Box office bombs from the '90s that are actually worth watching

Movies, like all art, shouldn't be judged solely by their financial worth. After all, not all great art is appreciated in its time. And with today's viewers paying close attention to weekend box office returns and rankings, it can be hard for even the most inventive movies to overcome the reputation of a big loss at the box office. Money talks, but that doesn't mean you should listen. Here are some '90s movies that bombed at the box office but are still worth watching.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

The world is currently experiencing a bit of a Keanu Reeves renaissance via the actor's John Wick movie franchise about a beleaguered former assassin, but he has already appeared in a whole host of great movies starring beleaguered guys named John–from Johnny Utah to John Constantine to Don John. But easily one of the best and weirdest Johns that Reeves has played is the titular role in Johnny Mnemonic, a much-derided movie that embarrassed cyberpunk fans and earned Reeves a Razzie nod for Worst Actor.

Reeves' Johnny is trapped by his circumstances: he's traded in his memories to be a "data courier" (his brain is "wired" to receive uploads) but wants to do one big job in order to make money and buy back the memories he's lost. But yesterday's technobabble is today's modern age. With Johnny screaming things like "I want to get out of this rat hole. I want to get online," it's a wonder that millennials haven't gravitated toward this movie. While the obvious low budget is no help, the flick's biggest flaw is perhaps that it came out about 20 years too early for your average moviegoers to relate to its cyberpunk subject matter.

The Dark Half (1993)

The Dark Half is based on the novel of the same name by the spooky king of horror prose, Stephen King. Definitely one of the stranger concepts, it's the story of a writer who has abandoned his nom de plume, only to find his phony persona has come to life–with murder on its mind. While the novel had a concept seemingly (or solely) perfect for the written word, the movie has one excellent attribute that makes it a standout: the cinematic king of horror, director George Romero.

The Dark Half delivers some gruesome images up there with Romero's best. One scene in particular features a brain tumor "reacting" to its removal–a scene that will make you anxious the next time you get a headache. Unfortunately, the movie failed to click with audiences; it made just over $10 million. Still, the movie's worth a watch, especially with an adept Timothy Hutton (best known these days for series Leverage) in a double role playing both writer and his evil pseudonym counterpart.

Dead Alive (1992)

Speaking of horror, Dead Alive (also called Braindead) was one of the most surprising horror films of the nineties. Filmed on a shoestring budget of only $3 million by Peter Jackson (a man who would get used to directing on a much larger budget with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies), Dead Alive is a gory, inventive romp about a teenager fighting off a horde of zombies (and dealing with some nasty mother issues too). Although its low budget should have made it an easy success, the film only made $240,000 stateside, and it would be unjustly ignored by American audiences until Jackson's later success prompted a re-evaluation.

While it didn't quite connect with American audiences, across "the pond," however, the film had a powerful influence on another young horror buff who would pay homage to the film in his own movie, Shaun of the Dead. Even setting its influence on other movies aside, Dead Alive is an electrifying movie with some of the best practical effects you've seen in a horror movie—and a truly innovative use of a lawnmower. You might think you've seen bloody horror movies, but you've almost certainly never seen anything quite like Dead Alive.

Cool World (1992)

Ralph Bakshi, the man that made the infamous Fritz The Catthe first animated film to ever receive an X rating from the MPAA—combined sex and cartoons one more time with Cool World. In it, a cartoonist has to resist the sexual advances of his own creation, a "doodle" named Holli Would (as in, "would do anything" and voiced by Kim Bassinger), while a detective (Brad Pitt) works to prevent her from breaking down the boundaries of reality.

It's a strange movie, with a juxtaposition of live-action and animation that looks like a bizarro porn parody of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but it's a fascinating experiment. Audiences weren't exactly drawn to the film, and it ended up only recouping half of its $30 million budget, which isn't exactly surprising. While we don't anticipate this movie ending up on anyone's "Best of the '90s" list anytime soon, the film's so singular in its conception that it's definitely worth seeing at least once.

The Rocketeer (1991)

Whereas Captain America is box office gold today, in the early '90s, a superhero period piece about a handsome, patriotic hero in WWII could barely cover its own budgetThe Rocketeer follows mechanic Cliff as he becomes The Rocketeer by donning a stylish jacket and rocket pack as he battles to uncover a hidden Nazi plot in Hollywood. The Rocketeer has got a refreshing ease to the pacing and style—plus stylish design (Art Deco never really goes out of style) and earnest execution. 

