Totally underrated box office flops
The primary index people use to justify a movie’s success is often the amount of money it earns at the worldwide box office, and that’s understandable. After all, if one movie earned more than another, that means more people saw that movie, and therefore it should be better, right? Well, that isn’t always true. Sometimes, truly terrific films flop hard at the box office, and these are just a few of the more perplexing examples.
Comic book movies are all the rage in Hollywood these days, with superheroes dominating both the news streams and the box office. But even now, not all comic book movies are as successful as people might think. Take, for example, Pete Travis’ Dredd, based on the character Judge Dredd from the 2000 AD anthology comics. Though it received favorable reviews from critics, Dredd only grossed $35.6 million against a production budget of $50 million.
Rather than grounding the story in some form of acceptable reality, Dredd fully embraces its comic book roots and all their attendant absurdity, including the brutal violence. Like all comic book adaptations, Travis’ film takes some liberties with the source material, but there’s no denying it captures the atmosphere of the comics pretty well. What’s more is that all the violence, all the pursuits, and all the grittiness play out like poetry. Plus, the movie features a motorcycle chase scene that rivals The Matrix Reloaded and The Fifth Element.
Even though the movie came out just a few years ago, it’s already developed a substantial cult following, and fans continue to campaign for a sequel. Unfortunately, Lionsgate doesn’t seem to be on board with another Dredd movie, but Netflix seems interested in potentially continuing Judge Dredd’s story on the small screen, with Karl Urban returning in the title role.
The mystery of the Zodiac killer remains unsolved even after all these years. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the serial killer murdered five people and injured another two—at least, that’s what we know—while taunting police with coded messages. It’s believed that he killed another two dozen men and women, though that was never confirmed. It’s a mystery thriller that’s arguably as intriguing and perplexing as Jack the Ripper, which is why so many people have tried to dramatize the story—including David Fincher, who adapted Robert Graysmith’s crime book Zodiac for the big screen in 2007.
Laying out an extensive, in-depth case like the Zodiac’s for a general audience is difficult, but if anyone was up to the task, it was Fincher. His résumé proves his capability for directing tangled narratives, and Zodiac doesn’t disappoint on that front—it’s a compelling retelling of not only the murders, but also of the manhunt. Couple that with a stellar cast that included Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Brian Cox, and John Carroll Lynch, and you’ve got the makings of a gripping drama.
Unfortunately, despite having a great cast, a great director, and decent reviews, the film grossed a mere $84.8 million against a production budget of $65 million. However, just because its theatrical grosses proved underwhelming, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success on home video: since it was released on DVD and Blu-ray, Zodiac has garnered another $20 million, thus pushing its total gross over $100 million.
A director responsible for hard R-rated films like Goodfellas, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t exactly someone you’d expect to direct a PG movie like Hugo, but it happened. Martin Scorsese is known for the exceptional use of violence and profanity in his movies, but he took a break from all that in 2011, with his dramatic adventure film Hugo, starring Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Christopher Lee.
Hugo received stellar reviews from critics, with Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus reading: "Hugo is an extravagant, elegant fantasy with an innocence lacking in many modern kids’ movies, and one that emanates an unabashed love for the magic of cinema." Unfortunately, the reviews, along with a stellar cast, couldn’t propel the movie into box office success. It grossed $185.8 million worldwide against an estimated production budget of $150-$170 million. With a budget like that, Hugo should’ve arrived in the summer, but it instead showed up around Thanksgiving 2011.
Although Hugo failed to achieve box office glory, it’s still a brilliant film and a rare look into the rise of automation in the early 20th century. Scorsese blended steampunk elements into a historical film with a Parisian backdrop—a combination of things seldom seen in Hollywood, and something people tend to forget about the earliest stages of filmmaking. Though a 21st century film, Hugo resembles A Trip to the Moon and The Impossible Voyage more than it does modern superhero flicks—and that’s what makes it beautiful.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Jesse James is one of the most famous outlaws in American history, and his assassination by his fellow gang member Robert Ford is possibly just as notorious as the outlaws themselves. Andrew Dominik set out to tell the tale of the duo and their relationship leading up to the momentous murder in his film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, based on the novel of the same name by Ron Hansen.
Aside from satisfying performances from Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck as Jesse James and Robert Ford, respectively, the film stands out for its exceptional cinematography—all thanks to the legendary Roger Deakins. If you’re not up for watching the entire film to get an understanding of what we’re talking about, then all you need to see is the brilliant train robber scene. It exemplifies cinematography, as well as proving once more that filmmaking is an actual art form.
For everything the film has going for it—a stellar cast, an outstanding soundtrack, wonderful visuals, and masterful directing—it failed to gross more than half of its production budget of $30 million. Still, it remains a recent critical darling; in fact, some scribes even consider it to be among the greatest Westerns ever made.
After The Lord of the Rings concluded, Viggo Mortensen went back to starring in smaller-scale movies like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. He’s been nominated for several awards over the years, including Best Actor at the Oscars, but one of his best performances came in service of one of the most underrated films in recent history: The Road, directed by John Hillcoat and based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. Released in 2009, it grossed a mere $27.6 million against a $25 million production budget. But the fact that the film made it out at all is a miracle—anyone who’s read a McCarthy novel knows how difficult they are to translate onto the silver screen.
