‘Office Space’ and Four Other Great Comedies That Bombed at the Box Office for Dumb Reasons

Some truly hilarious movies were financial duds
‘Office Space’ and Four Other Great Comedies That Bombed at the Box Office for Dumb Reasons

Sadly, it’s not rare for a great movie comedy to go over like a lead balloon piloted by a Kevin James character at the box office. In addition to the stupidity of humanity in general, numerous factors can contribute to a movie’s lack of financial success. To help us better understand the machinations of Hollywood, actors, filmmakers and industry insiders occasionally offer up behind-the-scenes explanations for films’ disappointing earnings — and some of them, it turns out, are pretty dumb. Such as how…

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‘Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy’s Promotional Budget Was Slashed Because of a Controversial Joke

The Kids in the Hall’s first/only feature film, Brain Candy (later remade with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence), is one of the funniest movies of the 1990s. But when it hit theaters, its profits were in the “children’s lemonade stand on a rainy day” range. How could such a funny movie do so poorly at the box office?

It’s all because of “Cancer Boy,” the character played by Bruce McCulloch, who’s literally just a small boy with cancer. What was arguably the most tasteless joke in the movie caught the ire of the studio, Paramount, who reportedly “begged” the group to cut the character from the film.

The Kids stuck to their principles, becoming Men in the Hall, refusing to ditch the scene (McCulloch cited his “punk ethic”), and forcing a “standoff” with the studio. The scene stayed in, but Paramount “pulled all of their publicity money,” resulting in the film receiving little-to-no marketing.

‘Office Space’ Had a Terrible, Confusing Poster

We all love Office Space, Mike Judge’s cult classic about the drudgeries of TPS report-filled 9-to-5 life and random acts of printer-based violence.

While it ultimately became a cultural touchstone, Office Space was a disaster in theaters, opening in eighth place behind movies like She’s All That and My Favorite Martian. Sure, it didn’t have any wacky aliens or sexist wagers set to Sixpence None the Richer, but Office Space clearly deserved better. What happened? 

According to John C. McGinley, who played Bob Slydell, the movie was doomed thanks to a terrible poster, which depicted the Milton character covered from head to toe in Post-It notes like a sideshow freak created by Staples. McGinley found the image to be disquietingly Muppet-y. “If you cover a man in Post-Its, he looks like fucking Big Bird,” McGinley rgued. “So, the ad looked like an R-rated Big Bird movie. No one wants to see an R-rated Big Bird movie. Nobody gives a shit.”

Nobody Wanted to See ‘Last Action Hero’ Because of Bill Clinton (According to Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Admittedly, Last Action Hero is far from a perfect movie, but it was admirably inventive and often genuinely funny for a 1990s action flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, had it been a bigger hit, Schwarzenegger likely would have agreed to appear alongside Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon in Hans and Franz: The Girlyman Dilemma, and the world would have been a better place for it.

Last Action Hero’s marketing tactics were shockingly terrible, however, mostly involving erecting a giant inflatable replica of Schwarzenegger on top of a barge and paying half a million dollars to NASA to plaster the film’s logo on a rocket that didn’t end up launching until well after the movie came out.

That said, Schwarzenegger believes that at least some of the blame belongs to Bill Clinton, who took office several months before Last Action Hero was released, purely because he represented a culture shift away from 1980s conservatism. As Arnold later stated: “It was one of those things where President Clinton was elected, and the press somehow made the whole thing kind of political where they thought, ‘Okay, the 1980s action guys are gone; here’s a perfect example,’ and they wrote this narrative before anyone saw the movie.” 

Also, the movie came out just a week after the release of a little film called Jurassic Park. That might have something to do with it too, Arnie.

The Studio Behind ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ Wanted to Focus on Justin Bieber

Carrying on the legacy of great musical mockumentaries like This Is Spinal Tap and Fear of a Black Hat, The Lonely Island’s 2016 comedy Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping starred Andy Samberg as “humble” recording artist Connor4Real. It’s genuinely one of the funniest movies in recent years, yet it failed to make even half of its modest budget back, being bested by the Angry Birds movie at the box office.

As Samberg later revealed, one big problem was that Universal wanted to piggyback on Justin Bieber’s popularity by making it seem as though Popstar was a laser-targeted Bieber parody — which it wasn’t. “The marketing department really wanted to lean into the Bieber aspect of it,” Samberg later said, “and we did not at any point feel like what we were making was a Bieber movie.” 

While the movie was intended as a broader commentary “on the pop machine and the music machine in general,” Popstar’s marketing mostly featured Samberg striking distinctly Bieber-like poses, mischaracterizing the movie’s aims.

‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ Flopped Because of the Recession

Inarguably the greatest movie about a Torontonian bass player who battles his girlfriend’s ex-lovers until they die/turn into a pile of loonies and toonies, Edgar Wright’s film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is beloved by fans today, but it somehow failed to click with audiences back in 2010, who were apparently more into movies about characters that were busy eating, praying and loving.

Perhaps it’s not exactly shocking that a movie starring Michael Cera as a jealous indie rocker didn’t do Avengers numbers, but Scott Pilgrim is a genuinely fun movie that received a huge marketing push from its studio at the time. What went wrong?

There are a number of different theories. The film’s genre-bending, pop-culture mash-up vibe was tough to convey in a 30-second TV spot. Some ads made Scott seem like a badass superhero, while others confusingly played up his social awkwardness. And as one marketing executive explained to The Wrap, it was possibly due to the effects of the 2008 recession: “In recessionary time, who wants to see a movie about 20-year-old slacker do-nothings who are in a band? You’d rather slap them than go watch them in a movie.” 

By this logic, had Scott Pilgrim been a slimy Wall Street bro who eschewed rock music for cocaine and speedboats, it would have been the next Avatar.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 

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