One generation’s trash can easily be another’s treasure, and these box office bombs prove it. When these flicks were playing to paltry audiences upon their original release, most likely assumed that they were destined to get lost in the annals of time. However, these movies later re-emerged as cult classics with followings in the millions. From the wacky to the subversive to the deliciously terrible, these flicks are films that nobody should miss.
1. The Big Lebowski
Nihilistic. Bizarre. Iconic. While The Big Lebowski didn’t exactly cause a storm when it was first released in theaters, its influence would soon rush in like a flash flood and wipe out everything in its path. With funny scene after funny scene and a slew of classic lines, this movie about nothing would resonate with mainstream society in a big way.
What’s more, it’s packed with future Oscar winners. Jeff Bridges’ The Dude would be a character that many people would see themselves in, even making games to play along with watching, like drinking a White Russian every time he does. John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and John Turturro were also a major part of making this film amazing, as they played memorable and funny characters. And be sure not to miss Julianne Moore, Tara Reid, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
2. Harold and Maude
When Harold and Maude came out in 1971. it pulled off something that had never been done before — and has almost never been done since. It presented audiences with a story about a very young man falling in love with a 79-year-old woman. Critics at the time did not take kindly to the premise behind Harold and Maude.
Many saw the movie simply as a spectacle. However, as the years went by, attitudes towards Harold and Maude changed and many finally got to see the movie for what it was: a beautiful love story, with an adorable soundtrack by Cat Stevens. Despite having at one time received one and a half stars from Roger Ebert, the movie is currently certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with an 84% rating.
3. Super Mario Bros.
In 1993, kids around the world couldn’t wait to go to the cinema and get an eyeful of the Super Mario Bros. movie. With four massively successful Nintendo games to his name, Mario had sent kids into a craze from here to Japan. Children in the early ’90s were finding the Italian plumber to be more recognizable than Mickey Mouse.
A breakthrough moment for John Leguizamo, the movie featured big names like Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper and was expected to be one of the highest-grossing films of 1993. Sadly, the film was an unbelievable flop. Gamers, their parents, and the film’s own actors all hated it. Decades later, this forgotten flick would garner a cult following over just how truly bad and bizarre it is.
4. The Room
When it comes to cult classics, The Room is easily one of the most popular. This popularity didn’t happen overnight, though. When Tommy Wiseau’s brain child was first released in 2003, it was a cringe-inducing flop. People were noticeably recoiling and guffawing at Tommy’s magnum opus right in front of him at the film’s premiere.
The movie was slaughtered by critics, tossed into the abyss of time with the hopes that it’d never float back up to the surface. But the movie re-emerged as a cult classic years later, when it began to be featured at midnight screenings around the world. As the movie’s popularity skyrocketed, the film and its creator became such a source of intrigue that a book was written about its creation, and James Franco made a film about it called The Disaster Artist.
5. Office Space
If there is any film that truly captures the mundane side of office culture, it’s the 1999 comedy Office Space. When released, the movie seemed to have everything going for it. It was funny, relatable, and it starred Jennifer Aniston who was still slaying TV ratings with Friends.
One wouldn’t believe director Mike Judge’s disappointment when the film flopped. He quickly moved on with life and made other movies, expecting Office Space to be forgotten. However, only a few years later, he began hearing people quote his movie. Actress Jennifer Aniston stated that when attending restaurants, people would often reference the flick to her. The zany movie had picked up a strong cult following and has become one of Judge’s most popular works.
6. The Warriors
The Warriors took 1970s New York city gang warfare and turned it into one of the greatest action movies of the decade. At least, that’s what we think now. Despite doing well in the box office, the film was slandered as a bad influence on youth viewing it, as many folks were attacked on the way to and from screenings.
After some years of trying to make this film disappear, it came back years later with a massive cult following. You can always find someone quoting one of the flick’s classic lines. To top that off, Entertainment Weekly recently named it the 16th greatest cult film of all time. If one wants to get a feel for cult classics, this is definitely a good place to start. “Come out to play-ay!”
7. Cooley High
When people talk about classic high school flicks of yesteryear, they usually mention movies like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. However, none of those movies have anything on the 1975 hit Cooley High. The touching yet funny flick perfectly captures the lives of teens in Chicago in the 1960s.
While Cooley High quickly became lost in the deluge of cult films of its time, it is today remembered as a classic of black cinema and one of the biggest cult classics of the ’70s. It even paved the way for directors like Spike Lee and John Singleton. The movie was name-dropped constantly in ’90s hip-hop songs.
Suburbia didn’t cause much of a stir when it first hit the cinemas in 1996. Following Richard Linklater flicks like Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise, this movie was seen as less, as it took us out of Vienna and put us in the shoes of a group of losers who hang out in front of a suburban convenience store.
Beautifully made, the movie didn’t end up being shown at midnight screenings or anything like that. However, it garnered appreciation for being a great movie that really captured the spirit of the 1990s. It’s almost as though this film and Kevin Smith just continually fed off of each other.
