Many films that are considered great today were praised upon their initial release and gained recognition as a classic over time, however many works that are now considered classics opened to unenthusiastic reviews or poor box office results. In this list we’ll look at 15 of those films.
15. A Christmas Story (1983, Bob Clark)
Based on the short stories of Jean Shepherd, “A Christmas Story” is the tale of nine-year-old Ralphie’s (Peter Billingsley) desire to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.
Despite being a moderate commercial success upon its initial release, many critics were unimpressed with the film’s unconventional style and unusually dark sense of humor.
Over the years, the film’s reception has significantly grown and is now considered a holiday classic and a staple of television during the holidays with some stations even airing a 24-hour marathon of the film on Christmas Eve.
14. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992, David Lynch)
David Lynch’s prequel to his critically acclaimed television series “Twin Peaks” chronicles the last week in the life of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whose murder sets off the events of the series, while also following an FBI agent’s (Chris Isaak) investigation into a prior murder.
Despite the acclaim of the series, “Fire Walk with Me” was booed at the Cannes Film Festival and later met with derision from critics and fans alike upon its wide release; its surrealism was considered too inaccessible for fans unfamiliar with Lynch’s other work and was considered too dark by those who were.
The film has gained appreciation in recent years and is now ranked among Lynch’s major works due to its unconventional examination of the seedy side of small-town America and its combination of surrealism and psychological horror.
13. Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey)
Though not a bomb, The Marx Brothers’ anarchic political satire was considered a disappointment for the troupe after a recent string of critical and commercial hits. Many critics believed that the film would age poorly due to its political commentary and the heavy reliance of gags rather than story.
Today, “Duck Soup” is considered the Marx Brothers’ best work and one of the greatest comedies of all time. Critics now praise the satirical elements that were originally criticized and the film’s non-stop gags have become significant parts of popular culture.
The film’s initial response could probably be attributed to the fact that it was released during the Great Depression, a time when such blatant political mockery was too much for most audiences.
12. The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)
Charles Laughton’s adaptation of Davis Grubb’s novel of the same name focuses on a homicidal preacher (Robert Mitchum) who marries a gullible widow (Shelley Winters) in an effort to coax her children into revealing where their father hid a large sum of money he stole in a robbery.
The film did so poorly that Charles Laughton never directed another film, but today it’s praised as one of the greatest thrillers of all time with much attention being given to Robert Mitchum’s frightening performance and its disturbingly effective atmosphere reminiscent of German Expressionism.
The film has influenced many filmmakers including David Lynch, Terrence Malick and Spike Lee, who famously paid tribute to the famous “Love/Hate” scene in “Do the Right Thing”.
11. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974, Sam Peckinpah)
Sam Peckinpah was one of the most controversial filmmakers of his time. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Peckinpah became notorious for his nihilistic and graphically violent examinations of the brutality of human nature; though most of his films were well-received, his career began to decline due to his heavy drug use, alcoholism and a violent personality. In 1974, he made the deeply personal “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”.
Sam Peckinpah use the main character Bennie (Warren Oates) as an author surrogate. Bennie is a piano player who sets out on a booze-fueled journey with his prostitute girlfriend (Isela Vega) to collect the bounty on the head of a dead gigolo. Bennie’s descent into dissolution and attempts at redeeming himself is symbolic of Peckinpah’s own battles with himself. Much like Bennie, Peckinpah was a man who lost everything and knew he could never regain it, but kept going anyway.
Critics despised the film with much criticism aimed at the film’s graphic violence and cynical tone, critic Michael Medved even listed it as one of the worst films of all time. In recent years, critical reception has evolved significantly, now it’s considered Sam Peckinpah’s last great film and gained a large cult following.
10. Barry Lyndon (1975, Stanley Kubrick)
Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”, a tale of an Irishman (Ryan O’Neal) who assumes a position in English aristocracy, was a modest hit on release, but received mixed reviews. Critics admired its innovative cinematography (the film had no artificial lighting) and period-accurate costume design, but not its three-hour runtime and Ryan O’Neal’s stoic performance.
The film’s lukewarm response could be attributed to its advertising which portrayed the film as a boisterous period romance rather than a slow-moving character study.
While it hasn’t reached the status of many of Kubrick’s other films, it has certainly grown in stature in recent years and is often considered Kubrick’s most underrated film.
9. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)
After a long and arduous production, “The Empire Strikes Back”, the second film in the “Star Wars” series, was released in 1980 to surprisingly unenthusiastic reviews.
At the time, “The Empire Strikes Back” was seen as inferior to the first film and many criticized its plot; deriding it as convoluted and boring.
Today “Empire” is viewed as the greatest “Star Wars” film. The plotline that was once criticized is now considered one of its strong points and is considered much more emotionally involving than other installments in the saga.