How do you show audiences that the film they’re watching is set in a post-apocalyptic world? Simple, make everything gray. Hillcoat and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe took that unwritten rule to heart with The Road, but they did so in a way that complimented the story. There’s never been a more haunting representation of a post-apocalyptic world, and that’s why the film is so important to the genre. It isn’t about why the world is the way it is, or the spectacle that comes with most dystopian movies. Rather, it’s about the father-son relationship of the main characters, which is only augmented by extraordinary performances from Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
War movies are fairly common in Hollywood, especially during wartime. Period war epics, on the other hand, are rare. Braveheart was the big one in the ’90s, and Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, based on the novel of the same name by Patrick O’Brian, was meant to be the big one in the ’00s. Unfortunately for Russell Crowe, who starred in the oft-forgotten film, Master and Commander was released the same year as Gore Verbinski’s The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which introduced Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow to the world. At that point, there likely weren’t many people lining up to see Crowe take the high seas.
Master and Commander is a feast for the eyes, and well worth watching for anyone remotely interested in the Napoleon era. It depicts an often forgotten period of European history, and it does so remarkably well. Unlike many other historical dramas, Master and Commander gets the real-life details mostly right, and Crowe brings it all home with his exceptional performance. The fact that the film received a whopping ten Oscar nominations (of which it won two) underscores its excellence, as well as how underappreciated it really is. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a perfect score, saying "it achieves the epic without losing sight of the human." Crowe knew how underrated his film was, and in 2010, he asked fans to join him in campaigning for a sequel.
Disney is known for their animated classics, but when it comes to original live-action movies, things don’t always go their way. They endeavored to change that in 2015 with Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, named after the area inside Disneyland and based on a script by Damon Lindelof.
Tomorrowland is a sci-fi lover’s dream come true. It has alternate dimensions, futuristic equipment, and subliminal cyberpunk themes, and it’s all brought to life with a visual style only Bird can achieve, all wrapped up in a spirited adventure with a moral message about saving the planet and preserving our future. Despite all that (and a prime release date), it managed to gross just over $200 million worldwide—which would be great if its production budget wasn’t almost $200 million itself. Ultimately, the only thing Tomorrowland proved was that live-action sci-fi flicks don’t work for the Mouse House, which is why they’re no longer producing those types of movies, like TRON 3.
The entire premise of Tomorrowland is built upon ideas Walt Disney himself put forth decades ago. So why the creatives decided to leave the only connections they had to Disney and Disneyland on the cutting-room floor, despite revealing those connections in teasers leading up to the film’s release, is a wonder.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski made a name for themselves by writing and directing The Matrix trilogy. When it came time for them to tackle a new project, they chose to bring the classic Speed Racer series to life on the big screen. With the Wachowskis at the helm and legendary producers backing the project, it was rather shocking to see Speed Racer flop at the box office, grossing $93.9 million on a production budget of $120 million.
Still, Speed Racer is considered by many to be an unsung masterpiece. Anyone who’s seen a Japanese anime or read a Japanese manga knows how difficult it is for those stories to translate onto Western screens. The Wachowskis’ history with The Matrix proved they were up to the job, and the result was perfect. The film’s visuals were more than enough to turn off critics, but for franchise fans, it was exactly what the film needed to capture the awe of the original anime. What’s interesting, though, is that the movie includes themes of politics and corruption, as well as general societal issues, and those themes unfold on a number of levels—yet it never forgets that it’s a kids’ movie.
Speed Racer didn’t fall into the trend of gritty re-imaginings that plagued the 2000s, instead retaining the humor, wittiness, and light-hearted charm the anime series was known for. It’s rare to see a true adaptation of a beloved property, but that’s exactly what the Wachowskis gave audiences—and they did it against all odds.
Steven Spielberg ranks among the greatest living filmmakers, and the fact that he’s the highest-grossing director of all time only bolsters his legacy. He’s the guy that pioneered the summer blockbuster, after all. But none of that helped The BFG gross more than $183.2 million worldwide on an estimated $140 million production budget in 2016. The movie was a recipe for success: it was being directed by Spielberg, produced and distributed by Disney, and it’s based on the famed Roald Dahl novel of the same name. So why it failed to break $200 million is a wonder.
Monetary problems aside, The BFG is a criminally underrated film. Despite its big budget, fantastical elements, and summer release, it ignores conventional concepts of what a summer blockbuster should be. It has adventurous and comedic elements, yet it isn’t really an adventure or a comedy—it’s a big-budgeted fantasy without the extravaganza. It’s not so much about the spectacle as it is about the journey, and that’s where audiences will find themselves captivated by Mark Rylance’s outstanding motion-capture performance as well as the irresistible charm of Hollywood newcomer Ruby Barnhill.
Edge of Tomorrow
Trailers get a bad rap for revealing too many plot details. Like, did we really need to know that Doomsday was in Batman v Superman before it arrived in theaters? Probably not, but the fact is, trailers can make or break a film. Without a proper marketing strategy that gets butts in seats, movies can fail at the box office—which is what happened to Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need is Kill.
If one were to go solely on the movie’s trailers, that person would likely see another generic sci-fi flick, except this time with elements of Groundhog Day interjected in the mix. However, what audiences got was actually a sci-fi film that reworked D-Day into a future war against a hive-minded alien race with the ability to reset the day—that is until someone like megastar Tom Cruise comes along and breaks their winning streak. Rather than following similar time-resetting movies, Edge of Tomorrow has more in common with a video game, and it uses that similarity to its advantage. Spawn, advance, die, repeat.
Despite being almost universally acclaimed, Edge of Tomorrow failed to achieve box office glory. And make no mistake, the bulk of the film’s failure hinged on its botched marketing campaign. So many people thought the movie’s title was Live. Die. Repeat. that when it was released on home video, Warner Bros. stopped short of officially changing the name to the actual tagline. If that doesn’t scream bad marketing, we don’t know what does.