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11 Box Office Bombs That Actually Blew Up On Netflix

Everyone knows that movie studios tend to prioritize franchise films that are likely to rake in money at the box office, but even they aren't bomb proof. Gone are the pre-COVID days where pretty much any superhero property was guaranteed to make a profit. It's tempting to view the pandemic as the nail in the Hollywood coffin, but the truth is that streaming services were already eating away at profits before COVID-19 brought Tinseltown to a halt. Execs have long been wary of Netflix in particular, but streaming services sometimes do studios a favor: They give audiences the chance to catch things they didn't make the effort to go and see in cineplexes.

Since launching its on-demand streaming platform in 2007, Netflix has given a second life to many a film that would have been otherwise forgotten about, which is one of the great things about the service. After all, what doesn't work in the theater may be perfect for sticking on the TV at home, whether it's for a movie night or simply to have on in the background on a lazy Sunday. Whatever the reason for their lack of box office success, it's comforting to know that film fans were able to bring these slept-on movies out of the shadows thanks to Netflix.

How Do You Know (2010)

On paper, Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson co-starring in a romantic comedy looks like a guaranteed hit. However, 2010's "How Do You Know" was far from a success. The film (which was written and directed by James L. Brooks, the man behind hits like "Terms of Endearment" and "As Good as It Gets") is about a love triangle involving Witherspoon, Rudd, and Wilson's characters. Witherspoon plays a softball player who has to choose between a troubled businessman (Rudd) and an amiable baseball player (Wilson). It also features Jack Nicholson in what turned out to be his last film role. Surprisingly given the talent involved, "How Do You Know" only made $48 million at the box office against a budget of $120 million.

The massive budget clearly didn't help the film in its quest to make a profit. It needed to hit the ground running if it stood any chance of becoming a hit, but it landed to middling reviews. Variety reviewer Peter Debruge actually predicted that "How Do You Know" would have a revival on the small screen, adding: "Like a pint of Ben & Jerry's or a box of Mallomars, Brooks' implausible confection should serve its purpose as a bad-day pick-me-up." That's exactly what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic when this dud rom-com became a hit with Netflix subscribers: Per Forbes, "How Do You Know" was among the streamer's most-watched movies in summer 2020.

65 (2023)

Adam Driver has been involved in a number of box office hits over the years, with the Star Wars sequel trilogy alone raking in over $4 billion. However, his return to science fiction in "65" was an uncharacteristic flop from the actor, grossing only $56 million against a budget of approximately $45 million. There are lots of reasons for its financial failure, from its opening weekend competition (which included "Scream VI") to its lack of a strong marketing campaign. 

The film follows Driver as Mills, a space explorer who crash-lands on Earth 65 million years in the past. He becomes responsible for a young inhabitant named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), who he protects from ravenous dinosaurs. The film was a potential franchise-starter, but, as Variety pointed out, that was entirely dependant on how well it did at the box office. "'65' is a film whose past feels like it was 65 million movies in the making, and its future depends on a several hundred millions in box office revenue."

While the box office receipts made for grim reading, "65" became a hit on Netflix: It dropped on the streamer around four months after its initial release and shot straight to the number two spot on the most-watched charts. It sat right behind the Netflix film "The Out-Laws," but only briefly — a few days later, "65" leapfrogged the Netflix original comedy into the top spot. Sadly for fans of the dino sci-fi, topping the Netflix most-watched list doesn't mean a sequel will happen, though Driver and the filmmakers will no doubt feel vindicated.

Crimson Peak (2015)

Horror and fantasy specialist Guillermo del Toro has had a few box office successes over the years, most notably "Pacific Rim" and his Oscar-winning film "The Shape of Water." However, the director's 2015 film "Crimson Peak" wasn't his finest hour in terms of box office receipts. The film stars Mia Wasikowska as an author who travels with her husband and his sister (played by Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain) to a haunted English mansion, where she begins to uncover secrets about her in-laws. Sadly, not enough people went to see it – not even a glowing review from the king of horror himself, Stephen King, was enough to get moviegoers to see del Toro's gothic romance.

According to del Toro, the budget was simply too high. "If I'd done 'Crimson Peak' for $25 million, the movie would have been a success because it made $75 million," the director told Deadline. "But because I made it for $50 million, it wasn't a success because it needed to do $150 million." The movie gained a cult following in the years that followed, and it finally landed with a wider audience thanks to Netflix, claiming a spot on the streamer's most-watched movies list in spring 2021. The fact that Tom Hiddleston has a bigger profile now thanks to all his Marvel work apparently led to people who missed the movie in cineplexes checking it out on streaming.

