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Box Office Bombs Of The 2020s That Are Actually Worth Watching

Money isn't everything. Sure, Hollywood is a billion-dollar industry incentivized to put butts in seats at the movie theater, so profits are often the main concern. But it's the little things in life that count, right? Even if these little things cost $200 million to make, that doesn't mean they deserve to fail so miserably at the box office.

In an environment that often promotes survival of the fittest, sometimes excellent films slip through the cracks. This is especially true of the 2020s since cinemas have struggled to get moviegoers to show up in the wake of the pandemic. Yet, the box office is not the only way to measure a movie's success, as countless films from this decade have shown. Some are stunning historical epics that collected dust in the back of movie theaters, while others are movie musicals that struck all the right notes (even if nobody was listening). Here are all the box office bombs of the 2020s that are actually worth a watch.

Onward (2020)

In its opening weekend, the Pixar film "Onward" fared pretty well at the box office. Then COVID-19 happened. Once it became impossible to ignore the looming threat of the pandemic, moviegoers began staying home, quickly making a dent in Disney's ticket sales. On its second weekend, "Onward" grossed only $10.5 million, a record-breaking 74% drop from its opening weekend. Given that the film cost $200 million to produce, its box office haul of $141.9 million was not enough to make it profitable.

However, "Onward" is not a bad movie by any means. It certainly lives up to the expectations often heaped on a new Pixar movie. Observant fans will recognize the voices of two Marvel movie veterans: Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. They are perfectly paired as a buddy comedy duo. There are also plenty of hilarious visual gags stemming from the premise, ranging from the biker pixies to the ugly unicorns poking through the trash. Of course, the real standout here is the scene-stealing Manticore (Octavia Spencer). Undoubtedly, many viewers will identify with her as she wades through the drudgery of a food service job, having long abandoned her dreams. Likewise, audience members will cheer as she emerges from her midlife crisis with a roar.

Of course, this Pixar film has much more than laughs to offer. Thanks to the movie's bittersweet ending, "Onward" will hit you in the feels when you least expect it.

The Suicide Squad (2021)

You may be surprised to learn that James Gunn's "The Suicide Squad" is one of the biggest box office bombs of 2021. Given its impact on pop culture and the superhero genre, you'd think it would be a hit, but from a purely financial perspective, the movie was a flop. Warner Bros. spent $185 million producing the film and an estimated $100 million in marketing, but it only brought in a total of $168 million at the worldwide box office.

Profitable or not, "The Suicide Squad" is still awesome. This R-rated film allows James Gunn to unleash his delightfully twisted imagination. Gunn is not afraid to go places that might make viewers squeamish, whether showing King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) rip a man in two or implicating the American government in Project Starfish. At the same time, "The Suicide Squad" preserves the same humor and heart Gunn became famous for in his "Guardians of the Galaxy" trilogy. The film's inventive fight sequences stand out in an already crowded superhero genre. The highlights include a firefight in a torrential downpour and a sequence in which Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) takes out an entire palace full of guards to the tune of "Just a Gigolo" by Louis Prima. Fans will appreciate that the movie is gleefully subversive. From the massacre on the beach to the moment Harley points out that the heroes' elaborate rescue plan is no longer necessary, "The Suicide Squad" is a breath of fresh air.

In the Heights (2021)

After the smash success of "Hamilton" on Broadway and Disney+, it seemed reasonable to expect Lin-Manuel Miranda's first musical, "In the Heights," to also be popular once it made the jump to the big screen. Alas, this was not the case, as the film couldn't recoup its budget. Some observers speculated the slump in ticket sales was because movie musicals no longer have the same sway over audiences. Of course, the fact that the film debuted simultaneously on HBO Max may also have something to do with it.

With an excellent cast and a Rotten Tomatoes score well over 90%, "In the Heights" deserved better. The film is largely faithful to the Broadway musical, though it does make a few additions. For one, there's a framing device where Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) shares his story with his daughter. Additionally, the reveal that Usnavi's brother, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), is an undocumented immigrant (a detail not in the original musical) adds a whole new layer to his character.

The film takes full advantage of its medium, translating the iconic dance numbers into visually dazzling sequences on the big screen. The biggest highlights are "Patience y Fe," which captures the entire life of Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) in a single song, and the awe-inspiring scene where Nina (Leslie Grace) and Benny (Corey Hawkins) dance up the side of a building. These are moments that can only be done on the screen.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

At a glance, it would seem like "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" broke even since its production budget was $300 million and its worldwide box office haul was more than $380 million. However, that's not accounting for the cost of marketing. Some sources estimate that Lucasfilm spent anywhere from $65 million to $200 million promoting the movie, including $7 million just to purchase a Super Bowl TV spot. This means the fifth "Indiana Jones" movie bombed at the box office.

