Hitchcock's PsychoStudio publicity still, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

10 cult movies that had poor reception at premiere

Are you a fan of cult movies? You know, those films that didn't exactly break box office records or receive critical acclaim upon their release but have since gained a devoted following and are considered classics in their own, right? In this article, we'll be taking a look at 10 such movies that were initially panned by critics or overlooked by audiences but have since become beloved cult classics. From box office bombs to critically-panned flops, these movies may not have been embraced upon their initial release but have since earned a special place in the hearts of fans around the world. So, grab your popcorn and get ready to explore the strange and wonderful world of cult cinema!

  1. Blade Runner

    Released in 1982 Blade Runner is a science-fiction film directed by Ridley Scott based on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Despite its strong visual style complex themes, and impressive cast led by Harrison Ford, it was initially considered a box office failure, and reviews were mixed. It has since become a cult classic, with its dystopian vision and noir elements influencing numerous films TV shows, and video games.

    Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "Blade Runner is a stunningly interesting visual achievement, but a failure as a story. The special effects are no match for E.T., the movie is said to have cost $30 million, and it looks it. It's one of the most expensive films ever made outside the science-fiction genre, and it's surprising how cheap and cobbled together some of it looks."

    Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote, "Blade Runner is not science fiction; it is film noir, which happens to take place in a future time and place... There's no development, no discoveries. And the look of the picture is so dazzling that you keep waiting for something more to happen."

    • Title: Blade Runner (1982)
    • Directed by: Ridley Scott
    • Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah
    • Budget: $28 million
    • Box Office: $33 million
    • Runtime: 117 minutes
    • Awards: Nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects)
    • Release Date: June 25, 1982
  2. It's a Wonderful Life

    Directed by Frank Capra and released in 1946 It's a Wonderful Life is a Christmas classic that tells the story of George Bailey, a man who contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve but is visited by an angel who shows him what life would be like if he had never been born. Despite a strong cast led by James Stewart, the film was a box office disappointment upon its initial release and received mixed reviews. It has since become a beloved classic regularly ranked among the greatest films ever made.

    It's a Wonderful Life did not perform well at the box office upon its initial release and while the critical response was generally positive, there were some negative reviews. Here are a couple of quotes from negative reviews at the movie premiere:

    The New York Times: "The weakness of this picture, from this reviewer's point of view, is the sentimentality of it - its illusory concept of life. Mr. Capra's nice people are charming, his small town is a quite beguiling place and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile. But somehow they all resemble theatrical attitudes rather than average realities."

    Variety: "The weakness of the film is that it is too frankly out to tug the heartstrings and that its naturalistic passages have over-simplification."

    • Title: It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
    • Directed by: Frank Capra
    • Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers
    • Budget: $3.18 million
    • Box Office: $3.3 million
    • Runtime: 130 minutes
    • Awards: Nominated for five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Recording)
    • Release Date: December 20, 1946

    It's a wonderful lifeEnglish: "Copyright 1946 RKO Radio Pictures Inc.", Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  3. The Wizard of Oz

    Released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz is a musical fantasy film directed by Victor Fleming and starring Judy Garland. Despite its iconic status today the film was a moderate box office success upon its initial release and received mixed reviews, with some critics finding it overly sentimental and lacking in substance. It has since become a beloved classic, with its songs, characters, and vivid visual style making it a perennial favorite among audiences of all ages.

    The Wizard of Oz is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. However there were some mixed reviews upon its release, particularly from critics who found fault with its departure from the original source material. For example The New Yorker said: "The picture has virtues, of course. It is imaginative, often exciting, and on the whole, very well acted. But in spite of these merits, The Wizard of Oz is a stilted and rather tedious piece of screen handiwork."

    • Title: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
    • Directed by: Victor Fleming
    • Cast: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton
    • Budget: $2.8 million
    • Box Office: $3 million (initial release); $16 million (total)
    • Runtime: 101 minutes
    • Awards: Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture (won two: Best Original Song, Best Original Score)
    • Release Date: August 25, 1939
  4. Fight Club

    Released in 1999 and directed by David Fincher, Fight Club is a dark satire about an insomniac office worker (played by Edward Norton) who becomes involved in a secret underground fight club led by a charismatic anarchist (played by Brad Pitt). Despite strong performances and an innovative style, the film received mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office. It has since become a cult classic, with its commentary on consumer culture masculinity, and mental health resonating with audiences and inspiring numerous essays and debates.

