It can be hard to definitively assess what makes a film stand the test of time. One might assume that both the critical and commercial performance exclusively dictates longevity of success and legacy, but many films that initially failed to find its audience have become cult classics or essential viewing.
Here is just a handpicked selection of films that fell short on the promise of their components in immediate box office returns, but have become increasingly appreciated and renowned through reputation, critical appraisal, and a dedicated fan following…
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010)
Edgar Wright’s offbeat comic book adaptation seemingly had everything going for it to ensure smash success. One would think the combination of an exciting up-and-coming ensemble cast including Michael Cera, Brie Larson and Aubrey Plaza, a soundtrack by famed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich (featuring original songs by Beck) and Wright’s wonderfully humorous and unique visual style would be enough to bring in a substantial audience. Unfortunately, the film was considered a box-office bomb upon release and fell short of breaking even, despite being favoured by critics and filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith,and Jason Reitman. The film has since become a strong cult favourite…
Blade Runner (1982)
Though it is fair to say the film has gained more than substantial recognition over the years and remains a go-to influence upon preceding dystopian and thought-provoking sci-fi narratives, it failed to follow up upon the successes of films such as Star Wars or Alien regarding box office receipts. Unfortunately, the dark, introspective film noir elements did not instantly chime with audiences, nor did the film fair well against contenders such as The Thing and E.T. After years of re-edits, re-releases and an increasing cult devotion to Blade Runner, a long awaited sequel Blade Runner 2049 was released in 2017. Unfortunately, it too was considered to be a box office disappointment, yet was strongly favoured by critics. Blade Runner’s impact on sci-fi culture in the years since has been immense. In stylistic terms, its cyberpunk oriented world has become a franchise almost within itself and last year was one of the immersive settings for Secret Cinema events.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
It’s hard to believe that Frank Darabont’s multi-award winning adaption of Stephen King’s novella was seen as anything other than a cinematic landmark and resounding success of a film. Yet it would have most likely gone under the radar had it not been for word of mouth, academy awards, re-releases and overwhelming demand on the video rental circuit. Perhaps having to contend with films such as Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, having a dark subject matter and a title that was apparently considered to be confusing to audiences might explain its sleeper hit status. Thankfully, Darabont’s prison drama is now thought of as one of the greatest films of all time featuring classic and quotable performances, a beautiful score by Thomas Newman and cinematography by the ever fantastic Roger Deakins.
Donnie Darko (2004)
There was a point where Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko seemed to be everyone’s favourite slightly left-field film. It is a cool film to like – cool cast, cool concept, and cool soundtrack – but this is mainly thanks to the cult following that developed from strong home entertainment sales and re-release of a director’s cut after a disappointing theatrical run. The film’s commercial performance suffered partly due to a failing advertising campaign depicting a crashing plane that was too reminiscent of the September 11th attacks that had occurred only a month before the film’s release.
The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Maybe it was the 160-minute runtime. Maybe it was the overlong title that arguably contains a major spoiler. The fact is that Andrew Dominik’s powerful and brooding western boasts an impressive cast including Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, and Zooey Deschanel, a score by Nick Cave and stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins – yet it ultimately only made roughly half of its budget in box office revenue despite rave reviews from critics.
Having to contend with other hugely popular westerns such as No Country For Old Men, 3:10 to Yuma and There Will Be Blood that were also released that year certainly didn’t help. It does still have a real and lasting following. One example could be last year’s hugely successful western video game Red Dead Redemption 2 recreating the film’s famous train heist sequence almost shot for shot.