You would think that when it comes to classic movies, people would immediately recognize their greatness and fully embrace it upon the film’s release into theaters. However, that’s actually not always the case, and in fact some of the best movies ever made struggled to initially find an audience during their theatrical runs. Eventually most of these movies make up for those box office losses with home video and selling the rights to cable companies.
But still, it’s kind of amazing to look back over some of the consensus greatest movies ever made and see just how many were outright disasters upon initially release. For every Jaws, or Star Wars, or Titanic, there are half a dozen revered movies that were just completely ignored in movie theaters.
It’s a Wonderful Life
These days we remember It’s a Wonderful Life as arguably the greatest Christmas film ever made, but when it was released it did so poorly it bankrupted Frank Capra’s production company.
The Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz cost a huge (for the time) sum of money to make, and only just barely made back its budget at the box office. It initially lost the studio more than a million bucks.
The Shawshank Redemption
Rated by fans on IMDb as the greatest movie ever made, initially the bad title kept people away and the film fell short of earning back its budget of $25 million on its initial theatrical run.
Now considered a transcendent science fiction film, Blade Runner was a disaster from production all the way to box office, only becoming a classic after earning a devoted cult following.
At the time of its release, Cleopatra was one of the most expensive movies ever made, and despite being the top grossing film of 1963 it still fell well short of its budget of $44 million.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
It’s since become one of the most beloved kid’s movies ever made, but at the time of its release it was considered just too damn weird to get much box office momentum going.
Voted by the American Film Institute as the greatest film ever made, the movie was a thinly veiled shot at William Randolph Hearst, who in turn blackballed it into box office obscurity.