It’s hard to predict if a film flop is destined for cult status.
Plenty of movies fail at the box office. Some go on to fail on home video, too. Often it’s for very good reasons. Others? Slowly they rise up, generating a life of their own.
That means robust home video sales, appearances at outdoor movie screenings and sometimes hearty merchandise sales. The 1983 gangster film “Scarface” made $45 million at the U.S. box office that year.
Al Pacino’s character has adorned everything from bed sheets to socks. The phrase “Say hello to my lil’ friend” occurs in roughly one out of 20 conversations, too.
Perhaps the ultimate cult classic movie fitting this pattern is “Office Space.” Mike Judge’s 1999 comedy made just $10.8 million and quickly sank from view. Then, something magical happened. People caught up with it on home video and cable services. They saw the film’s trenchant take on our cubicle culture as nothing less than genius.
Now, it’s a beloved part of the modern comedy canon and the source of more than a few snarky T-shirts.
And deservedly so. Here’s Judge’s second loser-turned-winner:
The 2006 satire “Idiocracy” proved an even bigger bomb. It made less than half a million dollars, mostly due to the studio’s lack of faith in the film. The studio behind it saw how “Office Space” blossomed into a beloved movie but apparently figured Judge couldn’t catch lightning in a bottle twice.
What happened next? You guessed it … another delayed classic was born.
Yet not all cult classic movies die at the box office. A select few don’t deserve to wear the cult classic badge, either. The latter group simply pluck our nostalgia strings.
Movies endure for all sorts of reasons. The following cult classic movies simply don’t deserve their unofficial status.
Vote for Pedro? No thanks. Jon Heder’s mouth-breather became a cult classic movie in record time. It’s easy to see why on the surface. The comedy offers a blunt visual style and aggressively odd pacing.
People aren’t as affected as these characters consistently appear. That renders them superficial, props to be moved across the screen by director Jared Hess. It’s a one-joke concept and curiosity piece all in one. It demands a single, uninterrupted viewing and that’s it. If you crave a superior variation on “Napoleon Dynamite” try “The Greasy Strangler.” That 2017 film is creepier, funnier and more outlandish than anything Napoleon does here.
It’s worth noting that Hess’s follow-up films, including the terrible “Nacho Libre,” failed to muster an iota of the cultural love “ND” earned.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $44 million.
DID YOU KNOW: Elvis Costello used the name ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ as a fake name for his excellent 1986 album ‘Blood and Chocolate.’ Director Jared Hess says he didn’t swipe the name from the singer-songwriter but heard someone say it while he was a Mormon missionary.
Fact check: They’re not actually good enough. This Richard Donner romp features so many phony kid moments you’ll miss Mikey from those Life cereal commercials.
Adults of a certain age idenfitied with these rapscallions eons ago, and they refuse to let the adventure go. That’s understandable, much like our reluctance to admit Hostess cakes taste terrible now. Nostalgia doesn’t render the film itself any more watchable, though. Seeing it today with fresh eyes is a dispiriting affair.
“Goonies” works best as a peek into the early years of Sean Astin, Josh Brolin and Corey Feldman.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $61 million
DID YOU KNOW: The characters reference a fight with an octopus late in the movie, but that sequence didn’t make the final cut.
This critic remembers hearing “Rowdy” Roddy Piper declare, “I’ve come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum” in theaters. My reaction? I winced. That line is now iconic, something that can only happen with time and rose-colored glasses.
The rest of the film is alternately clunky and compelling, marred by silly sci-fi trappings at every turn. The less said about the Reagan era critiques, the better.
Director John Carpenter created “Halloween” and “The Thing” remake, two undisputed horror classics. The rest of is canon is wildly overrated. “They Live” is a prime example, even if that street fight between Piper and co-star Keith David is as long as it is great.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $13 million.
DID YOU KNOW: The film’s signature fight sequence took its inspiration from a similar slugfest in John Wayne’s iconic film “The Quiet Man,” according to director John Carpenter.
Antiheroes were once the exception. Today? They’re so common even virtuous heroes have to show some inner conflict. It’s why Henry Cavill’s Superman has yet to hit his stride, with or without that controversial mustache. So celebrating a horrible soul gussied up like ol’ St. Nick just isn’t as cool as it once was.
Billy Bob Thornton remains one of our most under-appreciated talents. That’s evident in every episode of his Amazon series “Goliath.” Here? He’s an underwhelming force floundering in black comedy backwash.
There’s precious little love out there for the belated sequel. The 2016 comedy failed to capitalize on the original’s culture cache.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $60 million
DID YOU KNOW: Bill Murray, not Billy Bob Thornton, was the first actor considered for the film. Murray agreed to do the film and then stopped returning director Terry Zwigoff’s messages, so he turned to Thornton as Plan B.
Sometimes a performance can overwhelm an entire film. Take Michael Keaton’s freaky turn in this 1988 Tim Burton comedy. It’s uncorked mayhem on a grand scale, a testament to Keaton’s sublime skill set. Only his character plays a supporting role in this mediocre affair.
