Box office bombs from this decade that are actually worth watching

With box office takes casually reported like football scores these days, it's sometimes difficult to remember that a film's box office performance is no definite indicator of its quality. Just as some films that have made over a billion dollars worldwide aren't particularly good, a film failing to make much of a splash in theaters doesn't always mean it's bad. Don't get us wrong, bad movies tank all the time, and rightfully so, but here and there, a movie will flop that doesn't deserve to. The reasons vary. Advertising campaigns can fail to connect, a film can be released at an inopportune moment, or sometimes movies are just ahead of their time. Regardless of the reason, there's a handful of genuinely great movies from this decade that deserve a far larger audience than they got when released. 

Free Fire (2017)

British director Ben Wheatley, who years ago made the modern horror masterpiece Kill List, quietly dropped Free Fire on audiences in April of 2017. Hardly anybody saw it (it's tough to notice the quirky action-comedy/period piece when there's a new Fast and Furious movie in theaters), but it's got all the makings of a cult classic.

The film, which features killer performances by the likes of Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, and Cillian Murphy, is a lean little romp that takes place almost entirely inside of a single warehouse. It tells the story of an arms deal gone wrong, leaving all the lowlifes involved trapped inside the warehouse with nothing but their wits and a whole lot of guns to get them out. It becomes a tense race for survival. That's not to say it's all serious, mind you. It's filled with off-beat humor, one-liners, and physical comedy that nicely breaks the tension here and there. Free Fire is 90 minutes of bad people (many of whom have some truly wild mustaches) shooting guns and cracking jokes, and that's a good time in our book.

The Nice Guys (2016)

Writer/director extraordinaire Shane Black should have had a massive hit on his hands with 2016's The Nice Guys. Starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, the film's trailers are a hoot, perfectly displaying the actors' chemistry and highlighting some hysterical moments. Unfortunately, the film was released in the middle of summer blockbuster season. A smaller-scale action-comedy can totally do well if released at the right time, but it's hard to get butts in seats for it when superhero movies are dropping left and right.

It's a shame, because the movie is vintage Black. The dialogue is caustically funny and the mystery the film centers on twists and turns in serpentine fashion, with Gosling's private eye and Crowe's hired muscle getting tied up in a case involving the automobile industry, a politician's missing daughter, and a maybe-dead-maybe-alive adult film actress. Gosling's performance as a widowed alcoholic P.I. (we promise it's funny, guys) is one of the most memorable of his already-stellar career, and Crowe is more inspired here than he's been in a long time. A release in September would have been perfect for it—and could have even drummed up awards buzz for the film too. 

Tomorrowland (2015)

Films based on Disney theme park concepts have an admittedly mixed track record. Fortunately, Brad Bird's take on the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland is one of the better adaptations, standing out as a fun, exuberant, and inventive science fiction tale. Unfortunately, very few people got the chance to see this for themselves. It underperformed in theaters and quietly faded away into obscurity after the fact.

The film features George Clooney as a reclusive genius inventor who meets a science-crazed teenage girl. Their adventures center around Tomorrowland, an alternate dimension of scientific wonder. Full of twists, turns, and some legitimately compelling sci-fi concepts under Bird's expert direction, Tomorrowland should have been a huge hit. It's anybody's guess as to why it wasn't, but, trust us, this one is far more Pirates of the Caribbean than The Country Bears.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

It may sound cliché, but some movies are just ahead of their time—be it visual innovation, thematic content audiences aren't ready for, or just being ahead of the curve on trends audiences don't realize they're going to love. There are movies that fail at the box office that are guilty of nothing but being released a few years too early, and it was clear from the first trailer that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was ahead of its time.

Released in the summer of 2010, the film adapts the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Director Edgar Wright chose not to tone down the comic book and video game influence on the story and instead cranked it up to 11, making its comic book influence visible onscreen. Bad guys explode into piles of coins. Sound effects appear written out on the screen. And the special effects make the action sequences look like animated video game or comic book battles in the most authentic fashion possible. It's a self-aware and self-referential film winking at the audience constantly and packed to the gills with nostalgia for classic video games. In today's age of Deadpool and Stranger Things, the film likely would have been a massive success. Unfortunately, it was released in 2010, years before audiences were ready for it, and it flopped despite its critical acclaim.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is one of those movies that turned out a hundred times better than it had any right to be. A fake documentary spoofing concert-biopics of modern pop sensations should be a one-note journey with a few good jabs about Instagram culture and autotune at best. Instead, Popstar went above and beyond the call of duty and turned into one of the better mainstream comedies of 2016.