It's easy to see why director Joe Johnston got the chance to reinvent another superhero with Captain America: The First Avenger years later, but The Rocketeer is a strong film. Unfortunately, it didn't really connect with audiences. It may be that the film was released too early to really tap into the now-current superhero zeitgeist, or maybe it was ignored in favor of other family fare. Either way, the film is absolutely worth revisiting, especially with Timothy Dalton's performance as an over-the-top Errol Flynn-esque actor.

Event Horizon (1997)

Alien might be the most well-known horror movie that takes place in space, but it's far from the only one. Event Horizon taps into that uniquely human fear of space as an endless, empty void. The movie follows a crew investigating a distress signal coming from the titular spaceship, which had disappeared seven years prior. What follows is a kaleidoscope of horrifying images, spooky Latin phrases, and the slow realization that flying millions of miles through space doesn't put you any farther away from hell.

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, Event Horizon is pretty handily his best movie, combining the bloody genre thrills that pervade his other work with an able cast that is able to inject the necessary gravitas. Sam Neil in particular is absolutely terrifying as the member of the space crew most susceptible to the dark whispers of the otherworldly horror on the ship. If the Alien movies didn't completely turn you away from space travel, then Event Horizon certainly will.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

The Coen Brothers have made a successful career for themselves with a slew of idiosyncratic scripts. While they've found plenty of success, and cult status, that doesn't mean they're immune to failure, even for one of their best movies. The Hudsucker Proxy is a biting satire of big business and, although filled with characters who "talk fast and wear sharp clothes," a loving homage to classic feel-good movies like Mr. Deeds Goes To Town and It's A Wonderful Life. The film follows Norville Barnes as he moves to New York from Indiana and accidentally becomes head of a massive company as the unknowing patsy for a complicated scheme to depress stock prices.

As with any Coen Brothers movie, the film's packed to the brim with memorable dialogue and likable characters, but The Hudsucker Proxy's look was so striking that more than a few critics and audiences felt put off and confused. A more cohesive look at the Coen Brothers larger oeuvre would reveal the kinds of stories they were interested in telling, which makes The Hudsucker Proxy a much more fulfilling theatrical experience. All that aside, there's never been a better explanation for why Hula Hoops exist than this movie.

Mystery Men (1999)

Superhero movies might not have been all that popular in the nineties, but they were at least more popular than superhero parodies. With that in mind, Mystery Men never really had a chance. Still, people who slept on the film missed an endearing superhero story with one of the strangest casts ever (Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Tom Waits, Eddie Izzard, Paul Reubens, and Hank Azaria for Pete's sake). It's a quintessentially nineties movie, with a cameo from comedian Dane Cook and a music video tie-in of Smash Mouth's "All Star."

With the current glut of superhero movies, it's a delight watching the misfits of Mystery Men fumble around with their mostly useless superpowers. In fact, the current cultural permeation of superhero minutiae means many of the jokes in the film have actually improved with age. Plus, this is the movie that made "All Star" a true star, for better or worse.

Tank Girl (1995)

The original Tank Girl comics are an energetic, frenetic, counter-culture blast to the eyeballs with a unique art style by Jamie Hewlett (of The Gorillaz fame), but it was the character of Tank Girl herself that endeared the comic to fans. She was rude, hyper-violent, and so utterly unconcerned with other people's opinions—she was the embodiment of "punk." Depicting a comic with such a specific visual voice and character might have been a tall order, but the film adaptation of Tank Girl does about as good a job as it's possible to do with the backing of a major film studio.

To start with, Lori Petty is a picture-perfect Tank Girl, nailing the irreverence and punk attitude of the character. The movie itself is a mishmash tonally and is almost impossible to defend or recommend—you either "get" it or walk away shaking your head. The movie's visually abrasive but loaded with a dynamite soundtrack and a charismatic lead.

Ravenous (1999)

Ravenous is a brilliant subversion of audience expectations, a horror movie as funny as it is scary. The film follows a mid-19th century war hero exiled in the Sierra Nevada, investigating stories of a Wendigo—a human given otherworldly strength after eating the flesh of another man. Guy Pearce shines as the ousted captain, struggling with survivor's guilt and the consequences of the actions which brought him into exile. The whole cast is able to tap into the film's tone, pushing for laughs in the comedy scenes and giving weight to the dramatic ones.

Ultimately, the film's a biting (no pun intended) satire of American exceptionalism, capitalism, and Manifest Destiny. It's a rare film that's able to make such subject matter work within a horror movie structure—and doubly so within a film that's funny as well. Audiences likely missed out on this cannibalistic creme de la creme due mostly to a trailer that completely misrepresents the tone of the movie, selling it as an awkward, comedic period piece Mumblecore. Don't be fooled by the trailer, though, Ravenous has a lot of meat on its bones.