20th Century Fox
For most movies, a stellar box office performance is crucial to establishing a legacy. That doesn't mean every movie has to break records, but movies that perform well at the box office tend to be remembered more fondly. That's not always the case, though. Sometimes, box office bombs go on to have remarkably long legacies, even when they compete with one another. Some movies just can't be stopped.
Ultimately, the way a movie performs at the box office may have more to do with how it's marketed than anything else. After all, if a movie looks bad, people won't even consider seeing it. Sometimes, a movie can be mishandled in advertising. Other times, great movies are hard to market without giving away crucial details. Whatever the reason may be for a movie's initial failure might be, it's eventual success is definitely something worth celebrating.
Now that it airs on NBC every Christmas Eve, it can feel like It's a Wonderful Life was always a classic. When it was first released, though, the movie was actually something of a disappointment. It was budgeted for $3.18 million, but the movie only managed to make $3.3 million at the box office.
Although it barely made back its budget during its initial release, the movie has undoubtedly more than made back its budget by now. It's widely regarded as one of the best movies of all time, and its story of a man who realizes just how rich his life is still moves us today.
Although Blade Runner eventually spawned a sequel, the original movie was one of many box office bombs. Today, its considered a cornerstone of science fiction, and deservedly so. The movie illuminated a world that was totally unrecognizable, and its sequel only extended the first film's vision.
At the box office, the movie only $32.9 million on a $30 million budget, which means it was basically a loss for the studio. Still, the movie's legacy far exceeded its initial success at the box office. That just means that great movies aren't always appreciated the very second that they hit theaters looking for ticket sales.
The Shawshank Redemption is pretty universally acclaimed as a classic today, but the story of Andy Dufresne and his time in prison didn't initially earn a lot of love from audiences. The movie made $58.3 million on a $25 million budget. That's not a total disappointment, necessarily, but it is a pretty mild total, especially given the way the movie is regarded today.
In spite of its rather tepid showing at the box office, Shawshank did manage to accrue a fair number of Oscar nominations. Since then, the movie has only become more and more popular. Today, it's a movie that's beloved by almost everyone.
Thankfully, the relative failure of Children of Men did not represent the end of director Alfonso Cuaron's career. The movie, which is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which fertility rates have plummeted to zero, failed to make back its budget at the box office when it was released in 2006. The movie made just $70 million on a budget of $76 million.
In spite of that setback, most people believe Children of Men to be one of Alfonso's very best films. It's a dire warning about the future that only feels more relevant than ever today. It's a great movie, even if it made no money.
RKO Radio Pictures
Citizen Kane is another classic Hollywood movie that wasn't actually a success story at first blush. The movie failed to make back its budget until it was re-released decades later. In spite of its status as one of many box office bombs, Citizen Kane still managed to earn critical praise and quite a few Oscar nominations.
The movie didn't ultimately win Best Picture, but it nonetheless proved to be a movie that could stand the test of time. Today, there are many who still assert that it's the best film ever made. Whether that's true or not, it's certainly outlived its poor performance at the box office.
When Martin Scorsese, the legendary director of movies like Raging Bull and Goodfellas, decides he wants to make a huge film about the power of movies, you let him make it. In this case, that blockbuster was Hugo, a project that only a director like Marty could ever get off the ground.
The movie had an enormous budget of between $150 million and $170 million, and although it made $185.8 million at the box office, it was considered a failure because of its incredible budget. Had it cost a bit less, the movie might have been considered a success for making that much at all.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is definitely a great movie and it's one that's beloved by many to this day. It's also pretty weird, though, and when it was first released, audiences didn't know what to make of it. The movie grossed just $4.5 million on a budget of $3 million, which may sound like a decent return, but isn't much of a profit when you consider the money that likely went into promoting the movie.
Today, the movie feels much more like an unambiguous success. The magical world of Willy Wonka's chocolate shop is glorious to behold, and it's one of the main aspects of Gene Wilder's legacy.
I'm about to talk about Fight Club. This movie, which features a young Brad Pitt and Edward Norton headlining its cast, was not considered a success when it was first released. Its budget was $63 million, and while it made $100.9 million, that was far from enough to call it a tremendous success.
Today, though, the movie is seen as a defining cultural touchstone for the Gen Xers that it's about. The movie's twists and turns are enough to keep you guessing, and its story of toxic masculinity gone awry feels all too relevant in 2019, even if you wish that weren't the case.
Richard Linklater is at his best when he's depicting people just hanging out with one another. That's what makes Dazed and Confused so impressive. The movie follows a group of kids on the last day of school, and it's really just about the weird, funny stuff they do on their first night of summer freedom.
This was likely a movie that was hard to market, which makes sense. It also explains why the movie only made $8 million at the box office on a budget of $6.9 million. Dazed would eventually become a classic, but definitely not because of its great box office run.
In 1939 when The Wizard of Oz was released, the movie represented just about everything that large-scale Hollywood movies could do. It was fantastical, whimsical, and delightful, so much so in fact that it actually hurt its performance at the box office.
