Some summer blockbusters are bad, thereby deserving to fail at the global box office. Conversely, some summer movies are good, but for a variety of reasons, fail to find an audience in cinemas. The following six great flicks really shouldn’t have bombed.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Halloween aside, John Carpenter movies were largely ignored on their initial release, with the likes of The Thing, Starman, Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness critical and commercial failures that only found a following years later. Big Trouble in Little China was no different. A twisted action-adventure about a dumb trucker battling a bunch of demons in Chinatown, it’s a fantastic b-movie that’s filled with big laughs and insane special effects. It also features one of Kurt Russell’s very best performances. But the film was maybe too scary for families, and seemingly too weird for mainstream audiences. This put Big Trouble in big trouble at the box office, grossing a paltry $11m in U.S. cinemas.
The Rocketeer (1991)
The Rocketeer was a movie out of time. Not because it was made in 1991 but set in 1938. Rather because it was a superhero movie made at a time when superhero movies were far from a sure thing. For every Batman, there was a Darkman, a Shadow, a Tank Girl or a Meteor Man. So Disney was taking a chance making a movie about a stunt pilot who finds a rocket pack that turns him into the heroic title character. Sadly that gamble didn’t pay off, the film opening behind Robin Hood and City Slickers, and even Julia Roberts’ snooze-fest Dying Young at the U.S. box office. Which is a shame as the film is a blast, with Bill Campbell a likeable hero, and Timothy Dalton a memorable moustache-twirling villain.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)
Based on a surreal graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and directed by visual wizard Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs the World should have been a monster smash. The film looks amazing, is a blast from start-to-finish, and features a cast of young up-and-comers that are now bona fide stars, including Michael Cera, Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza and Brie Larson. But the episodic nature of the movie’s strange plot may have put people off, with the film revolving around slacker Scott Pilgrim having to fight a collection of evil exes to win the girl of his dreams. That high-concept failed to connect with audiences at large, so in spite of largely positive reviews, Scott Pilgrim Bob-Ombed badly at the box office.
John Carter (2012)
The pedigree was there on this one, with John Carter based on the books of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, directed by Pixar legend Andrew Stanton, and brought to life via one of the biggest budgets in movie history. Pitched as ‘Indiana Jones on Mars’ the resulting film was very much a swashbuckler, with Taylor Kitsch playing the title character, a Civil War soldier transported to the alien planet of Barsoon, where he encounters all manner of alien creatures, meets a beautiful princess, and becomes embroiled in an epic conflict. But the early trailers were fun-free, the reviews mixed, and while the movie made money, that exorbitant budget — combined with the huge marketing campaign needed to establish both the characters and the world — resulted in Disney losing a fortune on the project. And shelving plans for a trilogy.
Tomorrowland was original, ambitious, exciting filmmaking that was never quite the sum of its parts; hampered by an overcomplicated plot that made it something of a tough sell. Directed by another Pixar alumni — Brad Bird — from a script that he co-authored with Lost mastermind Damon Lindelof, the film was inspired by the futuristic Disney land of the title. But while the resulting feature is filled with ideas, innovations, and all-round optimism, it lacks a coherent and compelling storyline. So while lots of spectacular things happen throughout, it’s oftentimes hard to fathom why they are happening. Which is a shame, as there’s a fantastic film somewhere in there.
The Nice Guys (2016)
Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is very possibly the best film on this list. And the one most deserving of a sequel. However, in spite of the fact that the action-comedy-thriller made a modest amount of money in cinemas, that number wasn’t enough to warrant a number two. Which is a shame as it very effectively follows the playbook of Black’s own Lethal Weapon. In that the central characters — here played by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling — commence proceedings disliking each other, find themselves forced together to achieve a common goal, and end the film firm friends whom you want to spend more time with. That worked out for Lethal Weapon in the shape of three well-received sequels. But The Nice Guys didn’t do nice enough business, meaning it’s probably the last we’ll see of the film’s dynamic detecting duo onscreen.