Great Movies That Flopped At The Box Office

The amount of money a movie makes can be an indicator of how good it is, but if a film doesn’t make a ton at the box office doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a dud. There are plenty of movies that received positive reviews, numerous awards, and high audience ratings on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes that didn’t bring in a lot much money while they were in theaters.

Popular films including Citizen Kane, Donnie Darko, and Fight Club might’ve had limited success in theaters, but turned out to be some of the most-watched and beloved movies in cinematic history.

Why Audiences Loved Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

michael cera and mary elizabeth winstead holding red solo cups
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was based on a graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley about a musician who must fight off his new girlfriend’s evil exes. The memorable cast included Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, and more.

It had a pretty large budget ($85 million) to cover the elaborate special effects, but only made about $48 million worldwide at the box office. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a certified fresh sticker and an 84 percent score because critics thought it was creative, hilarious, and had great visuals.

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory Was A Box Office Flop

the cast of willy wonka and the chocolate factory on top of some steps
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Based on the classic Roald Dahl story, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory made its appearance on the big screen in 1971. Gene Wilder led the cast as an unorthodox candy maker who brings golden ticket winners on a tour of his chocolate factory. One by one, the children start disappearing as their character flaws take over.

In order to keep up with the elaborate sets, costumes, and visual effects, the movie was budgeted at three million dollars, which was a lot at the time. It premiered as the 53rd highest-grossing film of that year, earning only $2.1 million at the box office during its opening weekend.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl Got Stellar Reviews

olivia cooke, thomas mann, and r.j. cycler sitting on steps
Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlight

The coming-of-age teen drama Me And Earl and the Dying Girl is about a high school student who is forced to spending his senior year with a girl he hardly knows, who is losing her life to cancer. The movie received a certified fresh sticker on Rotten Tomatoes and an 86 percent audience score, with almost 26,000 user ratings.

With pretty great reviews, the movie only surpassed its budget by a little over a million dollars at the box office. Many critics thought the casting and script were well done, with some of the year’s best performances by a cast primarily made up of young Hollywood actors.

Heathers Is A Different Kind Of Teen Movie

winona ryder and three other girls wearing blazers
New World Video
New World Video

The 1988 dark comedy Heathers starred Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty. The plot focused on a girl (Ryder) who’s part of a popular high school clique and decides to make up for all the bad things she’s done with the help of her intense boyfriend (Slater).

Heathers has a 93 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes along with a certified fresh sticker. Critics thought it “changed the game for teen comedies.” It was shot with a budget of three million and only made a total of $1.1 million at the U.S. box office, with just $177,247 of that during its opening weekend.

The Large Budget Didn’t Help John Carter In Theaters

taylor kitsch in a desert
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Taylor Kitsch starred as the title character in 2012’s John Carter about a former military captain transported to another planet to help mediate the unrest between fictional kingdoms. A reporter for MSN Movies stated that it was the first movie of its kind in a very long time that he’d willingly sit through a second or even third time. Other critics liked it for the cinematic storytelling and a hero audiences could root for.

John Carter had one of the biggest budgets of the year at an estimated $306.6 million, but only earned $73,078,100 at the box office in North America.

Peter Pan Couldn’t Compete With Blockbuster Hits

jeremy sumpter and racher hurdwood looking through a tree
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

The 2003 version of Peter Pan deviates a bit from the classic animated Disney movie. It’s live-action, shows a lot more backstory, and puts more focus on the relationship between Peter and Wendy. In order to accomplish the storytelling on-screen, the production had a budget of over $130 million.

Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a certified fresh sticker with users on the platform agreeing that this version is “visually impressive, psychologically complex, and faithful to the original source.” It only made a little over $48 million in the United States because it was competing with one of the Lord of the Rings movies and Cheaper by the Dozen.

The Shashank Redemption Had A Rough Start In Theaters

morgan freeman in front of a tree
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

The Shawshank Redemption fills the number one spot on IMDb’s Top Rated Movies list and was nominated for seven Oscars, yet failed to bring in huge numbers at the box office. It starred Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as two prison inmates, with one of them trying to prove his innocence for a crime he didn’t commit.

During its opening weekend, the movie earned only $727,000 with a $25 million budget, even though it had received glowing reviews from critics. Film experts attribute the low box office earnings to one scathing review published by the Los Angeles Times.

