingly bizarre daydreams about her Barbie heads and befriends a mentally handicapped man, with whom she practices kissing. The DVD automatically plays an introduction by director Terry Gilliam, who admits that the viewer might very well hate the film.
  • Towelhead can certainly qualify. It’s a coming-of-age story about a 13-year old Lebanese-American girl who's stated to be well developed for her age (justifying the Dawson Casting along with legal reasons) coming to terms with her sexuality as she lives with her unsupportive father in Texas after being kicked out of her mother’s house during the early nineties and is raped by her neighbor and beaten by her father because of it. Plus, it’s called Towelhead. Can you just tell that this got only a limited release?
  • Trash Humpers: Grainy, camcorder footage of a trio of crazed elderly people that kill people, mutilate baby dolls, and copulate with garbage. Director Harmony Korine claims to have invoked this with the opening scene, dropping the pretensions of other art films so that anyone prone to walking out early would do so and the rest knew exactly what they're in for. Basically, all of Korine's work can be deemed as this (except, perhaps, Spring Breakers).
  • There's a reason United Passions is one of the biggest Box Office Bombs in cinematic history, grossing all of $900 in its opening weekend.note  Regardless of recent news, an "inspirational drama" about the wealthy sports executives who started the FIFA World Cup was always going to have a pretty damn hard time attracting viewers. But when that movie hit theaters the week after the 2015 FIFA corruption scandal, well...
  • Vulgar, a film financed by Kevin Smith and written and directed by his friend Bryan Johnson, recounted the story of a kind, but struggling, children's party clown who is viciously raped by a father and his brain-dead sons. And it's a comedy!
  • Oliver Stone's W. was always bound to be a hard sell, given that it was a biopic about a President of the United States made while that president was still in office. But once it became clear what kind of biopic it really was, it became much more alienating. In a nutshell: the film portrays George W. Bush's presidency as a disaster, but it portrays Bush himself as a well-meaning simpleton who got into politics to gain his father's approval, ultimately leading to him starting a war for misguided personal reasons. Bush's conservative supporters generally avoided the movie because they found it too critical of him, while many of his liberal detractors avoided it because they thought it was too soft on him.
  • Wes Craven's New Nightmare was a self-aware supernatural slasher deconstruction that pre-dated Scream (1996) by two years, and was released during a time when the horror genre was considered dead. It proved to be a little too ahead of its time, and had difficulty making money at the box office. The film did get good reviews though, but even today, while Scream enjoys a reputation as a landmark horror film, New Nightmare has to settle for a smaller cult following. Wes Craven even directed both films. He's also attributed the success of the latter for focusing on horror fans rather than horror filmmakers.
  • Where Hands Touch, a romance movie in which a biracial German girl falls for a member of the Hitler Youth. Reviews were... not good.
  • This was the main reason that Spike Jonze's film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are turned out to be an Acclaimed Flop, barely breaking even at the box office. Understandably, not everyone was wowed by the premise "The director of Adaptation. and Being John Malkovich tries to turn a beloved children's book into a depressing, darkly humorous fable about growing up...for adults." Lots of parents didn't want to take their children to see it, thinking that it was too adult; lots of teenagers and adults just didn't want to see it, thinking that it was for children.


Example of: