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When it comes to box office results, not all movies manage to hit the ground running. There are of course some huge hits that deliver amazing box office returns on opening weekend, and continue to dominate the coming weeks or even months. Then there are other movies that don’t come out swinging and require word of mouth or plenty of positive reception from critics before general audiences begin paying attention.
The following movies are all noteworthy examples of this, given most were well-received upon release, yet didn’t seem to have that critical success reflected in box office returns. All eventually became properly appreciated and financially successful, even if it took more time than anticipated. Each movie’s long road to breaking even does show that the filmmaking business can be a marathon rather than a sprint, and that movies that go slow and steady at the box office can eventually win the race.
1 ‘Dredd’ (2012)
Nowadays, most action movie fans will agree that Dredd was one of the best to come out in the 2010s. However, this reboot (of sorts) for the iconic Judge Dredd character didn’t make the biggest splash upon release, making about $40 million against a budget of approximately $45 million.
That doesn’t make this sci-fi/action movie the greatest of flops, but it’s also not exactly breaking even either. Thankfully, back in the early 2010s, movies that didn’t perform amazingly at the box office could still rely on DVD and Blu-ray sales to drastically increase the total revenue earned, which is exactly what happened for Dreddwhen it became available to buy and rent in early 2013.
2 ‘The Iron Giant’ (1999)
An unconventional superhero movie about a boy befriending a giant robot from outer space, The Iron Giant is a well-made and heartwarming animated film. It’s the kind of movie that’s difficult to find a negative opinion about, given its stellar reputation and the fact that it has a 96% critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It didn’t connect with audiences in 1999, however, which is surprising given how accessible it is for both young and older viewers. The marketing for its cinema release is likely to blame, though a combination of word of mouth and a superior home video marketing campaign ensured that it did better when it was out of theaters. As such, it’s now widely recognized as one of the very best animated movies from the 1990s.
3 ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941)
It’s hard to believe that a movie often called one of the greatest of all time didn’t perform all that well upon release, but this is what happened to Citizen Kane. It had a narrative that was loosely inspired by the life of powerful businessman William Randolph Hearst, who reportedly did all he could to ensure the movie received bad publicity when it was released.
It earned numerous Oscar nominations, but only won one, for its screenplay. It took a theatrical rerelease for Citizen Kaneto eventually make a profit, and in the years since then, its reputation has only grown. From a filmmaking perspective, it was also quite far ahead of its time in many regards, which might help explain why future viewers were more receptive to it.
4 ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939)
Even though The Wizard of Oz stands today as one of those rare movies that seemingly everyone has seen, it wasn’t seen by many back in 1939. Audiences at the time didn’t completely ignore it, but it failed to recoup the significant amount of money it cost, which made it something of a box office flop, which may be surprising to learn for many.
Home video wouldn’t be a thing for decades back in 1939, and so The Wizard of Oz initially relied on re-releases to try and earn back the money it needed to in order to break even. Things improved further in the 1950s when it became a popular movie to show on TV, earning decent money from sales of its broadcast rights.
5 ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best-known prison films of all time, and arguably among the most popular films of all time, too. That may sound like a bold claim to make, but it has been sitting at the top of the IMDb Top 250 list for years at this point, demonstrating that the popular website’s users have collectively voted it the greatest movie of all time.
The best explanation for why it underperformed at the box office might be that it had too much competition from other big releases. Thanks to its acclaim and Oscar nominations, it started to gain steam when it debuted on cable, and its success only grew when it achieved additional fame from its high rating on IMDb, and from being released on DVD.
6 ‘Donnie Darko’ (2001)
Despite it being a quality film, it’s not the most surprising thing in the world to learn that Donnie Darko didn’t perform fantastically upon release. After all, it’s a dark and somewhat alienating movie, being an unusual psychological thriller about a teenager plagued with strange visions after he miraculously survives a near-fatal accident.
It performed adequately on an international scale, but particularly underperformed in the United States, seeing as it only earned back about one-eighth of its budget from the domestic box office. Thankfully, it ended up being a cult classic with a reputation that grew in strength in the years following 2001. Being released on home video when DVDs were at the height of their popularity helped make it financially successful, too.
7 ‘The Princess Bride’ (1987)
The Princess Bride is another one of those ubiquitous movies that you wouldn’t expect to have flopped, though it did. It is one of those movies that successfully crossed over into various genres, and while it’s suitable for most younger viewers, it doesn’t exactly fit neatly into the mold of what most would consider a family movie to be.
At least audiences eventually caught on to what a great movie it was, though it did take a good deal of time. It eventually broke even through its box office gross, and then became the smash hit film it’s known as today thanks to being broadcast on TV and released on home video.
8 ‘The Hurt Locker’ (2008)
A Best Picture-winning movie about a bomb squad dealing with the dangers of serving in the Iraq War, The Hurt Locker is tense, well-made, and deserving of the acclaim it received. Given its subject matter, though, it’s not the easiest sell in the world from a marketing perspective, which led to it becoming the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner of all time.
It was naturally re-released after receiving buzz for its Oscar nominations, as it was originally released in 2008, but was in competition at the Oscars hosted in 2010, which generally awarded movies that got a wide release in 2009. Its release was a long, drawn-out one, but it ended up having enough staying power to earn back its budget through its cinema release (just).
9 ‘Blade Runner’ (1982)
It may have been the infamous theatrical release of Blade Runner that doomed it at the box office from the very start. The sci-fi/neo-noir hybrid wasn’t supposed to feature much narration, but the studio wanted a good deal of voiceover from Harrison Ford, supposedly to better explain the plot, spelling it out to an extent that ended up being distracting and detrimental to the film.
Additional cuts ended up being more successful, and these are now the ones that are most widely available, ensuring that the voiceover-free versions of Blade Runner can be enjoyed by all. The movie was even successful enough for a sequel to be greenlit and released over 30 years later… though unfortunately, that one didn’t do great at the box office either.
10 ‘Office Space’ (1999)
Few movies capture the dullness of working a 9-5 job as well as (and as humorously as) Office Space. It’s a cult comedy about one man becoming so fed up with his job that he begins to rebel against upper management, only for his rebellious behavior to be interpreted as confidence, leading to unintended promotions.
It barely made back its relatively low budget upon release but ended up being very successful when it was broadcast on cable. And, like many other movies that took a while to become truly profitable, it also ended up being a hit on DVD, with it finding a new audience of people who didn’t see Office Space in theaters but were happy to watch it at home.
NEXT: Big-Budget Box Office Flops, Ranked By The Amount of Money Lost