There are many reasons why a movie can flop, more often than not, it’s because they have to share release windows with the overwhelming competition.
It is often said that the modern era has too many forms of entertainment—streaming services, Youtube, etc.—fighting for everyone’s limited free time. There is truth to this, but one thing to consider is that it isn’t necessarily a new problem, especially where the film is concerned. History is riddled with movies that are fondly remembered but bombed at the box office.
While it would be nice to think that every great movie has earned a fair amount of money for its trouble, the truth just isn’t that simple. There are a variety of reasons why a movie can turn out to be a financial failure but, more often than not, it’s because these movies have to share release windows with the absolutely overwhelming competition.
10 Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Given that the film was made from the ground up to be a love letter to geek culture, filled with video game in-jokes and deadpan, awkward humor, one could make the argument that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was always destined for cult status. Regardless, it deserved a lot more than the box office showing that it got, making back only $30 million on a budget of $60 million.
Its poor showing was due, in no small part, to release in the summer of 2010, a time when other, much more anticipated releases like Toy Story 3, Shrek Forever After, Despicable Me and Inception had already taken the world by storm.
9 Atlantis: The Lost Empire
2001 was a time of change in the animation industry. The Disney Renaissance of the ’90s had passed, the audience from that era was older and companies wanted to recapture that audience with more mature stories. Atlantis: The Lost Empire was a creative gamble on Disney’s part, a steep departure from the fairy tales and otherwise magical stories they were known for.
It didn’t pay off, with the movie only earning $186 million against its $120 million budget. The film reviewed well and may have ended up a hit if not for Shrek releasing just a couple of weeks earlier, complete with crass humor, CGI animation—the new and exciting animation technique at the time—and, unlike Atlantis, the ability to take straight shots at the very same fairy tale aesthetic that Disney had popularized.
8 The Big Lebowski
Released in 1998, very soon after the release of the wildly successful Fargo, The Big Lebowski was primed to be another major success for the Coen brothers. Ultimately, however, the film ended its box office run with $18 million, just barely beating out its reported budget of $15 million.
Critics at the time enjoyed the film, and it was released in the spring, a relatively quiet time of the year in terms of movie releases. However, many attribute the previous year’s Titanic, which had cemented itself as a cultural touchstone and was still going strong at that time, to this film’s underwhelming performance.
7 Kubo & The Two Strings
Kubo and the Two Strings is a tale full of magic, monsters, and mythology by LAIKA, known for making Coraline, Corpse Bride, ParaNorman, and other critically acclaimed films. Kubo had a fair amount of hype leading up to its release, with audiences praising its unique art style, original music, and grander premise than LAIKA’s previous films.
Unfortunately, this film would come out in the summer of 2016, a crowded time, particularly for animation. This film had to contend with a number of major releases, including Finding Dory, Secret Life of Pets, Zootopia and, the movie that everyone had to see that summer, Captain America: Civil War. For a time, it was LAIKA’s worst-performing film, earning just $77.5 million against a $60 million budget.
6 The Iron Giant
Often regarded as one of the greatest animated movies of all time, The Iron Giant offered a calmer take on storytelling in animation. Released in 1999, the tail end of the Disney Renaissance, a time when animated movies were more or less expected to have some sweeping magical elements to them, Iron Giant offered a quieter story about friendship and the nature of humanity. In a lot of ways, it went against the grain for the standards of the time and, had it found a more open release date, more people may have been willing to see it.
Unfortunately, 1999 also saw the release of Disney’s Tarzan which made almost $450 million, completely overpowering The Iron Giant, which only made $31 million on a $50 million budget.
Writer and director Alex Garland is known at this point for making excellent movies that are hard sells to wide audiences. 2014’s Ex Machina is another good example of this. However, 2018’s Annihilation had an extremely rough time at the box office. Based on a 2014 novel of the same name, Annihilation was extremely intelligent, but also hard to follow.
On top of an inscrutable premise and a poorly received test screening, the film would release in a particularly bad time, sandwiched between the releases of Black Panther and the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. At the end of its run, Annihilation only earned $43 million against a reported $55 million budget.
4 Popstar: Never Stop Never
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping was released in the summer of 2016 and was an R-rated comedy with a fair amount of genuine laughs to its name. However, it bombed at the box office, making just $9.5 million against a $20 million budget.
The reason for this is because, again, 2016 was a crowded time for major movie releases, including highly-anticipated superhero movies like X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad. In terms of raunchy comedies, audiences had their eyes set on Seth Rogen who would release the highly anticipated films Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and Sausage Party that year.
3 Missing Link
LAIKA’s most recent film, Missing Link, was predictably funny, heartfelt, and beautifully animated, as the studio is known for. The 2019 film ended up becoming their worst-performing film in the studio’s history. The reason for this is that Missing Link was released at the worst time; the spring of 2019.
It was placed squarely in between Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, with Spider-Man: Far From Home release shortly after that. The MCU was an untouchable film franchise during the 2010s, and Missing Link was released when fans were too busy gearing up for the climax of Marvel’s 10+ year story.
2 Rise Of The Guardians
2012’s Rise of the Guardians was a film about a group of super-powered beings teaming up to face evil, cosmic threats. It was a charming and funny film, with some brilliantly animated action moments. Unfortunately, it was released at the tail end of 2012, when the world was already in love with another movie that featured super-powered beings teaming up to face evil, cosmic threats, namely The Avengers.
While Rise of the Guardians wasn’t a failure, earning $306.9 million against a budget of $145 million, most of that was made overseas. In the U.S., Rise of the Guardians just couldn’t capture the interest of the public.
1 The Shawshank Redemption
Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, it may be a surprise to learn that The Shawshank Redemption was considered a financial failure, earning just $58 million against a budget of $25 million. Many have speculated as to how such a critically adored movie could have been a flop at the box office, with Morgan Freeman famously blaming the fact that the movie’s title was hard to pronounce.
There may be some truth in there, however, 1994 was a big time for films. Shawshank Redemption released in the fall of 1994, meaning it had to compete with major hits like Speed, Forrest Gump, and the upcoming Pulp Fiction.