    While Fight Club was not a total box office failure, it did receive so-so reviews upon its initial release with some critics being put off by its violence and nihilistic themes. 

    Roger Ebert: "I wasn't much interested in the story. I didn't care about the characters. And I found the violence gratuitous and distasteful."

    The New York Times: "A hazardously overloaded movie that juggles big ideas, cartoonish satire and reckless violence. The film's central gimmick is a real pip, but its extremist fantasies of violence and anarchic mayhem feel like an adolescent evasion of the responsibilities of manhood."

    • Title: Fight Club (1999)
    • Directed by: David Fincher
    • Cast: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter
    • Budget: $63 million
    • Box Office: $101 million
    • Runtime: 139 minutes
    • Awards: Nominated for one Academy Award (Best Sound Editing)
    • Release Date: October 15, 1999
  5. The Shawshank Redemption

    Directed by Frank Darabont and released in 1994 The Shawshank Redemption is a prison drama based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Despite a strong cast led by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, the film was a box office disappointment and received mixed reviews. Initially The Shawshank Redemption was overshadowed by other movies that came out around the same time and did not perform as well at the box office as the studio had hoped, but it has since become a critical and popular favorite regularly ranked as one of the greatest films ever made, with its themes of hope, friendship and redemption inspiring audiences around the world.

    • Title: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
    • Directed by: Frank Darabont
    • Cast: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
    • Budget: $25 million
    • Box Office: $58.3 million
    • Runtime: 142 minutes
    • Awards: Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Morgan Freeman), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Frank Darabont)
    • Release Date: September 23, 1994
  6. Blow-Up

    "Blow-Up" is a 1966 British-Italian film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. The movie follows the life of a London-based fashion photographer named Thomas who inadvertently captures a murder on film while taking photographs in a park. However, when he goes back to the park to investigate the crime, the evidence seems to have disappeared.

    The film was made on a budget of $1.8 million and was a box office success, earning an estimated $20 million. It also won the prestigious Palme d'Or award at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival. Despite its commercial success, the film received mixed reviews at its premiere, with some critics finding it pretentious and others praising its technical and visual aspects.

    "It is hard to imagine anything worse than Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, which opened yesterday at the Trans-Lux East and other theaters. Perhaps something in the line of Michelangelo Antonioni's previous films - L'Avventura, La Notte, L'Eclisse." - Renata Adler, The New York Times

    "If Mr. Antonioni's purpose was to demonstrate that boredom and ennui can be imparted to the audience as well as the characters, he has succeeded brilliantly." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

    "It is like a house of cards which the director stacks and stacks, only to have the wind come along and blow it all away." - Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

    "The film's pace is so slow and its scenes are so empty of interest that it gives the viewer little more than the opportunity to wallow in the sensory pleasure of Antonioni's technique." - Andrew Sarris, The Village Voice

    However over time the film has come to be considered a classic of art-house cinema and has been highly influential in the world of photography and filmmaking.

    • Title: Blow-Up (1966)
    • Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni
    • Cast: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles
    • Budget: $1.8 million
    • Box Office: $20 million (estimated)
    • Runtime: 111 minutes
    • Awards: Won the Palme d'Or at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival
    • Release Date: December 18, 1966
  7. Citizen Kane

    Released in 1941, Citizen Kane is a drama directed co-written, produced, and starring Orson Welles. Widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, it tells the story of Charles Foster Kane a wealthy and influential newspaper magnate, and his rise and fall from power. Despite critical acclaim and recognition for its technical innovations the film was initially a commercial failure and faced backlash from the powerful newspaper industry, which felt attacked by its portrayal of Kane. However, it has since become a landmark of American cinema, influencing generations of filmmakers with its innovative use of deep focus cinematography, nonlinear narrative structure, and complex characterization.

    At the movie premiere here is an excerpt from a review by Mae Tinee of the Chicago Tribune: "It's interesting. It's different. In fact, it's bizarre enough to become a museum piece. But its sacrifice of simplicity to eccentricity robs it of distinction and general entertainment value." Other critics at the time also criticized the film's nonlinear narrative structure and the character of Kane being portrayed as unsympathetic.

    • Title: Citizen Kane (1941)
    • Directed by: Orson Welles
    • Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore
    • Budget: $839,727
    • Box Office: $1.5 million
    • Runtime: 119 minutes
    • Awards: Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Orson Welles). Won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
    • Release Date: May 1, 1941

    Citizen KaneRKO Radio Pictures, still photographer Alexander Kahle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  8. The Thing

    Directed by John Carpenter and released in 1982, The Thing is a horror film about a group of scientists in Antarctica who discover a shape-shifting alien that can mimic any life form it encounters. Despite its innovative special effects, intense suspense, and strong cast led by Kurt Russell, the film was a box office failure and received mixed reviews with some critics finding it too gory and nihilistic. However, it has since become a cult classic, with its atmospheric setting, paranoid themes, and ambiguous ending making it one of the most revered and influential horror films of all time.

    The film received mixed reviews at the time of its release. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing nor the other." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, saying that while it had good special effects, it lacked compelling characters and a sense of humanity.

    • Title: The Thing, 1982
    • Directed by: John Carpenter
    • Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
    • Budget: $15 million
    • Box Office: $19.6 million
    • Runtime: 109 minutes
    • Release Date: June 25, 1982
  9. Donnie Darko

    "Donnie Darko" is a cult classic science-fiction film directed by Richard Kelly released in 2001. The movie tells the story of Donnie Darko, a troubled teenager who starts experiencing strange visions of a large rabbit named Frank, who tells him that the world is going to end in 28 days 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. As Donnie struggles to understand his visions and the meaning behind them, he embarks on a surreal journey of self-discovery that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. The film is known for its complex narrative themes of time travel mental illness, and existentialism, as well as its haunting soundtrack and memorable performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone and Drew Barrymore.

    At the time of its release, "Donnie Darko" received mixed reviews and struggled at the box office. Some critics found the film confusing and overly ambitious, while others praised its creativity and originality. Despite its initial reception the film has since gained a dedicated cult following and is now considered a classic of the genre.

    "The film is an unholy mess of genres, times and tonal shifts, with pretentious quotes from philosophers and theorists who must be spinning in their graves." - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

    "A grimly pretentious farrago of science fiction, suburban satire, teen angst movie and serial-killer thriller." - A.O. Scott, The New York Times

    "I know what writer-director Richard Kelly was going for in his brain-twisting, genre-busting debut, but he misses the mark by a wide margin." - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

    • Title: Donnie Darko (2001)
    • Directed by: Richard Kelly
    • Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell
    • Budget: $4.5 million
    • Box Office: $7.5 million
    • Runtime: 113 minutes
    • Awards: None at major awards ceremonies, but the film has since gained a cult following
    • Release Date: January 19, 2001


  10. Psycho

    Released in 1960 and directed by Alfred Hitchcock Psycho is a horror film about a young woman who stays at a secluded motel and meets its disturbed owner, Norman Bates. Despite Hitchcock's reputation and marketing campaign, which urged audiences not to reveal the film's twist ending it faced mixed reviews and controversy for its explicit violence and sexual content. However it has since become one of the most iconic and influential horror films ever made, revolutionizing the genre with its subversion of audience expectations realistic violence and psychological complexity.

    Despite being a classic today, "Psycho" did face mixed reviews upon its initial release. Here are a few examples of negative reviews:

    "It is an insult to the intelligence of the audience" - The New Yorker 
    "Incomprehensible and therefore eminently forgettable" - Variety 
    "A blot on an honorable career" - Time Magazine

    However these negative reviews did not stop the film from becoming a box office success and later achieving its status as a classic in the horror genre.

    • Title: Psycho, 1960
    • Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
    • Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
    • Budget: $806,947
    • Box Office: $50 million
    • Runtime: 109 minutes
    • Awards: Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock) and Best Supporting Actress (Janet Leigh)
    • Release Date: June 16, 1960

    Alfred Hitchcock and Janet Psycho in the Psycho bathroom sceneShamley Productions , Paramount Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons