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11 Beloved Movies That Were Box Office Flops

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It's hard to believe that some beloved films didn't find immediate success when they were released, but sometimes movies are just ahead of their time. Here are 11 famous examples of celebrated classics that were box office bombs.

1. It's a Wonderful Life

Budget: $3.18 million

Box Office: $3.3 million

While It's a Wonderful Life is a staple of the holiday season, it received little attention from general audiences at the time of its release in 1946. This was mainly due to its dark narrative and subject matter. RKO Pictures lost $525,000 on the film, despite its five Academy Award nominations.

It's a Wonderful Life didn't become ubiquitously popular in the United States until 1974 when National Telefilm Associates failed to renew its copyright because it was considered a box office flop. Now in the public domain, TV networks gobbled up It's a Wonderful Life because they didn't have to pay royalties to air it. In the 1980s, hundreds of home video distributors released It's a Wonderful Life on videotape, which further expanded its reach around the world. Over time, it became a perennial holiday classic.

"It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen," Frank Capra said of its success in 1984. "The film has a life of its own now, and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I'm like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I'm proud... but it's the kid who did the work. I didn't even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea."

2. Blade Runner

Budget: $28 million

Box Office: $27.5 million

While Blade Runner is one of the most influential science fiction movies ever made, it was considered just another sci-fi flick when it was released during the summer of 1982. Theaters were saturated with iconic genre movies such as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Thing, and, most importantly,  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was the highest-grossing movie of the year. Blade Runner only took in $6.5 million during its opening weekend.

Audiences re-discovered Blade Runner on VHS and later DVD throughout the '80s and '90s, as Warner Bros. re-released it with a director's cut and later a final cut, which Ridley Scott currently stands by as the definitive version. In 1993, the Library of Congress picked it for the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

3. The Shawshank Redemption

Budget: $25 million

Box Office: $16 million

Despite very positive critical response and Academy Award recognition in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption failed to find an audience in theaters. The general public started to notice The Shawshank Redemption when Warner Bros. released it on VHS the following year, and it quickly became one of the top video rentals across the country. In 1997, the cable network TNT bought the rights to air it, and this helped the film find a larger audience with frequent and repeated airings. The Shawshank Redemption is currently on the American Film Institute's best 100 movies of the past 100 years and is the #1 film on IMDb.com's Top 250 list.

4. Brazil

Budget: $15 million

Box Office: $9.9 million

Terry Gilliam earned plenty of good faith from general audiences and movie studios after the success of the Monty Python films. However, after he finished Brazil in 1985, Universal Pictures refused to release the film because of its anti-corporate undertones and strange narrative. Terry Gilliam screened Brazil privately without Universal's approval and took a full-page ad in Variety to address studio chairman Sid Sheinberg that simply read, “When are you going to release my film, ‘BRAZIL’? After Universal re-edited Brazil and tacked on a happy ending, it came out to little fanfare and only grossed about $10 million.

Brazil remains a cult classic after Terry Gilliam's cut was released on home video. In fact, the Criterion Collection has released it five times on multiple formats since 1996.

5. Children of Men

Budget: $76 million

Box Office: $35.5 million

Before Alfonso Cuarón dazzled audiences with Gravity in 2013, his dystopian science fiction film Children of Men didn't make much of an impact on general audiences in the United States in 2006. Although it received positive reviews and an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, Children of Men didn't find financial success at the domestic box office, only taking in $35.5 million.

However, it eventually found moderate success on home video with an impressive $25.5 million to add to its overall gross profit.

6. Citizen Kane

Budget: $839,727

Box Office: $1.5 million

Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane didn't perform well at the box office when it was released in May 1941. Along with its dark subject matter and narrative style, one of the reasons for the low box office numbers was media tycoon William Randolph Hearst. When Hearst discovered that Charles Foster Kane's story was an unfavorable and loose adaptation on his life, he banned any mention of Citizen Kane and Orson Welles in all of his newspapers and radio networks across the country. This resulted in fewer theaters agreeing to screen Citizen Kane.

