Just a few weeks ago The Phenomenal 5 list looked at bad movies that were huge box office hits. This time we are doing it a little different. I thought it would be fun to look at box office bombs that are actually much better films than their theater earnings indicate. These are movies that deserved the audiences that films like “Avatar”, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, and “Transformers” brought in. I tried to focus on films that have still never gotten over the box office drumming they took. The number of good movies brutalized by poor theater showings is pretty astonishing therefore I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these five box office bombs truly deserved better.
#5 – “Serenity”
It may surprise some but Joss Whedon was indeed directing movies prior to “The Avengers”. One such film was “Serenity” based on his science-fiction television series “Firefly”. The film follows the events of the series and brought back the entire cast led by Nathan Fillion. Actually I had not watched the series so I wasn’t expecting much from the film. I was wrong. This is fun, engaging, quip-filled sci-fi but it never caught much of an audience. It barely made back its budget and any possibly followups were quickly tossed out. What a shame.
#4 – “Waterworld”
To this day “Waterworld” is remembered for its cost controversy and its failures to cover its budget at the box office. At the time it was the most expensive movie ever made and the news focused more on that than the film itself. The movie deserved a lot better. There are some rough patches but overall the dystopian vision of a flooded earth is very compelling. The movie does several interesting things within the setting and there are several scenes that still stick with me. Not a perfect film but one that doesn’t deserve the pounding it has taken over the years.
#3 – “John Carter”
Yet another science-fiction movie with a mammoth-sized budget that fell well short of box office expectations. Disney went all-in with “John Carter”, a move that proved very costly. The film needed to make $600 million globally to break even. It didn’t even manage $290 million. Did Disney overspend? Absolutely. Is “John Carter” a bad movie? Absolutely not. It’s too long. It has a fairly stiff lead performance. It sometimes gets a bit too cheesy. But I think “John Carter” is a lot of fun. It’s filled with some amazing effects, jaw-dropping set pieces, and it lays the foundation for what could have been a strong sequel. That certainly isn’t happening now.
#2 – “Once Upon a Time in America”
There is a frustrating and shameful story behind the American release of Sergio Leone’s fabulous gangster epic “Once Upon a Time in America”. This was the final movie in Leone’s brilliant filmmaking career. It was set to release with a running time of 229 minutes. It did so in Europe. Panicking over some early screening reactions, it was decided to not only cut the American version down to 139 minutes, but also to rearrange numerous scenes. This was all done without Leone’s consent and the results were disastrous. The film bombed and to this day the brilliant original 229 minute version doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves.
#1 – “Hugo”
Movie fans often talk about Martin Scorsese movies. In those conversations you rarely hear any mention of “Hugo”. The 2011 film based on the Brian Selznick novel was generally applauded by critics and well represented at the Academy Award ceremony. But it is generally known as a box office flop and as a result it has been forgotten. Overall the film is believed to have lost around $100 million mostly due to the stiff competition it faced in the theaters (“Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1” and “The Muppets”). In reality it is a charming, stimulating, and poignant story told through the lens of a true filmmaking great. The fact that “Hugo” has been forgotten by many is discouraging. It was one of my favorite films of 2011 and it holds up remarkably well today.
So there are five good movies (in some cases great movies) that performed poorly at the box office and have never fully recovered. Each deserved a much better fate. Agree or disagree? Please let me know in the comments section below.