Annihilation (2018)

Alex Garland's 2018 sci-fi horror flick "Annihilation" features an all-star cast including Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, and Tessa Thompson. It follows a team of scientists who are under investigation after coming into contact with a mysterious alien entity known as The Shimmer, which originated from a meteor. After landing near a lighthouse, it began to spread an electromagnetic field, interfering with plant and animal life. The contaminated area becomes known as Area X.

The film had all the makings of a potential blockbuster (complete with a fascinating ending that needed to be explained), but underwhelming test screenings derailed the release. Producers began to clash over how to handle the movie, with some calling for changes in order to make "Annihilation" appeal to a wider audience and others defending Garland's vision. In the end, a middle ground was reached: Paramount released the movie in cineplexes throughout North America and China, and Netflix (which agreed to cover a large percentage of the reported $55 million budget) made it available to stream just 17 days later.

The result was a poor box office haul of $43 million. From the outside, it seemed like Netflix had overpaid for a film that average moviegoers found to be too highbrow. However, the producers who wanted to essentially dumb the film down were eventually proven wrong when "Annihilation" blew up on Netflix: Garland's gripping film burst into the top 10 in the United States in July 2023.

The Nice Guys (2016)

There are few films in cinematic history that were done as dirty as 2016's "The Nice Guys," which had all the ingredients of a box office success: Two charismatic leads with lots of chemistry, an iconic action director in Shane Black, and an engrossing story. That wasn't the fate "The Nice Guys" was meant for, as it made just $71 million against a $50 million budget. However, anyone who's seen the film knows that audiences missed out big time.

"The Nice Guys" stars Ryan Gosling as Holland March, a 1970s private eye hired to search for a missing girl who ends up crossing paths with Russell Crowe's Jackson Healy, a thug-for-hire who is sent to rough him up. The duo subsequently partner up on the hunt for Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), an anti-pollution protestor whose life is in peril. Along the way, the crime-stoppers are joined by an unexpected third party: March's daughter Holly, played by Angourie Rice.

In August 2022, "The Nice Guys" was added to Netflix's library, and it became an immediate hit with subscribers: It took the film just one day to break into the top 10 most-watched movies on the platform. It jumped right into ninth spot, just behind Gosling's Netflix original film "The Gray Man." Movie lovers were given a second chance to fall in love with this brilliant neo-noir action comedy, and they did just that. However, if you're hoping for a sequel, don't hold your breath: According to Ryan Gosling, "The Nice Guys 2" probably won't happen.

Dumb Money (2023)

Is it surprising that moviegoers weren't interested in seeing a film about the GameStop short squeeze of January 2021? No, not really, but that's a shame, because "Dumb Money" is fantastically entertaining. Despite an all-star cast including Paul Dano, America Ferrera, and Seth Rogen, "Dumb Money" only grossed $20.7 million at the box office. Considering it cost $30 million to make, that total was a big let down. Money aside, Dano is at his best as Keith Gill, the live-streaming investor who was deemed partly responsible for the short squeeze. Similar praise was shown to the film's supporting cast, which includes the likes of Pete Davidson, Sebastian Stan, Vincent D'Onofrio, Nick Offerman, and Shailene Woodley.

Despite the poor box office showing, "Dumb Money" seemed destined to become a sleeper hit with streaming audiences. That came to pass in January 2024 when the film entered the Netflix top 10 most-viewed chart at number eight with an estimated 3.5 million views. Several Netflix users took to social media to express how pleasantly surprised they were by the film. "Was not interested at all when it was in theaters but my partner just put it on the other day and I ended up really enjoying it," one said (via Unilad), while another added, "Waiting for Netflix to release 'Dumb Money II' where it is just 2hrs of interviews with O&G investors."

The Little Things (2021)

"The Little Things" debuted in cinemas and on streaming simultaneously, which is perhaps why it failed to break even at the box office, pulling in just $29.7 million from a $30 million budget. Underwhelming reviews certainly didn't help: The Guardian called it "a drab, self-important procedural that can't quite decide if it wants to be thrilling or thoughtful." It was a surprise that the film didn't catch on considering "The Little Things" had such undeniable talent in front of the camera. Denzel Washington portrays a California sheriff who teams up with a detective (Rami Malek) to investigate a murder case, which leads them to suspect an enigmatic man played by Jared Leto.

The film spent years in development hell before it came to fruition. Screenwriter John Lee Hancock nearly got the likes of Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood to direct it at different points, and in the end he decided to helm the picture himself. He probably felt that this was a bad move when the box office numbers began to roll in, though he no doubt felt justified when "The Little Things" blew up on Netflix in April 2024. "The film was seen in 1.7 million U.S. households in the week after it was added to the Netflix library," The Wrap reports. "Stars like Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto likely helped, and Black households were especially interested, with that audience over-indexing by 17%."

