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Box Office Bombs That Became Beloved

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Last year I started a podcast called "Overhated" and the original point was to give a little break to frequently savaged movies like Catwoman, Ishtar, and Battlefield Earth. But then I started to realize that there are varying degrees of "overhated." There's that basic one, but then there's the "unfairly dismissed" movie or the film that made no money but "became a huge cult favorite later on." So with that in mind, let's take a look at, as the article's title says, some box office bombs that became beloved.

Event Horizon (1997) -- (budget: $60 million. box office: $42 million) --  This gruesome "haunted house in outer space" flick had just enough Alien DNA to become a sleeper hit at the box office, but aside from a decent opening weekend (thanks mainly to the loyal horror crowd) it just wasn't meant to be. But it didn't take long for the movie to creep its way into a lot more hearts (and nightmares) once it hit cable and home video. From there Event Horizon quickly became a low-key, word-of-mouth genre favorite. Backed by a great cast (Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Laurence Fishburne, and a bunch more), an enjoyably old-fashioned "lost expedition" terror tale, and just enough visual nastiness to satisfy the devoted genre fans, the movie quickly became a cult classic. Bring the title up in a random movie conversation and you'll see what I mean.

Dark City (1998) -- (budget: $27 million / box office: $27 million)  -- No less a film lover than Roger Ebert called this sci-fi neo-noir his favorite film of 1998, but even before he made that pronouncement a few of us sci-fi nerds were already singing the praises of Alex Proyas' admirably off-kilter tale of forgotten memories, stolen identities, and various otherworldly secrets. "Brainy" sci-fi is often a risky gamble at the box office (unless you pair it with the amazing action of The Matrix, of course), but while Dark City was unable to become a sleeper hit at the box office -- it pretty much broke even, which is not a win in the box office game -- it's gone on to be analyzed, discussed, and admired as one of the late '90s finest science fiction films.

The Iron Giant (1999) -- (budget: $50 million / box office: $31 million) -- Hard to believe if you've actually seen it, but this awesome movie was not a hit (not even close) when it played in theaters -- but I challenge you to find one animation fan who doesn't love The Iron Giant. From the beautiful animation that evokes everything from Norman Rockwell to Steven Spielberg, but always with a bemused, somehow modern grin, it's a lovely E.T.-ish story about a young kid who befriends a massive robot -- and all the trouble that inevitably occurs when such a friendship exists.

Josie and the Pussycats (2001) -- (budget: $30 million-ish. box office $15 million) -- It was a trend that seemed to last forever, from bona fide hits like The Flintstones and The Brady Bunch Movie to insanely weird productions like My Favorite Martian and (good lord) Car 54, Where Are You?, the "new movie from an old TV show" was a very prevalent commodity. And while this clever, knowing, self-deprecating satire of endless consumerism didn't make much of a splash in theaters, it's gone on to become a legitimate cult favorite, especially among the millennial movie nerds. Between the funny script, the game cast, the energetic pace, and the fun tunes, it's not hard to figure out why.

May (2002) -- (budget: $350,000 / box office: $630,000) -- If you ever need proof that studio suits don't always know gold when they see it, take a look at the underappreciated modern classic known as May. Partially a heartbreaking "misfit strikes back" story and an off-kilter homage to Frankenstein at the same time, May tells the story of a strange, lonely young woman who decides to build a friend out of her acquaintances' finest, um, parts. Once again, the late, great Roger Ebert saw something special in an odd genre movie (he gave it 4 stars!) but Lionsgate gave a paltry theatrical release before dumping it onto DVD. But you won't find many horror fans who don't love this movie.

Idiocracy (2006) -- (budget: $2.5 million / box office: about $500,000) -- This cult comedy has become a low-key social media power in recent years, thanks mainly to Mike Judge's weirdly prescient observations about silly humans and their stupid society. It also helps that this energetically weird piece of social commentary has several truly funny set pieces, and a handful of scene-stealing performances from folks like Terry Crews, Dax Shepard, and Maya Rudolph. Office Space may be Mike Judge's higher-profile cult comedy, but I suspect we'll be referring to Idiocracy even more frequently in the future. Unfortunately.

So what's the lesson here? Well, if a movie bombs at the box office, that doesn't mean its pop culture shelf life is over. That's for darn sure.

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