It didn't help that the movie cost $2.8 million to make, which was a relatively steep sum for the time. Today, The Wizard of Oz is seen as a classic, but in its time, the movie was considered to be a financial failure.
Annihilation is a radically strange movie that has almost no commercial appeal. It's an adaptation of a very strange novel about a group of scientists who explore a wild area that's been contaminated by some sort of mysterious force. The movie is as weird as the book, and despite being headlined by Natalie Portman, it was hard to sell it to a broad audience.
The movie made just $43.1 million on a budget between $40 and $55 million. It was a risky investment from the jump, but even in the year since the movie's release, its already garnered a solid reputation.
There are few movies that bounce back from disappointing box office as well as The Iron Giant has. The movie is considered an animated classic today, and there are plenty of people who have an enormous love for it.
When it first came out, though, no one was all that interested. The movie only made $31.3 million on a budget of between $70 and $80 million. The movie was an enormous loss, in terms of the initial investment. Today, though, the decision to make the movie keeps looking better.
The Weinstein Company
Paul Thomas Anderson pretty much only makes good, interesting movies. That doesn't mean, though, that all of those movies are profitable. The Master, which is basically a feature-length exploration of the terrors and appeal of Scientology, proved to be a pretty alienating experience for audiences.
Although the movie only made $28.3 million against its $32 million budget, it was widely acclaimed by critics, and it even earned a few Oscar nominations. That kind of acclaim is likely to extend its legacy, especially since so many of the people who write about movies online love Paul so much, justifiably so.
The Master is weird, but it's got nothing on Mulholland Drive, which is on its surface a mystery movie, but operates more as a strange dream-like fantasy. We would expect nothing less from David Lynch. The director has made an entire career out of strange, interesting projects just like Mulholland Drive.
Like most of the director's films, this movie was not an enormous success at the box office. It managed to make back its $15 million budget, but just barely, earning a total of $20.1 million at the box office. David's movies aren't really about the money, though, and this film is still considered one of his best in spite of its performance.
It's a crying shame that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping was not the highest-grossing film of all time. The movie is blisteringly funny and works as the kind of clever satire of rock-stardom that's only been done well a handful of times.
From The Lonely Island, the movie chronicles the life and times of Conor4Real, a fictional pop icon played by Andy Samberg. Mostly, the movie is an excuse for the three of them to tell lots of jokes, many of them buried inside the songs that they wrote and performed for the movie. Front to back, the movie is an enormous treat.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is an incredibly stylish and ambitious adaptation of the source material it's based on. The movie looks great, in part because it works to adapt the video game aesthetic that are a part of the graphic novel it's based on. Unfortunately, those aesthetics came with a pretty high price tag. The movie reportedly cost between $85 and $90 million to make.
Unfortunately, the movie only made $47.7 million at the box office, which made a pretty significant financial disappointment. Even so, the movie has a pretty large base of support from its fans, and it's those fans that have helped extend the movie's legacy.
New World Pictures
Heathers is a pretty weird, messed up movie, so it's not that surprising that it didn't do all that well at the box office. The movie is about a young boy and girl who start murdering their classmates. It's a satire, but it's one that can make you more than a little uncomfortable.
The movie's dark, biting tone has held up well, but it's the kind of movie that doesn't initially seem like it's going to have very wide appeal. That's why it only made $1.1 million at the box office, and failed to recoup its modest budget of $3 million. Now, it's solidified itself as one of the most iconic cult classic flicks that paved the way for other high school movies like Mean Girls.
Jake Gyllenhaal is still a great actor, but not many people knew he would be one when he starred in Donnie Darko. The movie, which made $7.5 million on a $4.5 million budget, follows a young boy who is told by a demonic rabbit that the world will end in 28 days.
As we follow Donnie through the movie, we're forced to question whether the things he's seeing are actually real, or whether he's living in some sort of parallel universe. The movie eventually found quite a few fans, but its initial release was a quiet one. Still, it earned enough acclaim to launch Jake's career.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The dude abides, but that uncaring attitude isn't a great fit for the box office. The Big Lebowski has aged into an undeniable cult comedy, in part thanks to its insane level of rewatchability. When it was initially released, though, the movie didn't exactly overperform at the box office. The dude probably doesn't care very much that he's in a box office bomb.
It made some money — $46.2 million on a budget of $15 million — but that's not exactly the kind of performance that leaves people stunned. The Big Lebowski probably wasn't the easiest thing to market, in all fairness. After all, the movie is about a stoner who basically gets by on doing nothing all day.
Office Space was probably a little bit ahead of its time. The movie follows a corporate drone who inadvertently ends up stuck in a blissed out state of hypnosis. It's one of the funniest movies ever made, and it feels more and more relevant every day, as employees punch in and out of jobs they may or may not hate.
The movie didn't do great money upon its initial release. It only made $12.2 million on a $10 million budget, but in the years since, it's become a cult classic. You definitely know someone who can quote it, especially if you work in an office.