These beloved cult classics actually bombed at the box office. You might not know that, considering that today they are hailed by most every critic. While they did manage to find a second chance in making it to movie history—thanks to a devoted fan base—it may be a bit hard to believe that at first, the numbers for these films did not really add up the way the filmmakers expected.
The Wizard of Oz, 1939
Judy Garland may have gone down in history, along with her squad of misfits, but The Wizard of Oz‘s journey to the box office’s yellow brick road was not really impressive at first. Despite being the most expensive film of its time and amassing four Oscar nominations, the 1939 film was not able to break box-office records. Ten years after, MGM gave it another try, and the re-release proved better than the first.
Citizen Kane, 1941
Orson Welles is now considered one of the most influential actors in history, but his movie Citizen Kane did not actually sit well with the audience in 1941. The most notable critic had to be the man whose story became the basis of the film—newspaper magnate Mr. William Randolph Hearst. Hearst said he did not like the portrayal in the movie. He hated it so much that he prohibited any of his newspaper publications to even mention Citizen Kane, causing the movie to be a box-office flop.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971
Willy and Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most well-loved classics by Roald Dahl, but the movie version tanked in the box office when it was released in 1971. The $4 million dollar earning did not match the movie’s initial budget. This prompted Paramount Studios to let go of all rights to the movie. But it proved to be a wrong move for Paramount when they let Warner Brothers Studios swoop in and buy the rights for a mere $500,000. WBS licensed it for a small screen release, where it found an audience that appreciated the rather quirky but whimsical movie.
Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975
The Rocky Horror Picture Show had been repeatedly referenced in pop culture today, but did you know that it was one of the biggest box-office bombs during the seventies? When it first premiered in 1975, it drew such a small audience that it was withdrawn from eight opening cities, including its Halloween night opening in New York City.
Fox organized a double-feature bill on campuses and re-released the film alongside rock musical movie Phantom of the Paradise, but unfortunately, for the second time, only a few people went to watch it.
Not willing to give up on it, the studio execs decided to do a midnight screening the next year, following the success of Pink Flamingos and Reefer Madness. Fox convinced a theater to release The Rocky Horror Picture Show alongside the two hit films, and surprisingly, it was a success. After that night, the movie was shown at every weekly midnight screening for a very long time, making it the longest-running film release in history.
The Heathers, 1989
Before there were Mean Girls, Scream Queens, or Jaw Breaker, there was The Heathers. This movie is an iconic ’80s cult classic, where a young Winona Ryder starred in. However, at the time of its release in 1989, the dark teenage movie did not sit well with audiences. But that changed through the years after finding success in VHS and cable TV. The Heathers is now one of the most loved classic movies set in high school.
Dazed and Confused, 1993
Dazed and Confused introduced us to Ben Affleck; Mila Jovovich; and Matthew McConaughey, whose famous line “All right, all right, all right” also became a hit. But even if it had a cast that would have drawn millions if shown in the 21st century, everything about the film seemed confusing for the audiences in 1993, resulting in its box-office failure. Thankfully, in the following years, Dazed and Confused was given a second chance and eventually secured a spot in the cult classic realm.
Empire Records, 1995
Excellent soundtrack? Check.
Liv Tyler in a trendsetting cropped top? Check.
Empire Records is the movie everyone suffering from ’90s nostalgia should replay, not to mention those who repeatedly belt out Gin Blossoms‘s “Till I Hear It from You” in the shower. However, when it opened in theaters in 1995, people did not feel as passionate about the movie as people do today. Famous film critic Roger Ebert even tagged the movie a “lost cause.” If you google some reviews, you will notice that even Rotten Tomatoes is agreeing with Ebert, giving the movie only a 24 percent rating. Nevertheless, for the later generation, the movie was everything, and now it’s one of the most loved films.
The Big Lebowski, 1998
Titanic had the best box-office run in 1997, but it wasn’t the same story for another movie released in the same year—The Big Lebowski. But despite this, the movie found not only cult classic success, but it has also gained many devoted fans who are organizing an annual event inspired by the film.
Fight Club, 1999
Everyone has heard of Fight Club. I mean, who hasn’t? The lines, the rules, Edward Norton, and Brad Pitt. When it was first released in 1999, the movie had tongues wagging; but unfortunately, it flopped at the box office and garnered mixed reviews from critics.
Flight Club may have flopped, but it sold over 6 million copies on DVD and has made an additional $100 million. Not bad for a movie hated by critics.
Donnie Darko, 2001
Donnie Darko is an indie movie, so it’s possible that not everyone knows the film, but it was actually what launched Jake Gyllenhaal‘s acting career. Thing is, at first, it flopped at the box office.
It took a whopping $6 million for the movie to be completed, but on the first day of its release, Donni Darko made only $110,494. No one really knows, but the fact that the movie opened with a plane crash scene but was released only days after the 9/11 attack might have contributed to its sad fate.
But when the film was released in DVD in 2012, it saw huge success and soared even higher as a cult classic for midnight screenings.