That doesn't mean it's a bad movie — not by a long shot. Harrison Ford doesn't let his old age stop him from starring in this action film, and he owns it as part of Indy's character. Meanwhile, Phoebe Waller-Bridge portrays Helena as a whip-smart archeologist who can match her more veteran partner in stride. There are also cameos from some of Indiana's colleagues from his previous adventures, including Marion (Karen Allen) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). The joy of seeing these familiar faces again is mixed with a twinge of sadness because we know their glory days are long behind them.

"Dial of Destiny" may not always strike the right balance between paying homage to the previous films and taking the franchise in a new direction, but it certainly makes a valiant effort. Besides, anything is better than the notorious refrigerator scene from "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

Bros (2022)

Of course, movie studios don't need to pour $300 million into a movie to end up with a box office bomb. Sometimes, even low-budget comedies can become major financial failures. Take the 2022 rom-com "Bros," for example. Universal Pictures only invested $22 million in the film, yet it grossed $4.8 million in the U.S. during its opening weekend, eventually reaching a total of $11 million at the domestic box office. Relatively speaking, it didn't cost Universal a lot of money, but it definitely didn't perform as well as everyone hoped. Even still, "Bros" is good fun.

While "Bros" is not the first mainstream comedy to feature a gay couple (films such as "The Birdcage" and "Fire Island" beat it to the punch), it does mark the first rom-com from a major studio to get a theatrical release with an almost entirely LGBTQ+ cast. This cheeky comedy is willing to poke fun at just about anybody. It cleverly satirizes Hollywood, pickup lines, and the bickering committee of queer characters curating the New York LGBTQ Museum. Yet, it's also got plenty of emotional heft. Viewers' hearts will go out to sarcastic podcast host Bobby (Billy Eichner) as he learns to open up and allow himself to be loved.

The Last Duel (2021)

When "Gladiator" director Ridley Scott announced he would helm another historical epic, fans understandably got excited. "The Last Duel" seemed like a sure bet, yet when it stepped up to joust against "Halloween Kills" on its opening weekend, Scott's film died a horrible death at the box office. Even considering the international box office, the movie earned less than one-third of its budget.

Why did it stumble? Perhaps viewers expected a bloody, macho battle more in line with "Gladiator." Instead, the movie's marketing was a little bit misleading. Matt Damon and Adam Driver's duelists are no heroes, and Marguerite (Jodie Comer) is the movie's real protagonist. This medieval epic addresses a topic not usually covered in the genre: rape. The film shows the same sequence of events from the perspectives of three different characters, though it's quickly apparent who's telling the truth and who's deluding themselves.

Moviegoers ridiculed the actors' flamboyant facial hair, completely overlooking that it was likely an intentional choice to skewer these testosterone-fueled men who charge headfirst into a pointless fight. In fact, the entire film has a surprisingly satirical bite. Unfortunately, most viewers either missed the irony or weren't interested in seeing a story that deconstructed the "knight in shining armor" narrative. For those who simply wanted chivalry and carnage, "The Last Duel" was a disappointment. But if you're looking for a mature medieval drama, it's definitely worth a watch.

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Lightyear (2022)

If you want to split hairs, Pixar's "Lightyear" technically earned back its production budget of $200 million, but it didn't break even. Factor in marketing costs and the fact that theaters are supposed to get a percentage, and it becomes clear that "Lightyear" was not the least bit profitable for Pixar. Chief Creative Officer Pete Docter reflected on what Pixar could learn from the film's failure: "I think there was a disconnect between what people wanted-slash-expected and what we were giving to them," he told The Wrap. What viewers hoped to see was more of the "Toy Story" characters they loved rather than a tangentially related sci-fi movie.

"Lightyear" may be one of the lowest-rated Pixar movies, but even a bad Pixar movie isn't too shabby by any other standard. While Chris Evans cannot replace Tim Allen as Buzz, he still does a fine job portraying the uptight space ranger who learns to loosen up. Plus, James Brolin gets a memorable cameo. At a glance, the robotic cat Sox (Pete Sohn) seems like he was created purely to sell toys; that he's a clumsy robot loaded with more features than a Swiss Army Knife allows Pixar to sneakily subvert the expectations of a cute animal sidekick. In that respect, Sox is probably a closer cousin to Baymax from "Big Hero 6" than Olaf from "Frozen." He's actually the source of some of the film's biggest laughs.

