It’s sometimes hard to say why a movie fails but in the age of the internet where groupthink reigns with an iron fist a movie with a disappointing opening night can quickly be declared a bomb by the teeming masses who’ve yet to even see the film and may know nothing about it. Then there’s the competition, if a movie goes up against a more highly anticipated film it risks being lost in the shuffle and thus declared a dud. Sometimes, of course, they’re just totally train wrecks that should go away as soon as possible. These movies are not the latter.
But here are some movies that absolutely flopped at the box office that are actually really worth a watch no matter what you may have heard.
1. Blade Runner
This one is the ringer of this list.
Now considered nearly universally to be a work of genius, Blade Runner disappointed fabulously at the box office when it came out in 1982. Going up against Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan didn’t help it any but reviewers really didn’t know what to do with this film at the time. Some complained that it wasn’t the action movie that they thought they were promised. Roger Ebert declared that the special effects completely overtook the story and that the movie didn’t seem to actually care about the film’s characters…but by 2007 he’d decided it was actually great. I love Roger Ebert but even the great reviewers can be whooed by the biases of their day.
The only reason this movie, made 23 years ago now, is remembered at all is because of the small minority that saw it for what it was and preached its gospel.
2. John Carter
Originally titled ‘John Carter of Mars’ which would have at least given potential viewers some idea of what the movie was about, this 2012 sci-fi movie based on a 100-year-old book by the same author who wrote Tarzan got absolutely man-handled at the box office and currently boasts a two and a half star rating over at Rotten Tomatoes.
This one is tough. What needs to be understood is that some of the things that might seem tropey in this film are only tropey because its original story set the foundations for what modern science fiction would become. Complaints by one popular reviewer that it was pulpy and “set in the 50s” are both nonsensical and say a lot about the reviewers knowledge of the genre. Some of the reviews are just embarrassing themselves but since no one reads 100-year-old fiction anymore it’s difficult for potential viewers to make a case against them.
Still, movies are judged on what’s going on now and they should be. Having said that, John Carter is a good movie. There, I said it. This is a grand and fun film that presents a vision of space adventure that isn’t derivative or more modern sci-fi traditions like Star Wars or even Star Trek. It’s an adventure tale set on Mars during a time when men were still riding horses and it’s 100% worth watching.
3. 47 Ronin
A bomb from 2013 that lost nearly $150 million, I’m at a loss as to how it didn’t do better. From the preview, it sort of appears that the White Savior trope is in full effect but watching the movie, that absolutely isn’t the case. If anything, this is the most group focused action story I’ve seen with only the Lord of the Rings providing a kind of focus on group that’s similar.
And maybe that was its downfall. While Keanu Reeves is in the starring role and gets a lot of screen time, I always felt like he was just sort of there to facilitate us watching everything and everyone else all of which was awesome. That seems like a sort of Keanu Reeves thing to do. While Japanese viewers hated it because the main character of this film based on Japanese legends was White (understandable), most of the American criticism seems to be based around the fact that the film was made by an American studio at all. Some seemed to complain it wasn’t White enough and some critics just complained about how much money it cost. Good grief, is the entire world actually just a giant Twitter simulation with everyone trying to be “the most authentic?”
Spare me, this is a fine action film with a cohesive old school story and fantastic visual effects. If you like high concept anime then you’ll at least enjoy this. Over at IMDB, the few users that didn’t like it pretty well don’t even talk about the movie in their reviews.
Give it a shot.
4. Red Planet
Maybe the last movie I recall that Val Kilmer was in that was good, Red Planet isn’t some horror in space style film as the misleading trailer makes it seem. It’s a disaster sci-fi movie grafted onto a chase and hunt film like The Edge and it’s good.
Some reviewers back in 2000 hated it because it was a futuristic sci-fi movie that included…futuristic sci-fi technology…right? Alternatively, they hated it because it wasn’t preachy about global warming, go figure. NYTimes reviewer Stephen Holden also hated it because people “prattled” about ideas. Yeah, keep those ideas away from me!
Predictably, actual people who saw the movie liked it.
5. The Iron Giant
If you’ve seen this then you know it’s one of the most beautiful “friendship” movies ever made but no one went to see it when it was released in 1999. Okay, a few people did but it bombed big time.
After it was released, Director Brad Bird said it was “a mis-marketing campaign of epic proportions at the hands of Warner Bros., they simply didn’t realize what they had on their hands.” In a turn around from some other instances on this list, reviewers actually loved this film but no amount of reviewer love could change its fortunes. Well, video could. Prior to its release out on VHS and DVD, Warner Brothers kicked the marketing monkeys into high gear.
6. The Hudsucker Proxy
Playful and funny while also being a little dark around the edges, the Hudsucker Proxy was a terrible failure at the box office despite its star casting and Cohen brothers pedigree. It may also be the best thing Tim Robbins has ever been in.
Critics were divided with the Wall Street Journal declaring, “Don’t bother to see this film unless you expect to be tested in film class about the Coens’ serial dissertation on American cinema.” Pay him no mind. This is comedy at its finest and gentlest.
7. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
An adventure story told by a liar (most likely), this 1999 movie was directed by Terry Gilliam of Brazil fame. When it came out, critical reception was mixed and the movie was waaaay over budget. Still, I’m with Roger Ebert on this one. It is a whimsical treat to watch this film. Don’t put too much pressure on it and you’ll have a smile on your face that doesn’t fade quickly.
What’s it about? It’s about made up adventures and impossible things. Good stuff.
8. Cowboys and Aliens
What this may prove more than anything is that audiences and critics either can’t handle or don’t understand genre mixing. That’s a shame because, despite this movie’s box office busting performance, this was a good movie. And it should have done well. Daniel Craig was still hot off of his rebuilding of the 007 series and the director made freaking Iron Man.
I’m convinced that people sort of like certain tropes in films but that when these tropes get mixed then people get confused. They want a bit more of this here or a bit more of that there but it won’t work for them ever because they’re trying to put the movie in a box it won’t fit in.
Go into this one with an open mind and you’ll be entertained. Expect a classic sci-fi or classic western movie and you’re going to hate it and not understand why.
I rewatched this one with my brother just a couple of weeks ago and I’d forgotten how great it is.
The first thing anyone ever says about this movie is that “it was supposed to be a Ghostbusters remake” which is both silly and completely beside the point. If you’re going to get mad at a movie because it bears a passing resemblance to another movie (this doesn’t, at all) then you should hate every movie ever made after 1940.
Evolution is awesome. It’s stupid, goofy, and absolutely doesn’t take itself too seriously. You can also watch it in various states of consciousness and still really enjoy it.