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30 Movie Flops That Became Cult Classics

Near Dark (1987)

The Movie: Before The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty , Kathryn Bigelow’s hidden career gem was this moody vampire flick. Starring a handful of the cast from her future husband James Cameron’s Aliens , the story follows a lonesome man who falls in line with a group of roaming vampires.

The Flop: Surely with the insurgence of vampire films in the late 80s, Near Dark was destined to be a smash? Sadly, it was released a mere two months after The Lost Boys. Combine that with its genre meld - the western and horror - and it fared poorly at the box office.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Its positive critical reception finally caught up with its fan base, who devoured the moody, R-rated bloodsucking yarn on home video.

Empire Records (1995)

The Movie: A day in the life of an independent record store, Empire ’s roster of drifting youngsters ponder life and love, all while preparing for the arrival of a fading pop star. Relative unknowns at the time, Liv Tyler, Renee Zellweger, Rory Cochrane, Anthony LaPaglia and Robin Tunney co-starred as the store’s employees.

The Flop: A panning across the board from critics who attacked the film’s levity damaged its potential. The impact of less than stellar reviews slowed the success of the flick theatrically, where it took $273,000 barely touching its $10 million budget.

How It Became A Cult Classic: The main theme, rejection of the corporate mainstream, resonated with outcast teens who latched onto the film when it hit video stores and was broadcast on TV. It became such a beloved slice of ‘90s Americana that for its ten-year anniversary, an extended edition including extra footage was released.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

The Movie: A spoofy take on the American summer comedy, David Wain’s peppy script attracted a wealth of famous comics. Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd all appeared as a ragtag bunch of counselors during the final days of a Jewish summer camp in the early 80s.

The Flop: A successful run of sold-out screenings at Sundance. Positive early word of mouth. In a bizarre turn of events, the film tanked at cinemas racking up a paltry $295,000 against a $1.8 million budget.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Cleaning up on home video it became a repeat viewing hit, attracting attention for its pop culture savvy and starry cast. Screening parties were thrown by fans all across the U.S. for its ten year anniversary.

Braindead (1992)

The Movie: Splattergore at its finest, Peter Jackson’s early nineties horror brought the terror of the Sumatran Rat-Monkey to poor Lionel Cosgrove, as his Mother suffers a revolting transformation after receiving a deadly bite at the zoo.

The Flop: At the time of its theatrical release it received little critical comment, and took in $1.8 million of its $3 million budget.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Now considered one of the most influential zombie movies of our time, Braindead garnered huge popularity on video and went on to change the face of the undead genre. Jackson’s next project, a little trilogy called The Lord Of The Rings , might have had a small hand in that.

The Boondock Saints (1999)

The Movie: A lean crime caper starring Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus as two brothers who go on the run after killing a pair of Russian mobsters in self-defense.

The Flop: Production woes weren’t the only hindrance to the film’s success. In an attempt to sweep it under the rug, the distributor issued the movie a theatrical release of one week - in only five theatres. Needless to say, it’s $30,000 takings weren’t unsurprising.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Director Troy Duffy brokered a deal with Blockbuster, who released it as an exclusive straight-to-video movie. Their marketing skills swayed the masses, netting them a cool $50 million in rentals and a captivated following.

Dazed And Confused (1993)

The Movie: Featuring an ensemble of then-unknown stars - Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich and Ben Affleck to name but three - Richard Linklater’s period comedy follows a bunch of Texan teenagers on the last day of high school in 1976.

The Flop: Despite boasting a sizeable ensemble and a witty approach to teen rebellion, it only scraped past its budget at the US box office.

How It Became A Cult Classic: The rise of the underdog encapsulates the roaring success which befell the film years later, as it continues to appear on countless Best-Of lists for its unshakable enthusiasm for life.

Heathers (1988)

The Movie: The savage nature of teenagers has never been captured as acutely as in Michael Lehmann’s riff on adolescent strife. A classic inbetweener, Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) befriends loner JD (Christian Slater) and the pair devise a cunning plot to murder the school’s popular clique - and pass them off as suicides.

The Flop: It was a risky move, selling such a provocative film to impressionable teens. It provoked a strong reaction from critics, who showered the snarky pic with praise, but failed to capture its demographic. On a budget of $2 million it crawled just past $1 million.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Down to Daniel Waters’ spiky script, it’s his articulate one-liners (“Dear Diary, my teen angst bullshit has a body count,” and “F*ck me gently with a chainsaw” two such examples) that breezily escape from the mouths of teenagers that rescued Heathers from obscurity.

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971)

The Movie: A black comedy musical about an eccentric confectioner who invites a randomly-selected group of kids for a tour of his factory. The adaptation of noted children’s author Roald Dahl’s best-selling novel was destined to be bizarre before the first reel was even in the can.

The Flop: A dark and macabre kids adventure didn’t sit well with audiences, who were reticent to take their youngsters to see such a trippy tale. Combined with low sales of the Wonka Bar spin-off candy bars manufactured by Quaker Oats who financed the flick, and Willy’s initial big screen run proved disastrous.

How It Became A Cult Classic: The movie’s repertoire of catchy songs and a heavy dose of nostalgia saved this now-classic from the realms of the bargain bin. Hordes of adults who missed out on the barmy experience as a kid rediscovered it on home video.

Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

The Movie: John Carpenter’s east-meets-west adventure takes to the dingy underworld of San Francisco’s Chinatown, as quippy truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) promises to rescue his friend’s fiancee from a mobster sorcerer.

The Flop: A rushed production as Carpenter joined the project at the last minute, the speedy shoot resulted in a finished movie that confused audiences who only shelled out $11 million for a $20 million flick. Both Carpenter and Russell believe the release of James Cameron’s Aliens two weeks later was also responsible for its poor performance.

How It Became A Cult Classic: The cheese factor triumphed on home video with scores of fans soaking up the one-liners and martial arts excesses. Since its initial disappointing debut the movie has hit indie cinema screens again and again due to audience demand.

The Room (2003)

The Movie: The backstory of one of the most unorthodox movies ever produced is equally as intriguing as the film itself, which investigates the love triangle between a man, his girlfriend and his best friend.

The Flop: Dubbed “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” by Entertainment Weekly, they weren’t alone in their critical drubbing of Tommy Wiseau’s melodramatic concoction. The majority of reviews honed in on the film’s nonsensical scenes and disjointed narrative - perhaps responsible for its $1,200 takings on a $6 million budget.

How It Became A Cult Classic: Ten years after its debut, the film went on to sell out midnight screenings on account of its trashy low culture leanings - even going so far as to inspire a book and game.

Gem is GR+'s west coast entertainment news reporter. She’s a bit obsessed with all things Aliens and Terminator.