BlackBerry (2023)

When an indie movie costs only $5 million to make, you'd think there's no way it can lose, right? Well, 2023's "BlackBerry" did exactly that. The film earned $1.6 million worldwide (barely a third of its budget), proving you don't need to spend a fortune on a project for it to flop at the box office. Technically, Elevation Pictures only lost a few million dollars, which is nothing compared to higher profile bombs, but this savvy little tech comedy deserved better.

Regardless of how much money "BlackBerry" made, it's a must-see. You can't argue with the movie's near-perfect Rotten Tomatoes score. Unlike "The Social Network" and other biopics taking us behind the scenes of a major technological innovation, "BlackBerry" doesn't show an industry giant's humble origins. Instead, the movie places everything in perspective for audiences, who already know that the BlackBerry will go the way of the floppy disk. Watching a tech empire fall apart is arguably more riveting than seeing its rise. Although "BlackBerry" has several moving parts, the film keeps its focus small, zeroing in on the three characters who got the BlackBerry off the ground. Jay Baruchel is perfectly suited for this razor-sharp comedy, yet also demonstrates his serious acting chops. Critics have described it as one of the best roles of his career.

The Flash (2023)

"Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" wasn't the only box office flop from June 2023. "The Flash" also performed terribly, earning only $270 million worldwide. That might not seem so bad, considering that the film's production budget was $200 million. However, some sources place the marketing costs (which aren't factored into the budget) in the vicinity of $150 million. In other words, "The Flash" lost a mountain of money.

Needless to say, "The Flash" is not the best multiverse movie. It's not even the best multiverse movie from 2023 (that honor would go to "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," which debuted just two weeks prior). Still, "The Flash" is loads of fun, and if you're not comparing it to one of the greatest superhero movies of all time, it actually holds up.

Ezra Miller shines in not one but two leading roles, playing both older and younger versions of Barry Allen. Some of the film's best scenes are just Miller playing off himself. Sure, the time travel mechanics make zero sense. But if you're willing to go along with the film's tangled spaghetti of a plot, it offers plenty of laughs and raises some thought-provoking questions as Barry begins to see the consequences of his meddling. Besides, all the plot holes in the world are totally worth it if you get to see Michael Keaton don the Batsuit once more.

Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

A surreal fantasy-comedy about a woman and a djinn is perhaps the last thing you would expect from the man who directed "Mad Max" — but then, nobody expected George Miller to make a movie about dancing penguins either. Unfortunately, "Three Thousand Years of Longing" was nowhere near as lucrative as "Mad Max: Fury Road." Against a $60 million budget, the film made a measly $8 million at the domestic box office, and its international gross wasn't much better. Worldwide, the movie earned a little more than a third of its budget. Experts say that the film might have fared better if it had opened at only a handful of theaters before gradually sweeping outward since that would have allowed time for the film to gain traction from positive word-of-mouth (a strategy that worked wonders for "Everything, Everywhere, All At Once").

"Three Thousand Years of Longing" may not be "Mad Max: Fury Road," but it still captures the same anarchic energy. Idris Elba is magnetic to watch as the djinn, while Tilda Swinton is an equally fitting casting choice as the humble narratologist with no interest in any wishes. For a film whose main narrative happens almost entirely in a single hotel room, "Three Thousand Years of Longing" does an amazing job of taking viewers on a dazzling journey by way of the djinn's backstory. Although much of the fantastical settings are CGI, they are a heckuva lot more colorful and imaginative than the average blockbuster.

King Richard (2021)

Realistic drama films aren't necessarily expected to earn a lot of money, but Warner Bros. was likely expecting a decent haul from "King Richard" due to the star power of Will Smith. The movie earned only $15 million at the domestic box office, plus an additional $24 million overseas, bringing its total gross to $39 million. This was a problem because Warner Bros. spent $50 million to produce the film. Unfortunately, "King Richard" needed to compete against the immensely popular "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." The movie's simultaneous release on HBO Max may have also funneled viewers away from the theater.

