5 Classic Works Everyone Forgets Started Out As Total Flops
Classics aren't always immediately recognized as such. Audiences ignored Citizen Kane, critics hated The Catcher In The Rye, and it's becoming increasingly clear that our poetry chapbook Cracked Hearts won't be appreciated until centuries after our deaths. It's all almost as egregious as the initial receptions for now-beloved works like ...
The X-Men Were Once Cancelled By Marvel
The X-Men helped revitalize the superhero movie genre, thus giving us today's world in which new Marvel and DC films come out every week. For this, you either love those mutants or will curse them until your dying day. Contemporary comic book and movie fans may assume that the X-Men must have always been one of comics' most beloved titles, but there was a time when the team was as moribund as the Green Lama and Stardust the Super Wizard.
That time was the '60s -- i.e. right out of the gate -- as X-Men sales declined with every issue. By 1970, they were at the very bottom of Marvel's sales chart, so the series was cancelled, and for the next five years it was kept on newsstands only as reprints. In 1975, the series was rebooted with Giant-Size X-Men (referring to the length of the comic, not the physical stature of the heroes), featuring a mostly new cast with more diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, no doubt prompting several complaints about childhoods being ruined. The new X-Men introduced Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, and the super popular one that you should definitely know if you want to consider yourself culturally relevant, Thunderbird. The new team also bought in Wolverine, who had recently been introduced in a Hulk comic, of all places, and they recycled Cyclops from the last run, because every superhero team needs at least one member whom everyone hates and hopes dies.
The revamped team underwent a few tweaks, but eventually they caught on and X-Men became one of the best-selling comics ever. Their success was thanks in part to breakout star Wolverine, who was almost called "the Badger" instead. You can't imagine a massive film franchise anchored by Hugh Jackman's Badger, can you?
Speaking of which, it took a while for the films to get going, too. 2000's X-Men was undeniably a hit, being the ninth-biggest movie of the year. But that placed it behind Meet The Parents, Dinosaur, and What Women Want, a movie in which an electric shock grants Mel Gibson the ability to read the minds of women and consequently discover that few want an angry anti-Semite in their lives. (Now getting a gender-swapped remake!) You may have noticed that we're not currently enjoying a Dinosaur cinematic universe.
Hell, even X2 made less money than The Matrix Revolutions, a movie that most people now deny watching. And after an awful third movie and an even worse Wolverine spinoff, the X-Men films were themselves retooled. If there's one thing the X-Men can teach us, it's that success comes from completely reinventing yourself whenever you hit a bump in the road.
It Took A Decade For The Wizard Of Oz To Make Its Money Back
Despite being the only movie from the '30s that most people today will ever watch, The Wizard Of Oz lost around a million dollars during its initial release, which by modern standards is roughly 40 quadrillion dollars. Fantasy films weren't a big draw back then, and while Snow White appeared to have bucked that trend, audiences weren't too interested in a film about a girl going on a magical tornado ride to an alternative universe where she immediately commits theft before launching into musical numbers. It didn't help that in terms of production costs, it was basically the Avengers of its day. It wasn't until a 1949 re-release that MGM considered Oz to have turned a profit.
In MGM's defense, they weren't expecting to be building a yellow brick road made with solid gold. Oz was their yearly "prestige film," aka a movie that flopped financially but got great reviews and award nominations, making them look like serious artists. Tarzan Finds A Son! turned a big profit for the studio the same summer Oz was released, but audiences forgot about that the moment they walked out of their theaters, while Oz is now one of the most famous movies in human history. So we guess the lesson here is that heartlessly torturing Judy Garland always pays off in the long run.
The Great Gatsby Was Considered A Mediocre Failure
Here's a headline for you: "Fitzgerald's Latest A Dud." The New York World justified the complaints of countless high school students by declaring The Great Gatsby a failure, and they weren't alone. While F. Scott Fitzgerald's fellow artists loved the novel, critics mostly saw it as a mediocre-at-best crime story that managed to sell a mere 20,000 copies, scraping together $2,000 for its author during its initial 1925 release (Fitzgerald was hoping for at least 75,000). It's like if The Fault In Our Stars had been dismissed as a middling medical drama.
Gatsby slowly developed a reputation as a cult classic, but it only really took off after America got involved in World War II. A bunch of books were chosen to be printed and given to soldiers and prisoners as Armed Services Editions, because facing down the horrors of battle was a hell of a lot easier if you could distract yourself with a good story during the downtime. Gatsby was among the books selected, because what soldier wouldn't want to read about how the American dream that they were fighting and dying to defend was a cruel lie? Over 123,000 copies were distributed, and people started to realize that this Fitzgerald guy had been onto something.
Gatsby underwent a critical reappraisal in the postwar years, although Fitzgerald wasn't around to see it, having died in 1940 thinking his magnum opus was a flop. But today 500,000 copies of Gatsby are sold every year -- some of which are even read by people who understand the message and don't rush off to throw elaborate '20s-themed parties.
Simon And Garfunkel Broke Up Because Their First Album Bombed
Countless teenagers have moped to "The Sound Of Silence" and its opening line "Hello darkness, my old friend." But the song, now ranked among the greatest folk tracks ever released, first appeared on S&G's debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., which got a public reception only slightly warmer than a Holocaust denial pamphlet. It only sold around 2,000 copies, in part because they were competing with the British Invasion and no one wanted to contemplate deep existential malaise when they could bop around instead. So Simon went to England to pursue a solo career, while Garfunkel returned to college.
While Art Garfunkel, Attorney at Law sounds badass, their careers were rescued by their producer, Tom Wilson, who hired a bassist, drummer, and two guitar players to dub an electric backing track onto "The Sound Of Silence." Within a few months, the rockier version became a #1 Billboard hit, because it turns out that silence doesn't sell nearly as well as sweet guitar licks. Simon and Garfunkel themselves didn't care for the electric additions, but the reworked hit prompted both a single with some serious B-side whiplash ...
... and a reunification for a rushed follow-up album dubbed, you guessed it, Sounds Of Silence. That album had a couple of new hits that kept them afloat until they could release Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, And Thyme, which locked them on their path to folk superstardom. By which we mean that people smoked, just, a ton of weed to that album.
Blade Runner And The Thing Were Screwed Over By E.T.
Blade Thing and The Runner are two of the most beloved science fiction movies in history, especially by people who insist on turning off the lights and shushing all conversation during casual Friday movie night. But when they both debuted on June 25, 1982, they were absolutely destroyed by E.T., a movie that had already been out for two weeks. Spielberg's whimsical adventure / Reese's Piece's commercial easily made more money than both of them combined. Blade Runner narrowly beat out Firefox, a movie in which Clint Eastwood steals a futuristic Soviet fighter plane, while The Thing squeaked ahead of MegaForce, a movie about a MegaForce.
Both films also received mixed reviews upon release, with Blade Runner considered boring and ponderous and The Thing dismissed as too bleak and bloody. They may have also been hurt by the times. A grittier, depressed '70s had made way for an optimistic, upbeat '80s, and not a lot of people want to spend a summer's day driving their fancy new car to a nice air-conditioned movie theater, settling down with a big bag of popcorn, and taking in two hours of grim violence reflecting on the horror and despair of the human condition.
But time and home media allowed the movies to be reappraised, and today they're both considered sci-fi classics. Their influence even earned them follow-ups decades down the line -- a Thing remake in 2011 and a Blade Runner sequel in 2017. Both of which, uh, disappointed at the box office. We can only assume that they'll get another look over the coming years, and the eternal cycle will continue anew.
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