A couple things about these movies. One, I imagine that many regular readers are going to recognize many of these films, because it turns out plenty of good movies get fucked over at the box office for no reason.
The other is that when we list out the stats, we’ll be using each film’s budget against its domestic gross (i.e. how much the film made in the United States at the box office).
Budget: $21 million
Gross: $6 million
A remake of a 1950s French movie (The Wages of Fear) might have had a chance in certain circumstances, but coming out one month after Star Wars doomed this movie’s chances of surviving at the box office. Considering the director’s pedigree (William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, among many other films), the film has gained a large cult following.
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
Budget: $19 million
Gross: $13.7 million
Remember that time when Clint Eastwood released two war movies in one year that both represented the various sides of the Battle of Iwo Jima? I think a lot of people remember Flags of our Fathers, but Letters From Iwo Jima was unfortunately lost in the box office shuffle. Both films are worth seeing, but Letters From Iwo Jima flopped harder out of the two (at least in the U.S., the film made quite a bit of money in Japan).
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Budget: $30 million
Gross: $3.9 million
Besides the abnormally long title, the two hour and forty-minute runtime didn’t do this movie any favors. Which is a real shame, this is legitimately one of the best modern western films I’ve ever seen, and while it takes its sweet time, it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, and with a cast that includes Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, and Sam Shepard, this is a long western that’s worth a look.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Budget: $25 million
Gross: $11.1 million
If you ever needed even more evidence that we live in an unjust world, it’s that this movie bombed. A John Carpenter action film that combined old-school martial arts movies with the horror masters’ penchant for monsters and magic is a blast of a movie.
The King of Comedy (1982)
Budget: $19 million
Gross: $2.5 million
This incredible dark comedy from Martin Scorsese completely failed to find an audience during its release, but in retrospect, making a movie this uncomfortable and putting Jerry Lewis front and center was probably a bit much at the time. Nowadays, it’s hailed as a classic, with so much reach that it’s one of the inspirations for the movie Joker coming out later this year.
Blade Runner (1982)
Budget: $28 million
Gross: $27.5 million
Probably one of the most famous box office bombs of all time, the reappraisal of Blade Runner has been HEAVILY documented over the years. It was such a rebirth that they tried to make a sequel, Blade Runner 2049, which was pretty damn good and had the ironic fate of also doing poorly at the box office.
Children of Men (2006)
Budget: $76 million
Gross: $36.5 million
Despite how well-known the film is for its legendary “long-take” scenes, selling audiences on an Uber-bleak sci-fi dystopian film with an R-rating is always a tough task (for more information on that, refer to the previous entry). It’s found a massive audience since it’s theatrical run and still stands as one of the best modern sci-fi movies out there.
Fight Club (1999)
Budget: $63 million
Gross: $37 million
Obviously, Fight Club’s post-theater life is beyond massive, a pop-culture touchstone for all sorts of people. But its initial theatrical run in the U.S. was not nearly as massive as everyone had hoped, but a great movie like this will find an audience eventually, and thank God it did.
Steve Jobs (2015)
Budget: $30 million
Gross: $17.8 million
So, how does a movie about the life of Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle (director of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and so on), starring Michael Fassbender, and written by Aaron Sorkin (writer of The Social Network and A Few Good Men) fail?
By being beaten to the punch. The other Steve Jobs movie (titled Jobs) came out two years earlier while this project languished in production Hell, and by the time Steve Jobs arrived, it felt late to the party (even though it’s a MUCH better film than Jobs was).
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Budget: $3.18 million
Gross: $3.3 million
I think it surprises people a lot that this film, now considered a holiday classic, was a flop. Not only was it a flop, but its status as a flop ironically pushed it to the top.
You see, the movie was so forgotten that its creators forgot to reapply for its copyright, and the film accidentally lapsed into the public domain. TV stations in the 1960s, desperate for films to cheaply fill open slots, saw an opportunity and jumped at it, which pushed It’s a Wonderful Life into the legendary status it enjoys today.
Event Horizon (1997)
Budget: $60 million
Gross: $26.7 million
This film’s premise is the kind that “normally” would have been made in the 1980s by Roger Corman with a budget big enough to buy a used truck. Instead, Event Horizon has a real budget for some spectacular sets and a killer cast led by Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, and goddamn does it rule.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Budget: $128.5 million
Gross: $27.1 million
If you’re going to make a movie with six different timelines that span from the distant past into the apocalyptic future, you already have a tough sell on your hands, even with the directors of The Matrix to back it up. That wasn’t enough to save Cloud Atlas, a nearly 3-hour movie that I absolutely adore (or, I did back when it came out, it’s been many years since I’ve seen it).
Budget: $4 million
You know, with how popular this movie has been in reruns on TV (Comedy Central in particular), I always assumed that this movie must have done pretty well. But as you can see from those numbers, this movie straight-up died at the box office.
The Insider (1999)
Budget: $90 million
Gross: $29.1 million
Maybe that budget was a lot higher than it should have been, considering the film is a dramatization about the life of Jeffrey Wiglund, the whistleblower that exposed the tobacco industry. But goddamn is this movie absolutely amazing, backed up by seven Academy Award nominations.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Budget: $15 million
Gross: $7.2 million
David Lynch movies don’t exactly light up the box office (with extremely rare exceptions), but this one is very special. One of Lynch’s best movies, it came from an unlikely place, originally shot as a pilot to a TV show before being expanded into one of his most famous films.
A Simple Plan (1998)
Budget: $30 million
Gross: $16.3 million
It really sucks that this movie had a reputation as a Coen brothers rip off because it’s not. It’s an homage from Sam Raimi, he literally encouraged the Coen brothers to become filmmakers in the first place (one of the brothers was an assistant editor on Evil Dead). Extremely underrated and a must-see, especially for fans of “crime gone wrong” films.
Budget: $55 million
Gross: $32.7 million
The most recent entry on here, this slow-paced sci-fi horror meditation (I don’t know what else to call a film like this) never had a chance. It only received a meaningful theater release in the U.S., the rest of the world got this movie on Netflix, which is a real fucking shame. This wasn’t even close to my favorite movie of 2018, but if you’re into weird sci-fi, give it a shot.
Heaven’s Gate (1980)
Budget: $44 million
Gross: $3.5 million
Possibly the most infamous box office bomb of all time (the film’s failure bankrupted one of the oldest studios in Hollywood), Heaven’s Gate isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation would suggest.
HOWEVER, this is the longest movie on this list, clocking in at three and a half hours. It’s one of the slowest movies I’ve ever sat through, but I’ll be damned if the back half of the movie doesn’t have some of the best imagery in a western film I’ve ever seen, along with possibly one of the bleakest endings I can think of for any movie ever.
Budget: $15 million
Gross: $9.9 million
This film comes at the highest possible recommendation. It’s one of my top ten favorite films ever made, a dark humor masterpiece that remains untouched to this day. If you’ve never seen it, imagine if a few members of Monty Python made a parody of 1984, except that they remembered all of the dark unimaginable horrors and tortures of 1984 and kept them in the movie.
If that sounds totally bonkers, wait until you see the movie, which includes a dream sequence where the hero fights a ten-foot-tall samurai, and that’s not even close to the weirdest image this movie conjures up. Seriously, if you’re a fan of satire, you have to see this movie.