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Why John Travolta And Brian De Palma's Blow Out Flopped At The Box Office

The '70s and '80s were heavily populated with conspiracy thrillers like "Blow Out." Being that it was a time rife with government mistrust, movies like "All the President's Men," "The Conversation," "Chinatown," and "Serpico" made massive waves as a result. Of course, national revelations like Watergate and The Pentagon Papers, a set of documents showing that presidents had been lying to the public about the Vietnam War for years, helped to create a national panic well in advance of many of these films (via Britannica).

Still, that fervor wasn't enough to save Brian De Palma's paranoid suspense movie "Blow Out" in 1981. The film follows sound technician Jack Terry (John Travolta) as he accidentally intercepts evidence of an assassination disguised as a car accident. Though "Blow Out" was a critical success, audiences only showed up in a high enough volume for the thriller to make back around two-thirds of its $18 million budget (via IMDb). Why didn't the film draw more of a crowd?

Some think the movie failed because of its dark ending

The 33% loss was obviously not what writer-director Brian De Palma and distributor Filmways Pictures had in mind, but what can account for the failure of "Blow Out" at the box office? Well, it could be that audiences were simply getting tired of downer movies like this when more escapist fare was increasingly available (via VHS Revival).

Obviously, this was the era when the blockbuster was first on the rise, with Steven Spielberg's classic creature feature "Jaws" taking home an insane amount of money on the back of its lurid, bloody thrills. With other genre films like "Alien" and "Star Wars" also making huge bank, it seems plausible that viewers wanted something that could help them escape this bleak reality or be so entertaining as to dampen their disillusion (via The Guardian).

Still, others think it was its hopeless ending that did "Blow Out" in. Featuring an increasingly troubled Jack Terry (John Travolta) — who doesn't manage to save the day or the girl (Nancy Allen) — the film wraps up with the sound technician maddeningly listening to the screams of an innocent woman, while the government gets away with everything. Whatever it was that made "Blow Out" a failure, the movie was a big hit against both De Palma and Travolta, though both inevitably recovered. Regardless, the film remains underrated, under-seen, and well worth the time to watch even 40+ years later.