Favorite flops: Give these box office duds a second chance

Many times, films fail at the box office because they deserve to: either the directing is bad, the acting is bad, the plot is bad, or maybe the entire film is just plain bad (such as Adam Sandler’s ill-fated 2011 flop, “Jack and Jill,” in which Sandler unfortunately played both of the title roles). However, there isn’t always justice in Hollywood, and sometimes a good film will fail to capture enough attention and will flounder at the box office.

For example, while Disney’s sci-fi epic “John Carter” will probably go down in history as one of the worst film flops ever, it isn’t a bad film. It’s not my favorite science fiction film ever made, but it’s a fun, rousing adventure that did not deserve to perform as badly at the box office as it did. Sometimes a film can be killed by poor marketing (Disney didn’t seem to be able to promote “John Carter” effectively) or unfortunate timing (“John Carter” was, perhaps, released too close to “The Hunger Games,” and it got lost in all the buzz surrounding that film).

Here are five films I personally loved that ended up flopping at the box office, and I’d urge viewers to give them a second chance:

1. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (2005)
This is likely the only science fiction movie (or rather, the only movie, period) that begins with a montage of dolphins singing about the end of the world. And that’s just the beginning of the quirkiness that is “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a movie based on Douglas Adams’ series of sci-fi novels (famous for being a five-book “trilogy”). The film wasn’t a hit at the U.S. box office, but it’s now one of my favorite movies. It’s great for those who love British comedy and science fiction, and features fun performances by Sam Rockwell as the dimwitted “President of the Galaxy” and Martin Freeman (who has gained fame as Dr. Watson on the BBC show “Sherlock”) as the human Arthur Dent who is unwittingly caught up in a misadventure after the Earth is destroyed by an alien construction crew. I’ve seen this film countless times, and admittedly, I still have difficulty describing what the plot’s about. It’s just an entertaining bit of witty, tongue-in-cheek nonsense.

2. “Stardust” (2007)

Based on a book by Neil Gaiman, “Stardust” is a light-hearted fantasy tale about a boy named Tristan Thorn who travels to the magical land of Stormhold to bring back a fallen star to impress his love, Victoria. The catch is, in Stormhold, the star has taken on the form of a human girl, and she is being hunted by a trio of witches who want to use the star’s power to gain eternal youth. Despite an impressive cast that included Michelle Pfeiffer as one of the witches and Robert De Niro as a hilariously foppish ship captain, the film wasn’t a huge blockbuster. Which is a shame, because I found it to be a fun film in the style of “The Princess Bride,” with a touch of steampunk. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth catching on DVD.

3. “The Princess Bride” (1987)

And speaking of “The Princess Bride”… This movie has become such a beloved cult hit I often forget it wasn’t a huge success when it was first released (the film only grossed about $31 million in the United States). It’s a hilarious fantasy film that has yielded some of the most quotable lines in film history, the most popular undoubtedly being: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” The movie may have been low-budget, but the acting and writing are top-notch. It’s one of those rare comedies that’s just as funny every time you watch it.

4. “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” (2009)

This film was included on Entertainment Weekly magazine’s recent list “The 50 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen.” It stars Richard Gere and is a heartbreakingly poignant story about the enduring bond between a man and his dog. Because Sony Pictures Entertainment decided to bypass a U.S. theatrical release and sent this film straight to DVD, it got a lot less attention than it deserved. I don’t care how cynical you think you are — you will need to grab a box of tissues before watching this film. I normally don’t cry during movies, and if I do, I usually just get a little teary-eyed. But by the end of this movie, I was literally sobbing. Definitely a must-see for animal lovers.

5. “The Unusuals” (2009)

Technically, this is a TV show, not a movie, but I wanted to include it in this list because it was a fun show with a lot of promise that should have lasted beyond just one season. The show features a team of New York City cops who get stuck covering unusual cases (hence the show’s title). These cases include a catnapper; a woman who pretends to be in love with various men so they’ll help her commit crimes; and an elderly gentleman who goes on a crime spree. The show may not be for everyone, especially those who prefer more straight-up procedurals like “CSI.” It’s a quirky, offbeat comedy/drama, and the characters are great (Jeremy Renner starred as one of these cops before his rise to fame in films like “The Avengers”). The show was canceled by ABC due to low ratings, and I can’t help but wonder if it would have done better on a cable channel where it could have found a smaller niche audience. The series’ cliffhanger ending isn’t resolved due to the show’s cancellation, which can make watching it frustrating, but it’s still worth checking out. You can find the first nine episodes on Netflix, and all 10 episodes are available on Hulu.

So, what are some of your favorite flops? What films do you love that weren’t huge box office successes?

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7 thoughts on “Favorite flops: Give these box office duds a second chance

  1. ‘Fight Club’ had a mediocre showing in the U.S. I saw it first run and my husband and I were the only ones in the theater at the time. It was a Saturday night. I think I read that ‘It’s a Wonderful Life” was a flop or darn near. Love them both.

    Another one I love which had disappointing box office and maybe it actually was a flop, is ‘Down with Love’ with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. I’m sure I can think of some more. : D

  2. Nice list. 1, 2 & 3 are among my favorite movies. Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman & William Goldman are all amazing writers. (My favorite Doctor’s Who are written by Neil Gaiman & Douglas Adams)

    I’ve never seen #4. But I cry at movies all the time, so I avoid tearjerkers. (I cry at the end of the first Rocky when the bell rings at the end of the fight and the strings kick in– cue the waterworks “Adrianne!” “Rocky!” My shoes are soaked!)

    I will check out The Unusuals on Netflix. ABC is notorious for not letting a new show tie up it’s loose ends before pulling the plug. Day Break was a great show & you had to get the DVD to see the ending.

    But I have to disagree on John Carter. I could barely finish it.

  3. I haven’t seen the show “Day Break” but will have to check that out. I hadn’t ever heard of “The Unusuals” until a good friend of mine discovered it on Netflix and then got me hooked on it as well. The cliff-hanger ending is frustrating, and I wish ABC would have at least shot another episode or two to wrap things up.

  4. Pingback: The good, the bad and the ugly: Looking back at five years of hits (and misses!) at Box Office Buzz | Box Office Buzz

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