Film fans love to speculate about why some movies aren’t as successful as the fans and the studios assumed they would be. However, there are several reasons why a film may perform poorly financially, even though it might have won critical accolades or had fan support during its release.
Members of a well-known Internet forum debated an exciting theory about why particular favorites did not rake in the box office numbers that they felt they should have.
The idea is that the films came out at a time that was detrimental to the film’s chances or missed a potential window of popularity or the optimal season or holiday that would have benefitted the film.
1. Hocus Pocus (1993)
Hocus Pocus is a film starring Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker as three comedically evil witches mistakenly brought back from the dead on Halloween. It seemed a hit to fans, but the film’s release date was July 16, 1993.
Releasing this Halloween-themed film in the middle of the summer blockbuster season was a bad judgment call. It was a smaller film, hardly robust enough to compete with the monster summer films, and its audience was fans of spooky Halloween fare. So it was the wrong time to release a movie.
2. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Solo: A Star Wars Story seemed like a natural. It is part of the top-rated Star Wars franchise, Ron Howard, a very successful director, was at the helm. The cast had such stars as Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandiwe Newton, and Paul Bettany.
The story concerns the original trilogy’s most popular and admired character, Han Solo. Part of the problem might have been that the film was released only six months after the series’ previous film, The Last Jedi.
Solo also came out less than two weeks after the Marvel Franchise film Avengers: Infinity War and two weeks before Deadpool 2, both of which were established properties that were highly anticipated.
3. Tenet (2020)
Tenet was Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious and expensive film to date. The director felt so strongly that films must be seen in cinemas that he insisted that Tenet be released only in theatres during the fall of 2020.
Sending the film to theatres only during the lockdown year of the pandemic took a toll on the film’s box office, and sadly, Tenet was not the box office success that everyone felt it should be, but it is hard to blame the movie itself.
It took on the challenge of reopening the theatres, and while it did pretty well, it wasn’t enough to save its reputation and damaged Nolan’s image as a filmmaker who couldn’t do wrong. Still, Nolan is praised for sacrificing the success of his film to save the theatrical experience in theatres.
4. Doctor Sleep (2019)
Doctor Sleep was the long-awaited sequel to Stephen King’s book The Shining and the highly regarded film version directed by auteur director Stanley Kubrick.
Mike Flanagan, an admired director of the series The Haunting of Hill House, directed this new film and co-wrote the script with Akiva Goldsman. It starred the well-regarded actors Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson. It was a disappointment when it only brought in seventy-two million dollars worldwide. The issue was that the film opened in theatres on November 8, over a week after Halloween.
5. Zoolander (2001)
Zoolander became available in theatres on September 28, almost two weeks after the 911 attacks. Unfortunately, it was a raucous comedy, and that time was probably the wrong time for such a film.
This fact wasn’t anything that anyone could have foreseen. Still, the movie that stars Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor, and Milla Jovovich is currently considered a comedy jewel.
6. The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s classic film of terror, The Thing, was released at the wrong time for more than one reason. First, it was a horror movie that might have benefitted from being released in the fall, closer to Halloween. It was also a film set in the depths of winter, so the release date of June 25, right in the middle of summer, could have been better.
The worst part of this bad luck trifecta was that The Thing‘s release date was precisely two weeks after one of the most popular and heartwarming films about an alien, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
After the good summer vibes of E.T., such a cold and cynical tale of terror must have hit viewers like an avalanche of bad juju. Now, The Thing is known as one of the greatest horror films ever, but it only earned four point six million dollars back then.
The Thing is so beloved now that researchers and scientists at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica watch it at the start of every winter. Things have changed, and Carpenter and the film’s stars Kurt Russell, Keith David, and Wilford Brimley were ultimately vindicated.
7. Babylon (2022)
Babylon, directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Tobey McGuire, and Olivia Wilde, came out right before Christmas and seemed well-placed for a prestigious opening.
However, the film only earned sixty-three point four million dollars, and with a budget of seventy-eight to eighty million, it still needs to recoup its budget. What happened?
The problem is likely a little film called Avatar 2: The Way Of Water. Avatar 2 is the long-awaited sequel to the tremendously popular movie Avatar. So it is a mystery why the studio thought a more niche film like Babylon, even with its admittedly famous cast, could ever compete.
8. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army was another victim of being released right before a legitimate film phenomenon. The first film was a minor success, but the second got murdered in the second week by the release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
The film got good reviews and was directed by noted auteur director Guillermo del Toro, who later won Academy Awards as best director. The film had the same cast as the original, Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, and John Hurt. Unfortunately, it experienced a seventy-one percent drop in the box office in its second weekend of release against the behemoth that was The Dark Knight.
9. Speed Racer (2008)
Speed Racer is directed by the Wachowski Sisters, who were also responsible for a little film series called The Matrix. Why wasn’t it a bigger hit? It was a big-budget family film based on a lesser-known manga with many futuristic special effects.
It also came out a week after one of Marvel’s earliest mega-hits, Iron Man, which marked the return of the charismatic actor Robert Downey Jr. to mainstream cinema and was his anointment as a bankable star. It was unfortunate timing on the part of the studio trying to wedge as many blockbusters into an already crowded summer release schedule.
10. Black Christmas (2006)
Releasing a small horror film on one of the biggest holidays in the year might have seemed like a good idea, but it wasn’t. Some movies are dropped into theatres on Christmas Day because they are prestige films or massive releases, but putting out a remake of Bob Clark’s quintessential slasher horror film from 1974 on 2006’s Christmas Day could have been thought through better.
Smaller horror films, not the big blockbusters, need time to find their audience, especially if they don’t have household-name actors toplining the cast. Black Christmas (2006) was ill-served by a Christmas release date.
11. White House Down (2013)
White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, two films about terrorists attacking the White House, were released in 2013. White House Down would seem to be the winner if you made a bet before its release, it stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, directed by Roland Emmerich, but there was one crucial difference between the two popcorn movies.
Olympus Has Fallen has three sequels, and White House Down was known as a film that underperformed. What was the difference between the two films? Olympus Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, and Aaron Eckhart, directed by Antoine Fuqua, but it was released on March 13, while White House Down waited until June 28 for release.
Both films were entertaining and action-packed, with great stars and stunts, but the audience already got their popcorn fix in March. White House Down had a comic tone and more backstory than action, but it didn’t matter to audiences. They had already seen a satisfying version of the story three months earlier. Sometimes what matters is who gets into the theatres first.
12. Black Widow (2021)
Black Widow, starring Scarlet Johannson and Florence Pugh, was a Marvel superhero movie expected to be a huge hit. It hit two walls. One was that came out during the second year of the pandemic when theatres were still struggling to return from the lockdowns and fears of spreading Covid.
The other wall was that studios had started experimenting with hybrid releases where a film would stream while still in theatres. Scarlett Johannson sued Disney for breach of contract because of this decision to experiment with the release of her star vehicle. People recorded the film from Disney + and downloaded it on pirate sites.
Some estimates say that the film may have lost six hundred million in revenue because of piracy. Because of this hybrid release format, Disney avoided having to pay Johannson big bonuses that would have been due to the actress had the film opened big in theatres.
13. Bones And All (2022)
The excellent film Bones And All by Luca Guadagnino featured outstanding performances by heartthrob Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell. It even had a heartstopping portrayal of evil from Mark Rylance.
Why didn’t it do better at the box office? Some argued that it might have done better if it was released earlier in the year, become a sleeper hit in a less crowded field, and away from a family holiday due to the subject matter. Others thought that as a horror film, it might have done better closer to Halloween.
14. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
While The Shawshank Redemption is known as a classic and highly praised film, no one remembers that it was a box office bomb at the time of its release. As the story goes, the director, Frank Darabont, and Liz Glotzer, a producer, went to the Cinerama Dome on opening weekend and found the theatre empty.
The wisdom is that a combination of a bad review from the Los Angeles Times and the release of two other blockbuster films, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump, which was on a 42-week run of success. Had the film been released at another time, it might have gotten the chance it deserved theatrically.
15. Sorcerer (1977)
Sorcerer was William Friedkin’s remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages Of Fear. It was an exceptionally well-made and tense film that was, unfortunately, based on a somewhat obscure French art film made by the director of one of the most famous horror movies of all time. But what spelled out the film’s box office doom was that the film came out a month after one of the all-time most popular popcorn movies Star Wars.
People have speculated that maybe people were confused by the name and thought the film was a supernatural horror movie like Friedkin’s monster hit The Exorcist or surmised that perhaps it was the sixteen minutes without English dialogue.
But it became apparent to Friedkin when he and his wife, French actress Jeanne Moreau when the couple went to the Mann Chinese theatre. They saw the vast crowds and knew the film would only last for a while in that theatre. It was scheduled to start running at the Mann soon after and was removed by the following weekend to bring Star Wars back.
However, the film’s subsequent has only grown, and Sorcerer, while sadly misunderstood then, has become a classic that rivals the legend of the original movie The Wages Of Fear.
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