A couple of weeks ago I looked at the movies that were big box office successes even though critics universally destroyed them. Today, we’re going to take a look at the other side of the coin. Sometimes there are great movies which are unable to find financial success, regardless of how great they actually are.
Most of the time fans and critics are in some degree of agreement. Good movies get seen and make money, bad movies do not. However, sometimes the term "bomb" really only reflects a film’s box office success and not its quality. Here are eight box office bombs that critics actually thought were good movies. Note: We are focusing on their domestic numbers, and acknowledge that some of these films found a way to make up their numbers are the international box office.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Budget: $46 million
Domestic Box Office: $8 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% Fresh
Terry Gilliam makes weird movies. As such, they’re not really designed to appeal to a mass audience. However, all that wacko doesn’t come cheap. Such is the case of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Nearly everybody who saw the film loved it, but not very many people saw it. Baron Munchausen is a stunning film to behold, the visuals are literally out of this world, especially for 1989, but most people never gave the former Monty Python member the chance to wow them. It’s too bad, among the film’s many charms is a great supporting role from Robin Williams.
Budget: $140 million
Domestic Box Office: $38 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69% Fresh
Today, Disney can do nearly no wrong at the box office. However, that wasn’t always the case. During one of Disney’s dark ages, after The Lion King, but before Frozen they tried to change things up with a more action oriented cartoon geared toward a more male audience. They apparently failed to grab a new audience but successfully lost the old one. Treasure Planet takes the classic treasure Island story and puts it in space which is just as awesome as that sounds. It very nearly made our underrated Disney movies list and whichever way you look at it’s a movie worth seeing.
Budget: $80 million
Domestic Box Office: $22 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78% Fresh
Based on the novel by Toni Morrison, Beloved was a passion project for Oprah Winfrey who both produced and starred in the film adaptation. Critics praised it for its raw emotion and beautiful imagery. The film version of Beloved was hailed as being a brilliant cinematic adaptation of the book. However, while the book won a Pulitzer Prize, the movie did not do nearly as well. It got out grossed on its opening weekend by Bride of Chucky. It may have been a faithful adaptation of the novel, but apparently audiences weren’t interested in that.
Budget: $107 million
Domestic Box Office: $58 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67% Fresh
With Leonardo DiCaprio finally receiving an Oscar, Will Smith may be one of the actors that we all start waiting to see win. As the Academy likes biopics and audiences love inspirational sports movies, Will Smith as Muhammad Ali may have seemed like the most perfect combination of "Oscar bait" and box office success. Sadly, it was not to be. While the movie, and Smith’s performance, were generally praised, movie fans apparently had no interest in it. They stayed away. In droves. Smith got his Oscar nomination, but that’s the high point of the movies’ public accolades.
Budget: $62 million
Domestic Box Office: $1 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68% Fresh
1997’s Lolita is a special case. A large part of the reason that the film made no money is because it had virtually no presence at the box office. Of course, the reason it had virtually no presence, is because the public had already made it clear this was a movie they didn’t want to see. The subject matter, about a man who begins a sexual affair with an underage girl, is an incredibly awkward topic and while the film itself may have been done well, critics believed it was, that doesn’t mean this was a story that people wanted to sit through for two hours of their lives.
The Good Dinosaur
Budget: $200 million
Domestic Box office: $123 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76% Fresh
Pixar films are the closest thing to sure bets that there are in Hollywood these days. It’s hard to imagine one not being a huge box office success. Yet, that’s exactly what happened with The Good Dinosaur. Maybe it was because the film didn’t review quite as well as Inside Out earlier that year, though that film received an amazing response even by Pixar standards. Still, the reviews for Good Dinosaur were solid, it’s certified fresh by Rotten Tomatoes, but its box office take did not smell nearly as nice in the States.
Rise of the Guardians
Budget: $145 million
Domestic Box Office: $103 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73% Fresh
I have a personal theory that people didn’t go see Rise of the Guardians because they got it confused with Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians from a couple years previously, which also didn’t succeed at the box office but wasn’t viewed nearly as well by critics. This one wasn’t about owls, but was instead essentially The Avengers for all the make-believe characters your parents told you were real when you were a child. It’s easy for terrible family movies to make their money back just because they’re the only game in town, however, for whatever reason nobody was interested in playing this game.
Budget: $100 million
Domestic Box Office: $48 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77% Fresh
First thing’s first, we’re not talking about Pan, the abomination from last year starring Hugh Jackman. The 2003 retelling of Peter Pan was praised for being visually stunning and also because it was one of the more accurate versions of the classic story to hit the screen, yet it opened in seventh place. Part of the problem was likely that, since all the key roles in the film were played by children, there were no major stars to help draw attention. The biggest name in the cast is Jason Isaacs, a solid actor, but not the sort that people go to the movies just to see.