30 Movie Flops That Became Cult Classics

Clue (1985)

The Movie: The very first Hasbro game-to-movie adaptation, Clue is a murder mystery very loosely based on Cluedo , starring Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd and Madeline Kahn.

The Flop: Audiences avoided this wise-cracking comedy - it grazed its $15 million budget, making a meagre $14 million at the box office. Its hardly a surprise as critics gave it sour reviews.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Funnily enough, the film’s flop status helped transform it into the cult classic it is today. In light of its poor box office takings, its original VHS price tag of $100 was reduced to a family-friendly $20. People lined up to buy a copy to test their brand new VCRs and fell in love with the kitschy comedy.

Brazil (1985)

The Movie: In Terry Gilliam’s slapstick homage to George Orwell’s 1984 , a lowly worker at the Ministry of Education is desperate to break free from the shackles of a totalitarian regime.

The Flop: There’s no doubt that Brazil is a critical darling. A complex, daring masterpiece that’s arguably Gilliam’s crowning achievement was lavished with critical positivity. Alas, it still flopped in cinemas, raking in $9 million of its $15 million budget.

How It Became A Cult Classic: It had all the hallmarks of a cult from the off - eccentric art design, baffling plot twists and a firm two fingers up to The Man.

Mallrats (1995)

The Movie: Kevin Smith’s sophomore effort embraced the “day in the life” framework from his breakout, Clerks . This time around, the story follows T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brodie (Jason Lee), two slackers who hang out at the mall while scheming up ways to win their girlfriends back.

The Flop: The inevitable comparisons to Clerks , and a non-existent marketing strategy from the studio hindered the film’s financial and critical performance.

How It Became A Cult Classic: It’s Kevin Smith! Even his detractors couldn’t stop his loyal legion of fans, who relished the verbose dialogue and smutty set-ups. A ten-year anniversary edition was even released to satiate the eager View Askew die-hards keen for more ‘rats action.

Barbarella (1968)

The Movie: In the highly-sexualised year 40,000, astronaut Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is sent on a mission by the Earth’s president to retrieve the evil Dr. Durant Durant from a distant planet. En route, she encounters many unique characters.

The Flop: There was no way an amorous sci-fi comedy adventure would remain unscathed by critics... and it didn’t. Filmgoers were deterred by the reviews, and likewise avoided a trip to see Fonda in a skimpy outfit.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Re-released ten years later proved a wise manouvre, and the iconography from the movie influenced fashion, music and cinema for years to come.

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai (1984)

The Movie: In this ‘80s romp that’s part-comedy, sci-fi and action, Dr. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), a neurosurgeon, physicist, test pilot and musician, must battle off a group of aliens who threaten the future of the planet.

The Flop: Fox hired outside marketers to aid in the impossible task of selling the film to a mainstream audience. Despite their best efforts, opening in a busy cinema calendar crammed with quality blockbuster fare such as Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and Ghostbusters, the film grossed only $600,000.

How It Became A Cult Classic: A gloriously fun adventure that’s crammed with iconic geek performances from Weller, Jeff Goldblum and John Lithgow, the quotable dialogue and far-fetched plot made this a secret go-to for ‘80s nerds.

Dredd (2012)

The Movie: A violent rebooting of the comic franchise set in a post-apocalyptic urban cityscape, law enforcer Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) trains his apprentice, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) during a particularly gruesome situation with local warlord, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey.)

The Flop: While it garnered a strong critical favouring, the flick narrowly missed the mark on recouping its $45 million budget.

How It Became A Cult Classic: The slo-mo sequences, blood-soaked humour and loyalty to the source material appealed to fans of the original comic. And those cinephiles who like a giant helping of swearing with their adaptations.

Slither (2006)

The Movie: A small American town is struck by a meteorite carrying a plague of parasites who attack the citizens, turning them into sluggy monsters.

The Flop: Universal and Gold Circle, who co-funded the venture, both offered reasons for the movie’s poor box office performance - it brought it just under half of its $29 million budget. In reality, the horror-comedy stylings of the flick failed to impress audiences who assumed it was a straight-up monster movie.

How It Became A Cult Classic: The schlock might have alienated the mainstream audiences, but fans of Cronenberg, Carpenter et. al., all rejoiced. Ripe with knowing nods and winks to the genre it so fiercely pastiches, what gorehound could resist?

Dark Star (1974)

The Movie: John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon’s low-budget satirical space adventure follows a crew out in the cosmos whose task to eradicate unstable planets for twenty years goes awry.

The Flop: After being spotted at a film festival, the student film landed a distributor who re-worked footage back into the movie to pad it out for mainstream audiences. This bulkier version shipped to cinemas was marketed as a straight-laced sci-fi actioner - when its actually a black comedy.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Home video helped in granting the clever spoof a worthy viewing audience, but it was the issue of the original version (re-edited again by Carpenter) that attracted a small clutch of dedicated sci-fi aficionados into the fold.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

The Movie: From self-confessed bad movie director, Ed Wood, Plan 9 From Outer Space tells of an extraterrestrial race who plot to prevent humanity from creating a doomsday weapon by putting ‘plan 9’ into action. The plan is itself a disaster, turning humans into zombies in order to get the attention of the planet.

The Flop: A production rife with cast, script and shooting issues, upon its release it was critically mauled. Saddled with the title of “worst movie ever made” for its lack of continuity and incoherent story, audiences paid heed and it scraped a meagre $60,000 in theatres.

How It Became A Cult Classic: One of the first “so bad it’s good” flicks, fans of Wood’s lo-fi techniques lapped up its trashiness in the decades following its initial release. Audiences flocked to indie movie theatres to see remastered versions throughout the 2000s.

Death To Smoochy (2002)

The Movie: A wry comedy surrounding the goings-on behind closed doors at a children’s ‘edutainment’ network, that kickstarts when corrupt host Rainbow Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is investigated by the FBI. After his replacement, Smoochy the Rhino (Edward Norton), turns the show around, Smiley plots to bring him down.

The Flop: Smoochy ’s unique brand of jet black chuckles floundered in cinemas due to a marketing strategy that didn’t quite pinpoint the movie’s strongest assets - the hilarious and offensive kiddy songs Williams’ character belts out for one. Critically and financially the film bombed.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Discovered by die-hard fans of bleak humour on DVD, the film took off with devotees heralding its edgy nature. It still brandishes a 42% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes - certifying it as a true cult classic.

Gem Seddon

Gem Seddon is GamesRadar+'s west coast Entertainment News Reporter, working to keep all of you updated on all of the latest and greatest movies and shows on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Outside of entertainment journalism, Gem can frequently be found writing about the alternative health and wellness industry, and obsessing over all things Aliens and Terminator on Twitter.