Movies are not sports. Financial numbers on Box Office Mojo or The Numbers tell one story of winners and losers; our subjective reactions often tell another. Sometimes a movie becomes a hit — even an Oscar winner — only to face a critical reappraisal many years later. Others get swamped with disastrous reviews, then discover an appreciative fanbase on home video. In the end, each and every individual viewer gets the final word.

The pandemic that’s wiped the release calendar clean has left us all with time to think about these matters — and to discover or rewatch movies that were deemed failures by the masses and judge them for ourselves. That’s exactly what I’ve done here, by celebrating 10 movies that were box-office bombs — if not outright disasters — upon their initial release. Most of these movies are available for streaming; the rest can be rented. They all give you the chance to rewrite a tiny piece of history on your own terms.

Ranked, loosely, in order from not-so-great to most unjustly maligned, here are some famous flops that are extremely watchable.

10. Heaven’s Gate

Michael Cimino followed his Oscar-winning Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter with an even more ambitious effort, an epic Western based on the real-life Johnson County War. Cimino’s perfectionism is now the stuff of legend; when a street set was not built to his satisfaction — with the two sides too close together — he supposedly had the entire thing torn down and rebuilt, even though he could have adjusted just one side for far less money. (Or, y’know, just rolled with it.) Its reputation as a profligate production preceded it to theaters, where opening-night critics excoriated Cimino’s director’s cut, and after one disastrous week in theaters, United Artists pulled the film and recut it. For decades, Heaven’s Gate was a symbol of Hollywood excess but over time, new generations of critics have discovered a beautiful if languid Western full of stunning imagery and strong performances from Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken. It’s worth seeing for all those reasons, and as a cautionary tale — in more ways than one.

9. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

This 2003 flop was the final traditionally animated movie from DreamWorks, and its enormous failure at the box office despite the voices of huge stars like Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones, often gets blamed for the company’s transition to CG-only features. While the movie is no classic, it’s actually a solidly entertaining swords-and-sorcery adventure; like what Ray Harryhausen might have produced if he ever branched out beyond stop-motion animation to ink and paint. Some of the CGI monsters and backgrounds have aged poorly, but the cel-animated Sinbad (Pitt) fights with the muscular grace of Errol Flynn, and the film is amusingly mature for a supposed cartoon for kids, with the evil goddess Eris taking mystic baths in the nude and Sinbad exchanging flirtatious banter with his pal’s fiancé Lady Marina (Zeta-Jones).

8. Gemini Man

Paramount supposedly took a loss of more than $100 million dollars on Gemini Man, whose budget ballooned to allow Will Smith to play opposite his younger self, and to shoot in “HFR” or a high frame rate some five times greater than the motion picture standard. Viewers who dismiss HFR as a gimmick, might have changed their mind if they saw what director Ang Lee used it for in Gemini Man, which had spectacular photography and crystal-clear fight scenes between 2019 Will Smith and a CG double who looks exactly as Smith did 25 years ago. True, some of the film’s plot twists, about an aging soldier who confronts a clone of himself, were hokey. On technical merits alone, Gemini Man will become one of those movies people watch endlessly and then in 20 years wonder how it got such terrible reviews.

7. The Lone Ranger

Another example of a movie where an enormous pile of money overshadowed everything else; Disney spent upwards of $215 million on a movie version of a forgotten TV Western, and cast Johnny Depp as a Native American spiritualist. The conversation on the out-of-control budget got so loud it obscured the fact that director Gore Verbinski had made a summer blockbuster as a cautionary tale about capitalism run amok; the mammoth train that serves as the movie’s central MacGuffin also works as a metaphor for the way big business and technology trample everything that get in their way. (It’s basically Snowpiercer: The Western.) The Lone Ranger’s entire narrative — about an elaborate scheme to drive a wedge between Native Americans and settlers in 1860s Texas in order to claim land for a transcontinental railroad — is a deeply ambivalent take on big business, technology, and expansionism that can also be read as a deeply ambivalent take on modern blockbuster filmmaking, which sits at a unique intersection of big business, technology, and economic expansionism. Depp’s casting is bad and not worth defending; the rest of the movie absolutely is.

6. Freddy Got Fingered

Eccentric Canadian comedian Tom Green was a taste most film critics and audiences had not acquired when he parlayed his cult MTV series into a big movie deal at Fox. (Roger Ebert rendered unto Freddy one of his most famous put-downs: “This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”) The results defied all sense and explanation — the movie features “gags” in only the most literal sense, like when Green’s character delivers a woman’s baby by yanking it out of her womb and then cutting the umbilical cord with his teeth — but don’t we have enough movies with sense and explanation? Green’s brand of comedy was rooted in surreal pranks on bewildered victims like his parents and neighbors. He created Freddy Got Fingered in that spirit, as a giant prank on Hollywood and any audience who would willingly subject themselves to something called Freddy Got Fingered. As a straight-forward Hollywood gross-out comedy, Freddy Got Fingered is a borderline disaster. As a work of deliberate audience provocation, it’s kind of a secret masterpiece.

5. The Cotton Club

The Cotton Club reunited The Godfather producer Robert Evans and director Francis Ford Coppola for another period crime saga, about as good a reason to sink tens of millions of dollars into production as any — unless you knew about the relationship between Evans and Coppola, which was intense even in the best of times. The Cotton Club, alas, was not the best of times. Evans brought in Coppola at the last minute after he decided he didn’t want to direct the project himself, and the two fought over everything; Coppola took the job in the first place because he needed a gig after directing another massively unsuccessful movie. (We’ll get to that in a bit…) Whatever the behind-the-scenes tension, The Cotton Club is a handsome drama about the real-life Roaring Twenties institution where great Black musicians and dancers performed for exclusively white audiences. Last year, Coppola finally got to release his director’s cut, The Cotton Club Encore, which restores over 10 minutes of the sumptuous footage that cost so much to shoot in the first place.

