It may be hard to imagine that such now-iconic film comedies as “Full Metal Jacket,” “The Machinist,” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” were box office flops when they were released but grew to become recognized as classics over time. This happens more often than some people think, however.
To compile a list of now-classic dramas that bombed at the box office, 24/7 Tempo defined as a classic any comedy with audience scores and Tomatometer ratings of at least 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator. We then drew international box office and production cost data from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services, and historical theater ticket prices from the National Association of Theater Owners. We considered any film that earned less than 200% of its reported production budget to have been a flop when released.
The films were then ranked based on the difference between the number of positive Rotten Tomatoes audience reviews (a rating of 3.5 or more out of 5) for each film as of February 2022 and the estimated number of tickets sold worldwide for the film during its initial theatrical release. The difference represents the gulf between a film’s current popularity and its initial reception. (Information on directors and stars, when included, comes from IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon.)
Why these films, now considered some of the funniest in cinematic history, tanked in theaters at the time of their release is anyone’s guess. Maybe it was poor marketing; maybe the release date was inopportune; maybe the potential for foreign sales was overestimated; or maybe the box office receipts were respectable but production costs were too high. (Flop or hit, these are the most expensive movies ever made.)
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