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9 Box Office Busts That Became Cult Hits

Whether you're talking sports, movies or your sex life, it's always more fun to root for the underdog. Quality flicks that flop at the box office tend to pick up a more fervent, zealous following than the Avengers and Dark Knights of the world. Here are 10 movies that got ignored in movie theaters but earned passionate followings and deserve a spot in your DVD case.


9

Mallrats

 
 

Filmmaker Kevin Smith has made a career of comedies that most everyone loves and quotes but barely anyone seems to have paid to see. Following Clerks, this 1995 effort follows a pair of screw-ups (Jason Lee and Jeremy London) as they ruin their relationships with Shannen Doherty and Claire Forlani, mess with clothing salesman Ben Affleck and pal around with village idiot pot dealers Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith). The movie only scooped a little more than $2 million from moviegoers, but it can still be found in DVD form in every self-respecting dorm room to this day.

 
8

The Boondock Saints

 
 

The 2000 shoot-em-up earned only $30,000 in theaters, but somehow managed to get seemingly 30 million online fans clamoring for a sequel. That is, until they got their way and the 2009 movie stunk and busted a cap in the franchise. In this vigilante fantasy, Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus play fraternal twins who gun their way through Boston, tangling with not only the Russian mob, but a federal agent goon squad led by Willem Dafoe. To get the full story on the movie's background, check out the documentary Overnight, which shows how filmmaker Troy Murphy got full of himself and crashed and burned, helping the studio decide to shelve his movie.

 
7

Office Space

 
 

It seems like everyone has seen Mike Judge's 1999 cubicle drone satire, which is shocking considering the movie only scraped together $11 million in box office dough. Ron Livingston plays a burnout who hates his job, his girlfriend and his life so much that he goes rogue, doing whatever he pleases, regardless of the consequences. That leads to a promotion at work, hot dates with a top-of-her-game Jennifer Aniston and a high-powered embezzlement scheme. Livingston live-ingstons the dream so you don't have to.

 
6

Donnie Darko

 
 

Nah, we don't understand the plot of this 2001 time traveling mind-freak either. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a high school kid who finds out he's the key to either causing or preventing the apocalypse, or maybe both. Or whatever. All we know is that his possibly imaginary/possibly real giant bunny best friend has something to do with it and that Patrick Swayze kills it as a secret pedophile who's got the town fooled, and the people who marketed the movie didn't know what they were doing, because it barely cracked $500,000 in domestic box office gross.

 
5

Zoolander

 
 

The misfortune of releasing so close to Sept. 11, 2001 (it came out 17 days later), killed the male modeling world mockery's chances at instant classic status. People just weren't really in the mood to laugh in those days, but that changed by the time the movie came out on DVD and everyone seemingly watched it at the same time, making Ben Stiller's "Blue Steel" expression spread spread throughout public consciousness. Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell, as well as Stiller, are all in top deadpan form, and the result is far more valuable than its $15 million in box office bucks.

 
4

The Tao of Steve

 
 

The 2000 romantic comedy is based on irresistible concept that there's a secret code that any dude can use to make the woman of his dreams fall for him. Donal Logue plays a pudgy slacker who seduces women by blending eastern mysticism with the sort of cool indifference made famous by Steve McQueen. The movie rocked Sundance but barely raised an eyebrow in theaters, garnering a little more than $4 million. It was a different story when dudes could watch the movie in their own homes, no doubt taking notes before trying the methods and failing in real life.

 
3

The Rules of Attraction

 
 

In telling the college story for the times, filmmaker Roger Avary adapts the Bret Easton Ellis novel to perfection, rounding up a group of hot ladies (Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel and Kate Bosworth) and underused dudes (James Van Der Beek, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Ian Somerhalder, Jay Baruchel and Fred Savage) to tell a tale of the joy and misery of late adolescence. Translated, that means a lot of naked partying, backstabbing and shouting matches. The movie may have only raked in $6.5 million at the box office, but that's because most of the target audience was too busy partying to pay attention. At least the movie made for a good hangover remedy.

 
2

Waking Life

 
 

Richard Linklater's 2001 animated movie follows the form of the filmmaker's other underground hit, Slacker. Hopping from one talky group of bohemians to the next, the movie makes conversation king. The extra touch that pushes the movie over the top is its look, which is mesmerizing thanks to rotoscoped animation superimposed on real-life performances and tweaked with expressionist art. The movie thudded in theaters, making less than $3 million, but potheads, closet philosophers and fans of lucid dreaming have made knowledge of the movie something of a secret handshake for circles of friends.

 
1

Reefer Madness

 
 

We can't find any records of how much this 1936 movie made in theaters — if it even made anything. Concocted as a cautionary tale looking to freak people out about the evils of marijuana, it plays as a ridiculous camp classic that's too much fun to gawk at. The movie has you believe that smoking out transforms innocent kids into murderous sex maniacs. Amateurish acting, misspelled title cards and shoddy camerawork only add to its charms.

 

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