Although the movie's reputation tends to be overshadowed by the notorious Oscar slap, the truth is "King Richard" is an intimate and honest movie that deserves more credit. It's a fresh take on the sports biopic, focusing less on the iconic athletes and more on their father (and unofficial coach) working behind the scenes. The film depicts only the very beginning of the tennis stars' careers, never skipping ahead to when Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) are superstars because it's more interested in their origins and the people who shaped them. Smith throws himself wholeheartedly into the lead role, embracing the character's devotion to his daughters and the immense pressure he places on them. "King Richard" is even more poignant because we know how it's going to end: with two tennis champions.

The Northman (2022)

"The Northman" is a slippery film to categorize. Is it an indie film with the budget of a blockbuster or a blockbuster with the production values of an indie? The film's genre-defying nature might have been one of the reasons why it bombed at the box office; moviegoers weren't sure what to make of it. Despite a budget of $90 million, plus no small sum invested in advertising, "The Northman" earned only $69 million at the worldwide box office. That's a shame because this Robert Eggers film is visually stunning.

Fans of "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse" (both also directed by Eggers) will eat this one up. The visceral movie is not for the faint of heart but is expertly crafted. The world Eggers creates feels tactile and gritty, more real than anything seen in other fantasy epics. His devotion to keeping "The Northman" historically accurate is astounding. Critics have said that the film manages to simultaneously be modern and timeless, displaying a contemporary sensibility even as it feels like a story that has been around for thousands of years (it is, after all, based on the Scandinavian legend that inspired "Hamlet"). The film's bleak and brutal tone may not be for everyone, but Eggers commits so deeply to this aesthetic that you can only watch with slack-jawed awe.

Devotion (2022)

When audiences first saw the "Devotion" trailer, the first thing they probably thought was, "Isn't that basically 'Top Gun: Maverick'?" Both feature naval aviators doing jaw-dropping stunts, along with Glen Powell in a supporting role (no matter that "Devotion" was in production long before "Top Gun: Maverick" was in theaters). So when "Devotion" premiered six months later, many moviegoers skipped it, feeling like they had already seen it. This military biopic crashed and burned, with some estimates speculating that the movie lost as much as $89 million.

Fans will inevitably compare "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Devotion," but that would hardly be fair because they are two different films. "Devotion" may not be as much of a crowd-pleaser, but it's meant to be a more serious drama that tells an important true story that's often overlooked. The film follows Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), a Black pilot who served in the U.S. military during the Korean War. This inspiring story doesn't shy away from addressing racism and other flaws in military culture; it explores how soldiers are trained to repress their emotions, especially Brown, who is afraid to show weakness as the only Black man in his unit. Brown may not have the same charisma as Tom Cruise's Pete Mitchell, but Majors more than makes up for it in dramatic weight. The scenes where Majors gives himself a self-flagellating pep talk in the mirror are a testament to his acting chops.

Strange World (2022)

The year 2022 was not a good year for animated films at Disney. After the failure of "Lightyear," Disney released another box office bomb. Costing $180 million to produce and likely an additional $90 million to market, "Strange World" made only $73 million at the worldwide box office, draining the studio of an estimated $197 million.

Given the popularity of "Frozen" and "Moana," it's understandable why audiences were disappointed that "Strange World" doesn't contain any showstopping musical numbers. Even "Raya and the Last Dragon," which doesn't have a single song, features elements still familiar to Disney fans: fantasy kingdoms and animal sidekicks. Fairy-tale musicals may be what Walt Disney Animation Studios does best, but they deserve credit for trying to branch out into other genres.

Right from its opening sequence, "Strange World" pays homage to pulpy adventure comics. At the same time, it deconstructs the genre's conventions, asking why the heroes of these stories even need to conquer mountains or tame seas. The protagonist of "Strange World' has no higher aspirations than to be a farmer, while his son cares more about maintaining balance in the ecosystem than discovering new lands. The movie is full of colorful world-building, from its steampunk airships to its trippy creatures. It also offers a surprisingly nuanced commentary on humanity's relationship with nature. "Strange World" arguably may not deliver what Disney fans hoped for, but it still takes the animation studio's brand in a fresh direction.

West Side Story (2021)

"In the Heights" wasn't the only 2021 movie musical with a Latinx cast that bombed at the box office. Despite having a budget of $100 million and Steven Spielberg's name attached to it, "West Side Story" barely earned back three-quarters of its production budget. Whether it's because the film had to compete against the box office behemoth "Spider-Man: No Way Home" or because viewers were too busy comparing it to the original to appreciate it, "West Side Story" failed to make a profit. Yet, folks who skipped it in theaters were missing out.

