1. Varsity Blues (1999)
Varsity Blues was made in 1999 — during the height of the “big hitz” era of football, when things like NFL Blitz and jacked up-style SportsCenter segments ruled the land. Yet, the movie very much makes a point of addressing the dark and disturbing downsides of concussions and other traumatic football injuries — things that are now very prevalent in our collective public consciousness, and may very well end up costing the NFL billions of dollars.
2. Office Space (1999)
Mike Judge’s now classic has made a killing in DVD sales, but didn’t exactly clean up at the box office. Office Space made only $4.2 million its opening weekend, placing 8th out of all the movies playing that weekend. It ended up with a $10.8 million domestic gross (off of a $10 million budget) and made $2 million more internationally.
That said, the movie has always been highly regarded as a critical success. The movie did great things for Judge’s career (now in charge of HBO’s Silcon Valley), and Milton continues to believe that you have his stapler.
3. Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club is almost always mentioned in conversations about great movies, and has become so pervasive in modern culture that there are entire bars dedicated to Tyler Durden.
But despite it’s clear place in film immortality, Fight Club wasn’t entirely well received when it came out — and only initially made back $37 million of its $63 million budget.
4. Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (2012)
Definitely a bit premature, but we’ll do some hypothesizing. Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World stars Steve Carrell and Kiera Knightley, and is about two people who unexpectedly find each other in the 3 weeks before an asteroid hits earth and is set to wipe out humanity. It flopped at the box office, domestically grossing a little over 7 million on a $10 million budget. The reviews are generally mixed, but the positive reviews have been extremely positive, and it’s unorthodox take on the traditional rom-com (lighter themes in what should be a tremendously dark plot) may very well have staying power.
5. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
One of the most memorable comedies of the past two decades, Wet Hot American Summer, in addition to featuring a cast that would now take upwards of $50 million to assemble, made a paltry $295,000 in theaters. It also received a number of incredibly negative reviews; including this must read from one Roger Ebert.
Now, it’s the definitive movie for all things Jewish Summer Camp.
6. The Truman Show (1998)
At the time of its release (1998), the Truman show was a highly elaborate, highly unique absurdist concept. Fast-forward to the other side of the year 2000, and Reality TV had successfully taken over the world. Pretty fascinating.
7. Attack The Block (2011)
Attack The Block was a sleeper hit in the summer of 2011. Already considered somewhat of a cult classic, Attack The Block has been largely praised for its inherently unique style, mashing up the comedy and horror genres in a way thats sure to become more pervasive as traditional genres continue to be reworked and remolded.
8. Donnie Darko (2001)
I saw Donnie Darko a few years ago. Before that, I thought it was an old classic that won an Oscar sometime in the 60s — that’s how much it seemed to be revered and talked about (also, that’s how dumb I am).
So when I first saw Jake Gyllenhaal’s tour de force, I was pretty surprised to learn it was from a hit initially; grossing only $517,000 during it’s run in theaters.* The film has since become hugely popular, and has made quite a bit more money than that paltry original sum.
*A lot of this probably has to do with the fact that it came out right after 9/11.
9. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Yesterday I saw the movie Life Partners (liked it a lot, definitely recommend). One of my favorite things was Adam Brody’s character’s obsession with the movie The Big Lebowski. The dude obsessed with the dude is a very real thing in 2014, and it was really nice to see that portrayed on screen.
The movie inspired me to do some Lebowski Wikipediaing, and I was surprised to learn that the movie’s initial reception was far from the beloved status it’s been granted today. The movie barely turned a profit in the domestic box-office, and reviews were rather mixed; part of this seems to stem from the fact that the Coen Brothers made Lebowski right after they made Fargo (a huge hit), and part of it seems to stem from the fact that people didn’t really know what to make of the film. Ebert, for example, described Lebowski as “weirdly engaging.”
10. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Probably the pre-eminent coming of age movie, Richard Linklater’s timelless classic not only inspired an onslaught of films with similar themes (see: 50% of things written by people under 25), but also launched the career of one Matthew McConaughey. It’s 20 years later, and Mr. Alright, Alright Alright very much has this movie to thank for his continued (and seemingly endless) rise.
But during its time in theaters, Dazed and Confused didn’t even break the 10 million mark. Granted this was 1991 and it only cost 7 million to make (and it made 8 million), but the numbers definitely belie the cultural impact Dazed and Confused has undoubtedly had on subsequent generations.
11. Metropolis (1927)
I watched this movie in middle school — I had this German teacher who was all like “this is the greatest movie ever and is basically the reason Star Wars exists,” and spent weeks on teaching us about this movie. The director (Fritz Lang) is German, but I’m pretty sure her decision to teach us about the movie had little to do with German, and a lot more to do with her obsession.
Many years later, I can only admire my teacher’s crazed infatuation. This was the movie that is largely credited with being the precursor to all things science fiction, and dealt with themes like wealth inequality, post-industrial dystopia, and other pretentious-sounding things. In a lot of ways, it’s very similar to the present-day Dark Knight series.
Lang has been quoted as being unhappy with the film, but film historian Peter Bogdanovich, who once interviewed Lang, seems to think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the Nazi party enjoyed the movie. Lang was notably very much against the Nazis, having divorced his wife a year after she joined the Nazi Party in 1933.
The movie also has a 99% rating on rotten tomatoes, receiving only 1 “rotten” review from 115 critics. In other news, that one critic is probably really awesome to talk to at parties.
12. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
In addition to being 57% of what TNT airs, Shawshank is widely regarded as one of the best movies of all-time. Yet, upon receiving its first nationwide release, Shawshank made only $2.4 million, and finished as the 9th best-selling movie that weekend.
Shawshank did initially receive the critical praise it’s currently known for (it was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture), though it failed to win an Oscar in any category — this was the year of Forrest Gump, and Tom Hanks’ second consecutive Best Actor victory.
Upon being re-released right before awards season Shawshank had a much better box-office showing, and ended up being the 51st highest grossing film of 1994
13. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s A Wonderful Life, also widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made, was considered a box-office failure — it’s director, Frank Capra, had been churning out big-hitters, something that It’s A Wonderful Life did not appear to initially be. Says Mark Eliot and a 2006 Biography of Jimmy Stewart (the actor who plays George Bailey) “Although it was not the complete box office failure that today everyone believes … it was initially a major disappointment and confirmed, at least to the studios, that Capra was no longer capable of turning out the populist features that made his films the must-see, money-making events they once were.” Modern-day screenwriting guru Carson Reeves has echoed this sentiment, saying that ““It’s A Wonderful Life” was considered by many critics (at the time) to be the film that signified Capra was no longer in touch with the public.”
From a critical standpoint, It’s A Wonderful Life was nominated for 5 Academy Awards (including Best Picture) but lost out on pretty much all of them to Samuel Goldwyn’s The Best Years Of Our Lives. Capra, however, did nab the Golden Globe award for Best Director.