The Budget Caused The Wizard Of Oz To Lose Money

judy garland dressed as dorothy
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the most beloved classic movies of the early 20th century is The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland starred as Dorothy, a farm girl who goes to the mystical land of Oz and must figure out how to escape from the Wicked Witch of the West and get back home with the help of her friends.

At the time, The Wizard of Oz had a huge budget of almost three million dollars because of the large sets, hundreds of costumes, and special effects. After it was done playing in theaters, the production studio recorded a loss of $1,145,000.

Citizen Kane Almost Didn’t Open In Theaters

orson welles standing at a podium
RKO Radio Pictures
RKO Radio Pictures

Now, film experts regard Citizen Kane as a cinematic masterpiece, but that wasn’t the case during its release. The movie did not receive a proper premiere because a family member of the production company was being blackmailed. Instead, it opened months later to almost empty theaters in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Since it couldn’t go to all the theaters it was supposed to, the film lost $160,000 during its initial run. Despite the slow start, it was nominated for nine Oscars, is on IMDb’s Top Rated Movies list, and has a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s A Wonderful Life Didn’t Meet Box Office Standards

the cast of it's a wonderful life in a black and white still from the movie
Liberty Films
Liberty Films

It’s been about seven and a half decades since the release of It’s a Wonderful Life and over time it has become a top-rated holiday movie, been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films of all time, and was nominated for five Oscars.

It’s about a man named George Bailey, who with the help of a guardian angel, sees what his life would’ve been like if he’d never been born. During the year of its box office release, it placed 26th in revenue out of 400 movies and recorded a loss of $525,000 with a budget of $3.18 million.

The Production Company Wronged Fight Club

brad pitt and edward norton sitting by a dumpster
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

The 1999 film Fight Club starred Edward Norton and Brad Pitt as two men going nowhere in life who form an underground fight club where the only rule is, “Don’t talk about fight club.” Fight Club has a 96 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes out of over a million user ratings, is the 11th Top Rated Movie on IMDb, and received an Oscar nomination.

Even with all those accolades, the film still underperformed at the box office. After test screenings, the production company assumed that it would make less than it would and didn’t do a wide release in theaters. This caused revenue to drop by 42.6 percent.

Hugo Lost Over $100 Million Because Of Competition

chloe grace moretz looking surprised
Paramount Studios
Paramount Studios

Directed by Martin Scorsese, Hugo is a film about an orphan boy living in a Paris train station in the 1930s who goes on a quest to uncover a secret that was left by his late father. Hugo received 11 Academy Award nominations, which was more than any other film of that year and it has a 93 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

With constant praise from critics, the movie was also considered one of the biggest box office flops of the year and had a net loss of $100 million. This was mainly due to competition with The Muppets and Breaking Dawn Part 1.

Dazed And Confused Got More Successful Years Later

matthew mcconaughey and other boys standing against a wall
Gramercy Pictures
Gramercy Pictures

When Dazed and Confused opened in the fall of 1993, it grossed only $918,127 during its opening weekend. It had a budget of $6.9 million. The coming-of-age film about high school students in the 1970s received almost all positive reviews, with one critic from Entertainment Weekly stating that it “captures the comic goofiness of the time, but also evokes its liberating spirit.”

After almost three decades, it has left behind a remarkable legacy. Quentin Tarantino said it was one of the top 10 greatest films of all time and it was included in Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 50 Best High School Movies.

Bottle Rocket Was Wes Anderson’s First Movie

owen and luke wilson in front of a grass field
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Wes Anderson is now one of the most famous directors in movie history, but most had never heard of him when he released his first feature film in 1996, called Bottle Rocket. The movie starred brothers Owen and Luke Wilson who planned to pull off a robbery and go on the run.

The entire film was made with a budget of five million dollars, but was a commercial failure at the box office, making only $560,069. Bottle Rocket has a certified fresh sticker on Rotten Tomatoes and director Martin Scorsese cited it as one of his top 10 favorite movies of the ’90s.

Requiem For A Dream Was Intense With Stand-Out Performances

jared leto in front of a red tower
Artisan Entertainment
Artisan Entertainment

Even with minimal success at the box office, Requiem for a Dream didn’t come up short with accolades. The film received an Oscar nomination, was included in IMDb’s Top Rated Movies list, it scored 93 percent with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, and had overall positive reviews.

