7 Great Movies That Failed at the Box Office

Just because a movie flops at the box office doesn’t mean it’s doomed to a lifetime of unpopularity. Take these seven films for example — they gained huge fan bases over the years, despite their dismal box office earnings. Now referred to as cult classics, these movies became favorites after they were released to TV, VHS, and DVD, proving that if at first a film doesn’t succeed, it should try and try again.

1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption | Source: Columbia Pictures

Starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption centers around Andy Dufresne (Robbins), a banker who is convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife and her lover. While in jail, Andy bonds with a prisoner named Red (Freeman), and the two embark on an emotional journey to find solace and redemption, according to IMDb.

Box Office Mojo notes that the film had a production budget of $25 million but only had a domestic lifetime gross of $28.3 million. Despite its mediocre box office performance, The Shawshank Redemption, which was adapted from a Stephen King novella, was nominated for seven Oscars. In addition, it is currently ranked as the No. 1 film on IMDb’s Top 250The Wall Street Journal reports that the movie “began to redeem itself, finding an audience on home video and later becoming a fixture on cable TV.”

2. Fight Club (1999)

“Welcome to Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.” Sorry, Fight Club fans — we’re about to break this rule. The movie is about an insomniac office worker and a soap salesman who find a therapeutic way to deal with their aggression issues through underground fight clubs. Their concept becomes more and more popular, eventually spreading to other towns. The 1999 film cost $63 million to make but only had a domestic lifetime gross of $37 million, per Box Office Mojo. Fortunately, the film was able to find success elsewhere.

The New York Times writes that the movie sold more than 6 million copies on DVD and video, and released a 10th anniversary Blue-ray edition in 2009. “Besides elevating the profile of the novelist Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote the original 1996 book, Mr. Fincher’s film has spawned a video game (featuring the Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst as a character) and a Donatella Versace fashion line (men’s wear adorned with razor blades),” reports the New York Times.

3. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski

Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski | Source: Gramercy Pictures

When “The Dude” Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges, is mistaken for a millionaire whose last name is also Lebowski, two thugs show up at his house and urinate on his rug. The Dude seeks out the rich Lebowski in an attempt to get compensated for his rug and ends up accepting a one-time job instead. The Dude, who is typically extremely relaxed, quickly discovers he’s in way over his head. The Numbers notes that the film had a production budget of $15 million, while Box Office Mojo states that the film’s total domestic lifetime gross was a measly $17.5 million.

Don’t dismiss the film based on its less-than-admirable box office numbers, though; the movie has accumulated a large fan following. It has become so popular, in fact, that the bathrobe Bridges wore in The Big Lebowski was auctioned off in 2013 for $22,755, CNN reports. “None of us really thought the movie would do well because they didn’t do anything big for it when it came out. They didn’t really promote it, and then it caught on like a sleeper and came just roaring as the years went by,” Peter Stormare, who played a German nihilist in The Big Lebowski, told CNN.

4. Blade Runner (1982)

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner | Source: Warner Bros

Starring Harrison Ford, Blade Runner takes place in a futuristic world where men have developed the technology to create human clones. IMDb writes that the clones are placed in colonies outside of Earth and are given fixed lifespans. Rick Deckard (Ford) is a retired blade runner, meaning that prior to retirement, it was his responsibility to terminate clones. Unfortunately, he’s forced to re-enter the workforce when four clones escape from their colony and head to Earth.

The movie had a production budget of $28 million, according to The Numbers. However, its total domestic lifetime gross only reached $32.9 million, per Box Office Mojo. Thanks to its home video release, DVD Talk writes that the film was eventually able to find success. “Many people took inspiration from the movie’s marvelously futuristic (yet shockingly retro) designs and the striking costumes. The picture endured, proving itself to be supremely influential on an entire generation of filmmakers,” DVD Talk writes.

5. Donnie Darko (2001)

Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko

Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko | Source: 20th Century Fox

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko hit theaters in 2001 and was a huge blockbuster flop. Box Office Mojo says that the movie had a production budget of $6 million but only grossed $1.3 million domestically. It didn’t remain a failure for long, though.

The New York Times writes that the film has continued to gain in popularity, and as a result has developed a loyal cult following over the years. Furthermore, Salon reports that the movie has taken in more than $10 million in U.S. DVD sales, turning “what was once a confusing and oblique failure into a confusing and oblique cult hit.”

6. Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused | Source: Gramercy Pictures

Dazed and Confused is set in 1976 and focuses on a group of Texas teenagers and their last day of high school. According to The Numbers, the film’s production budget was $6.9 million, but Box Office Mojo said that the movie only grossed $8 million domestically.

While the film didn’t do well in theaters, it eventually won over viewers and became recognized as a cult classic. In fact, This Distracted Globe writes that the film’s video cassette and DVD sales eventually topped $30 million, and two volumes of the Dazed and Confused soundtrack have sold more than 2 million copies.

7. Office Space (1999)

Office Space

Office Space | Source: Twentieth Century Fox

Office Space centers around three employees who despise their jobs and eventually decide to rebel against their boss, according to IMDb. Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t watched Office Space, but that wasn’t always the case. Box Office Mojo notes that the movie had a production budget of $10 million but only managed to gross $10.8 million domestically. Interestingly, The Motley Fool attributes the film’s eventual success to Comedy Central.

“While the movie hit DVD in 1999, it wasn’t until the cable channel started running it two years later that business began to pick up,” writes The Motley Fool. “The initial airing saw solid numbers and then became a network staple, airing more than 30 times over the next two years. VHS/DVD (remember those?) sales jumped and over 2.5 million people felt compelled to own it.”

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