Mortal Engines (2018)

Back in the early 2000s, Peter Jackson's name meant big box office. His "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy made a ton of money between 2001 and 2003, and in 2005, Jackson's "King Kong" became Universal's fourth-biggest grosser of all time. Unfortunately, Jackson's cred wasn't enough to propel "Mortal Engines" to box office glory. Directed by Christian Rivers but written by Jackson and regular collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, "Mortal Engines" is an adaptation of Philip Reeve's 2001 novel. It's centered on a post-apocalyptic society of motorized cities and the revenge narrative of Hester (Hera Hilmar) against the dictatorial Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). 

Reeve felt "Mortal Engines" was a worthy adaptation of his book and the author encouraged people to watch it on the big screen, but not enough people went to see it at their local cineplexes. Despite Jackson's involvement and some impressive trailers, the film bombed hard at the box office, making less than $84 million from a $150 million budget. However, while it certainly has its flaws, it's not a terrible film, and that's why Jackson's biggest box office flop ultimately got a second life on Netflix: In April 2024, the big budget action flick barged its way into the streamer's top 10 most-watched list,

The Son (2022)

It's not uncommon for play adaptations to become surprise hits at the box office, like Denzel Washington's "Fences" in 2016. However, one adaptation that went the other way was "The Son," directed by Florian Zeller, who notably received award buzz in 2020 for "The Father." Anthony Hopkins starred in that film, and "The Son" reunited the pair, with a cast that also includes Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, and Vanessa Kirby. 

"The Son" centers on a father (Jackman) who is forced to confront his teenage son's struggle with depression, his complicated relationship with his estranged ex-wife (Dern), and his troubled relationship with his own father (Hopkins). It received a one-star review from RogerEbert.com, with critic Nell Minow calling it "well-intentioned but poorly constructed" and adding that it relies on "sympathy for characters who seem to be living in an alternate universe where teenagers have never struggled with mental illness."

The film was hammered by the majority of critics, which is why it came as a surprise when "The Son" reached the number four spot on Netflix's movie charts after debuting on the platform in 2023. It was a far cry from its box office turnout: The much-maligned film grossed only $3.6 million and left theaters after four weeks. Perhaps at-home audiences were drawn in by the idea of seeing Jackman and Dern share the screen — their performances here are the only highlight.

Blended (2014)

Once upon a time, the pairing of Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler was a huge draw for moviegoing audiences. The two starred in "The Wedding Singer" in 1998, and then reunited in 2004 for "50 First Dates," which raked in over $123 million and $198 million the global box office, respectively. However, their 2014 film "Blended" disappointed financially, grossing $46 million in its domestic release, just $6 million more than it cost to make. Overseas sales softened the blow, but the film was seen as a box office flop considering the star power of the leads.

Then-Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman blamed the film's Memorial Day weekend release for its poor showing. The holiday was graced by good weather that kept families away from theaters, he said, telling The Hollywood Reporter: "The A- CinemaScore will help grow our box office as we continue into the lucrative summer playtime." It ended up taking a decade for the film to finally find its audience: In May 2024, reports confirmed that "Blended" had become one of the top five most-watched films on the platform in the United States. Adam Sandler's movies continue to do well on Netflix in the post-pandemic era, with audiences seemingly happy to spend the night in with a familiar face.

Madame Web (2024)

"Madame Web" quickly became one of the most infamous films of 2024 after its release. The critical dud (which is based on an obscure character from the Spider-Man comics) is part of Sony's Spider-Man Universe, which exists outside of Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. Dakota Johnson stars as Cassandra Webb, a paramedic who begins experiencing visions of the future that lead her to protect a trio of teenage girls (Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, and Celeste O'Connor) from the villainous Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim). 

The film was lampooned by critics. "It is an airless and stilted endeavor driven by a mechanical screenplay," said The Hollywood Reporter. "Its lack of imagination would be astounding if it wasn't so expected." Even the film's trailers were subject to memes and ridicule, likely contributing to a box office turnout you wouldn't need clairvoyance to predict: It pulled in just over $100 million, which, considering it cost between $80 and $100 to make (not to mention a reported marketing cost of anywhere between $40 and $100 million), represents a massive failure for Sony.

"Madame Web" seemed destined to be remembered as one of the most misguided superhero flicks of all time, but then something unexpected happened: When the film hit Netflix in May 2024, it swung right into the top 10, debuting in second place with 10.8 million views in its first week. This was no doubt music to the ears of Sony execs, who were surely sweating over the future of their Spidey universe when the first box office figures for "Madame Web" were released.