The plot of this psychological drama centered on four people living in Coney Island who become consumed by their overpowering addictions. Requiem for a Dream was budgeted at $4.5 million, but only grossed $3,635,482 in the United States. The stand-out performer of the film was Ellen Burstyn, who earned Oscar, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild nominations for her work.

This Famous Movie Critic Loved This Is Spinal Tap

cast of this is spinal tap playing guitars
MGM
MGM

This Is Spinal Tap is a 1984 mockumentary film about a washed-up British heavy metal band who come together to play a reunion concert. During its initial release, the movie received generally positive reviews with famed critic Roger Ebert giving it four out of four stars and calling it the best film of 1984.

He said, “This Is Spinal Tap is one of the funniest, most intelligent, most original films of the year.” Although it appealed to critics and viewers alike, it made just a little over its budget of two million dollars with a North American release of $4.7 million.

Blade Runner Was Misunderstood When It First Hit Theaters

harrison ford wearing an orange blazer
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

Those familiar with Harrison Ford’s acting credits know he doesn’t shy away from science fiction or action-adventure roles. In 1982’s Blade Runner the two genres were combined as Ford played a burnt-out cop who agreed to take down a group of synthetic humans, called replicants.

The budget for this dystopian film added up to $30 million because there were many special effects, elaborate sets, and intricate props. Since it was released at the same time as other successful sci-fi and fantasy movies, such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Thing, and Conan the Barbarian, it couldn’t reach its full potential at the box office.

The Iron Giant Failed At The Box Office Because Of Marketing Decisions

cartoon of a large robot holding a boy
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

The 1999 animated science fiction movie The Iron Giant was set during the Cold War and focused on a young boy who befriended a metal giant who fell from outer space. It has a 96 percent certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and won Best Feature Film at the BAFTA Children’s Awards.

Critics thought The Iron Giant didn’t do well in theaters because Warner Bros. did almost nothing to market it to children with tactics such as cereal or fast food tie-ins. With a budget of $50 million it only made $31.2 million at the box office.

Mulholland Drive’s Unique Storytelling Made It A Fan-Favorite Film

laura harring and naomi watts in front of a house
Universal Focus
Universal Focus

When Mulholland Drive was released in 2001, critics were very impressed with the work of writer/director David Lynch. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a certified fresh sticker due to its unconventional plot structure that makes the movie almost dreamlike. The cast included Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, and focused on a woman who got into a car accident.

The accident gave her amnesia and she spends most of the film searching for clues as to what happened. Lynch worked with a budget of $15 million and the film grossed less than half of its budget at U.S. box offices.

What Inspired Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

andy samberg performing on stage
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Taking inspiration from This Is Spinal Tap, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a contemporary music mockumentary about a washed-up boy band looking to get back in the spotlight. Critics thought that while it wasn’t groundbreaking, it still had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and a stellar cast, earning it a certified fresh sticker on Rotten Tomatoes.

When it was released in 2016 it grossed nine million dollars at the box office, failing to surpass its budget of $20 million. This may be because the film didn’t get an international release.

The Sisters Brothers Was Rooted In Old Westerns

joaquin phoenix and john c. reilly in cowboy outfits
Annapurna Pictures
Annapurna Pictures

Accomplished actors Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly starred in the recent release of The Sisters Brothers as two notorious assassin brothers who are after men in search of gold. The inspiration comes from classic Westerns of the mid-20th century, but critics thought they were able to make it work for present-day audiences.

To make it look authentic, the budget was estimated to be around $38 million. Its limited release in theaters caused the movie to produce a worldwide gross of only $13.1 million, giving the production company a big loss. Even with low numbers, The Sisters Brothers received a certified fresh score of 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Steve Jobs Was Made At The Wrong Time

michael fassbender, kate winslet, and michael stuhlbarg in a theater
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

There have been a few film adaptations of the life of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, but one that stood out to critics was 2015’s Steve Jobs. It starred Michael Fassbender in the titular role and covered Jobs’ life from 1984 to 1998. Fassbender was praised for the accuracy he brought to his role by the London Evening Standard.

After the film had been in theaters for a couple of weeks, the production company pulled it out because it was competing with too many movies and the public was still mourning the loss of Jobs.

The BFG Did Awful By Disney’s Standards

a young girl sitting on a giant's shoulder
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Sadly, The BFG isn’t the first Roald Dahl film adaptation to flop in theaters, but it was still able to win several awards and get mostly positive reviews from critics. David Sims of The Atlantic thought Mark Rylance as the lead was the best pick in this Steven Spielberg/Disney collaboration. “He gives the kind of performance you can’t look away from,” he said.

