5 Box Office Flops That Turned Into Cult Classics


There is an unusual phenomenon that sometimes occurs in the cinema: A movie appears to be a flop when it is initially released, only to slowly grow in popularity until it becomes considered a classic. Sometimes such films become only a “cult classic,” meaning that it is popular only with a small number of viewers, but the popularity within that group is unusually intense. At times a former flop rises to such a level of popularity that it actually becomes a mainstream hit. Here are five films that made an unexpected comeback after originally doing poorly.

1. Blade Runner

This 1982 film based on Philip K. Dick’s famous science fiction novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” failed to have the same success as the book. Unlike similar science fiction hits of the same era like “Star Wars,” the “Blade Runner” film was dark and somewhat depressing as the future it suggested was far from pleasant. It also didn’t help that the themes and ideas behind the film’s plot were somewhat vague and hard to understand. Yet, a small audience loved the film and kept it alive with art show showings and word of mouth. When it finally came out on video it surprised everyone with strong sales that finally made the film profitable.

2. Cleopatra

This film was in trouble even more its release, with huge cost overruns and rumors of fighting among the stars. The film was so over budget that even though it was the biggest money making film of 1963 it still failed to turn a profit. Despite the huge amount of over spending that had to be overcome, a small but devoted following kept the cash flow going until it finally broke even. The secret to its delayed success? The undying loyalty of the fans of the film’s star, Elizabeth Taylor.

3. It’s a Wonderful Life

Upon its release, critics panned this 1946 film as too sentimental. It quickly sank out of view, not to be revived until twenty years later when it began appearing on television as a Christmas special. Audiences were amazed when they saw it and couldn’t believe they had never heard of the film before. Suddenly this long lost film became an overnight sensation and a Christmas classic forevermore.

4. The Wizard of Oz

Many people are surprised to learn that this beloved classic was not successful when originally released in 1939. Critics dismissed it at the time as a children’s film and its release was completely overshadowed by a blockbuster released at the same time, “Gone With the Wind.” Like “It’s a Wonderful Life” it took the arrival of television to alert the public to the film’s existence, at which time it was embraced by the public with enthusiasm.

5. Citizen Kane

Some critics consider this 1941 film to be one of the greatest films ever made, but that was not the original verdict of the movie going public. The film was crippled in its promotional attempts by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hurst, who considered the film to be an unflattering portrayal of himself. He did everything in his power to squash the film and successfully prevented it from reaching a mass audience. However, critics who saw the film continued to sing its praises until it was finally given a serious second look. The result is that it attained the status of an enduring classic.

Such film transitions from flop to sensation is very rare. However, every filmmaker that ever made an unsuccessful movie harbors at least the hope that their initially rejected film may one day rise again to have the last laugh.

Lucy James is an avid movie buff and streams movies from her home on a regular basis. Lucy compares the best home movie streaming services in the UK at her website netflixorlovefilm.co.uk.

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