4. Ishtar

The most notorious bomb of the 1980s not named Heaven’s Gate was a humble little spoof of Crosby-Hope Road pictures freighted with impossible expectations due to an infamously troubled and expensive production which saw director Elaine May, producer/star Warren Beatty, and star Dustin Hoffman at constant loggerheads. To be fair to the journalists who covered Ishtar’s troubled production: Unless they spent a fortune on Dustin Hoffman’s headbands, it’s not entirely clear where the money went. So what? Unless you were one of Ishtar’s investors, that doesn’t matter. What matters is Beatty and Hoffman’s terrific comic chemistry as two hapless song writers who bumble into the middle of a shadow war over control of the Middle East.

3. Margaret

Shot in 2005, Kenneth Lonergan’s second film didn’t emerge in theaters until 2011, after years of behind-the-scenes fighting about the final cut. Even then, “emerge” is generous; the movie, Lonergan’s followup to his Oscar-nominated You Can Count on Me, was quietly dumped with almost no marketing or promotion. Reviews were initially mixed, but a second wave of critics hailed Margaret as a powerful film about the psychic toll a sudden death takes on a community of survivors. The “#teammargaret” movement got big enough to get a shoutout in the Village Voice’s annual film poll in 2011, and then to give Lonergan the juice he needed to release a preferred director’s cut on home video.

2. It’s a Wonderful Life

Although it’s now considered one of the great classics of American cinema, It’s a Wonderful Life was initially a flop with both audiences and critics. (The New York Times said Capra’s characters and setting “resemble theatrical attitudes rather than average realities.”) Since then, its message that real wealth isn’t measured in money or property, but in friendship, loyalty, and charity, has resonated with generations of viewers. Let’s hope Frank Capra practiced what he preached, since the film lost money on its initial release and later the copyright on it lapsed into the public domain.

1. One From the Heart

Francis Ford Coppola emerged from the potentially disastrous production of Apocalypse Now, which went millions over budget and months over schedule and then became an improbable blockbuster. His luck ran out with One From the Heart, which proved so costly it essentially destroyed Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios. Still, if you’re going to squander a fortune, send your film company into ruins, and set yourself on the path to years making wine and for-hire gigs, you might as well do it on a stone-cold masterpiece. The tens of millions of dollars Coppola spent went into the film’s incredibly detailed Las Vegas sets, which serve as a backdrop to a romantic fable about a couple (Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr) who ponder a life without each other over the course of a long, neon-lit night in Sin City. The love story is simple as can be; the better to bask in the details of Tom Waits’ swooning original score and songs and Vittorio Storaro and Ronald Víctor García’s cinematography, which really might be some of the most beautiful ever captured.

Gallery — Great Movies With Zero Oscar Nominations:

2. King Kong (1933)

The original King Kong was a thrilling adventure picture, and a landmark in the field of special effects. In other words, the kind of movie that the Academy has almost no respect for, then and now.

3. Duck Soup (1933)

No list of the best movie comedies ever is complete without Duck Soup. Unless, of course, it’s a list of the best movie comedies to get Oscar nominations. As Groucho Marx said “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.”

4. Modern Times (1936)

You might assume that given his stature, Charlie Chaplin won a boatload of Oscars in his day. Not true; in fact Chaplin only won a single Oscar (for the score for Limelight) along with two honorary awards. So many of his greatest movies, such as Modern Times, are completely unrecognized by the Academy.

5. His Girl Friday (1940)

This classic of screwball comedy is in the National Film Registry, where Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s epic bantering will be preserved for all eternity. Good thing; they got zero Oscar nominations.

6. Breathless (1960)

Every single film student for at least five generations has watched Breathless. It has to be one of the most watched and most influential movies of all time. The Academy totally overlooked it.

7. The Searchers (1956)

Now it’s widely regarded as the greatest John Ford Western, and perhaps the greatest Western ever made. In 1956, it didn’t even merit an acknowledgement from the Academy. At the time, epics were all the rage, with movies like The Ten Commandments scoring major accolades.

8. Rio Bravo (1959)

I guess it’s hard to predict what Westerns will age into classics. I suppose it would be asking a lot of the Academy to recognize the brilliance of Howard Hawks’ convivial oater. Nonetheless, they did not. Credit where credit’s due: The Golden Globes did give Rio Bravo two nominations and one win, for Most Promising Newcomer, Angie Dickinson. (And boy, was she.)

9. Night of the Living Dead

10. The Shining

Stanley Kubrick didn’t get a ton of Oscar love over his lifetime. His horror classic The Shining was summarily snubbed by the Academy. Bet the dude who wrote 40,000 words about how secretly The Shining is about what really happened during the Teapot Dome Scandal wasn’t too pleased about that one.

11. The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club is maybe the most influential high-school movie of all time. It is certainly one of the most beloved. Watching it is a rite of passage for almost every American child. But children don’t vote on the Academy Awards.

12. Groundhog Day (1993)

Hysterically funny and truly profound, Groundhog Day is one of the greatest movies of the 1990s. If you want to argue it’s one of the greatest comedies ever made, I won’t argue with you. And yet here it is, on a list of shocking Oscar snubs. In some alternate universe, the Academy is stuck in a time loop, replaying the same day over and over again until they at least nominate the film for a screenplay award.