Blade Runner (1983)
Budget: $28 million
Box office: $33.7 million (including re-releases)
While androids dream of electric sheep, accountants must have endured hellish nightmares in the aftermath of Blade Runner's dismal run at the box office in the summer of 1982. An opening weekend of barely $6 million (£3.61 million) was attributed to an ill-conceived advertising campaign, the competition of ET for bums on seats and a mixed reception from viewers who felt stunned by the imagery but alienated by the narrative.
It's hard not to wonder whether the film would have fared better if the studio had faith in director Ridley Scott's original vision, instead of meddling with the final cut and slapping on a voiceover and happy ending to vanquish any sense of ambiguity. But perhaps Blade Runner is one of those movies that needs time for audiences to absorb, due to its vast aesthetic and philosophical scope. The turning point came with the release of the hugely superior Director's Cut in 1992, prompting a critical re-evaluation and huge sales on home video.
Budget: $15 million
Box office: $9.9 million
Terry Gilliam doesn't appear to have a great deal of luck with his labours of love. The horrors he had to endure in his efforts to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote are well documented, while The Adventures of Baron Munchausen sadly became a notorious financial failure. The story of Brazil's turbulent release in 1985, which came only after the director took out a full-page ad in Variety and defied Universal Pictures by screening the film privately, is so fascinating that it's merited a whole book of its own entitled The Battle Of Brazil.
Those scissor-happy execs didn't learn from the box office failure of Blade Runner and refused to release Gilliam's majestic cut of the movie after it didn't test well at preview screenings. By thinking they knew what the public wanted in a dystopian satire, they excised the ambiguity, reduced the running time and tacked on a happy ending. Do they ever learn? There's a certain irony that the film lambasts a consumer-driven world, yet ultimately fell victim to it.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Budget: $25 million
Box office: $28 million
How such a popular movie could tank at the box office is a mystery to rival how Tim Robbins's inmate managed to stick his Rita Hayworth poster back up on his cell wall after climbing into the tunnel it was concealing. Frank Darabont's 1994 drama, adapted from a Stephen King novella, owes a great deal to Academy Award voters who bestowed seven nominations on it after it fell hugely under the radar.
A re-release to tie in with the Oscars helped to push box office receipts beyond its paltry initial return of $16 million (£9.63 million), although the film limped away empty-handed on the night of the awards. Upon hitting the video shelves, a growing word of mouth began to spread and before long it felt that the whole world had witnessed the triumphant tale of redemption and salvation. With a rating of 9.3/10 on IMDB from over 1 million users, The Shawshank Redemption currently occupies the top spot on the influential website.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Box office: $1.5 million
Rosebud. That one word has a lot to answer for, as the cryptic ending to Orson Welles's 1941 masterpiece may well have swayed movie studios to steer clear of ambiguous endings over the ensuing decades and giving visionary directors the final cut. Hence the lack of an origami unicorn or dream reveal in the theatrically released cuts of Blade Runner and Brazil respectively.
Often voted the best movie ever made by film critics, Citizen Kane rewrote the rulebook when it came to filmmaking - not that it did the 25-year-old Welles's career or ego much good. Initial reviews were extremely favourable, but the public were shielded from much of the acclaim because the hugely powerful American newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst heard that the movie's ruthless title character was based on him and blocked any mention of Citizen Kane in his publications. Ongoing legal disputes also prevented the film from even making it into many cinemas.
Fight Club (1999)
Budget: $63 million
Box office: $37 million (+ $63 million foreign)
The first rule of Fight Club is... wait until it's out on video before watching it. Initial box office fortunes sagged more than Meatloaf's moobs in the movie, despite David Fincher's film generating a huge amount of pre-release buzz. Starring the very marketable Brad Pitt - fresh from success in Se7en and Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys - this looked like it had all the makings of an instant hit.
Perhaps a movie about a subversive counter-culture didn't appeal to many people beyond that very same subversive counter-culture demographic? Word of mouth may also have been hindered as viewers took a long while to digest what they had just witnessed, especially the (wait for it) ambiguous ending. Let's just all appreciate the fact that the studio didn't insist on releasing a cut bearing an Edward Norton voiceover in which he repeatedly explains that Tyler Durden is an extension of himself.
Raging Bull (1980)
Budget: $18 million
Box office: $23 million
Nominated for eight Oscars and frequently acclaimed as one of the best movies ever made, Raging Bull left director Martin Scorsese fearing for his career after it sank at the box office in 1980. The brutal beauty of the film is undeniable, but commercial success is often reliant on an advertising campaign that packs a punch more powerful than Jake LaMotta.
Lacking the mainstream feelgood factor that enabled Rocky to land a knockout blow, Raging Bull must have alienated many potential viewers through being shot in black and white for justifiable artistic reasons. Perhaps, like Fight Club, the prospect of prevalent violence also swayed some from deciding to spend over two hours at the cinema - a venue often seen as an escapist pursuit to flee from the horrors of life rather than be confronted by them in such a stark manner.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Budget: $3.18 million
Box office: $3.3 million
Frank Capra's 1946 fantasy is such staple viewing at Christmas that it's hard to comprehend its commercial failure. Many cite a crowded marketplace as the prime reason why It's a Wonderful Life suffered, but the tragic elements of the story could have deterred many from snapping up tickets. After all, when we encounter James Stewart's George Bailey, he's planning his own suicide on Christmas Eve - a premise that would be too dark for even a festive edition of EastEnders.
The Wizard of Oz (1938)
Budget: $2.7 million
Box office: $3 million (on initial release)
"We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz." No, you're probably not. At least in 1939. The mesmeric presence of Judy Garland, a cute dog and innovative Technicolor somehow failed to lure cinemagoers during the initial run of Victor Fleming's iconic movie, which lost the studio money at first. Fortunately, a steady stream of re-releases - which continue to this day with singalong versions - have significantly changed that.
It's worth pointing out that The Wizard Of Oz's early failure was only relative to its huge production cost. $2.7 million (£1.6 million) to make a movie was a barely fathomable figure in those days.