Plenty of bad films make money at the theater. But every once in a while, a good one doesn’t. What follows is a list of great films that failed to make money at the box office. But first, what makes a flop?
It is often difficult for a Hollywood outsider to tell from box-office figures alone if a movie made (or lost) money. For the purposes of this article, I use a common rule of estimation– a movie must make back roughly twice its production budget in box office receipts to be a “winner.” This accounts for production costs, plus marketing and distribution. Less than that, and investors have to hope that DVD and TV sales will make up the difference. Here a “flop” is simply a movie that failed to make back the studio’s investment through movie theater ticket sales. You might be surprised at some of the titles that make the list.
5. “Fight Club“
David Fincher directs Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in this critic and audience-beloved box office bust. The story– which is notoriously difficult to describe– follows two men who form a club to exercise their anger at society through fist fighting. The movie’s domestic box office take was only $37 million dollars against a $63 million dollar budget. Perhaps the lack of theater turn out can be chalked up to the movie’s most famous quote: “The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club!”
4. “Donnie Darko”
A dark, unsettling, and famously ambiguous cult hit, “Donnie Darko” made back only $1.2 million at the box office against its reported $6 million budget. The narrative follows a troubled boy afflicted with visions of the apocalypse and haunted by a giant bunny. If that doesn’t sound like a good movie, you might be beginning to understand why this one was tough to sell to theater-goers. But a decade later “Darko” holds an impressive 8.1 user rating on IMDB, good for 177th among the highest rated films of all time.
3. “Blade Runner“
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic is among the most admired and imitated genre films of all time. Box Office champs like “The Matrix,” “Total Recall” (1990), and “Minority Report” quote “Blade Runner‘s” visual principles like the Bible. But “Blade Runner” garnered just $33 million dollars in worldwide box office receipts. With a production budget of $28 million, Sir Ridley probably needed to turn in closer to $50 million to break even.
2. “It’s a Wonderful Life“
It’s tough to name a film that is so universally beloved as Frank Capra’s Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Rotten Tomatoes lists the film’s 93% critic approval (thrashing the highest grossing film of all time, “Avatar,” by 10%), and 94% audience approval– seeming to indicate that Capra captured an across the board hit. But opening against Box Office juggernaut “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” failed to recoup its production budget until it reappeared in theaters and on television decades later.
1. “Shawshank Redemption“
The 1994 prison film starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman still sits atop the IMDB top 250 list nearly two decades after its release. It boasts seven Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and is a staple of DVD libraries across America. But the story of friendship and survival barely recouped its production budget of $25 million at the domestic box office. And that makes no allowance for the marketing and distribution fees that landed this picture squarely in the red at the box office.
Which one is your favorite? Do you love another box office bust?