Created by comedy music group The Lonely Island, the film stars Andy Samberg as Conner, a Justin Bieber-esque pop star on the rise. The film follows his rise and eventual fall, with Lonely Island co-members Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer (who, together, directed the film) starring as his old band members. It's got plenty of laughs, but what's more surprising is how much heart it has hidden beneath its multitude of celebrity cameos and expert skewering of the music industry. The character of Conner is far more layered than one would expect, and you really feel for him and his bandmates throughout the film.

None of that heart came through in the trailers though, and the film looked one-note at best and obnoxious at worst. It underperformed at the box office, but we think time is going to be kind to this one. 

Ender's Game (2013)

Writer Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is a massively acclaimed young-adult science fiction novel. A film adaptation remained in development hell for over two decades until it finally came together under director Gavin Hood. When it was finally released in 2013, it bombed at the box office—thanks in no small part to it becoming more well known in the years since the novel's release that Card is not only anti-gay and anti-gay marriage but seems to be intensely focused on the subject. Removed from the context of Card's personal life, though, the film is pretty great.

Ender's Game boasts some stellar special effects and production design, and Gavin Hood's direction is very good throughout. It adapts the book about as accurately as one could realistically ask for, but the real standout in this one is the cast. Behind Asa Butterfield as Ender is a murderer's row of talent, including Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, and Hailee Steinfeld, among others. Their performances are what make the film work as well as it does. Card's personal politics are a bummer, make no mistake, but there's a reason his novel has been so beloved over the years, and the film does that story justice.

Premium Rush (2012)

An action-crime story set in the world of fixed-gear bike messengers shouldn't work. It should be, at best, the setup to a punchline about hipster culture. And yet Premium Rush works. Not that audiences got the chance to see for themselves, mind you. The film, which opened right at the end of summer blockbuster season, bombed big time at the box office, tarnishing lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt's track record that year (he also appeared in box office hits Looper, The Dark Knight Rises, and Lincoln), but if you're judging based on film quality, Gordon-Levitt definitely went 4 for 4 in 2012.

Premium Rush marketed its focus on fixed-gear bike chases heavily, but at its core it's that classic story archetype in which a person in a menial service job (process server, taxi driver, etc.) gets mixed up with bad people out for blood. Premium Rush's resident bad person out for blood is played by the excellent Michael Shannon, who really shines in his role as a crooked cop. As he relentlessly pursues Gordon-Levitt's Wilee throughout New York City, we're treated to some killer chase sequences and well-edited action scenes. The film's unconventional nonlinear narrative seals the deal, making Premium Rush a whole lot of fun and very much worth your time.

Dredd (2012)

Judge Dredd isn't exactly on the same level of popularity as other comic book characters like Superman or Batman, but the British comics icon isn't without his fans. Plus, the concept—a dystopian future of crime-ridden city sprawls that are policed by "Judges" who also act as jury and executioner—doesn't really need the comic's association to sell a movie. It's cool enough as it is. The character has been adapted to the screen twice, and that second movie, released in 2012, is something special.

Dredd is a Detroit muscle car barreling down the highway at 90 miles per hour. It's that kind of action movie—lean, relentless, and running at a breakneck pace. The film sees Judge Dredd and his trainee, Judge Anderson, trapped in a massive 200-floor Mega City block with hundreds of armed thugs out to kill them in the name of Ma-ma, a notorious drug dealer played with ruthless relish by Lena Heady. The film is a violent, brutal romp, taking Dredd and Anderson up through the building's 200 floors, gunning their way through every crony that gets in their way. The script is airtight and works in some intriguing character angles as it carries the story on.

Not many audience members caught Dredd in theaters, largely killing any immediate sequel plans. We're still holding out hope that we get to return to Judge Dredd's world, and it looks like we might get it in the form of a TV series.

Warrior (2011)

Warrior went largely unnoticed the weekend it was released, dwarfed by the celebrity-packed ensemble medical thriller Contagion. It came and went quietly, though actor Nick Nolte received a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars for his role in the film later that year. It's a film that didn't demand attention, but make no mistake, it deserves some.

Warrior, on paper, should not work. It should play like a Lifetime Channel movie with a higher-than-average budget. The story of two brothers separated as teenagers who find themselves forced to fight one another in a mixed martial arts tournament is surprisingly powerful. The brothers, played by Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy (turning in a masterpiece of a performance) have gone down different paths since their separation but are perpetually tied together by their alcoholic screw-up father (Nolte's role). As their inevitable confrontation in the tournament draws near, emotions dormant for decades awaken for the first time. By the time the brothers meet, it somehow feels simultaneously grounded and biblical, bringing a stunning portrait of the complicated dynamics between fathers, sons, and brothers to a bittersweet, heart-wrenching end. It's very much Rocky for the UFC generation—and not just on a surface level. The movie packs the same emotional punch of Stallone's seminal classic. This is one you shouldn't miss, but make sure you bring tissues. You'll need them.