Movie Article

Gross Oversights

The best movies that flopped at the box office -- You'd be surprised by the number of classics that got ignored in theaters, says Owen Gleiberman

Harvey Keitel, Mean Streets | A 'MEAN' BUSINESS Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel starred in the brilliant ''Mean Streets,'' which was a box office failure
Image credit: Mean Streets: Everett Collection
A 'MEAN' BUSINESS Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel starred in the brilliant ''Mean Streets,'' which was a box office failure

The best movies that flopped at the box office

What is your favorite movie that flopped at the box office? -- Chris
I couldn't possibly name just one! In a culture as market addicted as ours, lackluster box office performance is more of a stigma than ever, yet it's shocking to discover how many films that we think of as classics today were barely popular in their time. The granddaddy of them all might be ''It's a Wonderful Life,'' simply because it now seems the definition of a crowd-pleaser. In 1946, however, it may well have been too dark for an audience still reeling from World War II. ''The Wizard of Oz'' was not a success, and neither was a little movie called ''Citizen Kane.'' Moving closer to our own era, inspired films that have generated minuscule grosses include ''Something Wild'' ($8.4 million), ''Ed Wood'' ($5.9 million), and one I've always felt particularly close to: Martin Scorsese's volcanic ''Mean Streets,'' which barely made pocket change back in 1973 (it grossed all of $3 million). Having said that, there's a part of me that simply wants to name ''Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,'' a movie one would have thought audiences would be lining up for. On that score, it's a major disappointment -- but then, perhaps that just makes it the latest example of a noble tradition.

What song on the radio makes you cringe, but in the right scene in the right film it somehow works? -- Cameron
''All Out of Love'' by Air Supply. When Philip Seymour Hoffman and Camryn Manheim slow dance to it in ''Happiness,'' it's geeks-in-love heaven.

(Got a movie-related question for Owen or Lisa? Post it here.)

Originally posted Apr 19, 2004 Published in issue #761 Apr 23, 2004 Order article reprints