At the time, general audiences weren't keen on Citizen Kane's premise and themes (for example, that the American Dream was a lonely and cynical venture), and stayed away from the movie. However, it is now seen as one of the greatest films in history for its innovative structure and style. RKO Pictures lost roughly $160,000 on Citizen Kane, but managed nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Orson Welles.

7. Hugo

Budget: $170 million

Box Office: $73.8 million

Although Martin Scorsese's Hugo didn't rake in the dough during its theatrical run, it stands as one of the director's most celebrated films with 11 Academy Award nominations in 2011. One of the reasons why Hugo is perceived as a failure is because of its box office competition. Paramount Pictures released Hugo a week after The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One and during the same week as Disney's The Muppets, which were both strong performers with families and young adults, Hugo's key demographic.

8. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Budget: $3 million

Box Office: $4 million

While Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is considered a family classic today, audiences didn't enthusiastically respond to it when it was released in 1971. Since the film wasn't profitable, Paramount Pictures decided not to renew its seven-year copyright, and Warner Bros. bought the rights for $500,000 in 1977. Under new ownership, Warner Bros. licensed Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory for TV broadcast where it found a widespread audience after repeated airings and further home video sales.

9. Fight Club

Budget: $63 million

Box Office: $37 million

Today, Fight Club is considered a modern-day classic and one of David Fincher's best movies. However, when it was released in October 1999, Twentieth Century Fox didn't know how to sell a movie about consumerism and misguided masculinity to general audiences. Fight Club's early reviews didn't help pack theaters either, as it garnered a mixed response from film critics.

Rosie O'Donnell hated Fight Club so much that she revealed its twist ending on her talk show. “It’s okay she hated it ... it struck some nerve for her whether she wanted to look at that or not,” Brad Pitt said on Fight Club's DVD commentary track, “but the deal was she gave away the ending on national television. It’s just unforgivable.”

Fight Club eventually found an audience on home video, and Fox sold more than 6 million copies and took in an additional $100 million.

10. Dazed & Confused

Budget: $6 million

Box Office: $7.6 million

Back in 1993, Richard Linklater released his sophomore effort Dazed & Confused to very little fanfare. While the film featured current-day stars such as Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, and Matthew McConaughey, its young cast weren't household names at the time. Gramercy Pictures and Universal Pictures didn't know how to market a stoner coming-of-age movie without raunchy sex scenes or gross-out humor to a general audience, so it wasn't as successful as it could've been when you consider its all-star cast and world-class director.

While Dazed & Confused was virtually forgotten in 1993, it survived and managed to eventually find an audience among cinephiles. When asked if a movie like Dazed & Confused could be made today, Richard Linklater told The Hollywood Reporter, "Hell no! No way. It was only a $6 million film, but it was made in a studio. They would never do this. They're not in that business anymore. It would be hard to get it made indie. It would be hard to raise the money and do it."

11. The Wizard of Oz

Budget: $2.7 million

Box Office: $3 million

Believe it or not, The Wizard of Oz was a box office bomb when it was released in 1939. At the time, it was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's most expensive film ever with giant sets and state-of-the-art special effects. MGM had high expectations for the film, however, audiences weren't keen on making the journey to the Wonderful Land of Oz.

In fact, MGM lost $1.1 million on The Wizard of Oz because of its high production and distribution cost. Despite its middling box office numbers, it garnered four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and won two Oscars for Best Score and Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow."

Due to its critical success, MGM re-released The Wizard of Oz in 1949 for its 10th anniversary and it eventually became a profitable film for the studio, and it added $1.5 million to its box office. Throughout the years, MGM (and later Warner Bros, who now own the film rights) re-released The Wizard of Oz in theaters and home video, and it became an iconic piece of cinema and pop culture.