Spielberg tends to use large budgets in his movies and this one finished with $140 million. It made only $775,000 during its opening weekend because it was competing with other family films. The New York Times called the opening weekend profits “a colossal misfire.”

The Cast Helped Waiting For Guffman Become A Classic

the cast of waiting for guffman posing on stage
Sony Pictures Classics
Sony Pictures Classics

Waiting for Guffman is a 1996 mockumentary about oddball community theater members who work together to pull off an original musical. A lot of the cast has collaborated in several other documentaries, such as Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, and have earned stellar reviews.

Time Out called Waiting for Guffman “richly nuanced” and thought it was an excellent example of “non-judgmental character study.” The film has a 91 percent certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, but didn’t have the best experience at the box office. It was completed with a budget of four million dollars, but only earned $2.9 million in the United States.

Election Was One Of Reese Witherspoon’s Most Memorable Roles

reese witherspoon wearing a button that says
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Reese Witherspoon starred opposite Matthew Broderick in the 1999 dark comedy Election, about a girl who stopped at nothing to win her school’s student body election. The movie has a 92 percent certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and a Golden Globe nomination for Witherspoon for Best Actress.

It made it onto Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies list and Entertainment Weekly’s 50 Best High School Movies list. Unfortunately, Election was not a box office success because it grossed approximately $17.2 million against a budget of $25 million.

Ghost World Didn’t Appease Audiences At First

scarlett johansson and thora birch in a still from ghost world
United Artists
United Artists

Terry Zwigoff was able to turn his graphic novel into a fan-favorite coming-of-age film called Ghost World. It starred Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson as two girls who just graduated from high school and are grappling with adapting to young adulthood. The movie earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and has a 92 percent certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.

When it was first released in 2001, audiences weren’t as happy as critics were with the end result, so it suffered in theaters. After its limited theatrical run, it was left with $8.7 million from a seven million dollar budget.

Unusual Casting Choices In My Friend Dahmer

four boys standing near lockers
FilmRise
FilmRise

My Friend Dahmer shows the early life of one of the world’s most notorious criminals, Jeffrey Dahmer, while he was in high school. Something that was striking about the casting is that the production hired a former Disney Channel actor (Ross Lynch) to take on a challenging, and very dark, role.

The film has a certified fresh score of 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics from several publications crediting Lynch for his believable performance that brought humanity to the story. My Friend Dahmer was completed with a budget of about two million dollars, but only made $1.4 million at the box office.

Donnie Darko Gained Popularity After It Left Theaters

jake gyllenhaal, jena malone, and a bunny monster sitting in a movie theater
Newmarket Film Group
Newmarket Film Group

Donnie Darko was about a troubled teen who saw disturbing visions about the end of the world. When it was released in 2001, it had a lackluster box office performance mainly because it came out around the time of the September 11 disaster. During its initial U.S. run, it made just $517,375 with a budget of $4.5 million.

Soon after it was out of theaters it started to gain a large fanbase. A popular New York theater even started doing midnight screenings for a month straight. The movie has a certified fresh score of 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with critics agreeing that it’s “daring, original, and packed with jarring ideas.”

The Good Dinosaur Was Pixar’s First Loss

a cartoon green dinosaur and a caveman child
Disney/Pixar
Disney/Pixar

When Disney and Pixar release a film, it’s usually expected to do well at the box office because a large portion of them have turned profits in the past. That didn’t come to fruition during the release of 2015’s The Good Dinosaur, however. The film had a cost of $350 million and was unable to bring a profit, losing Disney Studios $85 million.

Although it didn’t enjoy financial success and was Pixar’s first “financial disappointment,” it still received a few accolades. The Good Dinosaur has a certified fresh sticker on Rotten Tomatoes and got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature Film.

Children Of Men Got Major Oscar Buzz

clive owen sitting in a room full of newspapers
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

The 2006 action thriller Children of Men starred Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and more. It was set in a dystopian society that had been without new humans for over 20 years, so a civil servant (Owen) does what he can to help bring the world back from the brink of collapse.

Children of Men has a 92 percent certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for three Oscars including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. It didn’t do as well as it could at the box office though, making only $70 million against its $76 million budget.