These movies aren’t worthy of the status they’ve achieved in pop culture lore.
It’s impossible 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.
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. 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.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $44 million.
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
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. 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. Director John Carpenter created the iconic “Halloween” and “The Thing” remake. The rest of is canon is wildly overrated. “They Live” is a prime example.
To be fair, the street fight between Piper and co-star Keith David is epic.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $13 million.
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. 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.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $60 million
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. 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
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
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 here you worry about termites for much of the film’s running time. 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..
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $22 million
The Nightmare Before Christmas
A Halloween/Yuletide mashup from Tim Burton? What could go wrong?
Yes, Burton’s 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
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.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $41 million
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. His solo features are consistently dumb, uninspired and teeming with guest stars who should know better. It all started here.
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $25 million
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 mouths..
BOX OFFICE TALLY: $64 million.
What underwhelming cult classic movies are missing from this list? Please share your choices below.