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Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures
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Scarface is Returning to Theaters for Its 35th Anniversary
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures

Pop culture history was forever altered on December 9, 1983, when Scarface arrived in movie theaters across America. A loose remake of Howard Hawks's classic 1932 gangster film, Brian De Palma's F-bomb-laden story of a Cuban immigrant who becomes the king of Miami's drug scene by murdering anyone in his path is still being endlessly dissected, and quoted, today. To celebrate the film's place in cinema history, the Tribeca Film Festival is teaming up with Screenvision Media and Universal Pictures to bring the film back into theaters next month.

Just last month, Scarface screened at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival as part of a 35th anniversary celebration. The film's main cast and crew—including De Palma and stars Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Steven Bauer—were on hand to discuss the making of the film and why it has endured as a contemporary classic. (Yes, that's the same conversation that left the panel momentarily speechless when moderator Jesse Kornbluth asked Pfeiffer how much she weighed during filming.) That post-screening Q&A will be part of the upcoming screenings.

"Scarface is a timeless film that has influenced pop culture in so many ways over the last 35 years. We're thrilled to partner with Universal Pictures and Tribeca Film Festival to bring it back to the big screen in celebration of its anniversary," Darryl Schaffer, executive vice president of operations and exhibitor relations at Screenvision Media, said in a press statement. "The Tribeca Film Festival talk was an important commemoration of the film. We're excited to extend it to the big screen and provide fans a behind-the-scenes insight into what production was like in the 1980s."

Scarface will screen at select theaters nationwide on June 10, June 11, and June 13, 2018. Visit Scarface35.com to find out if Tony Montana and his little friend will be coming back to a cinema near you.

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20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
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11 Magical Facts About Willow
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Five years after the release of Return of the Jedi (1983) and four years after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), George Lucas gave audiences the story for another film about an unlikely hero on an epic journey, but this time he had three Magic Acorns and a taller friend instead of a whip and gun to help him along. Willow (1988) was directed by Ron Howard and starred former Ewok and future Leprechaun, Warwick Davis.

Over the past few decades, Willow—which was released 30 years ago today—has become a cult classic that's been passed down from generation to generation. Before you sit down to explore that world again (or for the first time), here are 11 things you might not have know about Willow.

1. IT WAS WRITTEN FOR WARWICK DAVIS.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Warwick Davis revealed that George Lucas first mentioned the idea for the film to Davis’s mother during the filming of one of the Ewok TV specials in 1983, in which he was reprising his role as Wicket. Lucas had been developing the idea for more than a decade at that point, but working with Davis on Return of the Jedi helped him realize the vision. “George just simply said that he had this idea, and he was writing this story, with me in mind,” Davis said. “He didn't say at that time that it was going to be called Willow. He said, 'It's not for quite yet; it's for a few years ahead, when Warwick is a bit older.'" The role was Davis’s first time not wearing a mask or costume on screen.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED MUNCHKINS.

Five years after he mentioned the idea, Lucas was ready to make his film with Ron Howard directing and a then-17-year-old Davis as the lead. The original title was presumably inspired by the characters from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the subsequent Victor Fleming film.

3. IT WAS CRITICIZED FOR BEING A COPY OF STAR WARS.

Having thought of the two worlds simultaneously, Lucas may have cribbed some of his own work and other well-known stories a little too much for Willow, and some critics noticed. “Without anything like [Star Wars’s] eager, enthusiastic tone, and indeed with an understandable weariness, Willow recapitulates images from Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver's Travels, Mad Max, Peter Pan, Star Wars itself, The Hobbit saga, Japanese monster films of the 1950s, the Bible, and a million fairy tales," wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. "One tiny figure combines the best attributes of Tinkerbell, the Good Witch Glinda, and the White Rock Girl.”

Later in her review, Maslin continued to point out the similarities between the two films: “When the sorcerer tells Willow to follow his heart, he becomes the Obi-Wan Kenobi of a film that also has its Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3P0 and Princess Leia stand-ins. Much energy has gone into the creation of their names, some of which (General Kael) have recognizable sources and others (Burglekutt, Cherlindrea, Airk) have only tongue-twisting in mind. Not even the names have anything like Star Wars-level staying power.”

