35 brilliant films that bombed at the box office

·6-min read
 (Universal Pictures)
(Universal Pictures)

It can be easy to predict the films that will go on to set the box office alight, but every now and then something great comes along that doesn’t fare so well.

Over the years, there have been a startling number of films that have struggled, or indeed failed, to recoup their budget, unfairly earning the “box office flop” tag.

It’s hard to pin down exactly why films such as these – Children of Men, It’s a Wonderful Life, to name a few – initially struggle to find an audience. But fortunately, more often than not, they go on to find love years after their release.

Below are examples of 35 such films.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

This Robin Williams comedy grossed just $8m against its $46m budget, losing the studio a staggering $38m.

Ali (2001)

Ali opened in the US on Christmas Day, 2001, and grossed a total of $87.7m worldwide – and still lost an estimated $63.1m.

Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation's overall box office tally may have been heftier had it not been released on Netflix in the UK. This move from Paramount Pictures was seemingly down to the low release takings Alex Garland's science-fiction chiller amassed in the US.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Andrew Dominik's lyrical western only just made back half of its $30m budget in 2007, but fortunately found love upon its release on DVD.

Blackhat (2015)

Michael Mann's highly underrated cyber thriller was a box office bomb, earning only $19.7m at the box office against a budget of $70m.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Just like Ridley Scott's original flopped, this lengthy sequel from Denis Villeneuve grossed just $259m worldwide. Due to the fact it slightly exceeded its budget, Blade Runner 2049 is considered a flop.

Sony Pictures Releasing
Sony Pictures Releasing

Children of Men (2006)

While it's now revered as one of the best films of the 21st century, Alfonso Cuarón's dystopian thriller failed to make its money back at the box office at its time of release in 2006.

Citizen Kane (1941)

This Orson Welles film may be a beloved classic, but at the time of release, it somewhat unbelievably failed to recoup its costs at the box office.

Clockers (1995)

Spike Lee's Clockers saw one of the director's most disappointing performances at the box office, taking just $13m from a $25m budget.

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Peter Berg's real-life drama fell more than $30m short of its $156m budget, which is a shame considering it's one of the Friday Night Lights creator's best films to date.

Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko grossed just over $7.5m worldwide on a budget of $4.5m, not helped by its marketing campaign featuring a plane crash weeks before 9/11.

Event Horizon (1997)

Upon release, this cult film was a commercial and critical failure, grossing $26.7m on a $60m production budget. Now, it’s considered by many to be an underrated slice of science-fiction horror.

Fight Club (1999)

There was something of a controversy surrounding David Fincher's Fight Club, which aided in making a modest profit of just under $40m at the box office. It's opening run, though, was markedly underwhelming.

The Good Dinosaur (2015)

While far from being a catastrophic flop, The Good Dinosaur struggled to reach the heights of other Pixar releases. The film grossed $332m worldwide against a $175m budget.

Heaven's Gate (1980)

Michael Cimino's drama is notable for being one of the biggest box office bombs of its time, losing the studio an estimated $37m (over $114 million when adjusted for inflation).

Hugo (2011)

Sony Pictures Releasing
Sony Pictures Releasing

Martin Scorsese's charming family film was a commercial failure, grossing just $185m against its $150–$170m budget.

Inherent Vice (2014)

You might have thought that Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling ensemble – a drug-fuelled mystery following a befuddled private investigator – would be too impenetrable for casual cinemagoers. Well, you’d be right. Inherent Vice ranks as one of PTA’s biggest flops to date.

The Insider (1999)

While acclaimed by critics, Michael Mann's drama – starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe – never made back its $68m budget.

The Iron Giant (1999)

Despite being one of the best animated films of all time, The Iron Giant was a victim of Warner Bros scepticism towards the genre after the failure of previous effort, Quest for Camelot. Future Pixar director Brad Bird's film made $31.3m worldwide against a budget of $70–80m.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

While not a major flop, the classic underperformed at the Christmas box office due to stiff competition from other big films.

The King of Comedy (1982)

Although Scorsese's drama was well-received by critics, it bombed at the box office. Lead Robert De Niro said that the film "maybe wasn't so well received because it gave off an aura of something that people didn't want to look at or know."

Man on the Moon (1999)

This Jim Carrey film from Milos Forman cost Universal a lot of money after it failed to make back its $52-82m budget.

mother! (2017)

Though it made its money back, polarising reviews meant that Darren Aronofsky's psychological horror settled for a $14m profit.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

It's considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, but David Lynch's head-scratcher failed to make back its $20m budget.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Jim Jarmusch's vampire tale, starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, struggled to lure audiences to the cinemas – a shame considering it's one of the director’s best films. Staggeringly, his most recent release – the extremely average zombie ensemble The Dead Don't Die – made millions more than Only Lovers Left Alive.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Despite positive reviews from critics, this spoof grossed just $9m, failing to meet its budget of $20m.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

Edgar Wright's beloved cult was a box office bomb, grossing $47.7m against its production budget of $85–90m.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

This Stephen King adaptation was a box office disappointment, earning only $16m during its initial theatrical run. It would later get re-released and earn $58.3m.

Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

A Simple Plan (1998)

This Oscar-nominated noir – available to watch now onBBC iPlayer – didn't meet its budget amassing $17m at the box office.

The Sisters Brothers (2018)

The Sisters Brothers was one of the best films of 2018 – not that you'd know it. The western, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and John C Reilly, ranks as one of Annapurna's Picture's biggest flops ever (it only amassed a shocking $3m in North America) despite receiving acclaim from critics worldwide.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

It wasn't until its home entertainment release that this mockumentary became the beloved classic it is today.

Under the Skin (2014)

Under the Skin was never going to inspire hordes of film fans to rush to cinemas, although it really should have. Sure, it was an experimental arthouse film, but the fact its overall box office run ended with $7m – $6m short of its total budget – is criminal.

Warrior (2011)

Despite critical acclaim and awards attention (which translated into an Oscar nomination for Nick Nolte), Warrior flopped hard at the box office, amassing just $13m of just $25m budget in the US.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

This beloved Roald Dahl adaptation starring Gene Wilder made just a $1m profit upon its original release in 1971.

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