Time can be cruel or kind to films years after their release. Some universally-panned features find dedicated and passionate audiences decades after their creation, while initial success stories sometimes disappear quickly. Here are ten films that, despite the skill it took to create them, did not garner success when they premiered, but over the years have become beloved pieces of film history.
Hitchcock’s dark and cerebral film was not well-received when it was first released, earning less than any previous Hitchcock film. Eventually, the film earned its money back, but it was initially met with mixed reviews. But like the film’s narrative circle, film historians began to laud the dynamic plot and brilliant use of color that set the thriller’s eerie, restless mood.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Nowadays, this film is hailed as one of the best films ever created. It is a tale that is as ambitious as it is American, yet when it was released audiences weren’t enthralled. It only made $1.5 million at the box office. William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon, is believed to be a large part of the film’s failure. The film is considered to be partially based on Hearst’s life, after all. So Hearst wouldn’t allow any mention of the film in any of his publications.
Fight Club (1999)
If you were to visit any college campus in the U.S. today, all you’d have to do is mention David Fincher’s psychological thriller and students would come out of the woodwork to discuss it. The film is packed with easily-digestible credos of anti-establishment and social discord. Yet, the film wasn’t a knockout when it hit theaters. Although it made $37 million, many critics found it desperately shocking and filled with arbitrary violence. Upon the film’s DVD release, however, the film found new and far more engaged audiences.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Coen brothers’ quirky LA comedy now has a rabid fanbase, but when it was first released, the off-beat caper was met with tepid reviews. Variety called it “hollow and without resonance.” It has since become a cult favorite, thanks to word of mouth and social media.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Perhaps it’s because it was released in close proximity with Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, but Frank Darabont’s inspired adaptation of Stephen King’s short story was all but forgotten when released. It wasn’t until it was aired frequently on television that the film gained a passionate new audience. Today, it sits among IMDb’s greatest 230 films of all time.
Blade Runner (1982)
Long recognized as one of the best science fiction films of all time, Ridley Scott’s production was considered a bomb when it landed in theaters. It made its money back, but was heavily criticized for some distracting elements that were removed in subsequent releases. Renowned for blending staggering futuristic images and hard-boiled nuances, the film has gone on to win the hearts of film-goers every year since.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s difficult to imagine Frank Capra’s classic Christmas story was ever shunned by audiences, but initially it was. In fact, the film’s failure at the box office bankrupted Capra’s production company. But after getting replayed on television year after year around the holidays, the film has become a family classic as essential to Christmas as mistletoe and stockings.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Dorothy’s journey to Oz is now considered an integral part of Hollywood history, but when the film first arrived audiences were not enamored. Costing $2.7 million to make and earning $3 million, the film was thought a financial loss. Like many films, it found an audience in television replays, ultimately becoming the mainstay it is today.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Richard Linklater’s stoner coming-of-age film was made with only $6 million and made $7.6 million, making it a failure by most standards. Yet boasting some future A-listers (Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich and Ben Affleck) and some unforgettable one-liners, the film has gone on to earn an enthusiastic audience.
Raging Bull (1980)
Although De Niro won an Oscar for his portrayal of Jake Lemotta, audiences didn’t show up to see the boxing film. Thankfully, when home video arrived, Scorsese’s film finally received the wide-spread appreciation it deserved. Today it is considered a hallmark of not only the ’80s, but all of cinema.