13 great horror movies which bombed at the box office

Genre film represents an enigma when it comes to box-office draw. Films that one might not expect to motivate a big turnout often do record-breaking box-office numbers, and quality films that seem like a sure thing fail to even earn back their production budget. Oftentimes there really is no identifiable rhyme or reason as to what motivates theatergoers to spend their hard-earned money on movie tickets. So, to pay tribute to some quality genre films that failed to live up to expectations during their theatrical exhibition, we are showcasing 13 examples of great films that bombed at the box office.

Every day this month we're bringing you a different Top 13 list from the world of horror. You can find them all here.

Slither

It’s so frustrating that Slither performed so poorly at the box office because it’s an excellent movie. A box office failure like that could very easily have ended James Gunn’s career but fortunately, it did not. Gunn was able to persevere and went on to helm the mega blockbuster hit Guardians of the Galaxy. Slither made under $8 million at the domestic box office against an estimated budget of $15.5 million. The film has since become a cult classic on home video but there’s no accounting for why exactly it so badly underperformed during its theatrical exhibition.

Fear Itself

I recently interviewed Stuart Gordon for another outlet and when I asked him why he thought Fear Itself never took off, he explained that the show actually did well in the ratings but it was taken off the air to accommodate the Olympics and was simply never put back on. Only a portion of the episodes that were shot ever aired. It’s unfortunate that the show wasn’t put back into circulation after the Olympics because it had a lot to offer and showcased some great talent. The series would be easy to pick back up since it featured a different director and cast for each episode. I would love to see some of today’s up and coming directors tackle a one-hour episode of the series.

You're Next

Adam Wingard is a creative genius and I am a fan of almost anything he touches. You’re Next is no exception. Erin (Sharni Vinson) does so much ass kicking throughout the course of the film that her hands should probably be registered as deadly weapons. It’s really unfortunate that this picture didn’t do bigger box office numbers. The film only made a little over $18 million throughout its US theatrical run. Given that it was independently financed and made on a low budget, it wasn’t as devastating as if the film had been made with studio financing, but it still dramatically underperformed based on Lionsgate’s expectations.

Dredd

If Dredd had only made an extra $100 million dollars at the domestic box office, we would be anxiously anticipating Dredd 3 or even 4 by now but it unfortunately did not take off until it was released to home video. As such, fans are still clamoring for a Dredd 2. The film only scored a grand total of approximately $13.5 million during its US box office bow against a production budget of $50 million. The film eventually turned a profit after it was released on DVD and Blu-ray but unfortunately, that doesn’t exactly have financiers aren’t exactly lining up to fund a sequel.  

Frailty

Frailty marks one of Bill Paxton’s greatest performances and remains a well-crafted and intense horror picture. But it really did not connect with audiences upon its initial release. The film barely cleared $13 million during its US box office run. It was made on a production budget of $11 million. So, while it narrowly exceeded that, it drastically underperformed based on studio expectations.

Event Horizon

Event Horizon was adequately marketed and received ample studio support. It was even one of the most frightening films of the ‘90s. But in spite of all that, Event Horizon was an undisputed box office bomb. It was made for an estimated budget of $50 million, yet it only brought in a box office haul of $26.6 million when it was released to theaters. It’s anybody’s guess why the film didn’t find its audience during its theatrical bow but it did gain some traction upon its release to home video.

The Thing (1982 version)

It’s a shock that such a great film bombed at the box office. It has since become such a classic on home video, it’s hard to imagine it ever having been seen as a failure. The Thing was made for a budget of $15 million but it made barely 1/5 of that when it played in cinemas.

The Mist

Although it is one of the greatest Stephen King adaptations to hit the big screen, The Mist was actually considered a box office failure upon its initial theatrical bow. It made roughly $25.5 million during its domestic run and was made on a budget of $18 million. So, while it technically earned a small profit, it delivered nowhere near the projected ticket sales it was expected to. Thus, The Mist is universally seen as a major box office flop.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Halloween III is a respectable and ultimately entertaining standalone effort. But unfortunately, at the time of its release, people were not willing to take it on its own merits. They wanted Michael Myers and when they didn’t get him, they revolted and stayed away from theaters. The film’s total gross adds up to roughly $14.5 million, which is drastically less than what was earned by the first two installments in the franchise. Unfortunately, in the 33 years since the film’s initial release, it has been just recently that horror fans have come around to really appreciate the film.

Grindhouse

It’s tough to say exactly why Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double bill of Planet Terror and Death Proof didn’t resonate with audiences when it sailed into theaters. It gained traction after hitting DVD but it was universally viewed as a box office disappointment. The double bill earned just over $25 million in its domestic run and the combined budget for the production of the two films was estimated at $67 million.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (okay, it's not a horror movie per se, but go with us) is now a major cult hit with a hug fan base but it failed miserably at the domestic box office. It barely earned back half of its production budget during its theatrical bow. The film was made on an estimated budget of $60 million but earned just over $31 million during its theatrical exhibition.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is another fine example of an outstanding horror film that didn’t do even remotely impressive numbers at the box office. It’s terribly unfortunate that this final installment in the Nightmare series didn’t see theatergoers turning out for its premiere. Had it done impressive numbers, there may have been more life left in the franchise and we may have seen additional sequels rather than the studio making the ill-fated decision to reboot the franchise. New Nightmare only brought in a domestic gross of $18.1 million. 

They Live

They Live is another epic John Carpenter film that failed to connect with audiences when it was released to theaters. The film barely cleared $13 million during its theatrical bow. While it did exceed its production budget of $4 million, the film didn’t perform nearly as well as the studio had hoped it would and pales in comparison to the numbers done by other Carpenter classics.

Donnie Darko

Of all of the films on the list, Donnie Darko probably has the most logical explanation for failing to perform as expected at the box office. It was released very shortly after the September 11th tragedy and Donnie Darko revolves around a storyline involving a plane crash. As a result, audiences didn’t exactly flock to theaters to see it. During its theatrical release, Donnie Darko grossed just over $1 million dollars. But it has since become a major hit on home video.

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