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Believe it or not, Shaun The Sheep Movie was recently announced as the highest rated film of the summer on Rotten Tomatoes. Why is this so unbelievable? Because for a film that only has one bad review out of the collective 112 reviews it received, it’s only made $11.1 million, to date, during in its US release. Lucky for Aardman, international grosses have elevated the film to a comfy $70.8 million total, but still – a film that could only find one critic against it couldn’t even make the top 10 ranking at the box office two weekends ago.
This got us to thinking: what other highly decorated films were released upon the public, only to fail at finding an audience? The results of such questioning are surprising enough that we actually found 10 supreme candidates that are well loved by critics, but somehow vastly unseen by the viewing public at large.
A Most Violent YearRT: 90%
Domestic Opening Weekend: $172,788 (Limited) - $1,512,224 (Wide)
Total Worldwide Gross: $5,749,134
What Happened?: There was one big factor that killed A Most Violent Year at the box office: its lack of awards buzz. Between Interstellar hampering any sort of Best Actress run for Jessica Chastain, and the lack of major awards nominations outside of Chastain’s Best Supporting Actress nod at the Golden Globes, J.C. Chandor’s powerful film was left to wither without the usual word of mouth that prestige season nominations lend to a film as small as this. Thankfully, both Chastain and Oscar Isaac made it out with their careers, but that’s little consolation as this film could have, and should have, done better.
Domestic Opening Weekend: $135,388
Total Worldwide Gross:$33,474,334
What Happened?: Behold, the power of Ben Affleck’s penis, as Gone Girl opened the same weekend as Whiplash, and managed to corner a significant portion of the audiences that already saw Guardians Of The Galaxy and would have rather have seen Robert Downey Jr. in The Judge. While it eventually climbed to its best showing of 16th place in December, the movie’s slow release into more and more theaters didn’t pan out like Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance would later in the year. Sony Pictures Classics was either rushing or dragging when it came to their release model, and we’ll let you decide which it was.
In The LoopRT: 94%
Domestic Opening Weekend: $191,866
Total Worldwide Gross: $7,787,487
What Happened?: With In The Loop, it’s not so much about what happened – more truthfully it’s about what hadn’t happened yet. With the film being a box office adaptation of Armando Iannucci’s The Thick Of It, the audience for the film was already limited. Throw in the words "political comedy" and "R-rated," and you can see how this might have been a bit of a hard sell. However, if this film had been released after Veep premiered on HBO and Peter Capaldi debuted as The Doctor on Doctor Who, there might have been more fanfare.
Domestic Opening Weekend: $68,266
Total Worldwide Gross: $19,839,492
What Happened?: Subject matter. Plain and simple, Amour isn’t the type of film that makes money with huge crowds, as it focuses on a longtime couple coming to terms with their deaths. Sure, Django Unchained made some money with an exploration into darker subject matters, but Michael Haneke’s dissertation on growing old and the betrayal of one’s body isn’t exactly a film people are going to walk into for a Saturday matinee of Amour, when they can watch Leonardo DiCaprio bleed on screen like a madman?
Frost / NixonRT: 92%
Domestic Opening Weekend: $180,708 (Limited) - $3,022,250 (Wide)
Total Worldwide Gross: $27,426,335
What Happened?: Historical biopics already are a hard sell, and releasing them around Christmas can be even harder to market to general audiences. But a biopic with an older cast, focusing on a political watershed moment that occurred in the 1970s, is about as limited as one can get. While a film like this can (and should) make a killing in award nominations -- seeing as the nomination body tends to skew to the older demographic -- it’s not going to bring massive lines when the sparkling vampires of the Twilight saga are making their big-screen debut around the same time.
Domestic Opening Weekend:$140,401 (Limited) - $1,552,426 (Wide)
Total Worldwide Gross: $17,654,912
What Happened?: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen are to Nebraska as Twilight was to Frost/Nixon. As if a limited release window in November 2013 wasn’t enough, having the two biggest films of that year debuting at the same time, and consistently performing with huge numbers through the ensuing holiday season, really blocked any attempt Nebraska had at making money. For some reason, a black-and-white drama that explores a father’s love couldn’t compete with snowmen and rebellion.
Love And MercyRT: 90%
Domestic Opening Weekend: $2,122,177 (Limited) / $1,752,417 (Wide)
Total Worldwide Gross: $12,311,776
What Happened?: Now here’s the definition of a film that could have made money if it followed the usual prestige playbook. Love And Mercy has a recognizable cast, a fresh story, and better appeal to younger audiences than most other music biopics you see in the multiplex (save for Straight Outta Compton). Unfortunately, Love And Mercy dropped at the beginning of the summer blockbuster season, and was outdone in the mass appeal category by the recently released Compton. Maybe an end-of-year awards push can bring it more attention?
The Good LieRT: 88%
Domestic Opening Weekend: $841,422
Total Worldwide Gross: $2,722,209
What Happened?: If the similarities to the white savior complex that The Blind Side cashed in on didn’t shoo audiences away, then Ben Affleck’s penis (again!!) certainly collected whoever was briefly thinking of watching this film. Gone Girl took theaters by storm the same weekend The Good Lie opened, and in an unusually crowded October, there was no room for a "feel good" story that later had its validity questioned. To put things into perspective, Nicolas Cage’s Left Behind opened that same weekend and managed to crack the top 10. The Good Lie’s opening position? 13th, aka "Better than Whiplash" Place.
The ImmigrantRT: 88%
Domestic Opening Weekend: $44,064
Total Worldwide Gross: $5,867,686
What Happened?: In the same year that The Weinstein Group’s Radius/TWC imprint dragged their feet on releasing Snowpiercer, they barely paid lip service to releasing James Gray’s The Immigrant into general theatrical exhibition. With a whopping 150 theaters, in the dead of summer 2014, on the same day Godzilla shook the Earth for the first time in over a decade, The Immigrant was released with little to no fanfare, and barely a mention after. Even the film’s eventual release to Netflix was a muted affair.
Beasts Of The Southern WildRT: 86%
Domestic Opening Weekend: $169,702
Total Worldwide Gross: $21,107,746
What Happened?: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she caught the eyes of the press, awards voters, and The Onion, en masse. Unfortunately for her, mass audiences didn’t care, as Beasts Of The Southern Wild came off as a twee fairy tale about living in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, how a six year old girl could kill her father with a punch to the chest, and why it’s truly magical to escape a FEMA camp and return home to an area devastated by nature’s wonder. Sadly, the movie’s made of magic, but it couldn’t conjure an audience. Such a shame.