By John H. Foote

West Side Story, Steven Spielberg’s breathtaking remake of the classic musical is failing to bring in audiences, the film is faltering at the box office. The first weekend was a dismal failure and already harbingers of doom are attacking the film. It failed to make money.

So? No a bigger SO WHAT? Is it any less great? No.

It is still the year’s best film and if it did not gross a dime it would still be the year’s best film.

West Side Story will not be the first great film, nor the last, in fact it is not even the first Spielberg film to be brilliant and fail with audiences, A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001) doing that twenty years ago. And a film that fails with audiences can even win the Academy Award as the low grosses of The Hurt Locker (2009 or Moonlight (2016) proved recently. Even Martin Scorsese’s sublime Silence (2017) scored rave reviews but failed miserably at the box office. IT HAPPENS!

Since 1980, here are some of the greatest films of the last 41 years which flopped at the box office yet remain great. You see being a hit does not mean a film is great. It never has. Never forget that The Wizard of Oz (1939) flopped upon release and Citizen Kane (1941) was a dud at the box office.

Being a flop at the box office means the film was not popular, but that does not mean the film was not great, not a work of art. It means that audiences have not found the film yet, but hopefully they will.

Here are a bunch that flopped when first released, and many are now considered masterpieces that did indeed find their audience. Again, well reviewed, widely admired by those who saw the films, but dead on arrival at the box office. West Side Story is not the first and certainly will not be the last – get over it. The thing might not make any money but it is still the very best film of the year, making millions does not make a great film … just popular.

Some examples:

  • Raging Bull (1980)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • The Stunt Man (1980)
  • Reds (1981)
  • Blow Out (1981)
  • Shoot the Moon (1982)
  • The Right Stuff (1983)
  • The King of Comedy (1983)
  • Under Fire (1983)
  • Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
  • Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
  • At Close Range (1986)
  • Salvador (1986)
  • Ironweed (1987)
  • Empire of the Sun (1987)
  • The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
  • The Age of Innocence (1993)
  • Ed Wood (1994)
  • Casino (1995)
  • The Crucible (1996)
  • Bulworth (1998)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • Magnolia (1999)
  • The Iron Giant (1999)
  • Requiem for a Dream (2000)
  • A-I Artificial Intelligence (2001)
  • Mulholland Drive (2001)
  • Minority Report (2002)
  • Road to Perdition (2002)
  • Children of Men (2006)
  • Marie Antoinette (2006)
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
  • Revolutionary Road (2008)
  • The Road (2009)
  • The Hurt Locker (2009)
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
  • Hugo (2011)
  • The Master (2012)
  • Cloud Atlas (2012)
  • Under the Skin (2014)
  • Steve Jobs (2015)
  • Moonlight (2016)
  • Silence (2017)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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