The cast isn’t to blame, given serious talents like Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin and Winona Ryder adorn the screen. Once the story’s shock value wears off — what, the main characters are dead? — there’s little to see beyond Keaton and a killer calypso dance number.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $73 million
DID YOU KNOW: The Candy Man as Beetlejuice? Burton originally wanted Sammy Davis, Jr. to play the wild-haired ghost, but he eventually chose Keaton per producer David Geffen’s suggestion. The director-actor would reteam again for the 1989 smash “Batman.”
Birdemic: Shock and Terror
We can’t stop watching bad movies. The fact we have five (and counting) “Sharknados” proves it. This, however, is different.
“Birdemic” offers up a faux bad feature, ignoring almost all the essential rules of Movie Making 101. Only it plays out like a stunt, a put on designed to emulate that “Sharknado” mold.
Mission accomplished. So what?
BOX OFFICE TALLY: N/A
DID YOU KNOW: Director Jams Nguyen created the web site Moviehead.com in 1999, what he calls the “first YouTube” according to a chat with Bloody Disgusting.
There’s no doubt this 1974 thriller supercharged the zeitgeist. That’s not just because the film spawned four sequels and a better than expected remake. It’s how star Charles Bronson transforms into a vigilante wrecking crew.
No hand wringing here. It’s time to take out the trash.
Bronson may be a badass for the ages, but he’s so wooden you worry about termites. The critical attack sequence is jarring even by modern standards. Bronson squanders that momentum, refusing to let even a flicker of emotion show in scene after scene.
We’re still talking about “Death Wish,” a tribute to its “narrative as carthasis” style. As a feature film? It’s clunky and overwrought. Most modern critics simply dub it fascist, ignoring the fact that similarly themed films, like the upcoming “Peppermint,” copied the “Death Wish” format.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $22 million
DID YOU KNOW: ‘Death Wish’ marked the fourth collaboration between Bronson and director James Winner. The duo woud re-team for ‘Death Wish II and Death Wish 3.’
The Nightmare Before Christmas
A Halloween/Yuletide mashup from the mind of Tim Burton? What could go wrong?
Yes, this animated lark looks glorious at times. Even at his very worst, Burton can conjure some amazing visuals. The story itself is a snooze. It’s never macabre enough to scare us, and the characters are so flat we’re left admiring the scenery and wondering why anyone makes this an annual viewing.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $75 million
DID YOU KNOW: More than 400 Jack Skellingon heads were used during the stop-motion film’s production.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Director Joe Dante’s 1984 thriller roared out of the gate, earning big bucks and turning Gizmo into a celebrity as big as Wilson the Volleyball.
The sequel, released six years years later, didn’t have a fraction of that cultural impact. Yet film scribes clung to both its imperfections and subversive sensibilities. It’s like a Bugs Bunny cartoon come to life!
The film roasted corporate greed long before the Occupy Wall Street movement toxified its first public park. Fine. Good. It’s still not nearly as memorable, or fun, as the original shocker. The movie earned a new wave of admirers as some connected John Glover’s nasty character to a certain president.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $41 million
DID YOU KNOW: Makeup legend Rick Baker of ‘An American Werewolf in London’ fame wasn’t keen on joining the franchise. The notion of hybrid gremins won him over, though.
Adam Sandler became a star thanks to his kooky “Saturday Night Live” characters. His first major feature, “Billy Madison,” kept that momentum alive without breaking a sweat.
Yes, it’s that lazy.
That pattern continues for much of Sandler’s comic film career. Think “Just Go With It,” “Bad Daddy” and “Pixels” for more examples. He proved his acting chops with stellar turns in “Punch Drunk Love” and “Spanglish.” Still, his solo features can be consistently dumb, uninspired and teeming with guest stars who should know better.
It all started here.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $25 million
DID YOU KNOW: Norm MacDonald took his small role in ‘Billy Madison’ seriously. How so? He showed up to the set drunk to play his inebriated character.
Jackass: The Movie
The “overrated” label could apply to any Johnny Knoxville exercise in self-induced trauma. Let’s go straight to the source. The original “Jackass” set the template for juvenile yuks via legitimate pain. There’s something in the teen male brain that feasts on this kind of humor. Crass, cold and utterly lacking in empathy is no way to go through life, son.
What’s truly insulting about this franchise? The lack of wit. We’re not expecting a droll, “Waiting for Guffman” homage. How about some funny lines now and then?
Watching “Jackass” is like being behind an insufferable group of teens in line and overhearing every thought that comes into their brains.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $64 million.
DID YOU KNOW: Johnny Knoxville says the downside of his ‘Jackass’ franchise is the interactions with well-meaning fans who throw drinks in his face and attack his groin thinking he’s still in character.
What underwhelming cult classic movies are missing from this list? Please share your choices below.