In this version of "West Side Story," audiences see the musical on the big screen on a scale they have never seen before. The film boasts some jaw-dropping sets, from the streets of Manhattan to the warehouse where the Jets and the Sharks rumble. Spielberg does a brilliant job earning our sympathy for both warring gangs. In a genius move, Spielberg plays Riff (Mike Faist) as a scruffy, pathetic boy you can't help but feel sorry for, while Bernardo (David Alvarez) shines as a loyal brother who can't stop getting into fights. Plus, we would be remiss not to mention Rachel Zegler, who knocks it out of the ballpark in her film debut. Of course, the real star is Ariana DeBose as Anita; she rightfully took home an Oscar. Whenever DeBose is onscreen, she immediately commands the attention of everyone watching.

Tenet (2020)

When "Tenet" hit theaters in the midst of the pandemic, it bombed, likely costing Warner Bros. as much as $100 million. The film's underwhelming returns convinced Warner Bros. to release movies in theaters and streaming services simultaneously, leading "Tenet" director Christopher Nolan to break ties with the studio. The "Tenet" box office also rippled out to impact other blockbuster releases; Warner Bros. pushed back "Wonder Woman 1984" by a couple of months, while films such as "Candyman" and "Black Widow" were delayed until 2021.

"Tenet" may not be Nolan's best work, but it exemplifies the signature stamp of all his movies: It's a deliberately crafted mind game. Like every Christopher Nolan movie, it continues the director's tradition of experimenting with time in his stories and using practical effects wherever possible. Some viewers have argued that "Tenet" is a Nolan movie on steroids, amplifying the director's biggest strengths and weaknesses. But for precisely this reason, it's a must-see for any Nolan fan.

The plot is winding, even for Nolan, but that's okay. The plot details are less important than watching the spectacle of it all unfold, whether the characters are engaging in backward car chases or reverse bungee jumping. You'll probably get a headache trying to unravel its time travel mechanics. The movie is best experienced if you let Nolan do the thinking and then sit back and enjoy the ride — and what an amazing ride it is.

Nightmare Alley (2021)

When Searchlight Pictures invested $60 million in "Nightmare Alley," it was perfectly reasonable to assume the film would be a huge hit. After all, Guillermo del Toro had directed some box office successes, including "Pacific Rim" and "The Shape of Water." Yet, this tentpole film about a carnival con artist collapsed in on itself like a circus tent; it earned only $39 million worldwide. Perhaps audiences were disappointed it wasn't a dark fairy tale like del Toro's most iconic works. There are no magic or fantasy elements in "Nightmare Alley." Although Stan (Bradley Cooper) claims to read minds, he is actually just a really clever scammer.

"Nightmare Alley" may not have any Kaiju or sexy sea monsters, but there's still plenty to admire about this noir film. On the surface, it seems to have nothing in common with the director's other projects, but if you look a little closer, you will see it's a classic del Toro film. The movie's gorgeous set design is on par with "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Crimson Peak." Plus, some of del Toro's favorite collaborators appear, including Ron Perlman and Richard Jenkins. Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett dominates every scene she's in.

Watching "Nightmare Alley" is a hypnotic experience. As Stan digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble, you will be unable to tear your eyes away.

Beau Is Afraid (2023)

"Beau Is Afraid" is another example of an independent director being given a big budget and free reign, yet somehow attracting fewer viewers than his smaller, more indie projects. After the critical and commercial success of "Hereditary" and "Midsommar," A24 offered Ari Aster $35 million to make "Beau Is Afraid" (his biggest budget yet). Unfortunately, the film earned a measly $11 million at the box office.

"Beau Is Afraid" is either indulgent or ambitious, depending on how you want to look at it. It's less of a traditional horror movie and more like a surreal dark comedy, which may explain why fans of his first two films were disappointed. That's not to say that it won't send shivers of fear down your spine. Case in point: the scene in Beau's bathroom where he discovers a man on the ceiling, hanging on for dear life, is downright terrifying.

As always, Joaquin Phoenix does a brilliant job here. His performance absolutely nails what it's like to live with paranoia. Of course, the ending of "Beau Is Afraid" is bleak and borderline esoteric, and for many audiences, it was a huge "WTF?!" moment. Still, this box office bomb is definitely worth watching. Perhaps years down the line, horror fans will be returning to this intricate film to unpack all its layers of meaning, just as they've done with movies like "Donnie Darko." Who knows? "Beau is Afraid" might someday earn cult classic status.