There's often a lot of focus on how much money movies make theatrically, but the truth is they have more than one life. Hundreds, if not thousands, of films have tanked at the box office, only to build an appreciative audience in ancillary forms later on. Television has been one of the largest boosts in giving certain movies a second chance. Most people who subscribe to a cable or satellite service have dozens of channels to choose from. Many of them show movies at least once in a while, if not exclusively.
The following movies all underperformed upon initial release, then found their reputations growing thanks to frequent airing on television. The reasons why they caught on are different, but they all share the quality of having become more popular once they moved to the smaller screen. Channels like HBO and TNT gave them another chance at finding an audience. Several are now considered genuine classics. That marks a dramatic turn from their initial fates.
Which of these movies that became way bigger because of TV reruns are the most deserving of their belated success?
- Photo: Columbia Pictures
How It Flopped: Despite rave reviews from critics, The Shawshank Redemption topped out with just $28 million at the box office in 1994. There were plenty of theories about why it didn't catch on: It was based on a Stephen King story that wasn't horror. The title confused people. The lengthy 142-minute running time was a turnoff. Truth be told, it was probably a combination of all those factors.
How It Became Popular: Cable TV mogul Ted Turner was looking for "quality entertainment product" to boost his TNT channel, as reported in Vanity Fair. Having purchased Castle Rock, the entity that produced Shawshank, he selected it as a movie to help fulfill that goal. Frequent airings exposed more and more people to it, building word of mouth in the process. Today, this one-time box office disappointment is considered an all-time classic. It's the highest-rated movie on IMDb, beating out The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, and It's a Wonderful Life.Rediscovered classic?
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
How It Flopped: The Princess Bride got rave reviews when it opened in 1987. It was, however, a tough sell. Big-screen fairy tales weren't exactly common at the time. Getting people to understand that the movie was a comedy also proved challenging, as the title made it sound like a sappy romance aimed squarely at teenage girls. The movie just didn't scream "mass appeal." The Princess Bride inched its way to a $30 million gross.
How It Became Popular: Taking a chance on a movie is easier on television, where you aren't paying to see it. That gave The Princess Bride an edge. Once it started airing on TV, it became more apparent that the film was a hilariously funny all-ages tale. Just as importantly, it was endlessly quotable. That particular quality helped it to catch on. Fans embraced favorite lines of dialogue, incorporating them into everyday discussion and, as a result, inspired others to check out the movie so they could understand the original context.Rediscovered classic?
- Photo: Orion Pictures
How It Flopped: There was every reason to believe Three Amigos! would be a smash hit. It brought together the comedy dream team of Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short, after all. Reviews were not good, though, as exemplified by an awkward moment between Chase and critic Roger Ebert on The Tonight Show. It also had the misfortune of opening on the same day as Eddie Murphy's The Golden Child, a film that wasn't great but had a lot of momentum given that Murphy was coming off 48 Hrs. and Beverly Hills Cop. Poor word-of-mouth did it no favors, either.
How It Became Popular: The humor in Three Amigos! was full of weird little tangents, which likely caught fans of the three comedians off guard. The movie didn't have the kind of nonstop slapstick people probably expected from a movie that teamed them up. It was weirder and more conceptual. Bits involving a singing bush and an invisible swordsman appeal to viewers with a more skewed taste in comedy. Frequent airings on HBO, the pay cable channel that helped fund the picture, allowed it to grow an audience that was on its peculiar wavelength.Rediscovered classic?
- Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
How It Flopped: In retrospect, it was a huge miscalculation for Disney to release Hocus Pocus in July. It seemed like a natural Halloween picture. But the company went with a July release anyway, and the results were not great. Hurt by negative reviews as much as by the incomprehensible release date, the movie pulled in a just-okay $44 million - far less than most "big" Disney pictures did in the early '90s.
How It Became Popular: Executives at Freeform (the precursor to ABC Family) recognized that Hocus Pocus was perfect family viewing on Halloween. In 1998, the network began airing it annually as part of its 13 Nights of Halloween programming block, per E! Online. Ratings were always high, as people looked forward to catching it each year. Kids who were too young to see it originally - or not born when it came out - joined the fold. Now it's hard to imagine Halloween without it.Rediscovered classic?