You’d be surprised just how many beloved classic movies completely underperformed financially. Here are some of the greatest movies to ever flop at the box office.
‘The Shawshank Redemption’
The 1994 adaptation of a Stephen King novella, “The Shawshank Redemption” only managed to make $16 million at the box office during its initial theatrical run – far below its $25 million budget. It was only after the movie was nominated for several Oscars that it got a second release and managed to earn $58.3 million, becoming the highest R-rated movie of the year.
‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World’
Based on the comic by Bryan Lee O’Malley, 2010’s “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” cost $60 million even after some sizeable tax subsidies. It’s a shame that this cult classic only managed to earn $47.7 million at the box office (I saw it in theaters twice, so this wasn’t my fault!).
The 1986 movie “Labyrinth” cost $25 million to make, but alas, it only generated $12.9 million domestically. The movie was famously difficult to film thanks largely to the sheer number of different puppets involved in its creation.
It feels somewhat fitting that the anti-corporate 1999 movie “Fight Club” underwhelmed at the box office. The movie made $100 million in theaters from a $63 million budget, which doesn’t sound too bad until you factor in its expensive marketing campaign. The movie was promoted during televised wrestling events a move that director David Fincher opposed as it ran counter to the movie’s actual message.
2001’s “Donnie Darko” really struggled at the box office, barely scraping back its production costs by earning $7.5 million worldwide on a $4.5 million budget (plus marketing, which is usually double the cost of the film). It was only through home release that the movie found its cult audience.
Walt Disney was a very enthusiastic businessman, but he wasn’t very good at handling money. After “Snow White,” many of Disney’s movies operated at a tremendous loss. 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty” was the studio’s most expensive animated film at the time, costing $6 million, but only earning Disney $5.3 million in return. It was only after subsequent re-releases that the movie eventually made a profit.
‘The Big Lebowski’
1998’s “The Big Lebowski” only made $18 million domestically of a budget of $15 million (plus marketing). It fared a little better overseas, but even with a total worldwide gross of $46 million, it was hardly a money-spinner.
Based on Philip K Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” 1982’s “Blade Runner” cost $30 million to make and made $32 million at the box office, finishing at a loss once marketing costs are taken into account. Alas, the sequel “Blade Runner 2049” fared no better, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever get a third film in this series.
‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’
Considering its limited initial release, it’s unsurprising that “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” failed to connect with audiences in 1975. The movie played in just one theater, and earned just $20,000 during its first week (on a $1.4 million budget). That said, since this release its theatrical run has never actually finished, as it’s managed to pick up more and more steam, having now earned over $140 million.
‘Santa Claus: The Movie’
1985’s ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’ cost between $30 and $50 million to produce, and only managed to earn $23.7 million at the box office. This hasn’t stopped it from becoming a regular holiday staple, and presumably the movie also got nice kickbacks from Coke and McDonald’s for all the egregious product placement.
One of the most expensive flops of all time, 2002’s “Treasure Planet” cost $140 million to make and took in just $109.6 million at the box office. The loss was so significant that Buena Vista had to slash their quarterly earning predictions mere days after the film’s release. Only years later did the movie win cult status from fans of animation and steampunk sci-fi.
‘Children of Men’
2006’s “Children of Men” is widely held up as a triumph of cinema, if not a triumph of money making. From a $76 million budget, the movie only made $70 million at the box office.
‘The Iron Giant’
Heartfelt cult classic animation “The Iron Giant” cost $48 million to produce, and another $20-30 million in marketing. Alas, it only made $31 million at the box office in 1999, which is probably why we never got a sequel.
‘The Wizard of Oz’
Hard as it may be to believe, “The Wizard of Oz” only barely made back its production costs during its initial 1939 release. The movie cost $2.8 million to produce, and took in just $3 million worldwide – likely in large part due to World War II, which broke out just weeks after the movie’s release. Subsequent rereleases have seen the film make significantly more money.
News mogul and politician William Randolph Hearst is widely believed to be to blame for “Citizen Kane” underperforming during its initial cinema run. Hearst was an inspiration for the movie, and he did everything in his power to bury it even before its release, with theaters refusing to play the film out of fear. “Citizen Kane” initially made a $160,000 loss on its $800,000 budget in 1941.
1940’s “Fantasia” was a financial disaster for Disney. The film’s combination of music and animation required specialized Fantasound equipment to be installed in theaters. “Fantasia” went on a roadshow tour upon initial release, generating just $1.3 million (and incurring a $70,000 fee for Fantasound installation) from a $2.3 million budget.
2016’s “The BFG” is a charming movie which cost $140 million to make, and which only took in $183 million at the box office, falling short of the cost of the movie’s production and marketing. The Disney movie’s greatest competition came from “Finding Dory,” and box office duds like “The BFG” are a large reason why Disney will be releasing fewer movies now that it also owns 20th Century Fox.
The original “Doctor Dolittle” released in 1967 and cost $17 million to produce. It took in $9 million, a sign that studio executives took to mean that musicals weren’t worth investing in any more. The movie found a new home as casual Sunday afternoon television fare for families with young kids.
‘Big Trouble in Little China’
“Big Trouble in Little China” earned just $11 million at the box office upon release in 1986, on a budget of $19-25 million. Nevertheless, it’s since earned cult status and has proven popular with a dedicated fanbase.
Walt Disney’s second wholly original feature length movie, “Pinocchio” is as memorable as it is terrifying. Costing over $2 million to make, the movie earned $1.9 million at most during its initial run in 1940, and was the start of ongoing financial troubles for Disney over the coming years.
‘Rise of the Guardians’
If there’s a theme to this list, it’s that animated pictures are very risky ventures. On paper, “Rise of the Guardians” (2012) looks solid, having earned $300 million from a $145 million budget. In reality, reports suggest that DreamWorks made an $87 million loss on the film, which could likely be a result of an overblown marketing push.
One of the most elaborate (and expensive) musicals of all time, “Hello Dolly!” was even referenced in Pixar’s “WALL-E” as the quintessential movie musical. Costing $25 million to make and only earning $26 million, it’s believed that this 1969 movie’s underwhelming box office take was part of the reason studios stopped making big budget musicals.
‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’
Partially funded by Quaker Oats as a feature-length commercial for a new range of chocolate (yes, really!), “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” ended up disappointing all involved. The 1971 film made $4.5 million on a $3 million budget (plus marketing), and as Quaker Oats didn’t actually have much of their planned chocolate range available at launch, the brand was eventually sold off at a loss.
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
Released in 1946, “It’s a Wonderful Life” became a beloved Christmas movie by accident. After the movie only made $3.3 million (on a $3.18 million budget) at the box office, RKO Radio Pictures didn’t bother renewing the film’s copyright. Once it entered the public domain, television channels started playing it regularly because it was free to air, and audiences fell in love with the story of George Bailey.
Despite being regularly voted as one of the best movies of all time, the surreal dystopian sci-fi movie “Brazil” (1985) failed to impress at the box office. The movie cost $15 million to make but only earned $9 million at the box office internationally.