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6 Blockbuster Movies That Were Expected to Flop

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Though it’s hard to imagine James Cameron's Titanic as being anything but one of Hollywood’s biggest hits, the film’s box office prospects weren’t looking very good before its release. Despite highly publicized production nightmares and budget problems, the 1997 romantic epic managed to turn things around when it reached cinemas—in a very big way. Here are six blockbuster movies that were expected to flop.

1. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Walt Disney’s first feature-length animated movie. In fact, it was the first animated film to have a running time over 80 minutes. Owing to the fact that it was the first of its kind, many people found it hard to believe that children would be able—or want—to sit still for that long, or that parents would be willing to suffer through more than an hour of an animated fairy tale. Hollywood journalists believed that it would be a box office flop, with some calling the animated film “Disney's Folly.” Even Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian, thought that Snow White was doomed to fail.

However, when it was released in 1937, Snow White immediately became a critical and commercial success. Walt Disney was later given an Honorary Academy Award (which was accompanied by seven miniature statuettes) for his work on the flm, which was "recognized as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field.”

2. STAR WARS (1977)

Before its release, Star Wars was considered a box office bomb waiting to happen. The problem? It looked too different from other sci-fi movies of the time. Fox executives didn’t have much faith in George Lucas' space opera, so only booked it into 40 theaters for its Memorial Day weekend opening.

“There’s an enjoyable irony to this,” Robbie Collin of The Telegraph wrote. “In 1977, Fox was convinced that Star Wars was going to be a flop because the damn thing was so unfashionable. In the mid-seventies, American cinema still looked like Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men, and all the available data suggested that audiences preferred their pictures realistic.”

Even Lucas was convinced that Star Wars was going to flop. To insulate himself from the possibly dismal box office numbers, he hopped a flight to Hawaii with Steven Spielberg, which is where the pair cooked up the idea for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

"It's a science fiction film,” Lucas told Stephen Colbert during a Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015. “Science fiction films get a good old group of sci-fi fans. They'll go to anything the first week. Wait for a couple weeks, and you'll see what it's really gonna do. [Originally] nobody liked it [at the studio].”

3. TITANIC (1997)

Before it was released in December 1997, many film reporters were predicting that Titanic was going to sink. It had a disastrous production with numerous delays and a bloated budget of $200 million, the highest of any film at the time. The Los Angeles Times even began running a daily column called “Titanic Watch,” which chronicled every production delay and increasing budget concern for the massive film. When Titanic was pushed from its original summer release date to a December one, many in Hollywood felt that the epic movie could be a colossal flop.

“The likelihood that Titanic, the costliest film ever made, will delay its opening, previously set for the July 4 weekend, is sending ripples across Hollywood and turning the summer season into turmoil,” The New York Times reported.

The film, of course, ended up being a monster hit and held the top spot at the box office for 15 weeks straight. It didn't drop out of the top 10 until mid-June of the following year. It became the-then highest grossing movie of all time with $2.1 billion, not to mention 11 Academy Awards. "They were dissing it all around,” star Gloria Stuart said about its surprise success. "That happens in Hollywood.”

4. AVATAR (2009)

After the success of Titanic, James Cameron took a 12-year break from narrative features to make Avatar, another larger-than-life movie that used state-of-the-art technology. Like Titanic, Avatar had to contend with numerous delays, rewrites, and a ballooning budget. Studio executives and film reporters believed it would flop under its own weight because of its production woes, not to mention its three-hour running time.

“What we have with Avatar then, is the inverse phenomenon of Titanic,” said columnist Drew Magary just before the film’s December release date. “Titanic was expected to flop, and ended up crushing everything in its path. Avatar arrives heralded as the greatest film event in history. But all the 3D pterodactyls and giant robot exoskeletons in the world won’t help the movie if it ends up, you know, sucking. It’s impossible to know until you see for yourself, but it sure doesn’t look very promising right now.”

Once again, Cameron managed to prove his detractors wrong. Avatar quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, taking in just over $2.7 billion to become the highest grossing movie of all time (a record it maintains today).

5. INCEPTION (2010)

After the monster success of 2008’s The Dark Knight made Christopher Nolan Hollywood’s hottest director, he was given license to pursue any film project he wanted. He chose Inception, a mind-bending heist film based on Nolan’s imagination and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Due to the film’s highly original story, studio executives were worried that audiences might not be onboard with Nolan’s “dream” movie.

"Nobody thinks it's a bad movie," an unnamed executive from a rival studio told Reuters. "The question is whether it's going to be the real breakout picture that everybody seems to think or just the darling of the east and west coasts and miss the rest of the country."

The feeling around the entertainment industry was that Inception would be a good movie, but too complicated for general audiences to be interested in or understand. While there was no doubt in Nolan’s talent as a director, few people thought that the film would make a profit, or that Warner Bros. would even recoup its $200 million investment.

“This film will be a major flop at the box office,” science fiction author Jason Sanford wrote in 2010. “My prediction is that this will be a good [science fiction] film which the critics will love, but which doesn't find a large audience because of its subject matter. Since Christopher Nolan is still Hollywood's golden boy and is working on another Batman movie, studios will overlook losing their shirts on this film. But that won't change the fact that Inception will be a flop.”

Inception ended up becoming a smash hit when it was released in July 2010, earning $825.5 million globally, and later winning four of its eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Visual Effects.

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

While Marvel Studios is responsible for some of the biggest superhero movies of the last decade, Guardians of the Galaxy was positioned to be the movie studio’s first major flop—well before it was even released. It was a weird sci-fi adventure featuring characters that weren’t popular in mainstream culture (namely a talking raccoon named Rocket and a walking tree named Groot) and it starred actors who weren’t (yet) viable box office attractions.

“A movie about an unknown group of superheroes that includes a talking raccoon and a tree that's sort of a person won't be a box office hit no matter how many Marvel fanboys watch its trailer online,” wrote Daniel B. Kline of The Motley Fool. “With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel has the classic ingredients for a flop—perhaps not a huge one, but a failure compared to the superhero films the company has released since falling under the Disney banner.”

After it was released, the Marvel movie quickly became one of the highest grossing movies of the year, and launched Chris Pratt’s career into Hollywood stardom.

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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