9. Wet Hot American Summer
With physical humor and rapid-fire one-liners galore, today, Wet Hot American Summer is regarded as one of the biggest cult classics within the realm of comedy. It’s everything an early 2000s flick is supposed to be. That said, when the movie came out it was a major flop that didn’t even get close to breaking even in the box office. Keep in mind, it was contending with movies like the American Pie franchise and Old School.
Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks, the stars of the movie, weren’t at all known at the time. Even having Stella comics Michael Ian Black, David Wain, and Michael Showalter on board, let alone several SNL cast members, as well as ’90s film icon Janeane Garofalo, Frasier‘s David Hyde Pierce, Oz‘s Christopher Meloni, and a very young Bradley Cooper, couldn’t save it at the time. However, as years went by, the wacky flick would get the recognition that it really deserved.
10. Troll 2
1990’s Troll 2 has gone down in history as a truly incoherent mess. Italian director Claudio Fragasso’s choices on set were just as perplexing as his writing. For starters, he didn’t cast a legit team of actors to portray his characters, but just opted for using the locals in the town he was filming in. While the acting was over the top to say the least, producers found a way to garner an audience.
Originally meant to be called Goblin, producers decided to call it Troll 2 in an effort to be mistaken as a sequel to an unrelated film called Troll that was released in 1986. It didn’t work. Yet, despite the film being the definition of a box office bomb, it would gain popularity in the market of midnight showings a couple decades after its release. Today, it stands as one of the biggest cult classics of all time.
11. Pink Flamingos
Made on a budget of only $10,000, John Waters’ magnum opus Pink Flamingos would shock the world when it earned a whopping $7 million in the box office. Probably taking into consideration that being played across theaters nationally would have caused riots due to its outrageous and obscene content, the film was shown in only the country’s hippest locations like New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.
While in theaters, the movie was revisited constantly by working class youths and members of the LGBTQ community, who would often memorize the ridiculous, intentionally campy lines. It quickly garnered a major cult following and became a constant staple for Friday and Saturday night midnight screenings. Think it’s hard to shock you? Let the ever-subversive late drag queen Divine prove you dead wrong.
12. Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite has become successful on a whole other level. While made on a budget of only $400,000, it earned $46.1 million in the box office and became one of the most iconic flicks of the 2000s. The film produced a number of classic catchphrases and moments that would be quoted by teens and adults for years — not to mention all those “Vote For Pedro” shirts and stickers.
Nobody could have seen this low-budget small town comedy film turning into such a sensation. It even turned Preston, Idaho, the town where the film was shot, into a huge tourist attraction. And who didn’t know someone who tried to attempt the iconic dance sequence from the film’s climax?
When it comes to controversial films, 1932’s Freaks stands on the top of the list. This movie took the freak shows of traveling circuses and brought them to the screen for all to see. While it was deemed a horror movie at the time, it’s become clear now that it really doesn’t fit that role in any sense of the word.
This movie was largely criticized at the time for exploiting people with physical disabilities. However, it didn’t stop the bizarre flick from gaining cult status over the years. With a subpar story and amateur acting, this flick is successful on controversy alone.
14. The Night of The Hunter
Despite a cast featuring leading man Robert Mitchum, future Oscar winner Shelley Winters, and silent film legend Lillian Gish, 1955’s The Night of The Hunter was panned by both critics and the movie-going audience when it was released. To put it simply, stylistically and thematically, there was nothing quite like this film during the time. Many folks probably didn’t know how to swallow what they were seeing.
That said, in time it became regarded as one of the biggest cult classics and one of the best films to ever come out of American cinema. It definitely took a lot of inspiration from the German expressionist movement popular in the 1920s. As for the influence it’s had on other movies, you can definitely see signs of this flick on future cult movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
15. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
On paper, The Rocky Horror Picture Show should have been a smash hit upon its release in 1975. It rocks a cast of amazing actors, features some of the most catchy songs to ever grace a musical, and has a delightfully naughty and ridiculous story. Sadly, the movie was only displayed in selected cinemas in England and America. Moviegoers of the ’70s just weren’t ready.
Not long after, the movie was picked up for midnight screenings, where audiences began to shout out callbacks and bring (and throw) props like toast, hot dogs, and rice. By the 1980s, midnight Rocky Horror showings had become a huge sensation around the world, remaining a beloved pastime for millions to this very day. Good to know that it finally got the attention it deserved and sits as one of the biggest cult classics.
16. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School
In 1979, punk rock was still relatively new on the music scene and viewed by many as just a passing fad. At the head of that scene in the United States were The Ramones. While the executive producer of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School originally wanted pretty boy stadium rockers Cheap Trick for the role, they eventually had to settle for the punk pioneers.
The subversive and scruffy band might have hindered the film’s box office success. But with time, they left it with a massive cult following, especially among people in the punk rock scene. Ultimately, this movie served as one of the catalysts that propelled the punk music genre to a new level of popularity and wider acceptance.
17. Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko was somewhat of a sleeper hit. Many won’t remember when it came out because its advertising campaign featured a plane crashing into a building. In 2001, that definitely wasn’t going to be something that people wanted to see plastered across every major city.
While it was almost set to be a direct-to-video film, it was recognized as something special and allowed to play in cinemas across the country. The film obviously wasn’t a blockbuster, but it was an astounding movie and did gain a cult following in the years since its release. It even made Gary Jules’ melancholy and dream cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” quite famous. Are you a fan of Frank?
When Clue first came out in 1985, the people were far from interested. Considering all the great flick coming out that year, it isn’t hard to see why people would skip out on the murder mystery based on a board game. Being made on a budget of $15 million, the movie didn’t even break even in the box office.
The movie got mixed reviews, with many of them pointing to a very thin script that resulted in the cast just standing around a lot of the time. However, it’s hard to go wrong with stars like Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, and Christopher Lloyd, and many would realize that in hindsight. Despite being under-appreciated upon release, the movie eventually picked up a cult following.
When Showgirls first hit the cinemas in 1995, everyone predicted that it would be a smash hit. The film got a ton of advertisement and had the backing star power of Elizabeth Berkley, who was hot off of her stint on Saved By The Bell, and Kyle MacLachan, who was still remembered and praised for his work on Twin Peaks. With that, nobody expected it to be a box office bomb.
Showgirls didn’t even break even in the box office and was harshly panned by critics. Today, not much has changed. It currently holds an approval rating of 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, despite being so bizarrely written and directed, the melodramatic movie eventually got a cult following and a routine showing at midnight movies around the nation. The following isn’t appreciating the film for some kind of artistic value; Showgirls falls into the category of being so bad it’s good.
20. The Evil Dead
When The Evil Dead hit the cinemas back in 1981, it didn’t stand out from many of the horror movies that were out at the time. Nonetheless, it was still a major success. That said, what propelled the film series into being one of the biggest cult classics in the horror genre was not this particular movie.
While The Evil Dead featured the cliché premise of a group of friends and abandoned cabin, it was the sequels that saw the series take a more interesting turn. Ash Williams, the main character, would transform from average young American to chainsaw-wielding madman who’s traveling back in time to the Middle Ages. It’s truly a horror series to behold.
21. This Is Spinal Tap
This Is Spinal Tap did amazingly in the 1980s and it was no surprise. Rob Reiner was a praised actor at the time, and everyone was curious to see what his directing was made of. To top it off, everyone was going nuts about hair metal, and it was against this backdrop that this parody came to burn them all.
While the mockumentary was met with acclaim, no one could have seen it picking up the cult following that it did. Even now, people are still quoting and talking about the film nearly four decades later, and requesting to turn it up to eleven. While Reiner would go on to produce many other classics, it’s debatable that none of them ever got as great as This Is Spinal Tap.
22. Big Trouble in Little China
If one ever wants to see on the big screen all the beat-’em-up action they’d find in a 1980s arcade, they should definitely take a chance on Big Trouble in Little China. While the wacky action flick might have been too wild for the audience of 1986, it surely found its place in society as the ’90s rolled around.
At the time, the movie only made $11.1 million. While that might sound good on paper, it certainly didn’t live up to the film’s $25 million budget. Since garnering its cult following, the movie has seen board games, video games and comics based on its zany adventure.
23. The Blues Brothers
Back in 1980, The Blues Brothers was an absolute smash hit. Having made a name for themselves on Saturday Night Live, anyone could have predicted that this running sketch would have been big as a stand-alone concept, but no one could have guessed that it would have been as big as it was when all was said and done.
Not only does this musical comedy stand as the late John Belushi’s biggest shining moment in cinema, but it also elevated the comedy film genre to the next level. Filled with incredible musical sensations from Aretha Franklin to Ray Charles and James Brown to Cab Calloway, the film is often quoted and parodied today, which just goes to show what an impact it truly had. You can’t help but get up on your feet and dance.
By now, Kevin Smith has released a slew of films that could be considered classics in the comedy genre. However, amid films like Mallrats and Dogma, it is Clerks that gets placed on the long list of cult classics. It’s witty, it’s fresh, and it came delivered in black and white.
This film about savvy geeks hanging out in a video store was made on a budget of $27,000 and ended up making Kevin Smith $3.2 million and basically making the director’s career. Despite it being amazingly low-budget, it is arguably the most memorable and quotable of his movies. It even introduced us to popular side characters Jay and Silent Bob.
25. The Wiz
Even the star power of Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, and Diana Ross weren’t enough to make this Wizard of Oz rehash a classic. Raking in only $21 million on a $24 million budget made this musical the definition of a flop. However, in time it would be recognized as a classic.
It brought to the audience a number of classic songs sung by two of the greatest voices to ever grace the music industry. Given the star power and versatile talents of its leads, The Wiz pretty much came with the promise that one day it would stand among the big cult classics. This can be said especially given that it came out prior to the release of Michael Jackson’s Earth-shaking albums Off The Wall and Thriller.
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