4. IT WAS THE LARGEST CASTING CALL FOR LITTLE PEOPLE IN MOVIE HISTORY.

Lucas has previously cast several little people for roles in Return of the Jedi, and there were more than 100 actors hired to portray Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. But, according to Davis, the casting call for Willow was the largest ever at the time with between 225 and 240 actors hired for the film.

5. THE DEATH DOGS WERE REAL DOGS IN COSTUME.

The big bad in the film, Bavmorda, has demon dogs that terrorize Willow’s village. The dogs are more boar-like than canine, but they were portrayed by Rottweilers. The prop team outfitted the dogs with rubber masks and used animatronic heads for close-up scenes.

6. IT WAS THE FIRST USE OF MORPHING IN A FILM.

While trying to use magic to turn an animal back into a human, Willow fails several times before eventually getting it right, but he does succeed in turning the animal into another animal, which is shown in stages. To achieve this, the visual effects teamed used a technique known as "morphing."

The film’s visual effects supervisor, Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic, explained the technique to The Telegraph:

The way things had been up till that time, if a character had to change at some way from a dog into a person or something like that it could be done with a series of mechanical props. You would have to cut away to a person watching it, and then cut back to another prop which is pushing the ears out, for example, so it didn't look fake ... we shot five different pieces of film, of a goat, an ostrich, a tiger, a tortoise, and a woman and had one actually change into the shape of the other one without having to cut away. The technique is much more realistic because the cuts are done for dramatic reasons, rather than to stop it from looking bad.”

7. THE STORY WAS CONTINUED IN SEVERAL NOVELS.

Willow has yet to receive a sequel, but fans of the story can return to the world in a trilogy of books that author Chris Claremont wrote in collaboration with Lucas between 1995 and 2000. According to the Amazon synopsis of Shadow Moon, the first book picks up 13 years after the events of the film, and baby Elora Danan’s friendless upbringing has turned her into a “spoiled brat who seemingly takes joy in making miserable the lives around her. The fate of the Great Realms rests in her hands, and she couldn't care less. Only a stranger can lead her to her destiny.”

8. THERE IS A MISSING SCENE CONCERNING THE MAGIC ACORNS.

Hardcore fans of the film have noticed that there is a continuity error that involves the Magic Acorns Willow was given by the High Aldwin. During an interview with The Empire Podcast, Davis explained that in a scene near the end of the film, he throws a second acorn and is inexplicably out after having only used two of the three Magic Acorns he had been given earlier in the film. Included in the Blu-ray release is the cut scene, in which Willow uses an acorn (his second) in a boat during a storm and accidentally turns the boat to stone. Davis says that his hair is wet in the next scene that did make it into the original version of the film, but the acorn is never referenced.

9. JOHN CUSACK AUDITIONED FOR THE PART OF MADMARTIGAN.

Val Kilmer in 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Val Kilmer famously played the role of the reluctant hero two years after played Iceman in Top Gun (1986), but he was not the only big name to audition for the role. Davis revealed in a commentary track that he once read with John Cusack, who in 1987 had already starred in Sixteen Candles (1984), Stand by Me (1986), and Hot Pursuit (1987).

10. THERE IS A NOD TO SISKEL AND EBERT.

During a battle scene later in the film, Willow and his compatriots have to fight a two-headed beast outside of the castle. The name of the stop motion beast is the Eborsisk, which is a combination of the names of famed film critics, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

11. THE BABY NEVER ACTED AGAIN.

A scene from 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

As is the case with most shows and films, the role of the baby Elora was played by twins, in this case Kate and Ruth Greenfield. The IMDb pages for both actresses only has the one credit. In 2007, Davis shared a picture of him posing with a woman named Laura Hopkirk, who said that she played the baby for the scenes shot in New Zealand, but she is not credited online.

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