The box office flops that went on to become cult hits

It can take time to appreciate a classic

Fight Club, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room are all examples of box office flops that went on to become cult hits (20th Century Fox/Alamy/Wiseau-Films)
Fight Club, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room are all examples of box office flops that went on to become cult hits (20th Century Fox/Alamy/Wiseau-Films)

Not every film is able to find an audience straight away, and often when a movie bombs at the box office it can be dismissed as a failure, but that shouldn't necessarily be the case.

Sometimes it takes time for a film to find its audience, and there are several to have received a cult status (if not be deemed an outright modern classic) that actually didn't do well at the box office when they were originally released.

It is a tale as old as the silver screen itself, really. In recent news, The Flash grossed just $55m (£43m) domestically in its opening weekend while Disney and Pixar's joint project Elemental also did poorly by only getting $29.5 million domestically.

Let's examine some of the box office flops that have gone on to become adored by the masses.

The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption
Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption (Alamy)

The Shawshank Redemption may be widely regarded as one of the best films every made now, but when it was released in 1994 it did terribly at the box office.

Based on Stephen King's book of the same name, The Shawshank Redemption followed Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a man falsely imprisoned for the murder of his wife who bonds with fellow convict Red (Morgan Freeman) and over the course of many years plots an epic escape from prison.

Read more: The Shawshank Redemption star Tim Robbins thinks he knows why film flopped in 1994 (The Independent)

With a budget of $25m, the film only made $727,327 in its domestic opening and just $16m during its initial run. It was later, when the film was available to rent, that it managed to grab the global consciousness.

The film was also nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1995, though it lost out to Forrest Gump, and it has since become the #1 rated movie on IMDb. Not bad for a film that bombed at the box office.

The Room

Prod DB © Wiseau-Films / DR THE ROOM de Tommy Wiseau 2003 USA avec Tommy Wiseau
Tommy Wiseau in The Room (Wiseau-Films)

Tommy Wiseau's The Room is one of the most famous examples of a cult movie. When it was initially released it only earned its creator $1,900, a incredibly low number especially given Wiseau put in $6m of his own money to fund the project in the first place.

It has been called the "worst movie ever made" but that has also led to its success, because it has become a cult hit exactly for that reason. It has spawned a movie about the making-of the film, titled The Disaster Artist, and it has been screened countless times on the big screen.

As a result of its cult fame, the film has since earned nearly $5m at the worldwide box office.

Donnie Darko

Jake Gyllenhaal appeared alongside a demonic rabbit in 'Donnie Darko'. (Credit: Newmarket Films)
Jake Gyllenhaal appeared alongside a demonic rabbit in 'Donnie Darko'. (Credit: Newmarket Films)

When Donnie Darko was released in 2001 it failed to find an audience, earning just $517,375 in the domestic box office and $2,4m internationally on a $6m budget.

The film stars a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular teen who can becomes plagued by visions of a man in a rabbit costume named Frank after narrowly escaping an accident that saw his room be destroyed by the engine of a plane.

It proved too difficult for viewers to get into during its initial release, and its release shortly after the events of 9/11 hindered its performance somewhat, but has since become a cult classic. It grew such a big following that the film was re-released in cinemas with a director's cut in 2004 and again in 2016.

Blade Runner

(Credit: Warner Bros)
Harrison Ford in Blade Runner (Credit: Warner Bros)

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is widely regarded as one of the best science-fiction movies ever made, and indeed one of the all-time greats, but it didn't do as well as expected when it was originally released.

With a $30m budget the film only took $41m at the box office, which doesn't technically make it a flop but was still not good takings for the movie.

Read more: Harrison Ford: Saying goodbye to Indiana Jones doesn't compare to Han Solo or Rick Deckard

Since then the film has become a massive hit and is seen as one of Harrison Ford's most iconic roles, it has even inspired several spin-offs including Blade Runner 2049.


Christian Slater and Winona Ryder in Heathers (Alamy)

Eighties comedy Heathers struggled at the box office, earning just $1,108,462 despite its approximately $3m budget. It starred Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer, a teen who battles against the cliques of her high school where the popular girls are known as Heathers.

Since its release, the film has become a cult hit and even inspired its own musical.

The Big Lebowski

John Goodman and Jeff Bridgers in The Big Lebowski (Alamy)

Surprisingly, despite often being called the best Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski flopped at the box office when it was released in 1998, earning just $17m on a $15m budget.

The film stars Jeff Bridges as Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, a bowling enthusiast who becomes embroiled in an elaborate kidnapping plot. Even though it followed Fargo, the public weren't flocking to the cinema to watch their newest film.

Thanks to the fact the film is weird, wild and endlessly quotable it has become a cult hit, and it has even led to a resurgence for the White Russian, the Dude's drink of choice.

The Thing

Kurt Russell in The Thing (Alamy)

John Carpenter's horror film may be seen as a classic of the genre now, but originally it was regarded as a failure after drawing in just $19.6m on a budget of $15m.

Read more: The Thing filmmaker teases a sequel but fans fear it's a 'bad idea'

The 1982 film stars Kurt Russell and follows an Antarctic research team who become hunted by a shape-shifting alien, it's rightly seen as a sci-fi classic now but apparently struggled to draw enough interest from the general public.

Fight Club

Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in 'Fight Club'. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)
Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in 'Fight Club'. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Brad Pitt and Edward Norton starred in the much-lauded Fight Club in 1999, a violent drama about an office worker (Norton) who comes to be friends with eccentric soap maker Tyler Durden (Pitt) and who create the titular underground club.

The film, which also starred Helena Bonham-Carter, had a budget of $63m but was only able to take in $37m at the domestic box office. No matter, because the film became a cult hit.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Tim Curry as Dr Frank-N-Furter in the 1975 musical comedy 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show', produced by 20th Century Fox. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)
Tim Curry as Dr Frank-N-Furter in 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' (Getty Images)

Like The Room, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been screened regularly at cinemas, with audiences coming up with fun fan rituals that will enrich any newcomers experience with it, such as talking back to the film and throwing toast at the screen.

The musical sees newly-engaged couple Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick) seek refuge with the enigmatic Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), and during their stay they are introduced to the weird and wonderful world in which the scientist lives.

When it was released the film was a box office flop, but it has endured the initial hardship to become a veritable cult classic.

The Hunger

Original Film Title: THE HUNGER.  English Title: THE HUNGER.  Film Director: TONY SCOTT.  Year: 1983.  Stars: DAVID BOWIE; ANN MAGNUSON. Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / Album
Ann Magnuson and David Bowie in The Hunger (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Tony Scott's horror failed to draw in viewers when it was released, taking in just $10.2m at the box office despite starring David Bowie and Sarandon.

Read more: The Hunger: The David Bowie vampire flop that gained eternal life as a cult hit

The film is centred around the love triangle between vampire couple Miriam(Catherine Deneuve) and John (Bowie), and doctor Sarah Roberts (Sarandon). While it struggled to gain wide appeal it has become a cult hit 40 years on.